Whole Grain Apple Sage Spice Cake with Salted Caramel Buttercream

Lately, I’ve taken to the road, to long winding roads flanked by fall’s most brilliant palettes. Driving in this golden, seasonal light has offered complete freedom for my mind to wander, the miles multiplying in my headspace, a simple luxury often sacrificed to to-do lists and frenzies. On the road, there is little choice but to sink into my head and lose myself to the landscape. I can sing at the top of my lungs or think about where I am, what I want, and where I’m going. Aside from the occasional minivan sprouting roots in the passing lane, these drives have been peaceful ways to enjoy the season… at least until night falls.

Whole Grain Apple Sage Cake with Caramel Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

When the darkness descends, my mind plays tricks on me. Every sound in my car feels catastrophic as if my trusty Vibe will suddenly spit me onto the side of the road, leaving me vulnerable to the night (my imagination is a wild wild one). The other drivers on the road feel like threats, and I mistrust my own spatial awareness. It can feel impossible to see beyond the bend, to understand the twists and turns of the road (and in Pennsylvania, boy do those roads twist and turn!). The only thing to do is trust in the dashed lines, to focus, one after the other, and to move forward with caution and purpose.

Whole Grain Apple Sage Cake with Caramel Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

This period in history feels a lot like the transition from day driving to night driving. There was a glimmer of hope, of unity, of progress, of a destination many thought they’d never live to see.  Minds ran wild with possibilities (even if many of the original possibilities had been shattered). Then the darkness hit. Fear crept in. The future felt (and feels) utterly uncertain, but we have to remember the white lines- one after the other. There are still beacons to seek. There are still high beams to shine into the darkest of nights.

Whole Grain Apple Sage Cake with Caramel Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

I wish I had felt more passionately about the election, more trusting of a candidate. I felt passionate about a symbol- a female who had brushed off the most insulting, ignorant comments to achieve the ultimate power role. I felt passionate about the possibilities a female could pave, but I wish I had felt like independent thought, versus pep rally excitement, mattered, like America could be represented on a gradient instead of black versus white, us versus them. It’s a flawed system, but those flaws feel all the rawer in the current state of mourning.

Whole Grain Apple Sage Cake with Caramel Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

But there are white lines to guide us through this darkness, and maybe the silver lining is we must ALL participate now. We cannot kick up our heels and rest on her laurels. One of the first white lines I focused on was an email from my Design*Sponge editor, urging us to push for a broader spectrum of stories, to showcase all walks of life, to celebrate those who work hard on our behalf, the activists whose battle cries we all too often ignore until we feel the effects all too deeply. I’m proud to be a part of a group that has begun to seek action, to shine the high beams, and to continue to navigate toward the destination we originally envisioned so clearly, but I’m also turning inward. How will I take a bigger, broader stand?

Whole Grain Apple Sage Cake with Caramel Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

In this grief stage, returning to normal passions is hard to navigate, but now more than ever, there’s a need to stand for our beliefs, our passions, the things we hold true. I believe in protecting this planet, in the seeds that carry hundreds of years of history, of acres of apple trees and fresh-picked herbs. I believe in sharing food, in passing plates, and conversing. I believe in beauty and empathy, but at this point more than ever, I believe we need to push into uncomfortable places, into the seemingly unnavigable.

Whole Grain Apple Sage Cake with Caramel Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

I recently stood in a room full of women, women who had surely rallied and cried, and yet, we didn’t make moves to talk to each other, to fully connect in person. We hid in our phones, in our social media accounts, then looked to other women to tell us how to connect (women who truly did inspire, don’t get me wrong). I’m guilty, but I’m also hungry, hungry for us to share, to converse, to exchange views, and truly try to understand the “other.” We need each other, to help find that next white line that will lead us through the dark twists and turns of the road. In the meantime, here’s a dose of beauty, the inspiration for something to share, and a brief moment of sweetness in spite of all that is bitter.


Apple Sage Spice Cake with Salted Caramel Buttercream

About This Recipe: Loaded with spices, apples, and sage, this layer cake is a true celebration of fall, accented with homemade spiked caramel. If the apple garnish is too intimidating, serve cake slices with warm apples on the side.

Yield: 1 (6-inch) layer cake


1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (such as King Arthur Flour)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup organic raw cane sugar
2/3 cup melted organic coconut oil
2 eggs (organic/cage-free)
2 1/2 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 medium organic apples, peeled, cored and diced
3 Tablespoons minced sage


Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two 6-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and lightly grease. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice, and salt.

In another mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, coconut oil, eggs, milk, and vanilla.

Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, and stir until completely mixed.

Fold in the apples and thyme until evenly distributed throughout the batter.

Pour mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake.

Allow cake to cool, about 30 minutes to an hour.

Salted Caramel Buttercream

For Caramel

1/2 cup organic light brown sugar
1/2 cup organic raw cane sugar
1 teaspoon water

5 Tablespoons unsalted butter (such as Kerry Gold)
1/2 cup organic heavy cream
1 teaspoon smoked sea salt (or regular sea salt)
2 Tablespoons Bulleit whiskey (or preferred brand)

For Buttercream

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (such as Kerry Gold)
2 cup sifted confectioners sugar


Place both sugars and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil until sugars melt and become a light golden-amber color.

Remove from heat and whisk in 5 Tablespoons butter (be careful as the mixture will begin to bubble up).

Place the mixture back onto the stovetop and cook for an additional minute, while whisking.

Remove from heat and slowly pour in cream (mixture will bubble up again).

Place the sauce over the heat again and whisk in sea salt and whiskey. Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool completely.

In a large mixing bowl or with a stand mixer beat remaining butter until light and fluffy. Add confectioners sugar and continue to beat until no lumps remain.

Slowly pour caramel sauce into the buttercream, while beating, until the caramel sauce has been fully incorporated and the buttercream is light and fluffy.

To Assemble

Spread a thin layer of buttercream over the top of one of the cake rounds and top with the other round inverted over the top. Spread a thin layer of frosting over the entire cake and refrigerate (this is your crumb coat) for about 1 hour. Spread another thin layer of frosting over the cake and decorate the top with any preferred garnishes. Slice and serve.

Apple Garnish


2 pounds organic apples (about 6 apples, 6 to 7 oz. each)
1/2 cup firmly packed organic light brown sugar
1 teaspoon organic, non-GMO cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of table salt

2 Tablespoons butter (such as Kerry Gold)


Cut apples into 1/2-inch-thick wedges. Toss together apples, brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

Add apple mixture, and sauté 5 to 6 minutes or until tender and golden. Cool completely (about 30 minutes).

Arrange sautéed apples over frosted cake.


This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Leah Vogel

    I’m a newcomer to your blog, and I have appreciated very much your palpable joy in all the good things life has to offer. While I gather from the posts I’ve read that you and I could not be much further apart in terms of beliefs, I am encouraged by the feeling that here we can come together; here, around the goodness that all of us enjoy, and that maybe from this place people with the most radically different perspectives can begin to understand each other. Thank you.

    1. Quelcy Kogel

      Hi Leah! I’m glad you found me, and I appreciate your thoughtful reply. I do believe in coming together and conversing. I’ve often been completely off base and found a brand new perspective from mere minutes of talking to someone with more experience than me. There’s so much to be gained through exchange… and through cake. 😉

      1. Leah Vogel

        Precisely 😉

  2. Natasha M Spencer

    Question regarding the cake ingredients: you list 2/3 melted organic coconut oil. Can you provide the measurements for this, tsp, Tbsp, cup? Thank you

    1. Quelcy Kogel

      Good catch, thank you! It should be 2/3 cup. I’ve updated it.

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