Before Siri, before GPS, before smart phones and even before flip phones, our adventure began with an idea and a map. Yet, like so many adventures with my oldest sister, these adventures often went awry. Our idea had been to picnic at a nearby lake, flanked by fiery trees blazing with autumn’s robust palette. There was one snag- our horrible sense of direction.
Yet, like so many routed plans gone awry, our failure to navigate led to something far more endearing- the discovery of an old church/schoolhouse and a playground covered in fall’s leaves. It wasn’t the new sort of playground, with bright, shiny plastics and padding at every possible fall. It was the death-trap sort with metal, concrete and chain links, a remnant of the old schoolhouse. I was still a child at the time, and the monkey bars made me forget the abandoned lake goals.
The ground was a lake of its own- with thick piles of fallen leaves. Every footstep was accompanied by a swooshing noise and a feeling reminiscent of walking through sand. These leaves swirled and gathered by the graves of the church’s old cemetery. The neat rows were now wonky, and time had chipped away at the crisp stone. We were surrounded by stories, and in the absence of other human beings, the whole place seemed to exist just for us.
We eventually discovered the lake, with its blue waters and sailboats gently floating on the horizon, but by then, our interest had shifted. We returned again and again to the schoolhouse. It became our “secret place.” Our other sisters pestered and pried, trying to disclose the location, but my lips were sealed, as if protecting a key to a magical kingdom.
The serendipity of the discovery of our secret place made it all the more special. The quiet of that park and the way the leaves would blanket the earth came to epitomize fall. Even though distance and the years now separate me from that secret place, I still travel back there in my mind with each autumn’s passing. This cake, like my secret place, is an ode to embracing fall.
Brown Butter Apple Cake
w/ Cinnamon Whipped Cream, Scotch Caramel & A Roasted Apple
Brown Butter Apple Cake
3 sticks organic unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups organic whole-wheat pastry flour (recommended: Bob’s Red Mill)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup organic/local buttermilk or soured milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup organic raw cane sugar
4 large eggs (local/free-range)
2 small local apples, chopped
1 apple for roasting
Cinnamon Whipped Topping (recipe below)
Scotch Caramel (recipe below)
fresh sage for garnish
For the Brown Butter
Note: prepare at least 30 minutes before cake preparation time
Place butter in a small saucepan on medium heat and stir until it melts completely.
Continue cooking, stirring frequently until the milk solids turn brown and the butter smells nutty, about 5-10 minutes longer. Take care not to burn (it will continue to brown even after you remove it from the heat, so take it off early).
Scrape the melted butter and browned bits into a small bowl and chill until almost solidified but still soft enough to be beaten with an electric mixer (about 20-30 minutes in the freezer, an hour or so in the fridge).
For the Brown Butter Apple Cake
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour three 6-inch springform cake pans.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl, set aside.
Mix milk and vanilla in a measuring pitcher, set aside.
Beat browned butter and sugar together in a large bowl until pale and creamy, about 5 minutes.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Alternately add flour mix and milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat until smooth.
Fold in the chopped apples.
Pour equal amounts of mixture into prepared tins. Top each cake with apple slices.
Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean and the outside is golden, about 35-40 minutes. At the same time, bake the whole apple on a greased baking sheet until soft but not mushy, also 35-40 minutes.
Let the cakes cool in the tins for 15 minutes, then carefully turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
2/3 cup organic heavy cream
1 cup organic raw cane sugar
1 stick cold butter, in cubes (organic, unsalted butter)
1/2 teaspoon smoked sea salt
2 Tablespoons Scotch or whiskey
For the Scotch Caramel
Gently heat the cream in a small saucepan. Set aside.
Put the sugar in another saucepan and heat on medium high until the sugar starts melting around the edges. Carefully swirl the sugar with a heatproof spoon until all the sugar has melted.
Add the butter, piece by piece, and stir until melted.
Carefully add the warm cream (it will bubble up!) little by little and stir until smooth.
Pour caramel into a jar and let cool 10 minutes before adding salt and bourbon.
Leave the caramel to cool to room temperature while you make the whipped cream.
Cinnamon Whipped Cream
2 cups organic heavy cream, chilled
2-3 Tablespoons pure maple syrup, to taste
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2-3 Tablespoons Scotch (optional)
For the Whipped Cream
In the chilled bowl of a stand mixer, beat together all the ingredients except the Scotch, on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Add the Scotch, and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.
Note: You want the texture to be thicker than whipped cream, so it will spread better.
Place your base layer cake on the serving plate. Dollop the whipped topping on the cake’s surface. Use an offset spatula and a revolving cake stand (or lazy Susan) to spread the whipped topping into an even layer. Top with the second cake and repeat.
Note: You can cut each cake into two layers if you want a more layered cake.
Once all three cake layers are stacked, spread the whipped topping on the surface and sides.
Place the baked apple on the top, and then drizzle with caramel.
Garnish with fresh sage.