Apple buttermilk cake with Sea salt caramel

January 2nd, 2010

Apple buttermilk cake with Sea salt caramel being poured on top

Happy new year. It is going to be a good year, I can feel it in my bones. My husband and I have started a company where we have finally found common ground for working together. Food. My son has opened up a whole new dimension of love in my life and gets easier to care for everyday – yes, I admit I am thankful for this side effect of children growing up. I am starting this blog and feel excited about writing for the first time since overflowing boxes (currently collecting dust in my basement) of journals in high school and college. As for cooking – that has always been exciting and stress relieving – my favorite shows at 11 years old were “Great Chefs of the West” and “European Cuisine.” Why the vocation that seems so clear to me now eluded me for 30 years of life, it is complicated to assess, however, in short – as I am sure you well know – many times in life we must take a long roundabout way to embrace what has always been close to our hearts. And so here I am. Excited. Not too nervous. But a little. I love to cook. I hope it rubs off. Now onto this cake.

Completed Apple buttermilk cake with Sea salt caramel

What I like about the cake part of this cake is that it’s not too sweet, uses part whole wheat flour, has a subtle buttermilk tang, and is marbled with moisture supplying grated apple, giving it a wonderful wholesome and slight earthy quality. So much so that I can easily recommend it served for breakfast or brunch alongside a dollop of greek yogurt and honey.

Unbaked Apple buttermilk cake with Sea salt caramel

But do not mistake this cake as all morning sunshine once drenched in deeply caramelized sugar combined with large pats of butter, pure organic cream, and a sprinkling of sea salt. Now we have something different altogether. The hot caramel poured over the warm cake seeps into the surface and sides creating a sticky, slightly chewy, moist crust. The contrast between the intensely flavored caramel and the more delicate flavor profile of the apple cake is a noticeable and well suited juxtaposition.

Sugar caramelizingButter melting in caramel

Homemade caramel is an example of something I had put off trying for at least one, likely all, of the following reasons: I had never made it before and had fear of the unknown, fear of not using the right recipe, fear of finally settling on a recipe and then having said recipe be a flop (hate that), and/or fear of not making recipe perfectly once perfect recipe was found. But, as is often the case in life, the actuality of the process was much less monstrous than the preceding mental haze of ignorance and learned helplessness (more on this at a later date).

Sea Salt caramel with cream being added

Really, it is quite simple and yielded incredible return for effort, meaning homemade caramel is vastly superior to store bought and the 5-10 minutes it takes to make is a tiny investment for the amazing return received. And as for the perfect recipe? I ended up pulling from several different recipes using the tips and ingredients that seemed most appealing – and it worked. I love it when it works.

Sea salt caramel complete

So, it is not difficult, but read the directions ahead of time, and take care not to allow the caramelized sugar to come to a rapid boil and burn – as I did on my first attempt (fear four actualized – no big deal – pour in grass out backdoor and heat up new sugar – five minute setback and now I know how to make, and not make, amazing caramel).

Grated apple, core and peel

As for the cake, the most tedious part of the prep is peeling and grating the apple. Altogether you should be able to pull this cake off in about an hour including baking. Time is always a consideration when I cook. I find it satisfying to figure out ways to cut time and simplify prep work without sacrificing quality.

Egg in cake batter

This is a versatile cake whether dressed up with the caramel to show off after dinner, or set in the sunshine for brunch with yogurt and honey. I imagine it would also work as a breakfast muffin or as cupcakes with whipped cream or cream cheese frosting. While I used whole wheat pastry flour, white or standard whole wheat flour will also work. White whole wheat will yield a milder, more delicate flavor profile while not sacrificing any of the nutritional benefits of standard whole wheat.

Butter and brown sugar in sunlightCourvoisier Cognac

Next time I plan to use more cognac (if serving for breakfast I would eliminate this flavoring and perhaps sprinkle a favorite chopped nut on top), try it with a pinch of allspice and a touch more sea salt. My husband thinks a little lemon zest might add a nice extra zing. But it was great just like this.

Apple buttermilk cake batter

Oh, and please take a couple of extra minutes to whip up any leftover heavy cream (an electric hand mixer works fine) with a bit of brown sugar and vanilla extract or vanilla bean seeds to serve alongside. You won’t regret it.

Vanilla bean whipped cream in spoon

Apple buttermilk cake

1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup  whole wheat pastry flour, white wheat, or standard whole wheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt or kosher salt
1/4 lb. (1 stick) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons white cane sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg at room temperature (can let sit in hot water a couple of minutes to bring to room temp)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
1 medium sized firm apple, peeled, cored, and grated (I used Granny Smith)
1 tablespoon brandy/cognac (can use more, but I would not go over 2 T)
1 recipe for Sea salt caramel

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Grease a 9×9 baking pan or similar equivalent volume baking dish, or line with parchment paper.
3. Use a hand whisk to combine the flours, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a medium sized bowl.
4. In a separate larger bowl or standing mixer, cream the butter with the sugars until light, about 4 minutes.
5. Beat in the vanilla and cognac, then the egg until just incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
6. Add one-third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating slowly until just blended. Beat in half of the buttermilk. Repeat with another third of the flour and the last half of the buttermilk. Beat in the remaining flour.
7. Fold in the grated apple.
8. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake for 35 – 50 minutes (depending on size of pan used) until a tester comes out clean. In the pan I used, the cake was done after 35-40 minutes. Check frequently after 35 minutes. Do not over bake.
9. Make Sea salt caramel while cake is baking.
10. Pour Sea salt caramel onto warm cake. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm.

Sea salt caramel

1 cup white sugar
6 tablespoons organic or premium unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons organic heavy cream warmed slightly (not boiled) or at room temperature
1/4 + 1/8 (3/8) teaspoon sea salt

1. Have all ingredients out, measured and within reaching distance of your cooktop. Caramel gets very hot, so use oven mitts, be mindful of your arms and eyes, and keep all little ones away for the few minutes this takes to make.
2. Distribute sugar evenly in a large, even heating saucepan or pot (to allow room for hot caramel to foam up) and begin heating over medium high heat. Keep an eye on the sugar, as when it begins to caramelize, it is a quick process that will need your constant attention.
3. Within a few minutes, the sugar will begin to melt and caramelize. As large patches of sugar turn to liquid puddles in the pan, stir only often enough to aid even caramelization (because sugar is comprised of crystals, it tends to clump together as it is melting and stirred). As soon as all of the sugar has turned to liquid (aside from any stubborn clumps that will dissolve later or can be strained out), resembles the color of copper, and just begins to simmer/bubble around the edges, remove from heat and immediately add butter and sea salt, stirring vigorously. Add cream and stir until completely combined.
4. Cool slightly. Pour over warm cake or other dessert.

Note: If pouring over above apple buttermilk cake, you may end up with an extra 1/2 cup or so. This can be served in a a pouring dish alongside the cake, or with ice cream.

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Posted in Sweet | 16 Comments »

16 Responses to “Apple buttermilk cake with Sea salt caramel”

  1. LJ says:

    Love the photos, Love your first post. Look forward to reading more.

  2. mary ann says:

    The pictures of your cake look beautiful, and I know it must be tasty . . . lovely presentation. Can’t wait to try these recipes myself! You obviously have a great talent for baking and cooking. Looking forward to more greaat recipes. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Christine says:

    The pictures are great! Makes me want to try the recipe soon!

  4. Kathy says:

    Beautiful blog Laura. Keep the recipes and fantastic writing and photos coming!

  5. Amy McPherson says:

    OH MY GOSH! I’m fighting the urge to buy a plane ticket to VA right now in hopes that you might have leftovers. I love your pictures, love your writing, and I’m so excited about your blog. But I’m going to have to make sure I’ve had my breakfast before I check it next time!

  6. Amanda says:

    Laura, this is amazing! I love cooking and finding new recipes, and I will wait anxiously for each new post! :)

  7. Lindsay says:

    Looks very yummy!! Keep the recipes coming!

  8. Catherine says:

    Laura, I was delighted to find your blog with this delicious recipe. I am an empty nester in the baby boomer category, but I still love to cook and bake, so I will definitely try the cake. The pictures are lovely, and I like the fact that it’s not too sweet. I read your profile and was impressed to find a young woman so dedicated to family values and a healthy lifestyle. I think we all can learn from each other no matter how old we become. I will be looking forward to more recipes and updates about your new business!

  9. Sara Creekmore says:

    Hi Laura-bird!

    Your blog reminds me of Julie and Julia! The cake looks great and next time I can find the time I am going to try it. Keep going with your blog!

  10. BettyeBob says:

    Maybe we could collaborate on my ‘Little Bobby’ Candy Recipes; Peanut Brittle and Peanutbutter Pecan Fudge. Next time you visit, we will talk. Love your approach to baking and no doubt will try the cake as soon as our chores are caught up from the hectic Holidays.


  11. John Ostermiller says:

    The pictures look so appetizing. I would love to try the recipe. I can’t wait to try.

  12. The caramel and sea salt sound soooo interesting.

    • drcadmin says:

      Thanks everyone for all your wonderful and encouraging comments! Rosemaryandthegoat – it is interesting, and delicious! I hope you get the chance to give it a try.

  13. Jenny says:

    Laura, What a great idea to pursue your cooking! I will buy your first cookbook!

    • laura says:

      Jenny – Thank you! I may someday do a cookbook. Right now I am working on creating my own all natural specialty products.

  14. Alex Thall says:

    I came to this site by searching Bing. I must say that this looks enticing. Thanks for taking your time submitting this!


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