Applesauce Cake

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Fall is right around the corner. I know this for sure because I’m now constantly sweeping leaves off the porch and my three-year-old nephew gave me a cold for my birthday. What a joyous season, indeed. Everyone’s talking about flannel blankets and pumpkin lattes but nobody’s talking about the inevitable scratchy throat and sore flu shot arm that strike like clockwork as soon as the weather changes. I also get seasonal migraines and I’m mad about it. I don’t sound bitter, do I?

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I actually do love fall just maybe not as much as everybody else seems to. So while I can’t really get behind pumpkin-anything yet (it’s only September people), I’ll concede a little and welcome apples into the mix. I always look forward to that first crunchy, sweet, wine-y tasting apple of the season. Maybe if I eat one a day my doctor will finally give me something for my migraines.

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I digress, again. I look forward to baking with apples just as much as I like eating them raw. There will be the bubbling pie, of course, served à la mode as God intended. There will be caramel apples that I plan to make with my nephew once I forgive him for getting me sick (he’s cute, it won’t take long). I’m sure there will be a french-y tart or two thrown in at some point. But I thought I’d start things off nice and simple with an easy, nearly one-bowl snacking cake to serve casually, as a harbinger of apple season.

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The recipe itself is adapted from the Facsimile Edition of the 1950 Betty Crocker’s Picture Book (one of my favorite sources at the moment). It’s called “New Applesauce Cake” in the book though what’s new about it I don’t know. It’s very common in recipes of this era to find shortening as the fat of choice for everything. I don’t hate shortening but I find liquid vegetable oil easier to work with (especially in the context of cake) so I took the liberty of subbing it out. I also reduced the sugar a bit and incorporated sour cream into the cake because I consistently find that cakes with sour cream rank among my favorites. I also added a bit of lemon zest for brightness.

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As usual, aesthetics are my favorite and I’m really excited about this one. I’ve seen several vintage images of applesauce cakes with doily stenciling and I’ve been eager to try it for myself. The original recipe doesn’t call for a frosting and you could certainly use powdered sugar to stencil a design straight onto the spice-colored cake. But I figured a Honey Cream Cheese frosting wouldn’t hurt anybody and so I’m using cinnamon to stencil the design as it will contrast well with the icing and contribute to the warm, spicy flavor.

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Applesauce Cake, bottom left. From the back cover of Betty Crocker’s Cake Mix Magic (1951). Source: http://1950sunlimited.tumblr.com

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Happy Fall, I guess. Send medicine and warm socks.

Applesauce Cake

Applesauce Cake

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 1/2 cups  unsweetened applesauce*

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 9 x 13 pan and line with parchment paper. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. In another bowl, whisk together sugar, vegetable oil, sour cream, egg, and lemon zest. Mix wet ingredients into dry, then stir in applesauce and walnuts until just combined. Pour into greased and lined pan, and bake for about 35 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean).

*You can use store bought applesauce as long as it is unsweetened. If you would like to make your own, combine in a medium sauce pan:

  • 5 large, tart apples (I used Honey Crisp and Granny Smith), chopped
  • 1/4 cup water

Combine apples and water in a covered pan until softened, then purée in a food processor. It will yield a bit more than you need for the cake, but the leftovers are delicious.

Honey Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1- 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together cream cheese and honey until combined. Slowly add powdered sugar, then honey and beat until the mixture is smooth. Spread onto cooled cake and sift cinnamon over the top, if desired. You can do this freehand, just using a sifter, or use a paper doily as a stencil (which you can buy at craft stores or online). Chill frosted cake so that frosting is slightly firm. Place doily as flat as possible onto frosting without pushing down too much, and carefully sift the cinnamon over top of the doily (away from any drafts or fans). Lift doily straight up and off the cake.

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