Gilded Apple Spice Cake with Brown Sugar Swiss Buttercream
In my childhood home, baking something sweet from the oven was not an anomaly. A pan of brownies almost always sat covered with a dishtowel on the oven top – slices removed throughout the course of a day as someone walked past, and headed to the garage. And there was always the appearance of an upside-down cake at a family gathering. Always.
What never happened at my childhood home was baking from scratch. All baked goods, as any proper 80’s family will tell you, tasted best from a box – two eggs, a dash of water, and a cup of oil added before mixing.
My obsession with the idea of scratch cooking started early in life. And one Thanksgiving in my teen years I read a magazine article about baking a layer cake from scratch and shaping marzipan decorations for the top. I deemed this chocolate cake to be my contribution to the Thanksgiving spread that year and took the assignment as seriously as any baker in a final showdown challenge with money on the line.
I have no recollection of how the cake looked or tasted, but I remember feeling an immense amount of satisfaction seeing it at the buffet table.
It wasn’t until I was several steps into this cake yesterday that the flood of memories about my first marzipan Thanksgiving cake came rushing back. How I never put it together yesterday before step 3 that I had already excitedly tackled a Thanksgiving layer cake with marzipan, I’m not sure – but I do find it curious how we go back to specific benchmarks like this without conscious effort.
While I have no photographic evidence or taste-testimonials of my first cake 30 years ago (ahem), I will say, this cake – inspired by one of my treasured vintage Martha Stewart magazines – likely tasted and looked much better than my first baking project.
The cake layers are not from the original magazine recipe. I opted, instead, to make a richly spiced apple cake with oil rather than butter and I infused as much moisture as I could into the cake layers through the ingredients so that each bite feels like you’ve sunk your teeth into layers of happiness.
The buttercream is from the magazine article and I loved how it whipped up. Swiss buttercream is my ultimate favorite. I’ve changed the recipe slightly to add molasses – it gives me another layer of autumnal taste to the cake I wanted.
I hope you’ll give this one a try. It looks more complicated than it is – I promise. The marzipan details aren’t essential, but if you’re up for (as I was) an hour at your kitchen table, birdwatching and shaping acorns, it’ll be a relaxing reprieve from the normal flow of your day.
Autumn Apple Spice Cake with Brown Sugar Swiss Buttercream
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup cinnamon applesauce
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup shredded apple
- 2 Tablespoon molasses or sorghum
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and butter and cut parchment paper to cover the bottom of 2- 9” round cake pans.
- Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and spices together in a large bowl. Set aside.
- Whisk the oil, brown sugar, applesauce, eggs, and molasses together in a medium bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until combined. Fold in the shredded apple until combined.
- Spread batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean. 30-35 minutes should do.
- Remove the cake from the oven and set on a wire rack. Allow to cool completely.
- Make the Swiss buttercream (recipe below)
- Once the buttercream is complete, proceed to make the layer cake – layering Swiss buttercream between layers of cut cake. You can either layer the cake in 2 layers or 4. If 4 layers, cut each cake horizontally in half.
- Keep the cake covered with a cake dome and cover the exposed layers with plastic wrap if you’ll be eating it over the course of days – the cake will keep for 5 days in the refrigerator.
Brown Sugar Swiss Buttercream (Martha Stewart Living Magazine 2017)
- 5 large egg whites
- 1 2/3 cups packed dark brown sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 4 sticks (2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 Tbsp molasses
- Edible Gold Luster Dust
- Put egg whites, sugar, and salt into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk until mixture registers 160 degrees, about 4 minutes.
- Beat on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 6 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low. Add butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating after each addition (meringue will deflate slightly as butter is added). Beat until frosting is smooth and glossy, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add the molasses at the very end, whipping one final time until fully incorporated. If using the gold luster dust, add a bit at a time and fold in with a spatula until you've reached the desired shimmer you're looking for.
Working with marzipan is just like transporting back to childhood and shaping your playdough crafts. You’ll likely find a block of it in your grocery store in the baking section. You could also make it from scratch. The biggest key to working with marzipan is keeping it from drying out. I chunk off small pieces to work with and keep the rest of the block in a plastic bag, away from air exposure, while I shape.
To make indentions and markings on your marzipan, dip a toothpick in a bit of canola oil before pressing it into the marzipan. It’ll leave a cleaner line and the oil absorbs super quickly.
I purchased edible gold luster dust on Amazon for this project and loved it! I also mixed a bit of the luster dust into the buttercream to give the frosting a slight sheen to it in the sunlight.