Apple Cider Spice Cake with Cider Buttercream, Chocolate Ganache, and Apple Roses
This Apple cake is absolutely bursting with warm apple flavor thanks to concentrated Apple Cider Syrup, shredded sour apples, and a touch of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Apple Cider Buttercream delivers even more apple flavor and a thick, velvety layer of Dark Chocolate Ganache covers the cake with a blanket of bittersweet luxury.
As a child, I have very clear memories of standing in front of a chocolate shop bakery case trying to decide which of the giant caramel apples I wanted. Inevitably, I'd select one covered in chocolate and with a generous sprinkle of salt and chopped nuts.
That combination of flavors and textures is still one of my favorites. The cool, tart, crisp apple and creamy, sweet caramel. The rich, bittersweet chocolate and salty crunch from the roasted nuts and sea salt. A little bit of tart, sweet, bitter, and salt in every single bite. So, so good.
So, that's what I was chasing when I stepped into the kitchen with the intention of making an Apple Cake. The problem with apple cake is that it's actually kind of difficult to get a strong apple flavor into the batter. Apples, like most fruit, are largely water. So, adding enough of them to cake batter to achieve a pronounced apple flavor is problematic. The more apples you add, the more liquid you add to the batter, watering it down and creating an imbalance that weakens the cake's overall structure.
Apple Cider to the rescue
I knew that to get a pronounced apple flavor, adding more and more apples wasn't the answer. So what then? I thought that adding some apple cider might work... but, once again, didn't want to water down the batter. To capture the apple flavor and get rid of excess water, I decided to reduce the apple cider into a thick syrup.
I poured a large 1.5 liter jug of apple cider into a skillet and let it boil until it was reduced to just 1 cup. I added half a cup of the apple syrup to the cake batter and the other half to the buttercream. This worked beautifully. The apple cider syrup has a deliciously concentrated, tart apple flavor that goes a long way, boosting the flavor of the cake and the buttercream without watering everything down.
You've gotta have apples in apple cake.
Even though apple cider syrup did a lot more to boost the apple flavor of this cake than the apples themselves, I still wanted some fresh apples in there. But, I also wanted the cake to have a fluffy crumb with the apples evenly distributed throughout.
The problem with adding chunks of apples to cake batter is that you can end up with a slightly gummy texture around each chunk of apple. To ensure a fluffy, even texture, I decided to grate the apples instead of chopping them into chunks.
Grating the apples not only allows you to evenly incorporate the apples throughout the batter, it prevents the watery, slightly mushy areas of cake that chunks of apples can create. The result is a supremely moist cake with a tender, fluffy crumb.
How to Make Apple Roses
I wanted to decorate this cake with something that would hint at the fact that it's an apple cake, and couldn't be happier with the little bouquet of apple roses. Apple roses are surprising simple to make. Simply slice a few apples, dunk them in a pot of boiling sugar water, drain, and roll up into sweet little rose buds.
Step#1: Slice out the apple core.
Cut an apple so that you have two halves without a core.
Step #2: Slice each apple half into ¼-inch slices.
Use a very sharp knife or a mandolin to slice each half into thin slices that are no larger than ¼-inch thick.
Step #3: Blanch the apple slices into a pan of boiling sugar water.
Add a cup of sugar to about 3 cups of water and bring it to a boil. Drop the apple slices into the water, letting them cook for just a few seconds before draining. This will soften the apple slices and preserve them so that they don't brown.
Let the apples cool slightly, then lay them out on a dry paper towel. Blot the surface of the apples with another dry paper towel to remove excess moisture.
Step #4: Roll the slices into rose buds.
Lay two or three apple slices out on a work surface so that they are overlapping. Then, simply roll them up.
Step #5: Top the cake or cupcakes with apple roses.
Place the apple rose buds onto the top of the cake or cupcakes as you create them, pressing them into the soft ganache, which will hold them in place.
It's important to have the blanched apple slices ready to be rolled into rose buds BEFORE pouring the ganache over the cake or cupcakes. If you wait too long, the ganache will start to harden, making it difficult to press the rose buds into it.
More popular apple recipes:
- Apple Cinnamon Muffins
- Irish Apple Cake with Custard Sauce
- Saucy Apple Slab Pie with Crumb Topping
- Caramel Apple Pie
- Apple Butter and Pastry Cream Hand Pies
- Apple Fritters with Maple Glaze
- Apple Cinnamon Pancakes
- Easy Apple Butter
More popular cake recipes:
- The Perfect Spice Cake
- Coconut Cream Cake
- German Chocolate Cupcakes
- The Most Flavorful Vanilla Cake
- Red Velvet Cake or Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Buttercream
- Ridiculously Good Carrot Cake with Caramel Rum Sauce
- Black Forest Cake
Final Note: The importance of choosing quality ingredients.
Prue Leith, one of the judges on the British Baking Show, has a simple standard for baked goods and desserts that I love: It has to be worth the calories. Nothing more, nothing less. Do what you have to do to ensure that you feel satisfied and content about what you're eating.
For me, this means that when I bake, I try to be cognizant of which ingredients matter the most and to the overall flavor and texture, and then use the highest quality I can find of those ingredients. You simply can't get a high quality result from substandard ingredients. If the ingredients aren't good, the end result will suffer. And I want to feel that every single bite is unequivocally worth it.
For this cake, that means using really good chocolate, flavorful apples, and high quality apple cider. My favorite apple cider is Martinelli's. Not only is it flavorful and delicious, it's relatively easy to find in most major supermarkets. And of course, if all else fails, there's always Amazon.
For chocolate, I almost always use Lindt. I order bars in bulk of Lindt Milk Chocolate, 70% Dark, 85% Dark, and 90% Dark so that I always have the right kind of chocolate on hand for whatever I'm baking.
If you give this recipe a try, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, or take a picture and tag it #ofbatteranddough on Instagram.
For the Apple Cake:
- 1.5 ltr (50 ounces/ 1.6 quart) Apple Cider
- 1 ½ cups light brown sugar
- 16 tbsp (8 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tbsp orange zest
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 3 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ tsp table salt (2 ½ tsp kosher salt)
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp allspice
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 3 semi-packed cups shredded Granny Smith apples that have been peeled and cored (about 1 ½ lbs) *See Note.
For the Apple Cider Buttercream:
- 3 sticks (24 tbsp/ 12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¼ tsp table salt (½ tsp kosher salt)
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tbsp heavy cream
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- ½ cup apple cider reduction, at room temperature (reserved from step #2 in cake recipe instructions)
- 4–5 cups powdered sugar
For the Chocolate Ganache:
- 6 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, at least 70% dark and up to 85% extra dark (*see note)
- ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
- ¼ tsp salt
For the Apple Roses (optional, for decoration):
- 3 red apples
- 1 cup Granulated Sugar
- mint leaves for decoration (optional)
Make the Apple Cake or Cupcakes:
- Grease three 8-inch round cake pans with vegetable shortening or butter. Line the bottoms with a round of parchment paper and coat the paper in a bit of vegetable shortening or butter. Coat the inside of the pans with flour. (Here's how to prevent cakes from sticking.) If making cupcakes, line a couple of muffin pans with paper liners. *This recipe will make a total of 36 cupcakes.
- If making cake layers: preheat the oven to 325 degrees. If making cupcakes: preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Pour the apple cider into a 12-inch skillet (or larger) and set it over medium high heat. Let the cider boil until it’s reduced to 1 cup. Towards the end, the cider will begin to reduce very quickly, so keep a close eye on it, pouring it into a measuring cup from time to time to measure.
- Pour ½ cup of the cider reduction into a medium size bowl. Add the brown sugar and butter, and stir to combine. Let sit until cooled to room temperature. Reserve the remaining ½ cup of cider reduction for the Apple Cider Buttercream.
- Once cool, add the eggs, orange zest, vanilla, and almond extract to the cider and brown sugar mixture. Stir vigorously with a wire whisk to combine, whisking until smooth.
- In a separate bowl, add the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. Stir to combine.
- Add the lemon juice to a separate bowl and stir in the shredded apples, tossing them around in the lemon juice to coat.
- Add the cider and sugar mixture and the shredded apples to the flour mixture and stir to combine – stirring just long enough so that all the dry ingredients are moistened and the mixture is homogenous.
- Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans or cupcake pans.
If baking cake layers: bake for 35-40 minutes, until the cakes are pulling away from the sides of the pans, and a toothpick stuck in the center of one of the layers comes out without any evidence of raw batter. If baking cupcakes: bake for 23-25 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in the center of one of the layers comes out without any evidence of raw batter.
Make the Apple Cider Buttercream:
- Add all the buttercream ingredients to the bowl of a Stand Mixer, starting with just 3 cups of powdered sugar. (You can also use a hand mixer.) Beat on medium high speed until completely blended and smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl from time to time.
- Continue to beat in as much more powdered sugar as you need to create a thick frosting that’s stiff enough to hold its shape. If using it to fill layers of cake, it should be fairly stiff so that the cake layers don’t slip around when stacked.
- Ice the cake or cupcakes with the buttercream, spreading it in between each layer of cake, and covering the top and sides of the cake. Place the iced cake or cupcakes in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before topping with Chocolate Ganache.
(*See notes below about preparing the cake and buttercream in advance.)
For the Chocolate Ganache:
- Chop the chocolate into very small pieces and put in a bowl.
Heat the cream just until bubbles begin to appear around the sides of the pan – you want to heat it right up to the boiling point, but do not let it come to a full boil.
- Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand for 2 minutes to melt the chocolate. Stir until all the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth. Stir in the salt. (*If the chocolate isn’t completely melted after stirring for a few minutes, set the bowl over a small saucepan of boiling water and stir just until all the chocolate is melted – be careful to not overheat or the chocolate will burn.)
- Let the ganache cool to room temperature, stirring it from time to time. This will take about 20 minutes. Do not try and cool it faster by placing it in the refrigerator. Doing so will result in ganache that is goopy and does not pour smoothly.
- Remove the cake from the refrigerator and pour the chocolate ganache over the top of the cake, letting some of it drip over the sides. If making cupcakes, spoon about a tablespoon of ganache over the top of each buttercream frosted cupcake.
Make the Apple Roses:
- Have the blanched apple slices ready before pouring the chocolate ganache over the top of the cake. You want the chocolate to be soft when placing the chocolate roses into the ganache. *See the video and step-by-step instructions with photos above this recipe.
- Slice 3 red skinned apples in half, cutting around the core. Using a sharp knife or mandolin, cut each half into ¼ inch slices.
- Add the sugar and three cups of water to a large saucepan. Set it over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the apple slices to the boiling sugar water all at once and stir gently. When the water comes back up to a rolling boil, remove the pan from the heat and drain the apple slices in a colander set in the sink.
- Let cool slightly then lay the apple slices out on a paper towel, blotting them with another paper towel to remove any excess moisture.
- Lay 2 or 3 slices of apple on a work surface in a horizontal line so that their edges overlap. Roll the apple slices up into a rose bud and place into the freshly poured chocolate ganache. Repeat to create as many apple roses as you like.
- If using, press a mint leaves into the ganache next to the rosebuds.
The cake can be kept at room temperature for a few hours until ready to serve. *See notes below on storage and make-ahead instructions.
- It’s important to use tart, crisp apples for this cake. Granny Smith are my top choice but Macintosh also work well. I use my food processor to shred the apples; a box grater will work as well. Cut the apples into quarters then peel and core each quarter before shredding.
- It’s good to use very dark chocolate in the ganache for this cake in order to prevent the cake from becoming overly sweet. Chocolate that’s at least 70% dark is preferred, and I usually reach for 85% dark. When poured over the top of the cake, very dark chocolate ganache provides a nice balance to the sweetness of the buttercream.
- Storing the cake and preparing it in advance: The layers of apple cake, or cupcakes, can be kept tightly wrapped at room temperature for up to 2 days. The apple cider buttercream can also be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Store the buttercream in a covered container in the refrigerator. Allow the buttercream time to come to room temperature and re-beat for a minute or two before using. The cake (or cupcakes) can be frosted and stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. The chocolate ganache and apple roses should be prepared and added to the cake the same day you are serving the cake.
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OXO Good Grips Chef's Mandoline Slicer 2.0
KitchenAid 6 Qt. Professional 600 Series Bowl-Lift Stand Mixer
NutriChef Non-stick Carbon Steel Muffin Pans
Wilton Aluminum Round Cake Pan, 8 x 3-Inch
Cuisinart Nonstick Hard-Anodized 12-Inch Skillet
OXO Good Grips Box Grater
Cuisinart 14-Cup Food Processor
Lindt Excellence 85% Cocoa Dark Chocolate 4-3.5oz bars
Lindt Excellence Bar, 70% Cocoa Smooth Dark Chocolate, 3.5 Ounce (Pack of 12)
Martinelli's Apple Cider, 50.7 oz
Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 799Total Fat: 16gSaturated Fat: 10gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 65mgSodium: 317mgCarbohydrates: 207gFiber: 4gSugar: 237gProtein: 6g