A deliciously tender cake filled with warm spices and buttery apples. Dates add a pleasant sweetness even without a glaze or frosting. This cake pairs well with Spiced Coffee.
We’re more than halfway through 2021 and it still feels like nothing has changed from the last year. Sometimes I start my days with a mental pep talk about being grateful it isn’t so much worse, but it isn’t getting better either so I’m not sure what’s more comforting. There’s a lot of fear over the new virus mutation because the numbers are looking bad, but it’s unsurprising because scientific data on virus life cycles suggest this will all still get a lot worse before it gets somehow better.
This thought has really dulled the shine and the hopefulness that should’ve come with the Olympics pushing through for me. I know people are going to say it’s all about salvaging sponsorship money, but I see it as kind of a symbolic move in an attempt for something half-normal. (Although it seems to coincide with a rise in cases in Tokyo, which is obviously not good. I am confident they’re taking protocols super seriously over there though.) Nonetheless, I have to hand it to the athletes who have still decided to be a part of the Olympics. This year, it’s not just about competing for pride. Part of it has also become about trying to uplift the spirits of their countrymen and the rest of us sports fans with something to cheer for during strange times– at the risk of their own health at that. As if the risk of injury wasn’t enough under normal circumstances, right?
I say this because I am one such person who has psychologically and emotionally benefited from watching my favorite sport being played at the Olympics. I have been enjoying all the Olympic volleyball action the past few days, and it has been one of the main things that has kept me from falling into this black hole of resentment toward the government and our society. I am not going to say any more than that because I try very hard to keep political talk out of this space. I will admit however that this deadly combo of a sucky government and of the masses treating COVID so flippantly often leaves me feeling exhausted, sad, and angry inside. More so lately than usual.
I wonder if this dark and somber feeling is just being magnified by the dreary weather. It’s been raining nonstop for days now, and the monsoon season feels like such a depressing occurrence on top of everything else. In an alternate universe I’d probably be talking about something mundane to start this post; something about needing a “comfort dessert” because of this ridiculous flood-causing amount of rainfall. It feels so wrong complaining about rainfall now. The reality is: We need warmth and comfort for many things other than the weather these days.
As it turns out, this Spiced Apple Cake is the sort of thing I did not realize I needed until I took my first bite. It uses the classic partnership of apples and spices to create something rustic and cozy and delicious. I paired this Spiced Apple Cake with some Spiced Coffee to boot, and I would be lying if I said this didn’t bring me some measure of comfort. I am hoping it will do the same for anyone who needs a little mood booster right now, which is why I tried my best to get this published in a hurry.
I really love making cakes like these. They look humble on the outside, but inside it’s a party. Cakes like these can surprise a person as much as layer cakes can, methinks. This Spiced Apple Cake in particular is pretty impressive. The spices come alive with each bite, and the dates lend the cake some added sweetness. The effort to cook the apples in butter and sugar beforehand will reward you with tasty chunks of apple inside the cake that have this delightful brown buttery caramel flavor to them. I could not get enough of this Spiced Apple Cake.
- WHAT KIND OF APPLES SHOULD I USE? You can use any tart apple for this cake. My personal preference for this recipe is Granny Smiths or green apples, just because they are more on the sour-tart side. I find this balances out any extra sweetness that might come from the cake and the brown sugar used to cook the apples.
- HOW BIG SHOULD I CUT THE APPLES? You can cut your apples anywhere from 1/2 inch to 1 inch. At 1/2 inch, I feel that I cut my apples too small. I prefer larger fruit chunks in my cake, but ultimately the apple size is up to you. It will taste awesome either way!
- DO I REALLY NEED TO COOK THE APPLES FIRST? That extra step of cooking the apples in the butter and sugar not only helps to soften the apples for the cake, it also infuses the apples with a marvelous scent and flavor. Every bite you get the taste of apple, highlighted by buttery, caramel-y, lightly sweet tones. It’s definitely WORTH IT.
- CAN I SKIP ON THE DATES IF I DON’T HAVE ANY? The dates are optional and can be subbed with raisins if that’s what’s available to you. However, I personally highly recommend the addition of the dates, and I also prefer the flavor of dates in this cake. It’s subtle enough to allow the other elements to shine, but it still manages to add a bit of a fruity sort of sweetness to the cake.
- DO I REALLY NEED TO TOSS THE DATES IN FLOUR? Yes! Firstly, this keeps the dates from clumping together. Secondly, this keeps them from sinking to the bottom of your batter as your cake bakes. This trick is used for every cake wherein a “heavy” fruit or add-on is mixed into the batter, but you want the add-ons not to completely sink to the bottom of your cake. Don’t worry, the dates will not have any flour-y flavor at all.
- WHAT SPICES SHOULD I USE FOR THIS CAKE? This cake uses a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. The cloves can have quite a strong flavor in the finished cake, so if you prefer the cinnamon to shine through more, use just ¼ teaspoon.
- IS IT OKAY TO WORK THE BATTER A LOT? This Spiced Apple Cake is one of those you do not want to overmix if you don’t want to get a tough cake. Once you have the last of your dry ingredients in, fold it into the wet just until combined. I usually stop when I still see some streaks of flour in the batter because the apples and dates will still be added in. Mix the last two ingredients in a folding motion once again, but stop once it looks about distributed. DO NOT OVERMIX so your cake will remain tender once baked.
- CAN I USE A SMALLER BUNDT PAN OR OTHER PAN? This recipe requires a 12-cup (3-liter) bundt pan. If only a 10-cup (2.5-liter) bundt pan is available to you, do not fill the bundt pan to the brim as it will spill out as it bakes. Instead, bake the remaining batter in a small cake pan. You can also use a 12-cup rectangular cake pan for this recipe. It just won’t look as pretty lol. To be sure, you may still want to place your bundt pan atop a baking tray to catch potential spills.
- HOW CAN I GET THE CAKE TO NOT STICK IN THE BUNDT PAN? Your cake will never get stuck in your bundt pan if you properly grease and flour the pan before use. My favorite way to grease my bundt pan is by using shortening. I rub or brush it into every nook and cranny of my pan, and then spoon in the flour and move the flour around in the pan. The flour sticks to the shortening in a thin even layer, like magic.
- WHY IS THERE NO GLAZE/FROSTING ON THIS CAKE? This cake is tasty enough without additional toppings. Since I don’t really like things too sweet, (and I wanted to enjoy the cake warm) it was an easy decision for me to skip it. But if you like your cake with frosting or a topping, feel free to dust with powdered sugar, or perhaps add some cream cheese frosting.
- WHAT DOES THE SPICED COFFEE TASTE LIKE? It’s literally coffee with some ginger and cardamom tones. You can control the amount of spices you add into the brew. If you want, you can switch the cardamom to cinnamon. It’s a coffee pairing that elevates the warm spice-y element of this Spiced Apple Cake, but you are free to just drink your normal coffee with this. Enjoy!
Spiced Apple Cake with Dates
Makes one bundt cake
For the apples
- 2 tablespoons 30 grams butter
- 4 medium-sized tart baking apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch portions
- 2 tablespoons 30 grams sugar
For the cake
- 1 cup 150 grams dates, pitted and chopped (optional but highly recommended)
- 3 cups 360 grams all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon 12 grams baking powder
- 1 teaspoon 6 grams baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon ground cloves, depending on taste
- ¾ cup 170 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 ¾ cups 350 grams sugar
- 4 eggs, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup 240 mL buttermilk or plain yogurt, regular or low-fat is fine
For the Spiced Coffee
- 30 grams ground coffee
- ½ to ¾ teaspoons ground cardamom
- 1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 500 mL boiling water
- Milk, as desired
- Sugar, to taste
Prepare the apples
- In a large skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and sauté the apples until coated with butter. Leave them to cook until the apples start to turn golden, stirring them only occasionally as they cook.
- Add in the sugar and cook until the apple cubes are glazed with sugar and whatever liquid there is has evaporated. The apples will look slightly softened. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
Make the cake
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease and flour a 12-cup (3-liter) bundt pan*, making sure to cover every nook and cranny of your bundt pan. This will prevent the cake from sticking once it’s baked. Vigorously tap out any excess flour.
- If using dates, place them in a small bowl. They will have stuck together after chopping. Add in 1 Tablespoon of all-purpose flour (taken from the flour for the cake) and toss the dates until coated with the flour. Prod the clumps until they separate from each other and are well coated.
- In a medium bowl, add all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. (The cloves can have quite a strong flavor in the finished cake, so if you prefer the cinnamon to shine through more, use just ¼ teaspoon.) Whisk until well combined; set aside for a bit.
- In a large bowl, beat butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, incorporating each egg into the batter before adding in the next. Beat in the vanilla extract. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl as you beat to ensure everything is well mixed. (You can also do this step on a stand mixer but it’s not that hard using a spatula.)
- Stir half of the dry mix into the creamed butter mixture until very nearly mixed through, then fold in the buttermilk or yogurt just until combined. Stir in the remaining flour mixture just until combined and a few streaks of flour remain. DO NOT OVERMIX.
- Fold in the cooled apples and dates just until distributed. Again, do not overmix! Scrape the batter into the prepared bundt pan and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then flip the cake out onto a cooling rack. I like to let this cool until just slightly warm to the touch before slicing. (I like it best a little warm.) If desired, cool completely and dust with powdered sugar, or add glaze or frosting as desired.**
- This cake will stay fresh up to 3 days in an airtight container in the fridge. Although it still tastes great cold, the texture of the cake is not the best at this state. Enjoy at room temperature or slightly warm when the cake is its tender, moist self. Cake is great served with Spiced Coffee.
Make the Spiced Coffee
- Combine ground coffee, ground cardamom, ginger, and boiling water in a French Press. Let it brew for 4 minutes before plunging. Serve with warm milk and sugar to taste.
**Since I don’t really like things too sweet, and I wanted to enjoy the cake warm, I skipped the dusting of and frosting. This cake is very flavorful on its own, but if you like it a little sweeter, feel free to dust with powdered sugar, or perhaps add some cream cheese frosting.
Cake adapted from David Lebovitz; Coffee adapted from NDTV Food
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