This cake is inspired by Christina Tosi’s apple pie cake from the Milk Bar cookbook. Christina Tosi is obviously a total genius and the cake is amazing exactly as her recipe is written, but I couldn’t resist a making a few twists and variations on her version. I swapped out the frosting for my favourite ermine frosting, which I think is a bit lighter and less sweet. I ditched the liquid cheesecake which, though totally delicious, isn’t very apple pie-y and I added a little slip of salted caramel.
This cake is quite involved, with many steps and components but it’s worth it for a real showy, grand finale worthy of finishing any festive meal you have planned. Or it would be an amazing birthday cake for an indecisive friend who can’t choose between their twin loves: pie and cake. You can do a lot in advance: pie crumbs keeps well in the fridge or freezer in an airtight container, cake can be baked a couple days in advance and tightly wrapped in saran wrap in the fridge, the cider soak and caramel can also be made well in advance. Having these components done when you actually want to get the cake assembled makes it much less overwhelming.
apple pie cake with caramel
Recipes adapted from Milk Bar except where noted
brown butter cake
6 tbs butter
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
½ cup buttermilk (or milk soured with a splash of lemon juice)
⅓ cup grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Brown butter in a small pan on medium heat, the butter will sputter and spit. Watch the butter constantly and stir occasionally. The butter will turn golden, then nut brown. Remove from heat at this point, it can burn very quickly after it browns. Cool completely in the fridge and then bring to room temperature.
Heat the oven to 350° F. Combine the brown butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix medium-high with the paddle attachment until pale and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl and add eggs one at a time, mixing between additions. Scrape bowl and mix on medium-high for a couple more minutes.
Slowly add buttermilk, oil, and vanilla with the mixer on the lowest speed. When just incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high and mix for about 5 minutes, until the batter is very pale and fluffy.
Mix in flour, baking powder and salt and mix on lowest speed until incorporated. Scrape sides and mix again briefly. Check for lumps and unmixed spots.
Line three 6” springform cake pans with parchment. Divide batter between pans (a large ice cream or cookie scoop with a release is handy for getting even distribution). Bake 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Cool cakes completely before frosting. Chilling or freezing the layers will make them firmer and easier to frost and assemble.
pie crust crumb
1½ cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
¾ teaspoon flaky salt
½ cup butter, melted
1 ½ tablespoons water
Heat the oven to 350° F.
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and water and pulse several times until the mixture forms small clumps.
Spread the crumbs evenly on a parchment-lined pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, tossing them occasionally. They are done when they are golden brown.
Let the crumbs cool completely before using in a recipe or eating. Stored in an airtight container, the crumbs will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.
pie crust frosting
adapted from Martha Stewart
6 tbs unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups butter room temperature
1 ½ cup sugar
½ recipe of pie crumbs, pulverized to a fine powder
Cook milk and flour in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens to a gluey, pudding consistency. Cover the pan and cool to room temperature. It needs to be completely room temperature before the next step or it will melt the butter. At this point you can chill this mixture to make the frosting later, but if you do, do not proceed before bring back up to room temperature - cold flour mix added to butter will seize and split the frosting.
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, whip together butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add in room temperature milk mixture and increase speed to medium-high. Whip until the mixture is smooth and very fluffy, which can take more than 15 minutes sometimes. It may look split or grainy or weepy at some point, but just keep on mixing until fluffy and velvety. This always takes way longer than I think it should, so I recommend that you walk away at this point and don’t look at the frosting more often than every 5 minutes. I like to use this time to do some of the dishes I have made or have a snack. Just don’t stare at your frosting getting stressed out.
When you have smoothness and fluffiness, add the vanilla and beat until fully incorporated. Add the pie crust crumbs and beat to incorporate.
If your frosting becomes a little soft and droopy at any point, chill it in the fridge for about 10 minutes, and the beat again. Repeat until frosting is smooth and holds a peak.
2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon butter
⅔ cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Cook all ingredients in a small saucepan until the apples are tender but not mushy. If liquid is still very thin, remove apples and continue to reduce until syrupy and about half of the original volume. Toss with apples.
apple cider soak
¼ cup apple cider (cloudy apple juice)
1 tsp brown sugar, tightly packed
a pinch ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
Combine all ingredients in a plastic squeeze bottle. Chill until ready to use.
salted caramel drizzle
adapted from sally's baking addiction
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup salted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy cream
2 or 3 (or more!) teaspoons salt
Melt sugar in a pan over medium heat, stirring until fully dissolved. Continue stirring constantly until sugar is deep gold. Add butter and stir until incorporated into sugar. Still stirring, add cream in a slow stream. Sugar will bubble up. Continue cooking for one minute and then remove from heat.
The caramel can be made in advance and stored in the fridge.
Level cake layers and trim off the sides if you like - I like to because sometimes the sides are a bit more cooked than I want them. Drizzle cake with apple cider, either in a plastic squeeze bottle or with a pastry brush. You want to get good, even coverage without totally soaking your cake.
Place a cake board, if using, or a very flat plate, onto a cake turntable. Put a layer on cake on the board and scoop on a generous layer of frosting. Spread evenly over the cake and drizzle caramel overtop (a plastic squeeze bottle comes in handy here too). Sprinkle on a little of the remaining pie crumbs (about ¼ remaining crumb). Repeat layering cake, frosting, caramel and crumbs with the middle layer, and top with the final cake layer.
Give the whole cake a quick overall frosting, making sure to cover the sides and top entirely. Don’t worry about making it smooth at this stage, just frost it quickly. Put the cake in the fridge about 20 minutes.
Remove from the fridge and frost again, this time taking care to smooth the sides and top, using a generous amount of frosting and then scraping off excess with a bench scraper or offset spatula. Chill again until frosting is very firm, about 30 minutes. Drizzle caramel overtop, dripping a little down the sides of the cake. Decorate the top with remaining crust crumbs. Chill the cake if not serving right away, but let it sit out for two hours before serving to come back to room temperature.