Caramel Apple Coffee Cake

I’m a huge fan of caramel apples, which beat the proverbial pants off of their degenerate cousins, candy apples. Yeah, they’re all a dentist’s nightmare with the sugar and whatnot, but at least I won’t break my teeth on a caramel apple, and it won’t turn my face red from food coloring. (Also, that’s what brushing your teeth is for. Duh.) I’m also often disappointed by any candy or recipe that claims to have “caramel apple flavor” or remind me of caramel apples because of just that – they remind me of the confection, but not enough. So when I come across something that actually gives me every part of the caramel apple I like – a good ratio of caramel to apple, and good caramel and apples to boot – plus taking away the part I’m not a huge fan of – getting my face and hands covered in sticky caramel like a five-year-old – I’m going to run with it.

Enter the Caramel Apple Coffee Cake.

Coffee cake is great. The best kinds of coffee cake have the perfect ratio of crumbly bits to cake (the perfect ratio being half and half. Fight me). This coffee cake is one of those cakes – if you’ve got a lot of crumbly topping going on, you’re doing it right. Don’t panic. (As a side note, coffee cake in this context doesn’t actually contain any coffee – it’s just a cake that goes well with coffee or tea time, and tends to have a sort of crumbly topping.)

I’ve been making this cake every year for the past five years, perhaps more, right when the good, tart apples are coming into season. It’s a perennial crowd-pleaser (I’m part of that crowd), looks filthy and excellent in person and on camera, and is a delicious combination of sweet and nutty crumblies, silky caramel, and softly spiced cake. Yes, it has multiple parts and is a bit of a project cake, but none of the parts, including the caramel, are difficult to pull off.

If you have the time, make the caramel sauce in advance (up to a few days), and refrigerate it until you’re ready to use it. It’s one of the easiest caramel sauces I’ve made, as it doesn’t require long stints in front of the stove or a candy thermometer – just a few minutes of boiling and a bit of time to sit. But you can make all of the parts at once, as well – it’ll just be more of a project for that particular day, and great for a rainy one.

Ready to get started? Leeeeeeeet’s go!

Caramel Apple Coffee Cake

You will need:

  • Streusel Topping (recipe follows)
  • Caramel Sauce (recipe follows), divided use
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3 c peeled, cored, and sliced tart apples, such as Arkansas Black or Granny Smith
  • 1/2 c (one stick) butter, softened
  • 1 c sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 c flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 2/3 c milk, room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • Sea salt for sprinkling on finished cake (optional)

Directions:

  1. Prepare the Caramel Sauce, and set aside. If using Caramel Sauce from the refrigerator, microwave on high for 20-30 seconds and stir until smooth and pourable.
  2. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium high heat, and add sliced apples. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened and coated with butter, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for at least 20-30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the cake.
  3. Prepare Streusel Topping and set aside.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan.
  5. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom in a medium bowl, and set aside.
  6. In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl, beat butter until light and creamy, about 1-2 minutes. Gradually add sugar, and beat until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly mixed. With the mixer on low speed, add about 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined. Add 1/2 of the milk. Repeat with remaining flour and milk, ending with the flour mixture, making sure everything is thoroughly combined. Stir in vanilla.
  7. Pour batter into prepared springform pan. Top the cake batter with the sauteed apples, and pour 1/2 c of the Caramel Sauce on top of the apples. Sprinkle Streusel Topping on top.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes. Cover the cake loosely with foil, and continue to bake for another 20-30 minutes until the center is set (not jiggly) – a knife or cake tester will not come out clean, as the caramel and applies will stick to it.
  9. Cool completely on a wire rack (about 1 1/2 hours). When the cake is completely cooled, set the cake onto a plate or platter, and carefully remove the ring from the springform pan (you may need to run a butter knife around the perimeter of the cake). Top with remaining caramel sauce, and sprinkle with sea salt, if you like. Yay, cake!

Caramel Sauce

You can prepare this sauce up to a week in advance and refrigerate until ready to use. To reheat, microwave on high for 15-20 seconds, or until pourable and smooth.

You will need:

  • 1 c packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 c (1 stick) salted butter
  • 1/4 c heavy cream
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk or rubber spatula. Allow to boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes until cooled and thickened. Use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use.

Streusel Topping

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1 c chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1/2 c packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 c white sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 c (1 stick) butter, melted

Directions:

  1. Stir together all ingredients except butter until thoroughly combined. Add melted butter, and stir until blended. Allow to sit until cooled and firmly packed, about 15-20 minutes (you can help the packing by pressing down on the mixture with a spatula). Crumble and use as directed in the coffee cake recipe.

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