As I was saying last week, something about fall just makes it so much fun to spend time in the kitchen. Every recipe I see makes me want to give it a try. All the warm spices, harvest veggies, and hearty soups and stews make me feel particularly joyful when I step into the kitchen. However, there is one thing that I’m decidedly not as crazy about. At least not as crazy as the rest of the world, apparently.
I’m hesitant to even discuss it, because I’m sure it will be followed by a chorus of, “Crazy talk!” Well, here goes… I don’t love pumpkin. Every other recipe I see is “pumpkin spice something or other,” or “pumpkin caramel blah blah blah”. It’s not that I hate pumpkin, I actually like it. But so often, anything pumpkin-flavored is also tooth-achingly sweet, intensely cinnamon- or clove-laden, and, quite frankly, boring. Most of the time you see recipes for something pumpkin-y, all you get is a regular recipe for something, plus one can of pureed pumpkin. I like pumpkin pie as much as the next girl, but I can wait until Thanksgiving. And you certainly won’t ever catch me putting anything pumpkin-flavored into perfectly good coffee. I loved this fresh-baked pumpkin, but that seems completely different and in a class of its own, doesn’t it?
I don’t mean to be down on pumpkin, but I just think there are so many other wonderful fall ingredients that I just can’t waste my time on canned, tinny pumpkin. Like apples. I could go on all day about how much I love apples in the fall. I love picking them at an orchard, I love drinking apple cider, and I love the smell in my house on applesauce-making day. And I’d rather have this delicately spiced, beautifully simple apple cake than any pumpkin monstrosity any day of the week.
This cake feels like a big warm hug. The cake is light and moist, and gives only a hint of the warm spices within. The applesauce plays around in the background and doesn’t beat you over the head. The cream cheese frosting is just the right amount of sweet and the cinnamon isn’t cloying as it can so often become when the baker has a heavy hand. For whatever reason, the first bite of this feels like the cake equivalent of a beautiful fall afternoon spent apple-picking.
I used the applesauce that I made after such an afternoon, but you can use some good store-bought stuff, obviously. Just make sure you don’t buy anything too sweet- unsweetened would really be best. And it’s all a matter of personal preference, but I really liked the bits of apple in the cake that came from my homemade chunky version. So I might recommend buying chunky applesauce if you can find it. If you have any interest in making your own applesauce, I can recommend using this recipe. I make a variation of this each year and I’m always so glad I do, especially when I can pull out some homemade applesauce from the freezer the following March.
But I digress. I have a feeling I lost some pumpkin zealots halfway through the first paragraph, but if you’re still with me, I think I can win you back if you at least give this cake a try. You won’t miss your pumpkin bread one bit, I promise.
Applesauce Spice Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted, just barely, from Gourmet
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
3/4 cup walnuts, divided
5 oz cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350°F . Generously utter an 8- or 9-inch square cake pan.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.
Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in applesauce. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined, then stir in 1/2 cup walnuts. Don’t overmix!
Spread batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool in the pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling.
For the frosting, beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until fluffy. Add confectioners sugar and cinnamon to cheese mixture, then beat at medium speed until incorporated.
Spread frosting over top of cooled cake, then sprinkle remaining walnuts over the top.