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Eric Akis: Caramel sauce and apple cake make divine, decadent dessert

Dense, nicely spiced cake is packed with bits of apple and walnuts
Apple and walnut cake is drizzled with salted caramel sauce. Eric Akis

There are three apple trees in my backyard and this year’s crop of fruit was impressive. That explains why my wife and I have been sharing a lot of them with friends and neighbours and using them in our own kitchen in all kinds of preparations.

The latter has included savoury dishes, such as adding cubes of apple to chicken curry, or cooking wedges of apple alongside roast pork. We’ve used apples in breakfast/brunch items too, such as muffins, pancakes and apple sauce that we spoon on bowls of yogurt and granola. We’ve also, of course, used them in desserts, such as pie, strudel and cakes, such as the one I made for today’s recipe.

It’s a dense, nicely spiced, not overly tall one that’s packed with bits of apple and walnuts. It tastes fine served as is, but becomes divine when drizzled with the salted caramel sauce I served with it.

To make that sauce, you let some sugar and water turn into syrup and simmer, undisturbed, until golden in colour. Whipping cream is then slowly whisked in. When that’s achieved, some butter, vanilla and kosher (or sea salt) is added.

If you’re wondering why you would add salt to caramel sauce, like anything you add salt to, it further enhances the flavour (umami) of it, making the already sublime sauce taste even more so.

The cake yields eight servings. If that’s too many for you, any leftover cake could be cut into wedges, individually wrapped and frozen, to later thaw and enjoy at another time.

Apple Walnut Cake with Salted Caramel Sauce

Dense, nicely spiced cake rich with bits of apples and walnuts, served with a divine salted caramel sauce.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 30 to 35 minutes

Makes: eight servings

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup soft butter

3/4 cup packed golden brown sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 Tbsp 10 per cent (half and half) cream

2 large eggs

2 cups apples, peeled, cored and cut into small 1/2-inch or so cubes (about 2 to 3 apples, depending on size)

1/2 cup walnut pieces

• vegetable oil spray

• homemade (see recipe below) or store-bought salted caramel sauce

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine.

Place butter, sugar and vanilla in a mixing bowl, or bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until well combined and lightened. Mix in the cream, and then beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Add the cubed apples and walnuts to the flour mixture and stir to coat them. Now add the apple/flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until a thick batter forms.

Spray a non-stick nine-inch springform cake pan with oil spray. (If your pan is not non-stick, cut a round of parchment paper the same size as the bottom of the pan and set it there.) Spoon and evenly spread the cake batter into the pan. Bake cake in the middle of the oven 30 to 35 minutes, or until it springs back when gently touched in the very centre.

Set cake pan on a cooling rack and cool cake to room temperature. Now remove the cake pan’s outer ring. Cover cake until ready to serve. It can be made a day before serving.

When ready to serve, cut cake into wedges, plate them, and let those enjoying it drizzle their piece, to taste, with salted caramel sauce.

Salted Caramel Sauce

This divine caramel sauce sees golden-hued sugar syrup be combined with cream, butter, vanilla and a touch of salt. Drizzle it on plated servings of the apple walnut cake. It can also be spooned on other things, such as ice cream, apple pie, waffles and cheesecake.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 13 to 18 minutes

Makes: about one cup

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup whipping cream (divided)

2 Tbsp soft butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 tsp kosher or coarse sea salt (don’t use fine-grained salt)

Place sugar and water in a small to medium pot. (Mixture will look thick, but will turn to syrup as it heats. My pot was six-inches wide). Set pot over medium heat, bring to a simmer and cook, without stirring, until mixture is golden in colour, about 10 to 13 minutes.

Remove pot from heat. Carefully, and very, very slowly, dribble and whisk in 1/4 cup of the whipping cream. (Don’t quickly add the cream or mixture may bubble over). Now whisk in remaining 1/4 cup of cream. When all the cream is incorporated, whisk in the butter, vanilla and salt.

Serve the salted caramel sauce warm or at room temperature. After using what you need, you can store the leftover sauce in a tight-sealing jar in refrigerator. If you do that, warm the sauce to at least room temperature before using.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.