Sticky Toffee Apple Cake
A super moist and supremely sticky, sweet cake combining all of your favourite traditional sticky toffee pudding flavours with the warmth of apple and cinnamon, all topped with a caramel cream cheese frosting and toffee glaze. An indulgent autumn bake!
Maybe it’s because I’m British, but “puddings” have always been my undoing. Here in the UK, a pudding is typically a stick-to-the-back-of-your-spoon, stodgy, hot dessert, usually served with warm custard or, for the more contemporary Brit, cold vanilla Ice cream. Think jam roly poly, steamed treacle, chocolate or raspberry puddings, spotted dick (don’t ask!) bread and butter pudding, and of course sticky toffee pudding, the last of which is by far my absolute favourite! In fact, I would defy anyone that claims they do not get excited when they see sticky toffee pudding on the menu after a meal at cosy pub on a cold autumn day.
Traditional sticky toffee pudding gets its rich, toffee flavours and wonderful sticky, moist texture from soaked dates, brown sugars, treacle and vanilla. The pudding is then slathered with a warm toffee sauce which quite honestly I could drink from a cup! Who am I kidding - I HAVE drunk it from a cup!!
The Inspiration For This Cake!
So when Kate Lyons, finalist from series 8 of The Great British Bake Off, created a sticky toffee apple caramel cake, which Paul Hollywood dubbed as “the best cake I’ve ever eaten”, I truly hailed her as a goddess. However, after a couple of stabs at the recipe featured on the GBBO website for this holy grail of a cake, I started to wonder if Kate Lyons may have been keeping some secret ingredient from us, the sneaky little devil! The resulting cakes made from this recipe, even with some small tweaks, were really tasty but I was slightly underwhelmed. They just seemed too un-sticky-toffee-ish, both in flavour and texture; they did not give off that deep, rich toffee flavour and were not moist or sticky enough to dare be associated with it’s original namesake. It was more like a tasty spiced cake with caramel cream cheese frosting, which was neither light enough to be a fluffy sponge, nor dense or moist enough to be a hearty, comforting sort of cake (which is kind of the point of a sticky toffee pudding!). Needless to say I was a tad crestfallen, although my taste testers enjoyed the attempts, so perhaps my expectations were just a little too high.
My Reinvention of Sticky Toffee Apple Cake!
This autumn, I decided to reinvent Kate’s cake to suit my specific sticky needs. This reinvention took a few attempts, playing around with oil vs butter, fresh vs dehydrated apple, more spice vs less spice, additional flavouring vs no flavouring, multi- layered vs single-layer, buttercream frosting vs cream cheese frosting...the combinations were endless. Eventually I settled on a few final recipe tweaks which satisfied my cravings:
Oil instead of butter - guaranteed a moist sponge that stayed fresher for longer, and allowed other flavours to shine rather than being taken over by the butter!
Fresh apple and dehydrated apple - the use of fresh grated apple gave a lovely moist texture that you get from a good carrot cake and allows the apple flavour to subtly come through the entire cake. The dehydrated apple provides small bursts of concentrated apple flavour; without it you loose most of it’s appley-ness to the toffee flavours!
Less spice is more! - I decided to just use a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon in this cake rather than the additional allspice that the original recipe called for. For me, the allspice completely overpowered the toffee flavours, but the cinnamon alone was just enough to enhance the apple.
Cream cheese frosting - I stuck with the origins of this cake when it came to the frosting. Cream cheese, for me, created the perfect balance of rich and sweet, with a slight tang of cream cheese frosting. If you like insanely sweet cakes, by all means whip up a buttercream! Alternatively you could do away with the frosting altogether and just drizzle with the toffee glaze for a more homely and rustic cake!
Caramel extract - I wanted to add caramel flavour to the cake batter as well as the frosting without drastically changing the consistency and sugar content of either by adding real caramel. For me, Kate's original recipe with caramel cream cheese frosting using real caramel made the frosting way too unstable, especially in my warm autumn kitchen with the heating on full and oven blasting away with my autumn bakes! The best way to for me to overcome this was to use caramel extract in place of real caramel. They sell this in the majority of large food stores where I live but you can also easily buy it online! I love this brand for natural extracts, but there are plenty out there! If you can’t get hold of this, simple vanilla extract will taste just as nice in the cake batter, as the medjool dates give off their own natural caramel flavour, but you won't achieve the same flavour. For the frosting, if you don't have the extract I would suggest making a caramel buttercream with real caramel if you prefer a frosting that is more stable for decorating. A real caramel cream cheese frosting will taste fantastic but isn't stable enough for piping or lasting very long in warm/humid environments.
Single layer - This cake is immensely rich, so for me, a single, thick layer was more than enough!
Syrup - Right after baking, I drizzled my sponge with a brown-sugar-apple syrup to enhance the apple and toffee flavours, as well as adding a little stickiness! This step is totally optional
So, without further ado, I give you my version of Sticky Toffee Apple Cake! Rich and sticky, with a supremely moist and dense crumb, and enhanced with wonderful autumn flavours. Whether you just make the cake and drizzle with toffee sauce, or frost with caramel buttercream, or you go the full hog with the cream cheese frosting, toffee glaze and caramel decorations as I have done, I can guarantee you, if you’re a sticky toffee lover like me, you’ll struggle to have only one slice of this cake!
Sticky Toffee Apple Cake!
Total Prep: 40 minutes
Bake: 50-60 minutes
Difficulty: Requires some skill
85g Chopped Medjool dates (plus extra for decoration)
5 Tbsp cloudy apple juice (divided)
170g Light muscovado sugar
150g Flavourless oil (not olive or maize oil for example!)
1 Tsp Natural caramel flavouring
140g Grated apple (use a sharp green apple like Granny Smith)
215g Self raising flour
1 Tsp Baking soda
2 Tsp ground cinnamon
40g Dried apple rings, chopped (the soft kind, not crunchy!)
50g Light Muscavado sugar
50ml Cloudy apple juice
Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting:
50g Unsalted butter, softened
100g Cream cheese
280g Icing sugar
1 Tsp natural caramel flavouring
Toffee Drip Glaze:
250ml double cream
1 tbsp black treacle
150g light soft brown sugar
100g unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
100g Caster sugar
1. Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan). Grease an 8 inch round cake tin and line bottom and sides with parchment
2. Place chopped dates and 3 tbsp of cloudy apple juice in a small pan and heat gently on a low heat, stirring frequently, until a very soft and thick purée forms. Remove from heat and leave to cool.
3. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and cinnamon. Set aside.
4. Beat eggs and sugar together on high speed for about 3 minutes until thick and pale in colour. With beaters on low speed, slowly pour in oil in a steady stream until combined. Beat in caramel extract and date purée. Stir in grated apple, followed by 2 tbsp cloudy apple juice until evenly combined.
5. Gently fold in dry ingredients until fully incorporated, followed by dried apple, being careful not to over mix!
6. Pour mixture into cake tin and tap gently on counter to disperse any large air bubbles
7. Bake for 50-60 minutes. You may need to cover with foil about 45 minutes into baking to avoid the top over-browning. Keep an eye on your cake as I’ve found all ovens bake differently, and you don’t want to over bake this cake or you'll end up with a dry sponge!
8. Meanwhile, make the syrup. Over a medium heat, heat sugar and apple juice together in a small pan. Once the mixture starts to both and foam, remove from the heat and set aside.
9. Once fully baked, and a skewer inserted in the middle can be removed clean or with just a couple of crumbs, remove from the oven. With the cake still in the tin, poke holes through the sponge and generously brush your syrup over the top. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for a further 10 mins or until the pan has cooled enough to handle, before removing and placing on a wire rack until cooled to room temperature
Cream Cheese Frosting:
In a bowl, beat the softened butter and cream cheese together on a medium-high speed until smooth and fully combined
Sift in the icing sugar in stages, mixing on medium-low speed until full combined. Add the caramel extract and beat on high speed
Once the cake has cooled to room temperature, spread a thick layer of frosting over the top of the sponge and smooth out with an offset spatula
Place in the fridge to firm up for between 20-30 minutes
Put the double cream, treacle, sugar and butter in a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Turn up the heat and boil for 5 minutes or until the sauce thickly coats the back of a metal spoon. Set aside to cool to a pourable consistency that is not too warm to melt the frosting
Remove cake from the fridge and place halved dates in a circular formation about 2 inches from the edge of the cake. Slowly pour the toffee glaze around the edges of the cake, teasing slightly to drip down the sides of the cake. Spread remaining glaze up towards the date "barrier" until the outer circumference is completely covered, leaving the inner circumference behind the "barrier" glaze-free.
Set a large piece of parchment on the work top
Place sugar in a medium pan and stir over a low heat until dissolved. Increase to a medium heat and, without stirring, allow to simmer until the mixture reachers a golden, amber colour. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly until steady, thin strands form when a fork or spoon is dipped in. Dipping a fork or spoon repeatedly in the caramel, drizzle into preferred patterns on the parchment and leave until completely set.
Place the caramel decoration in the centre of the cake. Note that any humidity will cause the caramel to dissolve, so it's best to make and place the caramel decoration as close to serving and possible!