Steven's Bonfire Apple Cake
March 12, 2023
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Welcome to Katrina's Great British Baking Project, aka Bake Along with Bake Off! If you haven't checked out my post about the hows and whys of this project, please head over there and give it a quick peruse. (TL, DR: I am baking the recipes from Bake Off that sound the best to me for fun, deliciousness, and learning!)
This is my first bake of this project, and I am nervous/excited/hungry and can't wait to begin.
I am starting with the oldest episode I have access to here in the US, which is Collection 5, Episode 1: Cake Week. I don't have a ton of cake experience, so I will be learning a whole bunch this week! I am starting with The Signature, which in this episode is for a "Family Sized Fruity Cake".
The Bake Off rules stipulate that the cakes must be baked with fresh fruit, not dried. The contestants have 2 hours to complete their cakes.
Pitfalls To Beware Of
Prue mentions that there are two main dangers of making a cake with fresh fruit.
- Fruit contains a lot of moisture. If the bakers do not account for the added moisture, the cake will be dense and have a hard time cooking through.
- When testing the cake to see if it is done, a toothpick or tester that accidentally hits a piece of fruit will come up wet even if the cake is actually cooked through.
My Favorite Bakes
There wasn't a single bake that sounded bad, but I narrowed it down to three:
- Tom's Gilded Pear and Cardamom triple layer cake with blackberry compote
- Sarah's Moroccan Strawberry and Rose triple layer cake with cream cheese frosting
- Steven's Bonfire Apple double layer cake with cinnamon mascarpone
The Apple Cake Is Chosen
I was already leaning towards Steven's Bonfire Apple cake because it's currently October and I'm super into apples at the moment. Then Paul gave him a handshake, which really sealed the deal.
The cake has multiple components. After studying the cake and listening to the judges comments, I did a bit of research and found a separate recipe for each.
- The Apple Spice Cake from Liv For Cake looked like it had the right texture. (I am only making the cake part of this recipe, not the caramel or buttercream.)
- Steven said the sauce was "toffee sauce" so I found a British recipe of the same name at The Daring Gourmet.
- For the frosting, he said he was mixing together "mascarpone, icing sugar, and cinnamon". The recipe I found from Self-Proclaimed Foodie also adds heavy cream. (But I ended up not using this recipe at all!)
- For the mini fire flame toffee apples on top, I used this toffee apple recipe from Sugar Salt Magic.
- I used a combo of recipes for the candied citrus peel because I was making such a small batch. I will explain how I did mine below!
How I Did It
This bake had multiple components, so I started with the actual cake so it could cool while I did the more hands-on tasks which was… everything else. For the cake I decided to use honeycrisp apples. Honeycrisp is one of my favorite varieties because as the name suggests it is super sweet and flavorful, while having a crisp and juicy texture that actually holds up quite well to baking. I almost never peel apples but I felt it was the right thing to do for this somewhat fancy cake. Not to worry thought, I snacked on the peels throughout the day, so they did not go to waste! My brother hated apple peels when he was younger and I always ate what our mom peeled off, so this was adorably and unexpectedly nostalgic! I popped my chopped apples into a bowl, and added some cinnamon and light brown sugar. I gave it a quick mix and set it aside while I got the pans ready.
Steven’s cake was two layer, so that is what I am doing. I prepped the pans by lightly oiling with neutral oil, and then dusting with flour. After tapping out the excess flour, I cut parchment rounds by folding the paper into a skinny triangle, measuring it from the center in the edge of the pan, and then cutting to size. This doesn’t have to be perfectly sized, but should be close-ish. I think a bit too small is better than a bit too big.
Dry ingredients were next, so I mixed together some AP flour, baking powder, salt, and more cinnamon, and some freshly grated nutmeg.
The wet ingredients were neutral oil (I used avocado), white sugar and light brown sugar. After mixing those until they became a bit pale, I added in the three eggs, and some vanilla.
Then it was time to carefully add the dry ingredients, attempting to get at least 50% of the mixture into the bowl and not on the counter. 😉I turned the mixer quite low, and added the dry stuff in a few additions to making sure it was fully incorporated between additions. After the last of it, I switched to my spatula to gently mix the remaining dry bits in.
Then I dumped the apples in and gently stirred until it looked like they were evenly spread out in the batter. I weighed the batter into the pans to make sure they each had exactly half of the goop, and into the oven they went.
Even though I checked the cakes early, they were a tad overcooked. It wasn't too terrible, just a bit drier than I would have liked around the edges. I got the cakes out of the pans and cooling on wire racks.
The Toffee Sauce
Toffee sauce is fun because these ingredients are all amazing - how can you go wrong with brown sugar, heavy cream, butter, vanilla, and salt? Spoiler alert - you can. I’ll tell you allllllll about that later. Anyway. I brought all of the ingredients to a gentle boil except for the vanilla, and once it was thickened a bit, I took it off the heat and stirred in the vanilla. I left it in the pot to cool, and moved on to the mini-toffee apples.
Here is where things really started to go downhill. Steven shaped the mini-apples using a melon baller. I don’t have one of those, so first I tried my tablespoon measure -- total fail. It basically made a hockey puck, and I wanted the little apples to be round, not flat. The next option was to just carve them out with my smallest sharp knife, which ended up being quite lumpy. I decided it was Good Enough, carved an indeterminate number of lumps, and stuck a third of a skewer into each one.
I wanted to make the landing set up before I got the caramel coating cooking (say that three times fast!), so I got a wire rack, and placed it on top of two tall jars of equal height. Then went looking for some clothespins to hang the skewers from. I couldn’t find regular sized ones, but I did find these tiny ones in my crafting stuff that were so cute!
The coating for the apples was a crunchy toffee, not a sauce like I had already made. It was a mixture of sugar, water, corn syrup, and a tiny amount of white vinegar. I tried to cook the toffee until hard crack temperature, wiping down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with water. In theory, once the toffee was the proper color and temperature, I should have been able to dip the apples in the coating, and hang them from the wire rack. The apple would be coated in a caramel-y, thin, shiny coating, that would form into an elegant drip of toffee, which, once cooled and hardened, could be turned upside down to look like a flame. THIS DID NOT HAPPEN.
I used a half recipe, so there wasn’t enough liquid in the pan for my thermometer to get an accurate temperature reading. I ended up absolutely torching my sugar. Look how dark it got! It was smoking terribly, but for some reason I can’t explain (maybe unbridled optimism?) I forged ahead. On top of the caramel being totally burnt, because the apples are naturally wet without their peel, the coating wasn’t really clinging to the apples. One literally fell right out of the coating and onto the plate.
The Candied Citrus Rinds
In my anxiety and frustration re: the toffee apples, I had totally forgotten about the candied citrus rinds! I realized this is why the bakers on the show write everything down and are always looking at their notes. Even under the comparatively mild stress that I felt making this cake it was very easy to lose track of what was going on. I quickly looked up a few recipes and adjusted them to make sense for my needs.
I cut the rinds off of a lemon and an orange, and boiled and drained them twice. Then I boiled them in a sugar and water simple syrup for about an hour, drained them a final time, spread them out on a wire rack. Once they were cool, I tossed them in granulated sugar.
The Toffee Apples, Take 2
Even though I told myself I wouldn't try again, the mini-toffee apples got so much worse as they sat, I just had to go for it. I decided to go with my instant read thermometer instead of my new candy thermometer (that I had gotten specifically for this project! Grr!).
I got the sugar mixture boiling and brought it to correct temp, but it was super light in color! I clearly don’t know where the middle ground is here. On top of that, it was way too thick thick and it was crunchy, but in a bad way? (I didn't know that was even possible!), and it tasted like... nothing. Bad. It was very bad. Please go watch the video, if for no other reason than to see the RIDICULOUS faces I made while trying to eat one.
The final component was the frosting, which was super easy. All I did was whip up some mascarpone, powdered sugar, and cinnamon, and it was done!
The toffee sauce had broken while it sat, which meant it was super grainy and lumpy, and had a layer of fat floating on top. I warmed it up while whisking constantly and it came back together into a beautiful, smooth sauce.
Assembly of this cake was very straight forward. I put down a tiny bit of frosting to hold the cake in place, put the first layer down. Then I scooped all of the mascarpone and spread it around with my big offset spatula. Top layer next, followed by the toffee sauce. I spread it around to make the drips down the sides even, and then lay down some citrus rinds to look like kindling? Embers? Then I put some candied apples slices in.. the… shape of a fire? Yeah, not really, but it was as close as I could get with my weird apples. I tucked in a few more citrus rind pieces to look like flames, and then it was time to cut a slice.
Wow, was this cake good. The apples were the perfect texture studded throughout the cake, the mascarpone added a little tang to offset the sweetness of the rich toffee sauce, and the citrus rinds added a bitter note that I thought would be weird with the apples but was actually quite enjoyable. The cake got even better as it sat in the fridge for a few days while we worked our way through it.
The Official Rating
Paul’s handshakes are only bestowed upon the bakers when they have baked something really exceptional.
My rating for how likely I am to bake this recipe again is: 10/10 handshakes
This cake was delicious. I loved the spiced cake, and the pops of perfectly cooked apples studded within was just sweet enough. The mascarpone added a bit of very welcome tanginess, and who was ever mad at a delicious toffee sauce?
My rating for my execution of this bake is: 8/10 handshakes
I think I executed everything quite well expect for the mini candied apples. Those were a TOTAL disaster, *TWICE*, and honestly maybe I should make my score lower because of how bad they were. But I won't because everything else was really good! 🤪
To Sum Up
This was a very humbling process. It also excited me because I am doing this project to learn more, and oh did I ever learn a TON making this cake! One of the most important things is that it is really hard to mess up so badly that it doesn't taste amazing. I can nitpick all day (and trust me, I did!) but at the end of that day, I made something positively delicious and it's okay that it wasn't perfect. I obviously love baking, but will never be a person who claims that "baking is easy". This shit is hard!
But seriously, this cake was insanely good. I can absolutely see me making this again, just maybe without the toffee apples on top. 🙃
Head to the links below for the other two bakes from Collection 5, Episode 1 - Cake Week!
I hope you have a beautiful rest of your day and thank you so much for being here!