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Kate’s Sticky Toffee Apple Caramel Cake

All the elements of a sticky-toffee pudding plus toffee apples in one cake! The sponge layers are made with dates, spices and pieces of dried apple, and sandwiched together with a caramel and cream-cheese buttercream and caramelised apples.

Makes: one large cake, serves 16

Hands-on time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Baking time: 20 minutes

Skill level: Needs a little skill

For the sponge layers:

125g medjool dates, stoned and finely chopped

5 tablespoons cloudy apple juice (i.e. not from concentrate)

325g unsalted butter, softened

250g light brown muscovado sugar

5 medium eggs, at room temperature, beaten

300g self-raising flour

¼ teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground mixed spice

60g dried apple rings or slices, finely chopped

For the caramel buttercream:

175g golden caster sugar

3 tablespoons water

175g double cream

175g unsalted butter, softened

100g icing sugar, sifted

125g full-fat cream cheese

1½ teaspoons vanilla extract, or to taste

For the toffee apples:

2 medium Bramley apples

175g golden caster sugar

3 tablespoons water

You will also need:

3 x 20.5cm round, deep sandwich tins, greased with butter and base-lined with baking paper

Electric hand-held whisk/stand mixer

Heatproof pastry brush

Melon ball cutter (optional)

Wire hand whisk

Baking sheet lined with baking paper

  1. Start by making the date puree as it has to cool: put the dates and apple juice into a small pan and cook gently over a low heat (stirring frequently) for about 10 minutes, until thick and soft. Remove the pan from the heat and mash the contents with a potato masher or wooden spoon to make a coarse, thick puree. Leave to cool.
  2. Meanwhile heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas 4.
  3. Put the butter into a large bowl, or the bowl of a mixer, and beat for a couple of minutes until very light. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the sugar and beat thoroughly for about 5 minutes (scraping down the sides of the bowl again from time to time) until the mixture has a light and fluffy texture.
  4. Gradually pour in the eggs, beating well after each addition. Sift the flour, baking powder, ground cinnamon and ground mixed spice into the bowl and carefully fold in using a large metal spoon or plastic spatula. Add the cooled date mixture and the chopped dried apples and fold in until thoroughly combined. The mixture should drop easily from a tapped spoon/spatula – if it seems a bit stiff, stir in an extra tablespoon or so of apple juice.
  5. Divide the mixture equally between the 3 prepared tins and spread evenly with an offset palette knife or the back of a spoon. Bake the sponges for about 20-22 minutes until well risen, golden brown and springy when lightly pressed in the centre with a finger. Run a round-bladed knife around the inside of the tins to loosen the sponges, then set the tins on a wire rack to cool and firm up for 5 minutes before carefully turning out onto the rack. Leave to cool completely.
  6. To make the caramel buttercream, start by making the caramel sauce base: put the sugar and water into a heavy-based medium-sized pan (not non-stick as you need to be able to see the colour of the caramel) and set over a low heat to melt very gently. Stir occasionally, and keep a bowl of water and heatproof pastry brush handy so you can brush down the sides of the pan with water to dislodge any stuck-on sugar crystals. Meanwhile, heat the cream until almost (but not quite) boiling and set aside until needed.
  7. Once the sugar has completely dissolved, turn up the heat and boil rapidly without stirring until the syrup turns a rich caramel brown. Remove the pan from the heat, cover your hand with an oven glove (the mixture will splutter, foam up and burn if it touches your skin) and slowly pour in the warmed cream. Return the pan to a low heat and whisk with a wire hand whisk for about a minute, until very smooth and thick. Pour into a heatproof bowl, leave to cool, then cover and chill for about 1 hour until firm.
  8. Put the butter into a large bowl or the bowl of mixer and beat for a couple of minutes until very light. Add the sifted icing sugar and mix (starting on a slow speed to avoid a mess) for about 5 minutes, until very light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the cream cheese followed by the cold caramel sauce and vanilla extract. When thoroughly combined, cover and (if necessary) chill until firm enough to spread easily.
  9. For the caramelised or toffee apples: peel the apples, leaving them whole. If you have a melon ball cutter cut out balls of apple, avoiding the core. Otherwise dice or cut the apple into 1cm chunks. Pat dry and leave on kitchen paper towels while you make the caramel.
  10. As before, put the sugar and water into a medium pan, dissolve gently then boil until you have a rich caramel. Remove the pan from the heat and add the apple pieces to the pan (be careful as they will splutter). Stir gently with a metal spoon and leave for about 3 minutes until the caramel has thickened slightly to coat the apples (because they are damp, the caramel tends to slide around). Using a fork, carefully remove the apples from the caramel and leave on the lined baking sheet to firm up – they will not set but will be very sticky.
  11. To assemble the cake: set one sponge top-side down on a serving plate. Divide the buttercream in half and set aside one portion for topping and decorating the cake. Spread the sponge with half the remaining buttercream. Divide the sticky toffee apples into 3 portions (keeping the best-looking for the top). Scatter one portion over the buttercream, then top with another sponge, pressing it lightly in place. Spread with the remaining buttercream and scatter over another portion of toffee apples. Cover with the third sponge, top-side up, and gently press the whole cake so it is firm and level.
  12. To finish: spread a thin layer of buttercream around the sides to give a neat ‘naked cake’ appearance, then spread the remaining buttercream on the top, swirling it attractively. Finally, decorate with the remaining sticky toffee apples. Leave to firm up overnight in a cool spot (not the fridge) before slicing.