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.
Put the dates and apple juice in a small pan and cook over a low heat, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes, until thick and soft. Remove from the heat and mash the contents to make a coarse, thick purée. Leave to cool.
Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas 4. Put the butter into a large bowl and beat for 2–3 minutes until very light. Add the sugar and beat again for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.
Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Sift the flour, baking powder and ground spices into the bowl and fold in. Add the cooled date mixture and the dried apple and combine.
Divide the mixture equally between the 3 cake tins. Bake for about 20–22 minutes, until well risen, golden and springy. Cool in the tins for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the caramel buttercream. Put the sugar and 3 tablespoons of water into a medium pan over a low heat, stirring occasionally. In a small pan heat the cream until almost boiling and set aside. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn up the heat and boil until the syrup turns caramel brown. Remove from the heat, and pour in the warmed cream.
Return the pan to a low heat and whisk for 1 minute, until smooth and thick. Pour into a heatproof bowl, leave to cool, then cover and chill for about 1 hour.
Beat the butter in a stand mixer for 2–3 minutes, until light. Add the icing sugar and mix for 5 minutes, until fluffy. Beat in the cream cheese, then the cold caramel and the vanilla extract. Cover and chill until spreadable.
To make the toffee apples, use the melon baller to cut out balls of apple (or, cut the apple into 1cm chunks). Pat dry and set aside. Put the sugar and 3 tablespoons of water into a medium pan, dissolve gently, then boil to a rich caramel. Remove from the heat and stir in the apple. Leave for 3 minutes, until the caramel has thickened, then remove the apple and set aside on the lined baking sheet.
To assemble: remove the paper from the sponges. Set 1 sponge top-side down on a serving plate. Spread with one third of the buttercream, place one third of the apples on top, then top with another sponge. Repeat with another one third of the buttercream and apples, then cover with the final sponge, top-side down. Spread a thin layer of buttercream around the sides, and the remaining buttercream on top. Decorate with the remaining toffee apples. Leave overnight to firm up before serving.