Saturday, September 19, 2015

brown butter glazed applesauce spice cake

 Smells evoke very emotional responses in me. I have certain trigger scents– pumpkin pie, blown out birthday candles, cigarettes for example– that bring about particularly vivid images, feelings, and memories. AP Psychology tells me this is a programmed reaction to Pavlovian conditioning, but I like to think of it in a more romantic sense. Like, maybe the nostrils are the true windows to the soul or something, ya feel?

With this cake, the scent is the first thing that hits you. Just as the thing came out of the oven, I leaned in, took a deep breath and melted into a warm, blissful puddle on the kitchen floor... and that was before the brown butter icing came into play. This applesauce cake is everything that a fall dessert yearns to be: unbelievably plush and moist, rich with spices and apple flavor and accented with the sweet nuttiness of brown butter. It tastes like comfort and nostalgia and Frank Sinatra.

Brown Butter Glazed Applesauce Spice Cake
adapted from this recipe
yield: 1 9x9 inch square cake
time: 40 minutes prep + 40 minutes baking = 1 hr 20 minutes

the cake:
1/3 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
1 extra large egg
1 teaspoon molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour (I think whole wheat would work very well in this recipe)
1 teaspoon baking soda
scant 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (I used Trader Joe's, but check out this recipe from The Kitchn)
1 cup applesauce

the glaze:
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350. Prepare a 9x9 inch square cake pan by greasing slightly.

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices, mixing well.

Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. I used the paddle attachment on my electric mixer, but you could certainly make this recipe by hand.

Add the egg, molasses and vanilla and beat until smooth. 

Mix in the flour until relatively smooth and then fold in the applesauce until well combined. I will not tell if you dip your finger in and lick it at this point, and I guarantee you will not regret it.

Pour the batter into the pan, smooth the top, and bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until the center is set and the edges begin to pull away from the pan.

Lean in close, close your eyes and take a deep whiff of your cake. This step is essential to the success of the recipe, and will make you swoon as an added bonus.

As the cake cools, put your butter in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Since you are browning such a small amount of butter, you must exercise constant vigilance (name that book!) so that it doesn't burn. Keep going until the butter turns a deep amber color and then take off the heat. Don't worry if you see little dark brown bits at the bottom of the pan; these are burnt milk solids aka the best parts.

Let the butter cool until just warm and still liquid– it helps to transfer it to a bowl and stick it in the fridge.

Put the powdered sugar into another bowl and pour in the butter slowly, stirring until smooth. Add a few drops of vanilla and as much milk as you need to get a nice, drizzly consistency- I used about a tablespoon. Once the cake is barely warm, take spoonfuls of the icing and drizzle it over the cake. Let the glaze set before slicing into the cake. Enjoy!


  1. Looks and sounds delicious! What a perfect treat to start the fall season!

    1. Thank you very much kind young woman! I agree with you– I just wish this darn pesky weather would too! :-)