This warm, richly flavored bundt cake starts with vanilla bean brown butter (nothing bad can possibly come from that) and is replete with all the classic baking spices (and even some black pepper) and citrus zests to contrast with the warmth. It’s deep and complex yet not overwhelming. A dusting of snow-like powdered sugar and a drizzle of apple caramel sauce complete the holiday look and taste.
Spiced Bundt Cake with Apple Caramel Sauce
adapted from Bon Appetit, November 2012
The apple caramel is entirely optional. I found the apple cider vinegar to create and interesting flavor profile but the full tablespoon to be too acerbic. I recommend toning it down (or even omitting it).
The almonds lend little flavor-wise but add a nice depth and a contrast in texture. To make the almond flavor more pronounced (something I would have done if I thought of it earlier), toast the slivered almonds before grinding them with the flour.
Apple Caramel Sauce
1 cup sugar
pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup fresh apple cider
1/4 cup heavy cream
1-2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar (1 tablespoon was too acerbic for my taste; see headnote)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups slivered almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (I used only a heaping 1/4 teaspoon and wish I’d used more)
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup powdered sugar plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
3 large eggs
5 large egg yolks
1 cup whole milk
For caramel sauce: Combine sugar, cream of tartar, and 1/4 cup water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring gently if necessary, until sugar dissolves. Cook, without stirring and occasionally swirling pan for even cooking, until mixture turns a dark amber color. Immediately remove from heat, and slowly add apple cider, cream, vinegar, vanilla, and salt (mixture will bubble vigorously), whisking to combine. Return pan to medium heat and bring to a vigorous boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring to dissolve any hardened bits, for 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
For cake: Center a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350°F. Generously coat a 10-inch Bundt pan with nonstick spray or butter and flour, tapping out any excess. Place butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Cook, stirring often, until butter foams, then smells nutty and turns brown (do not burn). Carefully remove vanilla bean; pour brown butter into a shallow medium bowl and chill until slightly firm, about 1- 1/2 hours.
Pulse flour and almonds in a food processor until almonds are finely ground. Transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in baking powder and next 7 ingredients; set aside.
Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat chilled brown butter and sugars (brown, white, and powdered) in a large bowl, scraping down sides and bottom of bowl as needed, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mix in lemon and orange zests. Add eggs and yolks one at a time, beating to blend between additions, and beat mixture until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Reduce speed to low. Add half of dry ingredients; mix until almost blended. Add milk and mix until almost blended. Add remaining dry ingredients; mix until batter is just blended and smooth. Scrape into prepared pan, and tap pan gently on counter to even out.
Bake until a tester inserted near the center of cake comes out clean and cake is dark golden brown and has begun pulling from sides of pan, 55-65 minutes. You may need to cover the cake with foil as it’s baking to ensure it doesn’t become too browned.
Transfer pan to a wire rack. Let cake cool in pan for about 25 minutes. Invert cake onto rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour.
Dust cake lightly with powdered sugar. Warm caramel sauce, and drizzle sauce over cake, allowing it to drip down sides. Serve remaining sauce alongside.
Storing: Cake will keep, airtight at room temperature, for up to 4 days. Caramel sauce will keep, stored in an airtight container in the fridge, for up to 1 week.