An ultra-moist apple spice cake paired with salted caramel buttercream filling, then topped with vanilla buttercream, dripping salted caramel, and chopped almonds. A Fall classic!
Preheat the oven to 350ºF and prepare three 8-inch or four 6-inch cake pans by spraying the sides with cooking spray and fitting the bottoms with a wax or parchment paper circle. Whisk together all of the dry ingredients and set them aside.
Cream the butter on high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the brown and white sugars and continue to beat on high for 3 more minutes, scraping down the bowl and paddle once in between. Add the eggs one at a time, then turn the mixer to medium for one full minute.
Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the applesauce, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. When it just begins to come together after the last flour addition, turn off the mixer and give it a few stirs by hand to make sure everything is incorporated. The batter will be thick.
Pour cake batter amongst three 6-inch cake pans (fill to 2/3 full) and smooth the tops, then bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let the cakes cool completely before filling and frosting.
Have everything pre-measured and ready to go (you’ll be constantly stirring). Place the sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, until it melts into an amber-colored liquid and no sugar clumps remain, 6-8 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium. Carefully add the butter (it will bubble up when you do) and use a whisk to combine it with the sugar mixture until the butter is fully melted and incorporated, 1-2 minutes.
Add the heavy whipping cream in a steady stream while whisking. As soon as the cream is incorporated, let the caramel boil for a full minute before removing it from the heat and stirring in the salt.
Let the caramel cool completely to room temperature before using it in a buttercream recipe, dipping a caramel apple, or dripping the cake. It will thicken as it cools.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter on high until it’s fluffy and light (almost white in color), 5-6 minutes, scraping down the bowl and paddle a few times in between. Turn the mixer to low and add the powdered sugar a few cups at a time, scraping down the bowl and paddle after each interval. Add the vanilla.
With the mixer still on low, add the salted caramel. Add a pinch of salt, increase the speed to medium, and mix for 2 full minutes.
With a hand mixer or paddle attachment on your stand mixer, cream the butter on medium-high until it’s creamy and light (almost white) in color. About 7 minutes.
Add the sifted powdered sugar, one cup at a time, scraping down after each addition and making sure each cup is fully incorporated before adding the next one. Add vanilla, milk, and salt and mix on medium-low for another two minutes until fully incorporated.
Fill and crumb coat the Apple Spice Cake layers with Salted Caramel Buttercream, then place in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes before frosting a final layer with Vanilla Buttercream. Garnish the bottom edge of the cake with chopped almonds, then place the cake back into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to chill before moving on to the next steps.
While the cake is chilling, pour the remaining Homemade Salted Caramel into a small bowl. Insert a popsicle or cookie stick into the apple and dip it into the caramel, coating it thoroughly. Let the excess caramel drip off of the apple and then set it onto a sheet of wax paper, then place it into the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes to set.
To create the caramel drip effect, first do a test drip on the chilled cake with room temperature salted caramel. If it's too thick, microwave it in 15 second bursts to bring it to perfect drip consistency without heating it too much. Drip the sides of the cake with salted caramel and partially fill in the top before topping with the caramel apple. Garnish with more chopped almonds on top of the cake and apple.
Make Ahead Notes: The cake layers can be made ahead and stored, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature for up to two days. Alternatively, you can store the wrapped cake layers in the freezer for up to 2 months before thawing and frosting.
The Homemade Salted Caramel can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When you're ready to use it, reheat it in the microwave in 15 second intervals until it reaches room temperature.
Both of the buttercream recipes can be made ahead and stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When you're ready to use them, bring them back to room temperature and re-whip each in your stand mixer to bring back to smooth buttercream consistency.