Smoked Apple Cider Cake ft. Brandy Maple Frosting + Trail Mix Streusel
Since last year, I've had this dream of capturing the smell of fall in a cake - homey spices, crisp leaves, burning firewood. But sadly without access to a bonfire, charcoal grill, or a smoker, I had to resort to ye olde oven to smoke this cake (though not like this or this). You can smoke meat in your oven by slow-cooking at a lower temperature with wet (or not) wood chips, which release a smoky flavor as they heat up. So why not cake?
The experiment was a semi-success as the oven and kitchen were soon filled with the smoky aroma of the heated wood chips. As for whether that translated to a smoky flavor in the cake, let's just say I'm still waiting for the day I can try baking a cake over an open flame.
This remix is inspired by everything autumnal, but mostly the colors of changing leaves, that smell of burning firewood, the taste of spiced apple cider, and the visuals of The Cider House Rules film. If you can find a Spice cake mix, use that as your base; if not, then double the amounts of spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice) in the recipe with a yellow cake mix to create the same flavor.
This remix can get really sweet really quick, so make sure to add a dash (or two) of salt to the frosting and streusel to balance out the cider, brandy, and syrup. I chose Macintosh apples which adds a tartness to the mix, and the baked apple slices on the top or bottom of the cake (depending on how you serve it) keep the cake moist and almost pie-like.
The topping - streusel (German for 'something scattered or sprinkled') - is typically a combination of flour, sugar, and spices, clumped together with butter and sprinkled on top of pies and coffee cakes. This trail mix streusel contains M&Ms, nuts, and granola... but mostly M&Ms because, I mean, come on - let's be real.
smoked apple cider cake
2 c. apple cider (reduced to 1 cup)
1 box spice cake mix (or yellow cake mix)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 c. applesauce
2 tbsp. brandy
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. thin apple slices
Wet wood chips and let soak in a glass or aluminum roasting pan for 1 hour. Adjust oven racks so that the upper is directly above the lower. Preheat oven to 250 degrees, set pan of wet wood chips on the lower rack, and let chips heat in oven for 20 minutes while preparing the cake batter.
To reduce the apple cider, pour 2 cups of apple cider into a saucepan with cinnamon sticks, and simmer on the stovetop on low heat for 30 minutes, until cider has been reduced to half. Let cool completely. Peel the skin from 2 medium apples and use a vegetable peeler to cut apples into thin slices. Grease cake pans with butter or a non-stick spray like PAM and lay a thin layer of apple slices in the bottom of the pans.
In a medium mixing bowl, sift cake mix and spices together until well mixed. In a separate bowl, whisk together apple cider, applesauce, brandy, eggs, and oil. Slowly add in cake mix, beating well after each addition. Slowly add in dry mix, beating well after each addition.
Increase oven temperature to 300 degrees. Pour batter into greased/apple-lined cake pans until each is 2/3 of the way full and bake for 50 minute. Use a toothpick to check doneness - if the toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cakes, remove from oven and set on cooling rack. Unmold from cake pans and let cakes cool completely, apple side up.
brandy maple frosting
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
4 c. powdered sugar
3 tbsp. brandy
3 tbsp. pure maple syrup
In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, salt, brandy, and maple syrup until blended. Slowly add in sugar and continue to mix on high until frosting forms. Add more brandy or milk if frosting is too thick.
trail mix streusel
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. brown sugar
4 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. trail mix (nuts, dried fruit, M&Ms), chopped
In a medium mixing bowl, sift flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt until well mixed. Cut in butter and trail mix and use hands to mix until crumbly.
cider house cupcakes
For cupcake versions, place a layer of thin apple slices in the bottom of each cupcake liner. Use an ice cream scoop to fill liners with batter and bake on 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely.
Fill a pastry bag with large round tip (I used Wilton #807) and brandy maple frosting. Starting in the center of the cupcake, pipe outward in a circular motion until the entire top is covered. Use a spoon to make a divot in the frosting and sprinkle/press trail mix streusel onto cupcake.