apple cake with bourbon-vanilla buttercream

As a child, we had a tradition in my family. On your birthday, you got to pick whatever dish you wanted for dinner. No if’s, and’s or but’s, my mom was always up for the challenge. Most years, my sisters and I would pick our tried and true favorites – dishes that were easy to create but nonetheless special, because mom made them just for you on your birthday. Is it just me, or does food taste just a tad bit better when it’s like that?

The same went for desserts. Again, tried and true favorites were picked. Yellow cake with chocolate buttercream frosting was on regular rotation for my sisters, and sometimes evolved into a certain chocolate ganache cake that was so rich, only a mere sliver could be enjoyed. Cheesecakes would often sneak in, and ever so often a pie would appear.

You may be asking yourself what this has to do with today’s recipe.

Well, y’all, the tradition of special birthday meals has not been ignored every since I flew the coop and got hitched a couple years back. As long as the hubs and I have been together, I’ve enjoyed preparing dishes and desserts for him every year on his birthday. The only stipulation? It has to be something uncommon, and something we wouldn’t necessarily make at home. The same applies for dessert. We’ve had the cake version of my Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes, trifles, and various twists on the classic chocolate cake. So this year, I challenged HIM. We had to select a dessert that had never passed our lips, but that would be delicious and sumptuous.

With fall just around the corner, the mental light bulb was quick to turn on. Almost simultaneously, after discussions of how amazing our wedding cake was, we thought “APPLES!”. It couldn’t be more perfect – the hubs love apple-based treats, and when I suggested a buttercream centered on his favorite libation {bourbon}, he was instantly sold.

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And I’m telling y’all, this is to.die.for. Like, seriously. It is perfectly moist and decadent, but not at all overly sweet or heavy. We use applesauce, not oil {!}, in the cake, and it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done.It adds the perfect amount of sweetness to the cake, and creates the most beautiful crumb when you slice through it. One bite of this, topped with fluffy buttercream, and you’ll want this for your birthday.

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Apple Cake with Bourbon-Vanilla Buttercream {cake adapted from A Beautiful Bite, & frosting recipe adapted from Williams-Sonoma}

Just because it’s not quite yet fall, doesn’t mean the desire for apples in baked goods isn’t here! This cake is full of apple flavor, and the bourbon buttercream takes it over the top. Supremely moist and full of flavor, this is sure to satisfy. 

Ingredients – Cake:

4 cups firm fleshed baking apples, cored and diced {I used a mixture of Fuji/Granny Smith/Red Delicious}

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup turbinado sugar {granulated will work fine; I think the turbinado offers a richer and more complex taste}

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

1-1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce

1 tsp. vanilla extract {homemade, if you have it!}

Ingredients – Bourbon Vanilla Buttercream:

6 cups confectioners’ sugar

16 tbsp. (2 sticks) unsalted butter

3 tbsp. milk, plus more if needed

2 tsp. vanilla extract {again, if you have homemade, go for it!}

1 to 1-1/2 shots of bourbon {optional, but encouraged!}

pinch salt

To Prepare – Cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease (2) 9″ baking pans and set aside. As these cakes tend to bake a bit taller than usual, I would recommend greasing all the way up the sides of the pans, and the lips as well!

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In a large mixing bowl, combine flour/cinnamon/salt/baking soda. Mix well and set aside.

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Using a stand mixer or hand mixer set on medium speed, combine both sugars/eggs/applesauce/vanilla. Mix until incorporated.

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Slowly add in the flour mixture; mixing only until incorporated.

Stir in the apples by hand. Pour cake batter into the (2) pans, and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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Remove from oven and let cool, in pans, for at least 20 minutes. Flip out of pans and cool completely on a cooling rack.

Once cooled, cover with Bourbon Vanilla Buttercream.

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To Prepare – Bourbon Vanilla Buttercream:

Have all of the ingredients at room temperature for best result.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment, combine the confectioners’ sugar, butter, milk, bourbon and vanilla and beat on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Stop the mixture and scrape down the sides. Increase the speed to medium and beat another 3 minutes. Stop and scrape the sides down again. Turn the mixture onto medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, another 3-5 minutes.

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Cake will stay, covered, on the countertop for up to 3 days. If it lasts that long, transfer to refrigerator.

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Let’s Discuss: do you and your family have any special birthday traditions? What is your favorite birthday treat, whether savory OR sweet?

irish car bomb cupcakes

I couldn’t resist. One more St. Patrick’s Day post. I mean…the title is intriguing, no?

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Whether or not you participate in the traditional antics of good ol’ St. Patty’s Day (green beer, anyone? goofy “kiss me, I’m Irish!” t-shirts), please do me a favor and make these cupcakes. Whoever invented the controversial “car bomb” drink…a pint of Guiness with a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream and Jameson floating atop it, probably didn’t know what they were doing, but I for one sure am glad they did. And yes, I have been known to enjoy this unusual flavor combination more than once in my college days; maybe I still do?…

Want to know something funny? The first time I made this recipe wasn’t for St. Patty’s Day; heck, it wasn’t even for an Irish celebration! The hubs had requested something “different” for his birthday dinner…so upon copious digging through my recipe files, I stumbled upon this gem. I don’t think I had even finished reading him the title when he began eagerly nodding is head up and down. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he would have started shouting; as you all know, by now, we have a thing for anything “liquid libation”. After our first bite of these treats, we were sold. They’ve become a St. Patty’s day staple in our household ever since then.

But before I get too far off topic, let’s talk flavors, shall we?

A basic chocolate cake and buttercream frosting recipe has been elevated with the add-ins of this drink. Traditional chocolate has its flavor embellished with the addition of Guiness beer. I mean what I say, and this malty addition truly takes the cake to an entirely different level. It results in a rich, velvety crumb texture, with a chocolate taste unlike anything I’ve yet to match. A smooth, dreamy chocolate ganache is intensified with a healthy dose of Jameson’s Irish Whisky. Luscious buttercream becomes heavenly with Irish Cream liquor. I don’t know about y’all, but this has sent me into a foodie spiral. These cupcakes are, without a doubt, unlike anything other.

I urge…no, implore…you to make these cupcakes. Whether or not you make them to celebrate the “luck of the Irish”, I promise you that you’ll feel lucky to be indulging in something so delicious. Because no matter the time of year, everyone deserves a treat.

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Chocolate Whiskey and Beer Cupcakes {adapted minimally from Smitten Kitchen}

Makes 20 to 24 cupcakes

For the Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes

1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup sour cream (I prefer to use Daisy Light sour cream)

Ganache Filling
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 to 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey (optional…omit if you are planning on sharing with non-drinkers)

Baileys Frosting
3 to 4 cups confections sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperatue
3 to 4 tablespoons Baileys (or milk, or heavy cream, or a combination thereof)

Make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 17 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely.

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Make the filling: Fill a large pot with water and set it atop your burner, around medium heat. You want the water to be simmering, but not boil. Chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl, and place atop the pot on the stove (we’re essentially creating a double boiler here). Pour the cream over the chocolate, stirring constantly until the chocolate and cream have created a smooth, luxurious sauce.Add the butter and whiskey (if you’re using it) and stir until combined.

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Fill the cupcakes: Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped (the fridge will speed this along but you must stir it every 10 minutes). Using a small paring knife (or a small apple corer), cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. You want to go most of the way down the cupcake but not cut through the bottom — aim for 2/3 of the way. *Save these little gems – we’ll talk about them them shortly* Fill the centers of each cupcake with the ganache.

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Make the frosting: Whip the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, for several minutes. You want to get it very light and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time. When the frosting looks thick enough to spread, drizzle in the Baileys (or milk) and whip it until combined. If this has made the frosting too thin (it shouldn’t, but just in case) beat in another spoonful or two of powdered sugar.

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Frost the cupcakes, then store in an airtight container. After a day, be sure to refrigerate them, otherwise they will start to go stale. And be sure to share. Because I guarantee you, if these sit around your house, you will eat them all. I speak from experience.

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*because these cupcakes centers are so delicious, I decided to fold them into vanilla ice cream I made with the leftover heavy cream. The recipe I used can be found here. After preparing the ice cream according to your manufacturer’s directions, gently fold in the cupcake centers. Freeze in an airtight quart container.