Apple Date Cake with Salted Caramel Glaze

Apple Date Cake with salted butter caramel icing

It’s been a turbulent week and I went into my usual default mode: I baked something. I’d been planning on sharing an apple cake recipe with you, having cooked up some apples and bought some dates in preparation. But one morning I awoke very early after a fitful night of sleep and started pitting dates, in the early hours of the day, before the sun came up. By the time daylight finally broke through, I was pulling a fragrant, espresso-colored cake from the oven.

Apple Date Cake with caramel glaze

 

Because it’s that time of year – and yes, I’m talking about the holidays – I’m glad to add a moist, gently spiced cake to my repertoire. Add to that, I glazed my cake with salted butter caramel, because no matter where your loyalties lie, I think one thing we all can agree on is that everything is better with salted butter caramel. Has it become the ‘bacon’ of the dessert world? If so, I’m not complaining.

Apple Date Cake with Salted Caramel Glaze recipe

In fact, I’m probably guilty of promoting it. Years ago, the idea of adding salt to caramel, or even desserts, was considered avant-garde, to some. The first time I sprinkled a bit of sea salt over a chocolate dessert, a French guest who was dining at my place said, tentatively, “Um…I don’t know if you know this, but you put some salt in the dessert by accident.”

Apple Date Cake with Salted Caramel Glaze recipe

It was no accident. A flurry of salt provides contrast to any sweetness, accenting other flavors as well. Some cultures routinely salt to fruit, such as watermelon, add it to yogurt drinks, and people in Brittany use salted butter for baking some of their iconic desserts, like Kouign amann and Sablés Bretons, French butter cookies.

Apple Date Cake with Salted Caramel Glaze recipe

I like to cook my caramel the point where it is as close as possible to the point of being burnt. That gives it a bit of a smoky edge. It paired well with the hint of spices in the apple-enriched batter dotted with sticky sweet dates that I imbibed with a shot of rum. After I poured the luscious caramel over the cake and let it work its way down the edges, I lopped off that all-important first slice.

Apple Date Cake with Salted Caramel Glaze recipe

I liked it so much that I made this cake a second time this week and  can definitely say that baking (and eating) cake can help whatever ails you. And with a deeply flavored salted butter caramel glaze? That’s just icing on the cake…

Apple Date Cake with Salted Caramel Glaze

Apple Date Cake with Salted Caramel Glaze
Print Recipe
One 9-inch (23cm) cake, about 10 servings
If you don't want to use the rum or whiskey, pour boiling water over the dates if they are dry to hydrate them. If they're moist, you can use them without the rum. If you've not made a caramel, check my post on Making the Perfect Caramel for step-by-step instructions, with photos.
Apple Date Cake
1 1/2 cups (220g) dates, pitted and diced
3 tablespoons rum or whiskey
1 3/4 cups (230g) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice or cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (4 ounces, 115g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (60g) packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 cup (240g) unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Salted Butter Caramel Glaze
1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60ml) water
a few drops fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature, cubed
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt or kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Butter a 9-inch (23cm) loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).
2. To make the cake, toss the date pieces in a small bowl with the rum or whiskey and set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice or cloves, and salt.
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or by hand in a large bowl with a study spatula, cream the butter with the granulated and brown sugar at medium high speed until smooth. Beat in the egg.
5. By hand, stir in half of the dry ingredients, add the applesauce and vanilla, and stir in the remaining dry ingredients so they are partially mixed in. Fold in the dates (and any liquid in the bowl, if there is any) and mix just until the dry ingredients are incorporated and the dates are evenly dispersed. Do not overmix or the cake will be tough.
6. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Remove from oven and let cool completely before glazing.
7. To make the glaze, heat the sugar and water in a medium-sized saucepan (about 4qts/4l) with a few drops of lemon juice. Cook until the sugar turns deep amber brown and starts to smoke, tilting the pan gently as the sugar cooks. (Check the post on making the perfect caramel.)
8. Remove from heat and stir in the butter until melted, then stir in the heavy cream, salt and vanilla until smooth. Let cool until it's just above room temperature, still slightly warm, so it reaches a spreadable consistency. Remove the cake from the pan and spoon the glaze over the cake. If desired, sprinkle a few grains of flaky salt over the top of the cake.

Storage: The cake can be made and kept at room temperature for up to 3 days. It can be frozen, prior to glazing, for up to two months.


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57 comments

  • November 12, 2016 4:40pm

    Lucky (or unlucky) for me, your stress default mode of baking something dovetails nicely with my stress default mode of eating something. !

  • Annalise
    November 12, 2016 4:48pm

    David,
    I, too, have turned to baking as a small, constructive way to manage these uncertain times. I had been obsessively researching sticky toffee pudding – including your recipe! – when I saw the recipe above and look forward to making it! I’m afraid of making caramel with white sugar, but have a butterscotch recipe with browned butter and panela sugar that should also work!

  • Radhika Dossa
    November 12, 2016 5:07pm

    Hi, this sounds perfect and I want to make it tomorrow, except I don’t have ready applesauce. Please advise! We don’t get ready applesauce in India! Merci!

    • November 12, 2016 5:15pm
      David Lebovitz

      You could use another fruit puree. I’m not sure what’s readily available in India so can’t advise on which. If you have bananas, I would try them. Let us know how it turns out.

    • Mia Paf
      November 14, 2016 5:13pm

      I made applesauce using a recipe from food network. Using 3 apples (granny smith) peeled and cut into quarters, a bit of lemon juice and 1/2 cup of water in a pan. Bring to boil and simmer for 30 minutes. I added a bit more water towards the end. It was delicious and I ended up with 1 cup for my recipe…the rest was eaten!!

      • Elaine Jacobs
        December 1, 2016 9:49pm

        Mia: next time use half apple juice and half water, add a little vanilla bean paste and cinnamon. This takes applesauce to the next level!!

    • Mahathi
      November 29, 2016 2:10pm

      Hi Radhika,

      I too don’t have access to applesauce, but it is easy to make some at home. Chop up apples into medium sized pieces and throw into a saucepan with a little bit of water – no specific measurements. Cook it till the apples turn soft and then puree them – as simple as that! Just made this cake and it has turned out beautifully with the homemade apple sauce :)

  • Lisa
    November 12, 2016 5:16pm

    How many apples make 1 cup of applesauce approx?

    • November 12, 2016 5:19pm
      David Lebovitz

      About 2 to 3, depending on size.

  • November 12, 2016 5:17pm

    Oh my – I need to bake this today – I was thinking of substituting poached quince for the soaked dates – I’ll let you know how that works out! And I too thought about sticky toffee pudding as I read your recipe – YUM and thank you!

    • Dolores
      November 13, 2016 1:40am

      Hi did it work? I just finished poaching quinces from our tree and am looking for uses for them.

  • Dave Del Grande
    November 12, 2016 5:44pm

    I would like to bake this in a 9″ round cake pan. Do you think the baking time would change?

    Thanks,

    Dave

  • Amy King
    November 12, 2016 5:44pm

    Thanks- I feel the need to turn to baking too…

  • Janet
    November 12, 2016 5:49pm

    If I only have unsalted butter, how much salt should I add? So looking forward to your next book!

  • BananaBirkLarsen
    November 12, 2016 6:15pm

    Apparently my response to this kind of stress is to make red chile and cry over Leonard Cohen. Oof. Turbulent week indeed. Thanks for the recipe. We could all use a little sweetness right now, and a reminder of holiday cheer.

  • November 12, 2016 6:18pm
    David Lebovitz

    Janet: Most salted butter has 1/4 teaspoon of salt per 4 ounces/115g. So you can calculate it down from there, to roughly a scant 1/8t, or you can taste it when it’s cool enough, and add what tastes right to you.

    Dave: Yes, it’ll likely take less time. I would start checking it at the 40mn mark.

  • Susan in Wellfleet
    November 12, 2016 7:25pm

    David, a few minutes ago I found a much-used book donated to the Friends of the Wellfleet Library on Cape Cod. It was published in 1999 and sold in Building 19, which you may remember. “Room for Dessert.” It has some caramel recipes, but none with salt. It’s fascinating to see the evolution of a writer and a chef, so I’ll hang onto it. Wikipedia explains that “blog” was coined in Spring 1999 which I guess is why the bio presents you as a pastry chef in San Francisco. So long ago!

  • Tracey Bourke
    November 12, 2016 8:22pm

    My favourite kind of cake. I have some bags of apple puree in the freezer,and this looks perfect. have been reading some of your old recipes for quince( they grow really well here in Ireland)and made poached and jelly.Thank you!

  • Bill Greaves
    November 12, 2016 8:34pm

    This brings back memories: it’s an applesauce cake like my grandmother made. She made it every Thanksgiving and every Christmas, and as she got older, it was the only thing she could bake.

    I’m off to buy the ingredients now. This is the perfect time to remember better times —

  • Jere Wineman
    November 12, 2016 9:35pm

    I am 90 years old and have been putting salt on watermelon and cantaloupe since I was a child..people thought I was strange,,now not so much. As with the caramel plus salt the flavor is enhanced. Love your blog, but I do hate the word blog. Rest up over Thanksgiving. Jere

  • Marguerite
    November 12, 2016 10:14pm

    What else might that salted caramel glaze adorn?

  • November 13, 2016 12:08am

    Thank you for the inviting gift of this recipe. This is a week that calls for baking, walks in Central Park, knitting, connecting with friends, and being kind to strangers.

  • sally
    November 13, 2016 2:51am

    I am confident your recipe is perfect as written, but I am the type to modify everything. As many people often wonder, I can safely say that reducing the sugar still produces a delicious cake. I used only 1/2 a cup of dark brown sugar and no white sugar. With the dates and applesauce it was still plenty sweet. Also, whole wheat flour works in this recipe too! I used all whole wheat. One last thing- it can be made as muffins! (which I did) just bake for 20 min. I’m sure the character has changed somewhat, but it is the same in spirit. Thank you David for the inspiration :)

  • Beverly
    November 13, 2016 4:31am

    I just made the cake and while it was cooling, my husband could not wait for the glaze and cut into it. I don’t know what it would have tasted with the glaze but it excellent unadorned. Maybe next time.

  • Cynna
    November 13, 2016 5:02am

    Hmmm, yes…this will be made in a week or so during my next round of baking. I made your Dulce de Leche Cheesecake (Heaven!) last week, and can’t wait for another delicious treat.

  • naomi d.
    November 13, 2016 5:19am

    Thanks, for comfort food, for comfort reading.

  • Amelia Cameron
    November 13, 2016 5:35am

    I made this tonight…so delicious, so seasonal, really hit the spot. I had some salted caramel already made in the fridge so warmed it up and added a bit of Honey Jack Daniels. Poured it on top and oh boy!!! I will be making this one again.

  • Denise Bennett
    November 13, 2016 6:46am

    This evening I made this cake to freeze for the holidays. After my husband and I had 2 pieces each, well, I can safely say that this cake will not go into the freezer and I will be making more for the holidays…..many more. Thank you!

  • jane
    November 13, 2016 7:55am

    It sounds like a sure bake for me!
    Thanks

  • Tania Arthur
    November 13, 2016 10:09am

    I’d love to make this in a loaf pan, how long would I bake it for please? Thanks in advance

  • November 13, 2016 3:20pm

    Salted caramel makes everything better. Yours looks so thick and decadent. Going to make this for sure and some extra sauce to pour over anything else that might need it.
    BTW: I am not receiving your emails anymore, did you change something?

  • November 13, 2016 4:43pm
    David Lebovitz

    Tania: The recipe if for a loaf pan-sized cake, so you can use the baking time indicated in step 6.

    Nadia: I checked using the email address attached to your comment and it wasn’t listed on the blog subscriber list. I had the service ping you and you’ll receive an email, to confirm.

    Cynna: Glad you like the cheesecake recipe!

  • Diane
    November 13, 2016 11:40pm

    I just bought a large container of dates to make your cheese ball – which was scrumptious by the way, so I was thrilled to see another use besides snacking with leftover pecans! And I was so happy when it turned out just like your photo. Good news bad news – the family devoured it before I got back from the store with the cream for the caramel sauce!

  • Jess M
    November 14, 2016 2:20am

    This looks wonderful! Question, though – I am not eating eggs for the time being; can I use a touch more applesauce in place of the egg?

  • November 14, 2016 12:57pm

    David this looks so good. I love salted caramel, it’s something I could just eat from a jar with a spoon!

    This cake looks amazing, I love the addition of rum with the dates, alcohol really makes these type of cakes amazing.

  • Su
    November 14, 2016 7:30pm

    OMG Just finished making this now David! Having just returned from Jordan with a massive box of Saudi dates, this is the first of many recipes to trial! Looks great, can’t wait to taste!

  • November 14, 2016 11:02pm

    Haha that story about your French guest thinking you accidentally added the salt is great! I love baking with dates (although pitting them not so much). And I too loving cooking my caramel until it’s smoking and almost burnt. :) This looks absolutely divine.

  • Jane
    November 15, 2016 1:09pm

    I know BUTTER IS BEST BOSS,
    BUT
    Owing to dietary laws I have to use a non dairy product….

    • Hedgehogs66
      November 25, 2016 10:49pm

      Big hit this Thansgiving!! Thank you. I’m definitely making this again.

  • Marsha McCollum Leutza
    November 15, 2016 5:48pm

    Sugar Daddy Cake !

  • trish
    November 16, 2016 12:59am

    David, this is delicious! I do have a question about technique. I noticed that this recipe and the German Almond Apple cake (also a great recipe!) both instruct to hand-stir the dry ingredients into the butter-sugar-egg batter. I’ve always used the mixer through this stage, then folded in the dates (or apples or whatever) by hand. Just curious about what the reason might be for starting the hand stirring at the dry ingredient stage. Thanks for any insight there. And thanks for another amazing recipe!

    • November 16, 2016 1:14am
      David Lebovitz

      I recommend that for two reasons:

      One is that most stand mixer paddles don’t quite incorporate all the ingredients enough, and people tend to overmix using the machine, trying to get everything well-combined. And two, hand stirring means there’s less of a chance of overmixing, which causes cakes to be tough. So folding gently results in a better cake.

      • trish
        November 16, 2016 1:22am

        I’ll be sure to use this technique for future baking! Thanks, David!

      • t
        November 16, 2016 1:24am

        I’ll be sure to use this technique for future baking! Thanks, David!

  • Ben
    November 16, 2016 1:55pm

    Thank you, David, for all of the excellent recipes lately. I also bake when stressed and, since canvassing for Hillary 10 days ago, I have baked the following: your almond apple cake (outstanding), a tiramisu flavored clafouti, your cast iron skillet cookies (also very good) and two loaves of bread. I look forward to making this date cake, and please keep the recipes coming.

  • Murray
    November 16, 2016 10:42pm

    Hi David!

    Can you substitute dried cranberries for the dates?

    Thanks.

  • maria smeirat
    November 17, 2016 10:31am

    you never fail me David, all your recipes are just perfect, i love this recipe, made it yesterday and it is amazing, half of the cake was eaten the moment i was done poring the caramel, so perfect for this cold weather <3
    maria

  • Laurie Gafni
    November 19, 2016 8:00pm

    Out of this world, even without the glaze! (Didn’t have rum, so I used tequila instead.)

  • Aila
    November 20, 2016 3:42pm

    Applesauce -I know what an apple is and what sauce is. In Finland I can’t buy applesauce -how to do or compensate for this cake?
    Thank you for a blog with a very good aroma!

    • November 20, 2016 3:52pm
      David Lebovitz

      You can very easily make your own applesauce. Peel apples and remove the cores and seeds. Slice or cut apples into cubes and cook in a covered saucepan with a small amount of water until soft and cooked through. Once cool, puree until smooth in a blender or food processor, or pass through a food mill or potato ricer.

      • Aila
        November 20, 2016 4:01pm

        Yes, of course this way -thank you for your quick response! The sauce you use in this recipe is unsweatened, or?

  • Lynn
    November 21, 2016 3:17am

    Made this exactly as written. Fantastic recipe! Never did get around to glazing it.

  • Amber
    November 28, 2016 6:51pm

    Hi, David –

    I’ve been an avid follower of your site for quite a while, although I don’t really bake myself. But, my mother does, and I sent her this recipe on a whim. She surprised me by making it this past Saturday, as part of our delayed Thanksgiving meal. It was phenomenal! It was also her first time making caramel, and she couldn’t stop gushing over how easy your tips and tricks made the process. Needless to say, I think I’ve created another devotee to your recipes, which just makes me happy, as I foresee many, many delicious treats coming from you, by way of my mother, in the near future!

  • Deb W
    December 1, 2016 9:00pm

    This is a lovely and easy cake which keeps well for a week in the fridge (we have been away and it was still very good on return). The glaze is wonderful.

  • I. A Rose
    December 6, 2016 11:42am

    A bit late to the game but would nevertheless like to (try and) make this cake. However I do have one question. When you write 220 g dates, pitted… do you meantheir pitted weight or the dates’ weight before they are pitted? I suspect the former but would like to be sure. Thanks

    • December 6, 2016 12:10pm
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, the comma means to use “220 grams of dates, pitted” – rather than “220 grams pitted dates.”

      • Inbal Anna Rose
        December 7, 2016 12:41pm

        Thank you. What would we do without the wonders of punctuation.