I took a road trip last weekend with a friend of mine. We picked up her niece in Coon Rapids and off we went, foot loose and fancy free, ready to explore every nook and cranny and occasional points of interest from Scandia, Minnesota to Stockholm, Wisconsin. We ziggged and zagged over the rivers and through the woods between Minnesota and Wisconsin.The sun was shining bright each day, making the colorful leaves so vibrant against the blue sky.
I brought home a couple of shopping bags filled with treasures I found along the way — a bag full of Honeygold apples purchased from Pleasant Valley Orchard near Shafer, Minnesota, a couple of rocks I picked up on a short hike along the St. Croix River, cheese and bison sticks from Eichten’s Bistro and Market in Center City, Minnesota, a 26-pound Cinderella pumpkin from Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery and an Apple Cardamom Baby Cake from Smiling Pelican Bake Shop in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin.
We walked into the sweet-smelling Smiling Pelican Bake Shop early Sunday morning. I was looking for a good cup of coffee. I found it there. But, oh, there was so much more. Loaves of bread, still warm from the oven, were cooling behind the counter. Spinach and ham quiche, baked in tins lined with pastry, were ready for purchase. So many treats, but so little tummy space.
I walked out of the Smiling Pelican with a cup of hot, dark coffee and an Apple-Cardamom Baby Cake. The cake made it all the way home with me. I didn’t even take one little nibble. My husband had it for dessert on Monday evening. It was still so moist. He loved it.
So, this week, on one of those cold, dark, dreary, wet days we’ve been having, I decided to make my own baby cakes. I brought up the mini-springform pans I had stored in the basement. I ordered them online at least a few years ago, with plans to make cheesecakes from a magazine recipe. Never happened.
They were the perfect little pans, though, for Apple Baby Cakes on a Shortbread Crust. I’m sure this recipe could be baked in a 9- x 13-inch pan. Baking time might be a little longer.
The moist apple cake baked on sweet, crunchy crust is delightful. The Hot Caramel Sauce is a must. From there, you decide — cold, creamy vanilla ice cream or a lashing of Perfect Vanilla Cream.
If you’re ever traveling along the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River, you must stop at the Smiling Pelican Bake Shop. If you can’t get to the Smiling Pelican in Maiden Rock, make these Apple Baby Cakes on a Shortbread Crust. They’re a good substitute.
Apple Baby Cakes on a Shortbread Crust with Hot Caramel Sauce
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 egg
- 2 cups finely chopped, peeled apples
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar and butter. Mix on low speed of electric hand mixer until crumbly. Stir in chopped nuts. Remove 2 3/4 cups of the mixture and divide evenly among 8 (4 1/2- to 5-inch round) springform pans. Pat firmly into the bottom of the pans. Place the pans on a large baking sheet. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 10 minutes.
While crusts are baking, add cinnamon, cardamom, baking soda, salt, sour cream, vanilla and egg to remaining brown sugar mixture. Blend well. Stir in apples. Spoon the apple mixture over hot crusts, dividing evenly. Bake 20 to 25 minutes in 350-degree oven, until wooden pick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean. Cool in pans for a few mintues. Carefully release sides of pans. Transfer cakes to wire racks to cool.
Serve cakes warm or at room temperature with Hot Caramel Sauce and Perfect Vanilla Cream.
Hot Caramel Sauce
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup evaporated milk
In a small saucepan, melt the butter with the brown sugar and salt over medium heat. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla and milk. Set aside and keep warm.
To make ahead, let cool and store in airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Heat before serving.
Perfect Vanilla Cream
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Chill a 2-quart glass mixing bowl and beaters for a handheld electric mixer in the freezer for at least 20 minutes.
Add the whipping cream, sugar and vanilla to the chilled bowl. Beat at low speed for 30 seconds or until bubbles form. Beat at medium speed for 30 seconds or until the beaters leave a trail in the thickening cream. Beat at high speed for 30 seconds until soft peaks form and the cream is thick and nearly doubled in volume. Continue to beat until stiff peaks form.