I planned this Thanksgiving apple cake recipe for weeks, but never thought I’d be making it with a duck in my house. That morning, my son and I took a walk (he in his stroller). I cooked up my applesauce cake layers the day before, with plans to assemble the cake later that afternoon. While we were walking, I spotted some boys chasing a white duck in the yard across the street, which is an odd thing around these parts. I live in downtown Miami. We don’t have white, domestic ducks walking around. The duck was obviously stressed about the situation, so I called over to them, asking who the duck belonged to.
They didn’t know, but said they were trying to get the duck to go to the river. The Miami River. It’s a saltwater river full of boats and huge cargo ships. This is also not a good place for a white, domestic duck. The boys managed to herd the duck to my side of the street and I instructed them on the methods of duck herding (I’m not sure how I know this, but I do).
At this point, the duck decided to make a break for it through a fence into a neighbor’s backyard. This was a bad thing, because there are two big dogs in that yard. Sure enough, the dogs came running, and the duck spit out between the fence posts onto the sidewalk. It’s at this point I decide to save this poor creature, which would require picking it up.
I’m not adept at picking up unwilling fowl, but the duck was exhausted. I quickly grabbed it by the neck with one hand and scooped its wings in with the other. After a few sad quacks, the duck calmed down and I released its neck. The poor thing didn’t try to fight or peck. But now I had my hands full of duck and a stroller full of baby. How to get home? And what was I going to do with my duck?
My neighbor had emerged from her house at this point (thinking her dogs were attacking a bird). She was kind enough to walk back home with me, pushing the stroller. I ended up putting the duck in the shower for safe keeping. I have two big dogs in the yard and had no other safe place for her.
Fast forward and I’m assembling my cake to the sound of happy duck quacking coming from my bathroom. The duck was dirty from several days of wandering, so I turned the shower on just a sprinkle (it’s one of those nice, rain shower heads) and gave the duck a big bowl to sit in. She started bathing right away, fluffing her feathers and making happy sounds, just like ducks do.
Oh yes! We are making a cake. That’s what you are here for…not some crazy duck story. Did I mention how delicious this cake was? The applesauce cake layers came out beautiful and moist, recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. I added my own cinnamon apple layer in the middle and rum-soaked raisins in the cake — completely optional if you don’t go for raisins. The apples cooked in a brown sugar caramel sauce add a decadent “apple pie” taste to each bite. Topped with a divinely light whipped cream frosting, this cake makes the perfect not-too-sweet Thanksgiving season dessert. It brought a whiff of Fall into this frustratingly warm-and-sunny Florida kitchen.
To finish off my story, Mrs. Duck, who we had by now determined was a young female Pekin, had most likely escaped from someone’s illegal backyard livestock cultivation, and was intended for dinner. Mrs. Duck was rescued by The South Florida Wildlife Center where they will find a safe place so she can live out her days peacefully with ducky friends.
Some more delicious desserts:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
- 1/2 cup walnuts or rum-soaked raisins (optional)
- 4 apples (I used Granny Smith), cored, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4-6 tablespoons brown sugar (to taste)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 (8 ounce) package reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350° F/ 180° C.
Butter and flour two 8” round cake pans. Line with parchment paper if preferred.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves in one bowl. In another bowl, beat together butter and sugar until fluffy and light in color, about 2-3 minutes. Drop in your eggs one at a time, beating on low speed in between. Add the applesauce and continue to beat on low speed until combined. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in the walnuts or raisins if you are using them. The batter will have tiny lumps. This is fine.
Divide the batter evenly into the baking pans and cook 25-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pan for 15 minutes, and then invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely. You can wrap the cakes in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator if you are baking them ahead.
In a heavy saucepan on high heat, add the apples, brown sugar, cinnamon and butter. Stir and cover for 2 minutes until the juices release from the apples. You need to quickly cook this, stirring occasionally, until the juice from the apples is cooked down into a slightly thick syrup. This should take about 5-10 minutes on high heat. Make sure the apples don’t scorch or brown. Once you can run a spoon across the bottom of the pan and see very little liquid remaining, remove the pan from the heat and allow the filling to cool.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract on medium speed until smooth. Slowly add the cream while you beat on medium speed, scraping the sides of the bowl a few times. Continue to beat the mixture until stiff peaks form.
After cakes are completely cool, trim tops to make them flat (if necessary). Place one cake top-side down on your serving platter. I like to place it on parchment sheets which I remove after the cake is iced. This keeps the plate clean.
Take the apple slices and arrange them tightly overlapping each other. Working from the outside inward, use as many apples as you would like.
Place the second layer top-side down and ice the cake. Use the back of a spoon to create swirls. Place the cake in the refrigerator to set the icing.