Applesauce is a slightly misunderstood ingredient in baking these days. It is often described as a “fat replacer” when it is no such thing. Applesauce is a semi-solid ingredient (basically a liquid, since it doesn’t fall into the dry ingredient category) that can add moisture to some types of baked goods. It helps out in lower fat treats because it can prevent, or at least mitigate, dryness, and it has a very mild flavor so it usually isn’t very noticeable. By itself, it doesn’t tenderize baked goods like oil and butter do, so recipes where people have gone overboard with the substitution of fat for applesauce often turn out gummy and sticky.
This isn’t to say that applesauce doesn’t have a place in baking. The way that it adds moisture is not just because of the apple juice portion of the sauce. It comes from all those little bits of apple that spread out in a cake or cookie dough and release moisture over time. This can actually help keep a baked good fresh-tasting, if you don’t go overboard with it. This Applesauce Chocolate Layer Cake is a perfect example of a good use of applesauce. It doesn’t “replace” anything in this recipe, it just serves its own purpose. The applesauce is used as the main liquid in the recipe, where other cakes might use milk or sour cream, and it works out beautifully. It also helps to making the cake a good choice for those who prefer their cakes to be dairy-free. This recipe comes from the LCBO magazine and is available online, although my copy was thoughtfully clipped out and mailed to me by a chocolate cake-loving friend.
This cake is moist and fluffy, with a very good chocolate flavor – more dark chocolate than milk chocolate. The unsweetened applesauce and unsweetened cocoa powder keep the cake from being too sweet, in spite of the fact that there is a fair amount of sugar in it (less than some chocolate cakes I’ve made, however). The fluffiness comes from the applesauce and from the fact that the egg whites are separated, beaten to soft peaks and folded into the batter. You can use any kind of frosting you like for this cake. Chocolate frosting is good if you’re trying to please a crowd of chocolate lovers, and vanilla is good for contrast. If you want to stick with the dairy-free aspect, use a meringue or marshmallow-based frosting.
Applesauce Chocolate Layer Cake
(from the LCBO magazine)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/3 cups unsweetened applesauce
Preheat the oven to 350F and line two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Grease the pans and the paper well.
In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, 1 cup of sugar, vanilla extract and 3 egg yolks until smooth.
In another large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy at low speed. Turning the mixer up to medium-high, gradually blend in the remaining 3/4 cup sugar and keep beating until the egg whites reach soft peaks. Set aside for the moment.
Alternating additions, blend dry ingredients and applesauce into the oil mixture. Start and end with additions of dry ingredients and mix only until no streaks of flour remain. Stir in 1/3 of the egg whites to lighten up the batter. Fold in remaining egg whites in two or three additions, mixing only until no streaks of egg white remain and color is uniform.
Divide batter evenly into prepared pans.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Turn cakes out onto a wire rack and remove parchment circles, then allow them to cool completely before frosting.
Buttermilk Chocolate Frosting
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2-3 cups confectioners’ sugar, divided
6 tbsp buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a small, microwave safe bowl, melt together butter and unsweetened chocolate. Heat in 30-45 second intervals, stirring frequently, until mixture is smooth. Cool for 10-15 minutes, or until mixture is at room temperature.
Transfer butter mixture to a larger bowl. Beat in cocoa powder, 2 cups confectioners sugar, buttermilk and vanilla, beating until frosting is smooth and slightly fluffy. Add additional confectioners’ sugar to thicken, if needed (depending on the weather, you may need more one day and less another). Frosting should be at room temperature before using.