Applesauce cakes don't have a singular definition; they run the gamut from dense, chunky fruitcakes to gummy "health" cakes without much flavor. We wanted a moist and tender cake that actually tasted like apples.
To achieve the loose, rustic crumb that's best suited to a snack cake, we used the simple quick-bread mixing method, mixing the wet ingredients separately and then gently adding the dry ingredients by hand.
The challenge lay in adding more apple flavor. Simply increasing the applesauce made for a gummy cake, and fresh apples added too much moisture. But two other sources worked well: apple cider and dried apples.
When reduced to a syrup, the apple cider contributed a pleasing sweetness and a slight tang without excess moisture. And dried apples — plumped in the cider while it was reducing — gave our cake even more apple flavor.
We liked the textural contrast provided by a simple sprinkling of spiced granulated sugar over the cake before baking. This cake is very moist, so it's best to err on the side of overbaked when testing its doneness. We prefer the rich flavor of cider, but you can substitute apple juice.
Applesauce Snack Cake
1 cup apple cider
3/4 cup dried apples, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup unsweetened applesauce, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Adjust oven rack to middle position, and heat oven to 325 degrees. Make foil sling for 8-inch square baking pan by folding 2 long sheets of aluminum foil so each is 8 inches wide. Lay sheets of foil in pan perpendicular to each other, with extra foil hanging over edges of pan. Push foil into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing foil flush to pan.
Combine cider and dried apples in small saucepan, and simmer over medium heat until liquid evaporates and mixture appears dry, about 15 minutes. Let mixture cool completely, then process with applesauce in food processor until smooth, 20 to 30 seconds.
Whisk sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves together in bowl; set aside 2 tablespoons mixture for topping. Whisk flour and baking soda together in second bowl.
Whisk egg and salt together in large bowl. Whisk in sugar mixture until well-combined and light-colored, about 20 seconds. Whisk in melted butter in 3 additions, whisking after each addition until incorporated. Whisk in applesauce mixture and vanilla. Using rubber spatula, fold in flour mixture until just combined.
Transfer batter to prepared pan, and smooth top with rubber spatula. Gently tap pan on counter to settle batter. Sprinkle reserved sugar mixture evenly over top. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Let cake cool completely in pan on wire rack, 1 to 2 hours. Using foil overhang, lift cake from pan. Serve. (Cake can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.)