Apples caramelized in butter and an array of fall spices lend a unique character to this exceptionally moist cake, which lies hidden beneath a mantle of brown-sugar buttercream. Marzipan garnishes -- tinted gold -- make a festive finish.

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Ingredients

Ingredient Checklist

Directions

Instructions Checklist
  • Put 1/2 stick butter into a large nonstick skillet. Using the tip of a paring knife, scrape seeds from vanilla bean into skillet, and toss in pod. Cook over medium heat until butter is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in apples, cider, and 1 cup granulated sugar. Raise heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes. Reduce heat to low, and cook until apples are golden and translucent and liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Discard vanilla pod. Let cool.

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  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-by-2-inch round cake pans. Dust with flour, and tap out excess. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Reserve 1/4 cup flour mixture.

  • Beat remaining 2 sticks butter, remaining 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, and the brown sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, and add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low. Beat in flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the sour cream and scraping bowl as needed. Add remaining 1/4 cup flour mixture to apple mixture, and toss. Fold in apple mixture and pecans.

  • Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake until tops are dark golden brown and a toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes on a wire rack. Run a knife around edges of cakes to loosen. Unmold cakes, and let cool, right side up, on rack.

  • Assemble cake: Trim each cake so it's 1 3/4 inches high. Place 1 cake, cut side up, on a cake stand. Spread 1 1/2 cups buttercream over top. Place remaining cake, cut side down, on top. Spread 1 cup buttercream over entire cake. Refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes. Spread remaining frosting over cake. (Cake can be refrigerated, uncovered, overnight.)

  • Before serving, decorate with marzipan pumpkins, acorns, and leaves.

Cook's Notes

Cakes, undecorated, can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

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