In the autumn, my dad used to go hunting with his dad and brothers. They would set off before daylight and spend a day out in the woods hoping to bring home a deer to help feed the family for winter. Grandma packed a little breakfast and lunch for them, and she always included pieces of this applesauce cake. She wrapped it up and Dad and Grandpa kept it in the pocket of their coat until they were ready for a little something sweet, then they would nibble on it while waiting and watching.
The recipe has been in our family for years and is a holiday favorite for us. The texture is dense, which is why it held up well in a jacket pocket, and the flavor rich. Grandma would sometimes plump the raisins in water, but I like a little extra flavor and soak them in rum. The black walnuts presented a bit of a shopping challenge, and I had to go to several stores before finding small bags of nuts. The original recipe calls for just black walnuts, though the tiny 2-ounce packages of black walnuts that I found only amounted to about 3/4 cup, so I made up the difference with English walnuts. The flavor of the black walnuts shines through and the spices and fruits make it very festive.
With every bite I can’t help but think of my grandmother and the love she put into her cooking.
Spiced Applesauce Cake with Black Walnuts, Rum Raisins, and Dates
- 2 cups golden raisins
- 1 ¼ cups gold rum or water
- 1 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 8 ounces chopped dates
- 3/4 cup chopped black walnuts
- 1/4 cup chopped English walnuts
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cups applesauce
- The night before you make the cake, put the raisins in the glass bowl and pour the rum or water over the top. Allow the raisins to soak for 6 to 8 hours. If you can’t do an overnight soak, bring the raisins and rum to boil in a saucepan, then remove from heat and let the mixture stand, covered, for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F/175° C.
- In the medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Toss with the dates and walnuts. Set aside.
- In the bowl of the stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until it’s light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix well, then add the applesauce and mix well. Add the dry ingredients 1 cup at a time and mix on low just until combined, but don’t over mix. Drain the raisins and gently fold into the batter.
- Spread the batter in the prepared baking pan and smooth the top. Bake in the preheated oven until an inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.