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  • 2 1/2 sticks (20 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
  • 2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and grated on the large holes of a box grater (4 cups)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/4 cups pecan halves (5 ounces), toasted dark and finely ground in a food processor.
  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 2/3 cups packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 sticks (2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature




Step 1

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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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. (Cakes can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

5. 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.)

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


Put egg whites, sugar, and salt into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk until mixture registers 160 degrees, about 4 minutes.

2. Beat on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 6 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low. Add butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating after each addition (meringue will deflate slightly as butter is added). Beat until frosting is smooth and glossy, 3 to 5 minutes. Buttercream can be refrigerated airtight for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature, and beat before using.

Gold Marzipan How-To

For Pumpkins
1. Roll room-temperature marzipan into 1 1/2-inch spheres (squat or rotund). With a flat toothpick dipped in vegetable oil, draw lines from top to bottom of each pumpkin.

2. With wide end of toothpick, create an indentation in top of pumpkin for a stem. Create stems by rolling bits of marzipan, and press into top of each pumpkin.

3. Brush pumpkins lightly with gold-pearl luster dust and stems with gold-sparkle luster dust. Let dry overnight.

For Leaves
1. On a surface lightly coated with confectioners' sugar or cornstarch, roll room-temperature marzipan to 1/4-inch thickness. Using leaf-shape cutters, create leaves.

2. Use a toothpick or paring knife to create veins. If desired, twist and curl leaves slightly. Brush lightly with gold-sparkle luster dust. Let dry overnight.

For Acorns
1. Roll room-temperature marzipan into 1/2-inch spheres for the acorn body. Roll one end into a point. Roll about 1/3 of the amount of marzipan used for the acorn into a sphere for the cap. With the clean eraser of a pencil or a gumpaste tool, such as an embosser, press a hole on underside of cap. Gently press cap onto acorn.

2. With a flat toothpick dipped in vegetable oil or a paring knife, create a crosshatch pattern on each cap. Create stems by rolling bits of marzipan, and press into top of each cap.

3. Brush acorns lightly with gold-pearl luster dust. Let dry overnight


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