Approaching fall with apple curd, salted caramel, pecan and rosemary cake

End of summer

Winter is coming.

Crisp apples are showing up at our local markets, which of course means that Steve is buying them and that summer is coming to an end. It seems it’s still a bit early for his beloved Gold Rush, but the Granny Smith-types we grabbed (the vendor told us they were Gold Rush, but we knew better) are pretty tasty. Michelle used some of them to good effect in an exceptional apple curd, which she worked between layers of pecan and rosemary cake iced with salted caramel buttercream. Should Steve stay true to his usual fall habits, there will be many more apples in our future—and that means we’ll probably have more opportunities in addition to this delightful cake.

Rosemary Pecan Layer Cake

The curd came out of Paula Peck’s The Art of Fine Baking, a 1961 volume Michelle bought at an antique store some years back. Peck, who died in 1972, was called “one of the most remarkable talents in the world” by Craig Claiborne, and the volume was credited with being “as complete a treatise on the art of baking as you will find in the English language” by James Beard. Yet somehow, until now, Michelle had never made anything from Peck’s cookbook. Given the tiny bit of tweaking it took to make what Peck calls “apple custard filling,” we might have to look deeper into her all-too-brief body of work. 


Michelle added an extra egg yolk, replaced vanilla with Calvados and threw in a pinch of salt on the way to obtaining the thickness she wanted for the center of her cake flavored with rosemary and pecans. The icing wrapped everything in salty sweetness, which is never (at least in Gourmandistan) a bad thing. Once again, we’re a bit regretful that summer is passing, but this cake does give us one more reason to be happy that apple season is once again here.


  • Servings: one 2-layer 9-inch cake
  • Print

(cake adapted from Duff Goldman via Godiva/filling adapted from Paula Peck’s The Art of Fine Baking/icing adapted from Chowhound)

Apple Curd Filling:

  • 3 large apples, peeled
  • 1 lemon, juice and grated rind
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 TB flour
  • 3 TB water
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten with a fork
  • 2 TB butter
  • 1/2 tsp. Calvados (or vanilla)

Shred apples on a coarse grater.

Combine shredded apples, lemon juice, lemon rind, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Cook, uncovered, until boiling.

While apples are heating, mix together flour and water.

Stir flour/water mixture into apple mixture and cook, stirring, until heated and starting to thicken.

Whisk a few tablespoons of hot filling into egg yolks. Then pour warmed egg yolk mixture into apple mixture. Stir briskly, over medium heat, until thickened.

Remove from heat and stir in butter and Calvados (or vanilla). Let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate, covered. (All of this can be done a day or so ahead of time.)


  • 3 c. AP flour
  • 2-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 c. granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 c. milk, at room temperature
  • 1 c. chopped, toasted pecans
  • 1 TB finely chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 350° F with a rack in the center.  Grease two 9” cake pans with soft butter and line with parchment or wax paper rounds. Lightly grease the paper.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.

Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer until light and fluffy, occasionally scraping bowl with a rubber spatula.

On medium speed, add eggs one at a time, occasionally scraping bowl with a rubber spatula.

On low speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then ½ of the milk and vanilla. Repeat, scraping with a rubber spatula as needed, then end with the flour mixture. Mix until smooth. Mix in chopped pecans and rosemary on low speed.

Pour batter evenly into the prepared cake pans and level.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean.

Cool in the pans on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Flip the cake layers out of the pans onto the wire rack and let cool completely before filling and icing.

Salted Caramel Icing:

  • 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 2 TB water
  • 1/4 c. + 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 c. (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. fleur de sel
  • 3 c. confectioner’s sugar

Stir granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue cooking, without stirring but watching carefully, until mixture turns dark amber in color, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Remove from heat and slowly add in ¼ cup cream and vanilla, stirring with a wooden spoon until completely smooth. Set aside until cool to the touch, about 30 minutes.

Combine butter and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium to high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Reduce speed to low, add 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar, and mix until incorporated. Add cooled caramel and beat until incorporated.

Add remaining 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar, alternating with remaining ½ cup of heavy cream, and continue beating until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.


C’mon, we know you know how to put a cake together. But the apple curd filling may be a little runny. So make a dam of icing around the outside of the top of the bottom layer—either with a pastry bag or just with a knife. Then cover the bottom layer with the apple filling. Place second layer on top and ice top and sides.


    • Merci, Nadia. I need to try making more out of it. It’s pretty old school European. She talks in the intro about learning much from a French friend and a Polish neighbor. The nice thing is that everything is separate (lots of different cakes, lots of different fillings, lots of different icings) and mostly you’re left to figure out how to put them together yourself, which is kind of fun. I just ordered a copy of her more general cooking book, too.

    • Thanks, Angelica. It is beautiful here, especially in the Spring and Fall. Which I have to keep reminding myself when faced with the disturbing fact that outside our city and a few other places, it’s Trump central. Egads.

  1. fruit curds (or cheese) were once also very popular in English Cookery, now they have almost disappeared from the radar. I will try this one – it’s the beginning of apple season here too (UK). I have two question: is the Beck’s book about american baking only or is it an international sort of book? (it looks interesting and I have found copies at very good prices). I like most american recipes but, from my european point of view; I always find them too sweet (and I generally cut down the sugar by 15%). thanks, stefano

    • This from a man who recently made a sweet zucchini dish? 🙂 No, really, I hear you. I can’t stand many American favorite desserts (the so-called “Italian Cream Cake” is a prime example of something that’s just sweet and nothing else). When working on this cake, I was worried about the too sweet factor — which is part of the reason why I added a little slightly pungent rosemary and the slightly burny caramel icing, which I think did cut the sweet back a bit.

      The Peck baking book is pretty old school European. She talks in the intro about learning much from a French friend and a Polish neighbor. It’s a relatively small volume with, following the standard of the day, no photos and scarce illustrations. The nice thing is that everything is separate (lots of different cakes, lots of different fillings, lots of different icings) and mostly you’re left to figure out how to put them together yourself, which is kind of fun. I just ordered a copy of her more general cooking book, too, and look forward to seeing what was going on in New York in the 60s.

      • And P.S. There was something about the consistency of the apple filling that reminded me of the icing on an American “German Chocolate Cake.” Another overly sweet thing. But the shredded apples somehow reminded me of the coconut in that. Funny how childhood food memories stick with one.

      • …my copy is on its way + I have seen that her granddaughter has blog where she tries out and revamp Peck’s original recipes + I had to check what an Italian cream cake is: oh… I can see… hum…. it looks like the americanization (through immigrants, I guess) of Southern Italy filled cakes, generally a sponge cake and a ricotta filling (or creme patissier): even in Italy can be pretty awful, actually – too much alchol to brush the layers and too sweet a filling HOWEVER if made with restrain and using super ricotta can be fantastic. When we had the restaurant it was one of the quickest cakes to disappear. I made a simple fatless sponge, brushed with Strega liqueur (not too much) and the filling was homemade fresh cheese (sort of ricotta), home made orange peels and bitter choccolate, chopped up —- I too was very partial to it and it remains one of my fav desserts.

  2. Oh my mercy! This cake is way too sophisticated for my family’s plebeian tastes which run to simple chocolate oatmeal cake or plain vanilla. Nonetheless, I would like to make it and eat the whole darn thing! Canadian Thanksgiving is coming up in mid-October and I have a large family gathering it could accompany me to as my date. I could share, I suppose. Truly, a marvelous sounding concoction!

  3. What a beautiful first photo, and oh, what a cake! The flavors sum up everything I can think of when imagining a perfect it´s-almost-fall-cake. Apples (and calvados!) start making a regular appearance here at our house, too, given that Normandy is just around the corner.
    Hope you´re doing great over there!

    • I really love savory sweets, though I know many don’t. You really didn’t taste the rosemary as rosemary. There was just a bit of it. I think the piney rosemary (along with the slightly burned caramel taste) saved it from being just a sugar bomb. But that’s really a nice cake recipe regardless. It’s slightly sturdy but still buttery and soft, and rises well.

      • I agree with Michelle: herbs in desserts are worth exploring, sometimes a little herb (or spice) does transform a dessert…
        + apple and rosemary is also a British and Italian thing and it is a fab pairing (thyme too). basil and macerated strawberries, mellon and black pepper, roasted plums with thyme, bay leaves in rice pudding + apple & rosemary remains one my favourite combination: in Northern Italy, there is a delicious and simple bread pudding, made with chopped fall fruit (apples, pears, grapes, raising) , stale bread soaked in milk and the whole lot topped with polenta flour, bread crumbs and… rosemary! … and it is fantastic (it is called MIASCIA, if some one wants to google it)

  4. Pauls Peck’s book: my copy has arrived. I have been browsing it and I can warmly recommend it. Lovely book, with very clear instructions and useful illustrations. It overlaps a little with the pastry section in Julia Child’s Mastering vol 1, but the tone is warmer, I find. (they both came out in the same year, 1961 – coincidence)… and less daunting somehow. It deals also, of course, with non-French desserts and baked goods – German and Austrian things, mainly. + there are also few savory recipes.
    There is a very nice foreword by James Beard.
    This book seems to be a keeper. My only reservation is that all me measurements are in cup
    thank you Gourmandistan for such a little gem.- stefano

    • Oh yay! Sorry about the cups, though. I know it is annoying to Europeans. 🙂 I got Peck’s savory cookbook, but can’t say I’m too enthused on the first flip through. Seems a bit dated. Desserts are more timeless!

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