Lucia Piccolo’s Applesauce Cake with
Lemon Buttercream Frosting
I always have a cake recipe connected to my books. For The Three Miss Margarets it was a red velvet cake, for The Ladies of Garrison Gardens it was a mayonnaise cake with broiled icing, and for Family Acts it was a peach pecan pound cake. The reason for this is simple – I love cake. To me it’s the most festive dessert you can have. I mean, come on, when we want celebrate a birthday, or a wedding, or a graduation, or a baby shower, we don’t serve vanilla pudding. We have cake! We have a sheet cakewith big gaudy roses on it or a layer cake sitting high on a cut glass pedestal that’s been in the family for decades. By the way, I also feel this way about Strauss waltzes and big taffeta ball gowns. But I digress.
So every one of my books has a cake recipe attached to it –you can check out the past recipes on my website – and there’s a story about how I came by each one.
The recipe connected with my new book, Serendipity, has a big spot in the center of my heart, because it comes from my grandmother, Lucia Piccolo. My grandmother was a second generation Italian – American wife and mother. As my mother tells the story, in Lucia’s family they didn’t do a lot of baking. For your sweets – especially on the holidays – you went to your local pastry shop. But my grandmother was a modern wife, and of course she wanted to be up-to-the-minute with the American culture around her. Plus, she had ten kids so after school snacks were a biggie. My grandmother taught herself how to bake. She learned from everyone; from the ladies of Irish and Polish descent who lived in the neighborhood – I like to think their kitchens were the real American melting pot – and often she picked up recipes from the packaging in which various foods were sold. That’s how we came by the applesauce cake, beloved by her kids and her grandkids – it was printed on the Sunmaid Raisins box. That’s who we owe for one of our traditional family recipes. With a little twist – and I mean that literally – from Grandma who felt the icing was too bland so she put some lemon juice in it. And the cooks in my family have been adding it ever since.
Now, I want to share it with you. I hope you enjoy her cake as much as we all have for three generations. And if anyone wants to email me to talk about cakes, or grandmothers, or melting pots, or recipes, or Serendipity, or anything else under the sun, I’d love to hear from you.
Author photo © Bill Morris
Lucia Piccolo’s Applesauce Cake with Lemon Buttercream Frosting
For the cake:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened (or 1/4 cup canola oil and 1/4 cup unsalted butter)
2 cups granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/2 cups applesauce
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/2 cup raisins
For the frosting:
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 13 x 9 x 2 – inch pan.
2. To make the cake: Cream butter. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, beating well after each addition.
3. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Add flour mixture alternately with applesauce to butter mixture until well mixed. Stir in nuts and raisins.
4. Turn batter into prepared pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until cake springs back to the touch. Let cool slightly in pan. Remove cake to serving plate and let cool completely before frosting.
5. To make the frosting: Beat butter in bowl of electric mixer on medium speed for one minute. Reduce speed to low, and add confectioners’ sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating between each addition, until frosting is smooth. On low speed, add lemon juice. Increase speed to medium, and beat for 3-4 minutes, until fluffy. Frost cake.
Yield: Approximately 12 servings