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Caramel Apple Bundt Cake satisfies my apple fix

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The sweet smells of fresh-pressed apple cider and warm cinnamon-spiced apple doughnuts are fall pleasures that I must experience every year. My favorite season of the year would not be complete without a traditional trip to an apple orchard.

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This year's orchard experience came near the end of apple-picking time. As my husband and I headed northwest on the toll road from Chicago toward Minnesota, my fingers flew furiously over the touchpad keys on my phone as I tried to Google apple orchards in Wisconsin. I was determined to get my apple orchard fix before we got home from our autumn road trip. Unfortunately, this was the day BlackBerry service went blank.

My kind driver sensed my frustration. He veered off Interstate 90 at Madison, Wis., and quickly found a coffee shop where we were able to get connected to the Internet on our laptop computers. It took just a couple of wired minutes to learn we were near the apple capitol of Wisconsin.

It was raining as we wound our way on a two-lane highway through the hills of Crawford County, passing trees ignited by their jewel-colored leaves, quaint farms and dozens of pumpkin stands. Our 100-mile detour off the interstate brought us to the pristine village of Gays Mills, Wis. This area of southwestern Wisconsin with the Kickapoo River winding through is nationally known for the color and flavor of the apples that grow on more than 1,000 acres at several family-owned and operated orchards.

We pulled into a parking space at Kickapoo Apple Orchard. I impatiently hopped out of the car, eager to catch the familiar aromas. Apple trees lined hillsides. Tall sunflowers drooping with heavy seeds bordered the apple grove. Inside, several varieties of apples were ready to taste. The comforting smell of warm apples and pastry wafted from the bakery.

When my senses were satisfied, I sped back to the car, anxious to bite into a flaky turnover oozing with apple filling. The bag of apples we purchased was carefully positioned in the back seat making it easy to grab a sweet-tart, crunchy snack as we continued our car trip. Maybe pectin, the natural form of fiber in an apple, and its high concentration of antioxidants would counteract the rich hand-held pastry treat I devoured. I could only hope.

I was tempted to make some apple turnovers of my own when I got home. My thoughts were sidetracked when I began flipping through a stack of apple recipes I've collected over the years. There were many variations of apple cake handwritten on yellowed paper, napkins and even a postcard. Several of the recipes had been ripped from newspapers and magazines. With a bit of this and a bit of that, I came up with an apple cake soaked with a caramel glaze - Caramel Apple Bundt Cake.

Other than taking time to peel and chop a few apples, the cake batter is quick to mix up. The moist cake is laden with chunks of juicy apples, nuggets of broken nuts and threads of flaked coconut. Warm caramel sauce gets spooned over the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven. It seeps into the cake and forms a glaze on the outside.

You'll discover it's hard to wait for the cake to cool before slicing into it for a first taste. Just keep a bowl of apples handy. Their abundance of pectin and antioxidants might counteract the decadent evilness of Caramel Apple Bundt Cake. We can only hope.

Caramel Apple Bundt Cake

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups canola or vegetable oil

3 eggs

1/4 cup orange juice

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup coarsely chopped nuts

1 cup flaked coconut

3 cups peeled and chopped apples

Caramel Glaze:

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat sugar and oil together. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until blended. Add orange juice and vanilla and mix. Sift flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together. Add sifted dry ingredients to mixture in bowl. Use low speed to beat batter until dry ingredients disappear. Stir in nuts, coconut and apples. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake cake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until wooden pick inserted into cake comes out clean. Shortly before the cake is finished baking, prepare Caramel Glaze.

Melt butter in a 3-quart saucepan. Add sugar, baking soda, buttermilk and corn syrup. Over medium heat, bring mixture to a rolling boil. Boil, stirring often, 4 minutes or until mixture is golden brown. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla.

Remove cake from oven. Place on wire rack. Use a wooden skewer or fork to poke holes into the cake. Spoon Caramel Glaze over the hot cake still in the Bundt pan. Allow time for Glaze to soak into the cake, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn cake out of the pan onto the wire rack. Allow cake to cool completely.

Tip from the cook

--I swear by my greasy mixture for preparing the inside of a Bundt pan - equal amounts of shortening, flour and canola or vegetable oil. Cakes always slide right out of the pan.

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