Apple Cake with warm Carmel Sauce


1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped, plus 16 apple slices for garnish

Hot Caramel Sauce:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan. In a blender or food processor, grind the pecans until fine.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until well blended. In a medium bowl, stir the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together.
Stir the dry mixture into the wet mixture just until blended. Fold the apples and nuts in until blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then remove from the pan. The center may sink a bit.
To Make the Sauce: In a small saucepan, melt the butter with the brown sugar and salt over medium heat. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla and cream. Set aside and keep warm. To make ahead, let cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat over barely simmering water.
To serve, cut the cake into 8 wedges. Ladle a large spoonful of the hot caramel sauce onto each plate. Place a wedge of cake on top of the sauce. Garnish with a spoonful of whipped cream or ice cream and 2 apple slices.