This easy recipe for apple cake is a wonderful way to showcase fresh apples. Soft and tender with a stick-to-your-fork moist crumb and juicy apples in every bite, this cake is delicious plain, topped with buttery brown sugar glaze, or even a quick dusting of confectioners’ sugar.
This apple cake is just the thing to make when you have some freshly picked apples from the orchard (or the grocery store), and you want a simple recipe for a crowd-pleasing dessert that’s ready to eat in the next couple of hours. And will be just as tasty served tomorrow!
The apple flavor is front and center, complemented by the background flavors provided by warm spices and sunny orange juice. If a beautiful fall day were a cake, it would taste like this.
Everything You’ll Love About This Fresh Apple Cake:
- Tender, soft, and moist like banana cake, pumpkin cake, and spice cake
- Chock-full of juicy apple chunks
- Perfectly spiced with the flavors you love in apple pie (with less time + effort)
- Easy to make—no mixer required, no fussy decorating
- Don’t have to wait hours for it to cool completely before eating
- Dairy-free cake recipe
- Transport and serve right from the baking pan
- Wonderful plain or topped with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar or a brown sugar glaze
Sheet cakes are renowned for being easier than layer cakes—no leveling off cake layers, no fancy decorating tools, no assembly whatsoever. Slicing and serving is a breeze and you’ll appreciate that this dessert can feed a crowd, but is still completely manageable to make. It’s easy to transport, too!
Recipe Testing: What Worked & What Didn’t
I love this spice cake and knew it would be the best starting point for today’s version. The biggest change, besides altering the spices, is using apple chunks instead of shredded.
- Test cake #1 included 2 teaspoons baking powder and 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 3/4 cup each of brown and white sugars (like the spice cake). The cake browned pretty heavily and rose a bit too high, and needed just a touch more moisture and flavor.
- For test cake #2, I reduced the baking soda slightly, to 3/4 teaspoon, and changed the ratio of sugars to be 1 cup white and 1/2 cup brown. To brighten up the apple flavor, I added a little orange juice and a bit of lemon zest. This cake came out lighter in color and perfectly moist, but the lemon zest was overpowering the apple.
- For test cake #3, I kept everything the same as the previous cake, but left out the lemon zest. This apple cake turned out perfectly golden and rose up just enough, with those beautiful dimples on top revealing the apples within. And the orange juice adds the perfect amount of fresh flavor and moisture, allowing the apple flavor to really shine.
Ding ding ding! We have a winner!
Key Ingredients You Need
- Flour: All-purpose flour serves as the base. You’ll use sturdy all-purpose flour instead of cake flour in this recipe because of the thick, wet batter.
- Baking Powder + Baking Soda: These ingredients help the cake rise.
- Spices + Vanilla: Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and vanilla—apple’s flavor support team!
- Oil: Helps guarantee a moist crumb without weighing the cake down.
- White + Brown Sugar: Both sweeten the cake and brown sugar provides flavor. We’re using a mix of brown sugar AND white granulated sugar, though, because brown can weigh down a cake.
- Applesauce: Applesauce adds moisture, and the combo of applesauce + apple chunks ensures an apple-forward flavor in every bite! Make sure you use unsweetened applesauce.
- Eggs: Eggs add to the cake’s structure. This is a big cake, so you need 4 of them.
- Orange Juice: I promise this cake doesn’t taste like oranges! We’re using 2 Tablespoons, and it works so well to bring out the sweet-tart apple flavor. I love using orange juice with fall spices—it’s also the surprising ingredient in my pumpkin bread.
- Fresh Apples: I like to use a mix of sweet and tart apples.
Best Apples to Use
Firm apples are ideal for baking, and you may remember that if you’ve tried my apple crisp before. Avoid soft or mealy apples. For depth of flavor, it’s best to bake with a mix of sweet and tart apples. For this fresh apple cake, I usually use about 1 and 1/2 Honeycrisp apples and 1 Granny Smith apple.
- Tart apples I love to bake with: Granny Smith (in my opinion, this is the best overall apple for baking), Braeburn, Jonathan, and Pacific Rose
- Sweet apples I love to bake with: Jazz, Pazazz, Honeycrisp, Pink Lady/Cripps Pink, and Fuji
Peel & cut the apples into 1/2-inch chunks. You need about 3 cups (360g) of apple chunks:
Since we’re not creaming butter, you don’t need a mixer. Grab a big bowl for your dry ingredients, a medium bowl for your wet ingredients, combine it all, and then fold in the apples.
It will seem like too many apples. It’s not, I promise!
Topping Fresh Apple Cake
Today’s fresh apple cake is so moist and flavorful, like a lighter, spongier version of apple cinnamon bread. But here are some optional toppings… because who doesn’t love an accessory?!
If you’re looking to add some extra flair and sweetness to your fresh apple cake, I guarantee no one will turn down a slice smothered in the buttery brown sugar glaze. It’s the same exact glaze I use for this apple Bundt cake (just added a bit of salt), and it gives the cake a caramel-apple flavor profile.
I also love this cake with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar (pictured above). Note that the confectioners’ sugar will melt and disappear into the cake after a few hours, so it’s best to do this right before serving. Other topping suggestions:
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I hope you LOVE this!
You’ll love this easy sheet cake recipe for tender and moist fresh apple cake. The pictures above include a few photos of the cake with a dusting of 2 Tablespoons (15g) confectioners’ sugar and some include a buttery brown sugar glaze. The glaze recipe is included below.
Optional: Brown Sugar Glaze
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C) and grease a 9×13-inch baking pan.
- Make the cake: Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice together in a large bowl. Set aside.
- Whisk the oil, granulated sugar, brown sugar, applesauce, eggs, vanilla extract, and orange juice together in a medium bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until combined. Fold in the chopped apples until combined. It will seem like a lot of apples and that’s ok!
- Pour and spread batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 45–50 minutes. Baking times vary, so keep an eye on it. Around the 30-minute mark, loosely tent with aluminum foil to prevent over-browning. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Remove the cake from the oven and set the pan on a wire rack. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before topping or serving.
- Right before serving, you can top the slightly warm cake with a dusting of 2 Tablespoons (15g) confectioners’ sugar or make the brown sugar glaze in the next step.
- Make the glaze: As the cake cools, prepare the brown sugar glaze. Combine the butter, brown sugar, heavy cream, and pinch of salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until the butter has melted, and then stop stirring and let the mixture come to a rapid boil. Boil for 1 minute. Turn the heat down to low, give it a quick stir, and let simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in the sifted confectioners’ sugar. Allow glaze to cool and slightly thicken for at least 20 minutes. Spoon glaze over the cake right before serving. (Cake can still be warm when glazing.) If your glaze thickened up too much as it cooled, warm in the microwave for 15 seconds and stir until smooth.
- The cake (glazed, dusted, or plain) can be served warm or at room temperature. Cover leftovers and store at room temperature for 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. If you topped with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, note that the sugar will melt and disappear into the cake after a few hours.
- Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: Prepare cake through step 5. Cover the cake tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, and bring to room temperature before serving. Continue with step 6.
- Quarter Sheet Pan: I really like to bake quarter sheet cakes in a glass 9×13 inch pan or this metal pan that comes with a lid.
- Can I replace or reduce the oil? Vegetable oil is the best option for this cake. You can replace with a neutral-flavored oil such as avocado oil or canola oil. Feel free to use melted refined coconut oil (refined doesn’t have much of a coconut flavor) and make sure every other ingredient in the cake batter is room temperature, so the oil doesn’t solidify. Do not replace with melted butter because the cake will taste dry. You can replace a small amount of the oil with applesauce if needed, but keep in mind that the cake will begin to taste dry/rubbery the more oil you replace.
- Orange Juice: If you don’t have orange juice, you can substitute apple juice, apple cider, or any type of milk. I don’t recommend using lemon juice in this recipe.
- Apples: For depth of flavor, it’s best to bake with a mix of sweet and tart apples. For this fresh apple cake, I usually use about 1 and 1/2 Honeycrisp apples and 1 Granny Smith apple.
- Layer Cake: Divide batter between 3 8-inch or 9-inch greased round cake pans. Bake for around 26–32 minutes, depending on which size pan you used. The cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The brown butter cream cheese frosting used on this banana layer cake would be very tasty on this cake.
- Bundt Cake: Try my recipe for glazed apple Bundt cake.
- Cupcakes: Try my recipe for apple cupcakes.
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