Kick off apple season with this delicious Caramel Apple Cake! A spice cake made with diced apples, paired with a caramel buttercream, and caramel drizzle.
Know what my favorite thing ever is? Doing things twice. Even better if I’m redoing them because I did something stupid the first time, and that’s exactly what happened with this Caramel Apple Cake.
I had to bake the damn cake layers twice because when I thought they were done, they actually weren’t even close to done, but I took them out anyhow and they completely deflated and caved in. UGH.
I hate wasting things — time, ingredients (aka money), food, etc. So I trimmed the failed cake layers to even them out and stuck them in the freezer to be used for I don’t know what, I don’t know when.
I have issues throwing stuff out until the fridge/freezer situation gets so dire that I go in there to do a massive clean out and throw out anything I deem past its prime. I don’t like to get to that point though.
My second attempt at the cake layers went much better (I did tweak the recipe a tad though too), except that I overbaked them for fear of underbaking (lol).
Overbaked is better though — you can always save a drier cake with some simple syrup, but you can’t serve people raw cake!
I’ve actually had a lot of troubles lately with premature cake removal, so I’ve decided to stop relying on skewers/cake testers to test if the cake layers are done. Often times I’ll poke a skewer in there too early and the cake layer will collapse a bit. It’s soul crushing.
Sometimes the skewer will come out clean, but they aren’t actually done! Now, my first test will be to gently press the tops of the cake layers with my finger. If they spring back, they’re done. If it leaves a bit of an indent, they’re not.
Baking is stressful, guys.
How to make this Apple Cake
Ok, let’s talk about this Caramel Apple Cake because it is the perfect cake for Fall. Especially early Fall, where we are now. It’s the start of apple season!
We’re lucky to have a lot of amazing local apples grown in the BC interior. I haven’t seen a lot of them at the markets yet, but they should be popping up soon.
My very favorite apples are Honeycrisp. They are crisp, juicy, and the perfect mix of sweet/tart. Actually, if I’m being honest here, my absolute fave are Macintosh, but they’re not the best for baking (too soft).
I actually can’t remember what kind of apples I used for this cake. It wasn’t Honeycrisp, because I couldn’t find any, and it wasn’t Granny Smith. Really though, you could use almost any kind of apple you like for this Caramel Apple Cake.
I chose to chop the apples into small chunks to get more of that flavor/texture, but you could also grate them if you like.
The perfect and pretty apples in the pictures are from my friend Sam at My Kitchen Love. She graciously offered to give me the last 3 apples from her apple tree so I would have some rustic apples for my photos.
I’m not kidding when I tell you I had 10 perfectly fine store-bought apples sitting on my counter ready to be used, but instead, I chose to drive 1 hour round trip in the pouring rain on the morning that I was meant to shoot this cake just to get these 3 precious apples.
Totally worth it. By the way, you must check out Sam’s blog, her recipes are both stunning and delicious!
The caramel recipe that I used for this Caramel Apple Cake is my absolute favorite. I have a detailed tutorial on it here. There are easier ways to make a caramel, sure, but this one isn’t that hard and it’s totally worth it for a smooth, silky texture. I used this same recipe in my Turtles Cake. It’s truly delicious!
A simple Swiss meringue buttercream with caramel added into it is the perfect complement to this Caramel Apple Cake. The flavors go so well together.
If you’d like an additional hit of caramel, you can drizzle some onto the buttercream on each layer. You’ll have enough to do that if you like.
I kept the decorating simple — a naked cake with a caramel drip. This is the perfect cake for Fall, and a great way to make use of all of those amazing apples!
Tips for this Apple Cake with Homemade Caramel:
- The recipe as-is will also work in two 8″ pans. For three 8″ pans, 1.5x the recipe.
- To make cupcakes, all you need to do is reduce the baking time — start checking at 15mins or so.
- The cooled cake layers can be baked ahead of time, double wrapped in plastic wrap, and frozen for up to 3 months. Take out 2-3 hours before assembly.
- The frosting can be placed in an airtight container and refrigerated for 1 week for frozen for 3 months. Bring to room temp and rewhip before using.
- You can use any apples you like for this cake recipe.
- Be sure to check out my How to Make Caramel post for a detailed tutorial.
- The caramel will keep for a good month or so in the fridge, so you can make this in advance.
- If caramel has thickened too much, microwave in 5-10 second intervals until it’s pourable (but not warm).
- If you like this, check out my other Fall themed recipes: Apple Pie Cake, Pumpkin Spice Latte Cake, Spice Cake, Pumpkin Spice Bundt, Pear & Walnut Cake.
- Be sure to check my Swiss Meringue Buttercream post for tips and troubleshooting.
- Learn how to keep your cakes moist using Simple Syrup.
- To help ensure your cake layers bake up nice and flat, check out my How to Bake Flat Cake Layers post!
Caramel Apple Cake
- 2 cups diced apples heaping, approx. 2 medium apples
- 1 Tbsp light brown sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
Apple Spice Cake:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar packed
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 150 ml heavy cream room temperature
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter room temperature
Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
- 3 large egg whites
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup unsalted butter room temperature, cubed
- 1/2 cup caramel
- Toss peeled & diced apples in 1 Tbsp light brown sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon. Set aside.
Apple Spice Cake:
- Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour three 6″ cake rounds, line with parchment.
- In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, spices, and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer combine vegetable oil and sugars. Beat until well combined (2 mins). Add eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Add vanilla.
- Add flour mixture in 3 parts. Fold in apples.
- Spread batter evenly into prepared pans and bake for 45-50 mins or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.
- Place cakes on wire rack to cool for 10mins then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.
- Place sugar and water into a medium pot, stir to combine, but to not stir from this point forward. Cook over high heat, washing down the sides of the pot with a pastry brush dipped in water as needed to prevent crystals.
- Cook until desired color of caramel is reached (amber) and immediately remove from heat. Very slowly pour in heavy cream while whisking quickly. The mixture will bubble up (a lot) and boil. Add butter, return to heat, and bring back to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes whisking constantly.
- Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to a container and place in fridge to thicken.*
Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
- Place egg whites and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk until combined.**
- Place bowl over a hot water bath on the stove and whisk constantly until the mixture reads 160F on a candy thermometer and is no longer grainy to the touch (approx. 3mins).
- Place bowl on your stand mixer and whip on med-high until the meringue is stiff and cooled (the bowl is no longer warm to the touch (approx. 5-10mins)).
- Switch to paddle attachment. Slowly add cubed butter and mix until smooth.
- Add cooled caramel and whip until smooth.***
- Trim cake layers if needed. Place one layer of cake on a cake stand or serving plate. Top with 2/3 cup of frosting, spread evenly. Repeat with remaining layers.
- Frost and smooth the outside with a thin crumb coat. Chill for 20mins.
- Using a small spoon, place dollops of caramel around the top edges of the cooled cake, allowing some to drip down. Fill in the top of the cake with more caramel and spread evenly with an offset spatula.****
** Ensure there is NO trace of egg yolks in your whites and that your mixer bowl and whisk is completely grease free or your meringue won’t stiffen.
*** The buttercream may look like it’s curdled at some point. Keep mixing until it is completely smooth.
**** If caramel has thickened too much, microwave in 5-10 second intervals until it’s pourable (but not warm).
Originally published on Sep 24, 2017
Made this for my sister’s wedding cake in December and everyone is still talking about it! Wish I could post a picture!
Hi Jessica! I’m so happy to hear that. I would love to see a photo! You can email it to me if you like 🙂
Larissa Thompson says
I volunteered to make dessert for my family Christmas (a task my youngest sister usually takes on). I was looking for a recipe that was simple enough for a novice baker, but fancy enough to impress my family. I was pleasantly surprised by how simple it was to make home made caramel and I even added a few apple roses for decoration.
Hi Larissa! So happy to hear it turned out well 🙂
This looks amazing! I’ll be making this for my friend’s birthday this weekend. If I wanted to do a more traditional decorated cake and not a naked cake, will the buttercream as you have it here be enough, or should I double the recipe? Appreciate your help!
Hi Jessica! I would 1.5x-2x the recipe for the frosting if you want to fully frost it.
I want to make this cake. Can you tell me if I’m supposed to cook the apples or just mix them raw in the cake batter? Also, can you use apple pie filling instead?
Hi Jennifer! No, you don’t cook them. Refer to step #1 of the instructions:
Toss peeled & diced apples in 1 Tbsp light brown sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon. Set aside.
Then you just fold them into the cake batter in Step #4.
Lynn Legere says
This cake sounds awesome and something I’d like to try as soon as possible. I’d love to make it but my family is not a fan of 3 layer cakes. Can I make this in two 8 or 9″ inch pans? And if so, how much time would they require to bake?
Hi Lynn! For sure, the recipe as-is will work in two 8″ pans. I talk about this in the Tips section of the post. Baking time will be similar for 8″ pans but if you use 9″ the layers will be thinner so baking time will be less.
Oh another question… I’ve made your caramel Swiss meringue from your caramel cake, and I noticed it uses dark brown sugar vs regular sugar? Do you prefer one version over another or is there much of a taste difference? Thanks!
The dark brown sugar adds more of a caramel flavour and color which is why I start with it for my caramel buttercream recipes. Either will work though!
Thank you! 🙂
Hey! I’m excited to make this for thanksgiving! I’ve made several of your recipes & they are all amazing! I noticed you didn’t add any salt to your caramel. Is there any certain reason? I just love salted caramel in general, but didn’t know if you thought the flavor of this cake would go better with unsalted? Just curious!
Hi Allyson! You can totally add salt if you like! I’m not a salted caramel girl so I leave it out 😀
Siri Zwemke says
Oh my! SO delicious. My only comment was even with two thermometers in my oven verifying the temp was 350, this was done at the 32 minute mark, so don’t overbake it. Absolutely 100% SO delicious. (I cheated on the caramel needing to use up Werthers candies so melted them down with a little water and cream). The cake and frosting cannot be beat though! Super yummy.
Hi Siri! So glad you loved this. Every oven bakes differently so it’s good that you were checking on them! I tend to use baking strips too, which increases the baking time.
Great recipe! Made these into mini cakes and they tasted so good! I used what I had, so all raw sugar instead of brown + white sugar. Also stewed the apples a little but I don’t think it’s necessary so will not be doing that next time. The crumb was much softer than I thought it would be! This is now saved in my repeat recipes! 🙂
Hi Zita! So glad you loved them.