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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.

stack of two apple cake slices.

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
fresh apple cake cut into slices with brown sugar glaze on top.

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!

Favorite 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. The lid is super convenient for storing & transporting!

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

plain apple cake in glass baking dish.

Key Ingredients You Need

  1. 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.
  2. Baking Powder + Baking Soda: These ingredients help the cake rise.
  3. Spices + Vanilla: Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and vanilla—apple’s flavor support team!
  4. Oil: Helps guarantee a moist crumb without weighing the cake down.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Eggs: Eggs add to the cake’s structure. This is a big cake, so you need 4 of them.
  8. 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.
  9. 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
flour, eggs, spices, salt, vanilla, applesauce, oil, apples, and other ingredients on marble countertop.

Peel & cut the apples into 1/2-inch chunks. You need about 3 cups (360g) of apple chunks:

apple chunks in glass bowl and poured on top of cake batter.

No Mixer!

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!

brown batter in glass bowl with apple chunks stirred in.
cake batter in glass baking dish before baking.
slice of apple cake turned on its side with light dusting of powdered sugar on top.

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:

  • Drizzle with salted caramel sauce.
  • Spread some apple butter on a slice, for extra-deep apple-cinnamon flavor.
  • Add brown butter icing from these apple blondies.
  • Slather on a layer of salted caramel frosting—if you’d really like to indulge your sweet tooth!
apple cake slice with lots of fresh apples inside and topped with brown sugar glaze.
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stack of two apple cake slices.

Fresh Apple Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 50 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours
  • Yield: serves 12 1x
  • Category: Cakes
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

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.


Ingredients

Scale

Cake

  • 2 and 1/2 cups (313g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon EACH ground ginger & allspice
  • 1 cup (240ml) vegetable oil
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (100g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup (180g) unsweetened applesauce
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons (30ml) orange juice
  • 3 cups (360g) peeled chopped apples (1/2-inch chunks, about 23 large apples)

Optional: Brown Sugar Glaze

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 57g) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (200g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) heavy cream
  • small pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup (60g) confectioner’s sugar, sifted

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C) and grease a 9×13-inch baking pan.
  2. Make the cake: Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice together in a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. 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!
  4. 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. 
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

Notes

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Layer Cake: Grease 3 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper rounds, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans. Divide batter between the 3 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.
  7. Bundt Cake: Try my recipe for glazed apple Bundt cake.
  8. Cupcakes: Try my recipe for apple cupcakes.

Keywords: apple cake

Reader Questions and Reviews

    1. Hi Naomi, We haven’t tested this recipe using a 1:1 gluten free flour blend, so we’re unsure of the results. Although some readers report using an all-purpose 1:1 gluten-free flour in many of our recipes with success, you should expect slightly different results anytime you substitute ingredients. Let us know if you give it a try!

    2. I actually just made this yesterday with a 1:1 gluten free flour and it’s delicious! Still moist, fluffy and no gluten free after taste (I find some flours have a particular after taste). Make sure you use a 1:1 blend (like Bob’s Redmill) as a substitute.

      1. Thank you for sharing this information about the gluten free flour.

  1. Sally, I made this recipe the other day. It is an easy recipe to follow. It came out ok. However, I was a bit disappointed because it did not rise as well as I thought it would be.
    I looked back to the ingredients that I used.
    I believe I used unbleached APF. Did that make the difference in rising? My cake tasted good though.
    Your thoughts are appreciated.
    Thanks. Cecilia

    1. Hi Cecilia, we typically use unbleached all purpose flour as well, so that shouldn’t be the issue. Are your baking powder and making soda fresh? We find they start to lose their potency after about three months (even if not technically expired). Also be sure not to over mix your batter, which can cause cakes to be squat and flat. This post on how to prevent dry and dense cakes may also be helpful to review. Thank you for giving this recipe a try!

  2. The recipe says to “glaze before serving”. Can the glaze be applied over the entire cake even if it will not be served all at once? Thank you

    1. Hi Gail, yes! Cover leftovers and store at room temperature for 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

    2. Made this apple cake today.Turned out well very moist and fluffy and not too sweet.Very pleased with how it turned out.Delicious and will go down well with a freshly brewed cup of tea.Thank you for sharing your recipe

  3. I made these this morning (using our own apples from our apple tree so I don’t actually remember what kind they are, but they’re on the tart side). I baked them in a cupcake pan because we are going camping this weekend and it seemed easier and MAN they are good! I baked them for 20 minutes at 350 in sprayed cupcake liners. They’re definitely a treat but the spices and density are perfect. Thanks for the recipe, Sally!

  4. Delicious!! Perfectly moist and sweet, an ideal fall cake that doubles as breakfast or a snack! I used unsweetened homemade applesauce, which was perfect. It doesn’t need a glaze, in my opinion! I enjoyed it warm on its own as well as with vanilla ice cream.

  5. I loved this recipe! So many apples, and it’s perfectly sweet without true glaze. This is perfect for Fall. Also used homemade apple sauce and made all the difference!

  6. I once had an apple cake that had butterscotch chips tossed in. Do you think this would work with your recipe?

    1. That would be so delicious! I would use 1 cup (about 180g) butterscotch morsels. Fold them in when you fold in the apples. (I want to try it now!)

  7. Love this recipe but both times I have made it the sides have been over cooked and the center undercooked. Any suggestions? Thanks!

    1. Hi Emily, if you find the edges of your cake are browning too quickly, you can tent them with aluminum foil. This will protect the edges from burning while allowing the middle to continue baking through. Thanks so much for giving this cake a try!

  8. This is an amazingly delicious cake! Such a light and soft texture. The glaze on top is delicious but I am sure it would be wonderful without it too!

  9. I want to serve this cake for the holiday and want to do as much advance prep as i can. I already baked the cake and froze it. Can I make the glaze a few days before I want to serve it, keep it in the fridge then rewarm and pour it over the defrosted cake the day I want to serve it?

    1. Hi Esther, For the best results we do recommend making the glaze close to the time you serve the cake. It does need to cool for at least 20 minutes, but if you need to let it sit for longer you can gently warm it back up again until you reach your desired consistency.

  10. this recipe is beyond wonderful!!! I didn’t use a glaze–it’s perfect right out of the oven without any toppings.

  11. Has anyone else had a problem with the Glaze being grainy? I followed the instructions and it came out great but as it cooled, the sugar recrystalized.

    1. Hi Esther, Thank you for trying this recipe. Sometimes a grainy glaze is from being cooked too long or at too high of heat. All stove tops are a bit different so if you decide to try it again, it may help also help to turn down your burner a little next time.

    2. I haven’t made this cake yet (but plan to in the next few days). My comment refers to another response about cake not rising as much , and mention of freshness of baking powder/soda. I’ve wondered about this for mine. I don’t regularly bake because I’m apt to indulge myself on everything too much. Can you alter the quantity of baking powder /soda to make up for perhaps not having fresh containers? Or would it affect the taste too much? Thanks

      1. Hi Linda! We don’t recommend adding more. Fresh really is best!

  12. Hi Sally!
    Can this recipe be halved and baked in an 8×8 pan? If so, how long would you recommend baking? Btw, the glaze is to die for! I ate plenty of it straight from the pot with a big spoon!

    1. Hi Alyssa, I fear an 8-inch pan will be too small for half of the cake. A 9-inch would be best!

      1. Hi Alyssa, We are unsure of the exact bake time needed if you cut this recipe in half for a 9×9 pan. It will be shorter so keep your eye on it as it bakes.

    2. Baked this morning and it is absolutely perfect (as all my Sally recipes are)! It was so easy and I love when I don’t need a mixer! Definitely something you can easily make when you are expecting last minute guests since it can be served warm or cold. I made the yummy glaze and next time I might try your delicious cream cheese frosting. Thanks for another big hit Sally and company!

  13. Hi Sally, I made this apple cake this evening because it looked so delicious. The batter came together very easily and baked up beautifully. The cake looked so pretty I wasn’t going to make the butter glaze, but I did, and I was glad I did. Thanks again for such wonderful recipes! My family eats really well.

  14. This is absolutely delicious! I used pears instead of apples this time thanks to the abundance of my pear trees. Will definitely make this again and again.

  15. This cake was **chef’s kiss** ridiculously good. Easy to make (I merely assisted my son ), super flavorful, m-word, a total hit at my Rosh Hashanah dinner. Thanks so much! I’ll freeze the other 1/2 for a different night.

  16. Another fabulous recipe. This cake was moist and delicious. Everyone went for seconds. Definitely will be adding it to the regular Rosh Hashanah dessert rotation.

  17. I would like to make this for someone coming home from surgery. Would this recipe make two loaves? I’ll keep one and give one away.

  18. I’m planning on making this apple cake for a party this weekend. How about adding a cup of walnuts?
    I have tried many of your recipes and love them all. Thanks!

      1. I read another comment about adding butterscotch chips which sounded so good. Would adding one cup of chips and one cup of nuts be too much?

  19. Just made for a 3rd time this week and tossed in cinnamon chips and nuts this time. So good! Such an easy, yummy recipe and the glaze is to die for! (Just a hint… DO NOT underbake which I tend to do.) Follow Sally’s directions and it will be perfect!

    1. Hi Amy, we haven’t tested it, but that should work in a pinch. You may use a slight bit of moisture without the oil. Hope you enjoy it!

  20. Sally, my husband and I love desserts. However, we don’t need a lot of sugar. This has quite a bit in it without the topping. Do you think I could reduce the amount of sugars? If so, how much?
    I have been replacing granulated sugar with honey granules and the results are delicious..

    1. Hi Wanda! Sugar is used for moisture and texture in baked goods as well as taste. You can certainly try reducing the sugar, but the resulting texture will be different than intended.

  21. I made this over the weekend and it was delicious! I substituted whole wheat flour for half of the flour and I used four apples (so a bit more than called for) and didn’t put anything on top as we like things not quite as sweet in our house. It was awesome! Hubby, son, and I all really liked it. Definitely a keeper!

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