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Comforting flavors like nutmeg and cinnamon dot each bite of these moist and flavorful apple cupcakes. The tiny and tender pieces of tart Granny Smith apples hiding inside melt in your mouth. Rich, fudge-like salted caramel frosting is the perfect finishing touch, and if you’re up for accessorizing (go for it!), add a drizzle of salted caramel sauce, too. What a cupcake!

apple cupcakes topped with salted caramel frosting and caramel sauce sitting on wooden cake stand.

When the start of fall rolls around, some reader-favorite recipes include these pumpkin cookies, apple cider donuts, and classic pecan pie. It’s the time of year when pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon take over the kitchen and one of my top fall baking choices has always been today’s apple cupcakes. One bite is all it takes to convince even the most die-hard summer spirit that the flavors of fall reign supreme. (Though there’s no contest when it comes to peach pie… yum.)

The cupcakes are soft and cakey, the flavor reminds me of salted caramel apple pie, and they taste extra special with caramel frosting on top. They’re the indisputable champion if you’re looking for a festive fall cupcake!

5 caramel apple cupcakes with salted caramel drizzled on top and a few cut in half.

Tell Me About These Apple Spice Cupcakes

  • Flavor: While they aren’t stuffed with chocolate ganache or adorned with candy bars, these modest-looking apple cupcakes pack enough cinnamon and apple flavor that there’s no need for frosting. (That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t add any—we aren’t crazy.)
  • Texture: These have more texture than, say, classic vanilla cupcakes. Every bite is a balance of soft, rich, and creamy, with juicy apple. They’re extra moist like banana bread, but not nearly as dense. Think of a soft and cakey muffin packed with tender pieces of apple and topped with thick frosting.
  • Ease: The cupcake batter comes together without much effort. Set aside some time to peel and finely chop your apples. The frosting requires more precise attention, plus a stove and some patience. A candy thermometer promises success.

Salted caramel turns these into a salty sweet cupcake, but if you’re looking for something different, some readers have used the cinnamon cream cheese frosting from these banana cupcakes before.

cupcakes batter in lined muffin pan and shown again baked in muffin pan.

All of the ingredients required are regular baking staples like flour, brown sugar, egg, milk, etc.

Best Apples to Use

You only need 1 large apple. Peel and finely chop it to yield about 1 and 1/2 cups (180g). Tart Granny Smith is best here since the frosting can be so sweet, but you can use a sweet variety if you wish such as Honeycrisp or Fuji. I like using a mix of both tart and sweet in recipes like apple crisp and apple pie, but that doesn’t matter as much here because you only need 1 apple.

A Few Success Tips

  1. Prepping your pan. This apple cupcake recipe yields slightly more than a dozen, so have a second muffin pan handy or bake in batches. I always use and recommend these parchment paper cupcake/muffin liners. And this muffin pan and this muffin pan have both held up well with very regular use.
  2. Cupcake batter thickens. You’ll use melted butter in this cupcake batter, and because butter is solid at room temperature, the batter will begin to thicken. Make sure you bake the batter right away.
  3. Don’t overfill your liners. Fill your liners about 3/4 full with apple cupcake batter.

Are you looking for a cake recipe instead? Try this fresh apple cake or even my apple Bundt cake.

piping frosting on cupcake with piping bag and shown again piped and finished.
apple cupcakes with caramel frosting on top.

Salted Caramel Frosting

Salted caramel is a natural choice with apple, but don’t let “salted” fool you—this is still a pretty sweet frosting. The frosting is a popular recipe and I have a separate Salted Caramel Frosting post if you want to read more about it and get some extra success tips. The directions to make it are also included in the recipe below. You’ll cook a homemade brown sugar caramel on the stove before beating in heavy cream and confectioners’ sugar. A candy thermometer and sieve/sifter are tools for success.

Once the frosting has thickened, you can pipe it onto your cupcakes—or feel free to spread it on with an icing spatula or knife. I used Wilton 2A Piping Tip on the pictured cupcakes, and in some photos and the video tutorial below, you can see I used an icing spatula to create a little dip/divot on top of the piping. (More room for salted caramel sauce garnish!)

Like caramel apples in cupcake form.

Other Frosting Options for Apple Cupcakes

If you want a different topping option, feel free to try peanut butter frosting, cream cheese frosting, or the cinnamon cream cheese frosting from these banana cupcakes.

More Fall Baking Recipes

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apple cupcakes topped with salted caramel frosting and caramel sauce sitting on wooden cake stand.

Apple Spice Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 22 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours (includes frosting cooling)
  • Yield: 1415 cupcakes 1x
  • Category: Cupcakes
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

These are moist & flavorful apple spice cupcakes with salted caramel frosting on top. The cupcakes are fairly easy and most time will be spent on the caramel frosting. A candy thermometer guarantees success in step 5.


Ingredients

Scale

Cupcakes

  • 1 and 1/2 cups (188g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick or 115g) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 2/3 cup (135g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup (65g) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) milk,* at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large apple, peeled and finely chopped (about 1 and 1/2 cups, or 180g)*

Salted Caramel Frosting

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick or 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 equal pieces
  • 1 cup (200g) packed light or dark brown sugar (I like to use 1/2 cup of each)
  • 5 Tablespoons heavy cream, divided*
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups (240g) confectioners’ sugar
  • optional garnish: salted caramel sauce and apple slices

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Line a 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners. Line a second pan with 2 liners—this recipe makes about 14 cupcakes. Set aside.
  2. Make the cupcakes: Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. Whisk the melted butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together in a medium bowl until combined. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla extract, then whisk in the milk. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir gently until combined. The batter will have a few lumps. Fold in the apples. 
  4. Fill the cupcake liners 3/4 of the way full with batter. Bake for 21–23 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. A toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean when done. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before frosting.
  5. Start the frosting: (This frosting is popular, so we have a separate salted caramel frosting post if you need more help making it.) Combine the butter and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir constantly as the butter melts. Once butter has melted, switch to a whisk to make sure the two are really combined. (Otherwise, you might see an oily layer around the edges where they’re still a bit separated; you do not want that.) Once melted butter and brown sugar are combined, add 3 Tablespoons of heavy cream and the salt. Whisk to combine, then stop whisking and attach a candy thermometer to your pan, making sure the bulb is not touching the bottom of the pan. Let the caramel boil, giving it a quick whisk every 30 seconds or so, until the temperature reaches 230°F (110°C). On my stove, it takes just under 2 minutes.
  6. Remove the saucepan from heat, give it another quick whisk, and let cool for a minute. Carefully transfer the salted caramel to a heat-proof mixing bowl set on a cooling rack and cool for just 15–20 minutes before continuing. The caramel sauce thickens during this time.
  7. Finish the frosting: Sift in confectioners’ sugar and add remaining 2 Tablespoons of heavy cream. With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat on medium-low speed until the ingredients are incorporated. Turn mixer up to high speed and beat for 1 minute. Avoid over-mixing or the frosting will begin to “break” and separate. Let it sit for at least 20–30 minutes before filling your piping bag, to give it a chance to thicken up to a pipeable consistency.
  8. Frost cooled cupcakes and drizzle with salted caramel, if desired. I used Wilton 2A piping tip on the pictured cupcakes.
  9. Cover and store leftover cupcakes at room temperature for up to 1 day or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. I recommend a cupcake carrier for storing and transporting decorated cupcakes.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: Cupcakes can be made ahead 1 day in advance, covered, and stored at room temperature. For make ahead details on the frosting, see separate Salted Caramel Frosting post for specific instructions and FAQs. Frosted or unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, and then bring to room temperature if desired before serving.
  2. Special Tools (affiliate links): USA Pan Cupcake Pan or Wilton Cupcake Pan | Cupcake LinersCandy Thermometer | Sieve/Sifter | Handheld or Stand Mixer | Silicone WhiskReusable Piping Bag or Disposable Piping Bags | Wilton 2A Piping Tip
  3. Milk: Any milk is fine in this recipe, dairy or nondairy. You could even use apple cider instead!
  4. Apples: I suggest Granny Smith apple for its tart flavor and crisp texture.
  5. Cake: Try my similar recipe for apple cake or this apple upside down cake.
  6. Be sure to check out my 10 tips for baking the BEST cupcakes before you begin.

Keywords: apple spice cupcakes

apple spice cupcakes with salted caramel frosting, a drizzle of salted caramel, and a slice of granny smith apple on top

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Will half and half work instead of heavy whipping cream? I’m going to try it the store was out haha.

    1. Hi Maya, Unfortunately heavy cream is required for the caramel. Half and half will not achieve the same texture and taste in this frosting.

      1. Hi Janel, For the best taste and texture we recommend sticking with butter for this recipe. We hope you love them!

  2. Are they supposed to puff into perfect domes or are they a flatter cupcake? Mine didn’t get the domes and kinda spread out on top of cupcake baker.

    1. Hi Angela, They should have nice flat even tops (unlike a muffin with a dome top)! When a cupcake domes it’s usually because there is too much batter in the liner. The flat tops are a perfect base for frosting 🙂 For more details and all of our troubleshooting tips you can see the post 10 Tips for Baking the Best Cupcakes.

  3. What does the milk do in this recipe? Could it be substituted for reduced apple cider?

    1. Hi Emily, You can use the same amount of apple cider in place of milk for extra flavor. Enjoy!

  4. I don’t know if my tastes have changed since I made this last, but the frosting seems way too sweet. How can I tone down the sweetness?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Susan, you can try using just a bit less confectioners’ sugar, but that will also impact the texture and thickness of the frosting. You could also try adding just a pinch more salt to help offset some of the sweetness. Hope this helps!

  5. I am so excited to try this recipe today! However I have a question about the sugar measurements. When I pack the brown sugar, 2/3 of a cup comes out to 160 grams. However your recipe calls for 135 grams. Should I follow the amount by weight or should I continue to pack it? Thank you.

    1. Hi Elise, we would follow the gram measurement in that case – it’s always the most accurate! You can read more about measuring baking ingredients in this post if you’re interested.

  6. Made these for a Halloween party and they are delicious! I already had Sally’s salted caramel in the fridge so I muddled through the frosting using that.

  7. Hi Sally!!
    I would like to try this recipe that looks delicious, but I will fill the cupcakes with caramel sauce. I want to decorate them with buttercream flowers in an automn color palette (red, yellow, orange) so I can’t use this already “brown” colored frosting. Is Italian buttercream OK to combine with this recipe?
    TIA

      1. My caramel keeps coming out grainy, how can I fix this? Help please!!!

  8. Good day sally is heavy cream and heavy whipping cream the same? I have heavy whipping cream home not sure if I use it… please and thank you…. Love all your recipes cammy

    1. Hi Cammy, Heavy cream and heavy whipping cream are the same. You can use them interchangeably. Enjoy!

  9. Delicious! I made these cupcakes for a fall wedding as a favor to my friend. I garnished the cupcakes with a dried apple slice. Everyone loved them and are still talking about them!

  10. My sisters and I made this recipe for New Years and it was a hit! Good recipe, 10/10.

      1. What about mini cupcakes? I’d like to bring these to a tailgate

      2. Hi SL, for around 30-36 mini cupcakes, bake for about 11-13 minutes, same oven temperature.

  11. I think I have everything except apple, Can I substitute it with applesauce??

    1. These really are best with apple. Replacing with the same amount of applesauce would be too much liquid, unless you reduce the amount down. Let me know if you try anything!

  12. could I make this in a 9×5 loaf pan, split it in half, and frost the center and the outside?

    1. Hi Kimberly, that should work — just fill your pan half way, and if you have any additional batter, use it for a few cupcakes on the side. We’re unsure of the best bake time for the loaf pan. Let us know what you try!

    1. Hi Sara, for around 30-36 mini cupcakes, bake for about 11-13 minutes, same oven temperature.

    1. Hi Kim, we’d recommend 1.5x or 2x the frosting recipe, depending on if you want the cake lightly frosted or fully frosted.

  13. Just made the frosting, it did bubble for 2 minutes, but it’s still grainy. It crunches when I eat it. What can I do to fix that?

    1. Hi Sara, it sounds like the sugar was not fully dissolved. Be sure to vigorously whisk the sugar with the butter and heavy cream and ensure that it’s fully dissolved before whisking in the salt and bringing it to a simmer.

  14. I made these into 3 6-inch cakes and they were delicious! The frosting came out grainy but that was my fault; I didn’t dissolve the sugar completely. I will definitely try the frosting again. It was still good even though it was crunchy.

  15. Thoughts on these with a cream cheese frosting? Still planning to drizzle with salted caramel!

  16. Instead of dicing the apples, could I grate them? I was going to fill them with an apple compote and worry that having apple pieces in the cupcake plus in the compote would be too much.

    1. Hi Vanessa, yes, but you’ll likely need to reduce the amount down because they will act more like a wet ingredient than an add-in (see our spice cake recipe as an example). Chopped is best in this recipe so you can really taste the flavor!

  17. I would like to make these cupcakes with a domed top so I can dip them in frosting and add white spots to make them look like mushrooms for a themed dinner. How do you think I can best accomplish that? Thanks

    1. Hi Cindy, these cupcakes will have nice flat even tops. When a cupcake domes it’s usually because there is too much batter in the liner.

  18. Hi Sally! I made these today and the frosting was still pretty soft to pipe even after waiting for an hour. What piping tip did you use in the pictures above? These were AMAZING though!

    1. Hi Amanda, best piping tip for this frosting is a round tip such as Wilton 2A or Wilton #12. It will still be a bit softer after sitting since it is thinner than traditional buttercream, but should be fine to use with one of these round tips. So glad you loved these cupcakes!

  19. These were absolutely incredible! The spiced apple cakes could be eaten without icing, they’re so moist and flavoursome. The icing paired perfectly and the cakes were a big hit with my family at the weekend. Thank you! I will definitely be making them again!!

  20. Wow! This might well be the best cupcake I’ve ever eaten in my life! Followed the recipe and the directions to the tee and they came out perfectly. That Salted Caramel Frosting is phenomenal! Thank you, Sally!

  21. Could I use a jar of salted caramel that a friend gave me? If so, how much would I use?

  22. is the flour in the recipe gluten free? If not, would I be able to substitute the flour with GF flour?

    1. Hi Lilly, we haven’t tested the recipe with GF flour, but feel free to give it a try!

  23. Oh my goodness. I could eat this caramel with a spoon every day. Never disappointed with Sally’s recipes!

    1. Hi Lily, For the best taste and texture we recommend sticking with butter for this recipe. We hope you love them!

    1. Hi Debra, you can make the frosting as directed in the recipe and use the sauce you have to drizzle over the top – it’s an optional garnish, but delicious!

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