Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake

This caramel apple upside down cake is a fall must-make. Combining a soft cinnamon-spiced cake with buttery caramelized apples, we’re essentially getting two desserts in one. After inverting, the topping’s juices seep down into the cake and add unbeatable flavor and moisture. What you’ll love most, besides the flavors, is that there’s no fancy decoration required– the lovely garnish is literally baked into the cake!

apple upside down cake

I’m so excited to bring you an improved version of one of my very favorite recipes. When I started this food blog back in 2011, I had about 8 years experience in the kitchen. Most of that was through my high school and college years. Now, with another 10 years on top of that, 1,200+ published recipes, and 3 cookbooks under my belt, I have *a little* more experience. I’ve basically lived in a kitchen since 2011. LOL.

One of the first recipes I published was caramel apple upside down cake. It’s a forever favorite and totally deserving of that early spot in my archives. I bake this recipe at least once every fall season and have made a couple minor updates to the recipe over the years. The cake is better than ever. I figured you’d appreciate seeing what I’ve done!

What’s more, the recipe is written in a clearer format with extra notes and success tips. Sometimes a little refresh is all we need.


This Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake Is:

  • melt-in-your-mouth soft & moist
  • extra flavorful
  • easy– no crazy ingredients or techniques required
  • perfectly sized for a small family or gathering
  • the best destination for your freshly picked apples 😉

Try it at least once. I guarantee it will be a repeat recipe in your kitchen.

apple upside down cake on white cake stand

apple upside down cake with 1 slice removed

Apple Upside Down Cake Topping

The topping is baked underneath the cake. After the cake slightly cools, we’ll invert it onto a serving plate. The caramel flavor comes from the butter and brown sugar. Combined with vanilla and apples, the topping alone makes this a recipe worth repeating. It’s downright GOOD.

I know you’ll appreciate this: I mention this above, but it’s worth repeating. Apple upside down cake is basically already frosted– once you invert the cake, the garnish is already there!

A few preliminary notes on the topping:

  • The topping in my original recipe had a little too much butter. I also reduced the cinnamon and put more in the cake itself.
  • Melt the butter and brown sugar together on the stove, then cook for 1 minute. The mixture will slightly thicken and take on a caramel-like flavor that intensifies as the cake bakes. Not a lot of recipes do this, but it makes a big flavor difference. In my pineapple upside down cake recipe, we simply add melted butter to the cake pan and sprinkle the brown sugar on top. As a result, you don’t really get the same caramel flavor. Perfectly fine for that recipe, but why not take an extra minute here?
  • Arrange the apple slices on top of the butter/brown sugar mixture. Try to squeeze as many apple slices in the pan as you can. No one has ever complained about extra caramel-y apples!

apple slices arranged in glass a pie dish

Let’s Make the Cake Batter

The cake batter is pretty straightforward and similar to the original recipe. Like most cakes, the base is creamed butter and sugar. Regular sugar lightens up the crumb, while brown sugar adds flavor. Use both in this cake. The cake is super soft and cinnamon-spiced— tasty on its own, but even better with the apple topping.

The batter differs from my pineapple upside down cake. Pineapple rings are heavier than apple slices, so we use cake flour, egg whites, and sour cream in that recipe to help keep the crumb light. Here we can use whole eggs and all-purpose flour.

Two Baking Tips:

  1. You can bake this cake in a cake pan or pie dish, but make sure it’s at least 2 inches deep. I recommend this pie dish, which is 1.8 inches deep but I never have an overflow issue.
  2. Because of the wet bottom layer (which is the topping), the cake takes much longer than a typical 1 layer cake. Its juices will bubble up the sides, creating these incredible caramelized edges. (See the edges below? They’re so good!) With upside down cakes, it’s always good practice to place a baking pan or sheet on a lower rack to catch any juices should they splatter over the edges.

apple cake batter before and after baking

caramel apple upside down cake

slice of apple upside down cake

Expect a Dense Cake

I’ve made hundreds of upside down cakes, or so it seems, and I say with 100% certainty that this style of cake will always be on the denser side. (Unless you are using store-bought cake mix.) The cake is served upside down. The weight of the topping, which is the bottom of the cake as it bakes, weighs down the crumb beneath it. Upside down cake will never be as light and airy as white cake. If you were to make this exact cake batter and serve it right-side-up, the cake would taste much airier. Does that make sense?

While this apple upside down cake is mega soft and not nearly as dense as, say, pound cake, it’s not overly light either. I know you’ll love its unique texture, especially paired with the caramel apple topping. Let me know how you like it!

Print
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apple upside down cake with 1 slice removed

Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
  • Yield: serves 8-10
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This stunning apple upside down cake combines a soft cinnamon-spiced cake with a delicious buttery caramel topping. Pack those apples into the pan– this cake can hold a lot and you won’t regret those extra slices!


Ingredients

Topping

  • 6 Tablespoons (85gunsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (100g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 medium apples, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch slices (1.52 cups slices)*

Cake

  • 1 and 1/2 cups (190g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick; 115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (100g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 Tablespoons (90ml) whole milk, at room temperature*

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).
  2. Prepare topping first: Combine butter and brown sugar together in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk occasionally until butter has melted. Cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute as mixture thickens. Remove from heat and whisk in the cinnamon and vanilla extract. Pour into an ungreased 9×2 inch pie dish or round cake pan. (Make sure the pan is 2 inches deep. I recommend this pie dish, which is 1.8 inches deep but I never have an overflow issue.) Arrange the apple slices neatly on top, overlapping where necessary. See photo above. Place pan in the refrigerator for a few minutes as you prepare the cake batter. This helps solidify or “set” the topping’s arrangement.
  3. Make the cake batter: Whisk the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt together. Set aside.
  4. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add both sugars and beat on high speed until creamed together, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. On high speed, beat in the eggs and vanilla extract until combined. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Turn the mixer onto low speed and as the mixer runs, slowly pour in the milk. Beat on low speed just until all of the ingredients are combined. Do not over-mix. You may need to whisk it all by hand to make sure there are no lumps at the bottom of the bowl. The batter will be slightly thick.
  5. Remove topping from the refrigerator. Pour and spread cake batter evenly over topping.
  6. Bake for 40-46 minutes, tenting foil on top of the cake halfway through bake time to prevent the top from over-browning before the center has a chance to fully cook. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out mostly clean– a couple moist crumbs are OK. Don’t be alarmed if your cake takes longer or if the cake rises up and sticks to the foil. (We serve the cake upside down anyway!)
  7. Remove cake from the oven and cool on a wire rack for just 15 minutes. Invert the slightly cooled cake onto a cake stand or serving plate. Some of the juices from the topping will seep over the sides– that’s ok. You can slice and serve the cake warm, but the slices will be messy. I find it’s best to cool the cake completely at room temperature before slicing and serving. Do not refrigerate the cake to speed up the cooling process because it could end up tasting overly dense.
  8. Cover leftover slices and store for up to 3 days in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer. Thaw at room temperature. I don’t recommend freezing the cake as a whole because the topping arrangement doesn’t thaw very nicely. See make ahead instructions below.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead Instructions: You can refrigerate the topping in step 2 for up to 1 day. If refrigerating for longer than 1 hour, cover it tightly. Other than that, this isn’t the best cake to make ahead of time or freeze because the apples will settle down into the cake– while still tasty, the presentation won’t be as pleasing. You can, however, prepare the cake batter’s wet ingredients (cover and refrigerate) and dry ingredients (cover at room temperature) separately up to 1 day ahead of time, then continue with the recipe the next day. Let the wet ingredients come to room temperature before mixing.
  2. Old Recipe: The current cake recipe was updated in 2020. If you loved the old cake recipe, originally published in 2012, here it is: increase the topping’s butter to 1/2 cup (1 stick; 115g) and add 1/4 teaspoon each of ground cloves and ground nutmeg when you stir in the cinnamon. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of walnuts on top of the apples before pouring/spreading on the cake batter. In the cake batter, reduce the milk to 1/4 cup (60ml).
  3. Apples: Use your favorite variety of apple. I typically use Granny Smith, Fuji, or Honeycrisp.
  4. Milk: Whole milk is best, but you can use lower fat or nondairy milk if needed.
  5. Why is everything at room temperature? All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. Read here for more information.

Keywords: apples, caramel, upside down cake

97 Comments

  1. I made this today and it’s delicious and super easy. Thanks for another great recipe!

    1. You’re welcome, Amy! Love to hear that you enjoyed it 🙂

  2. First ever upside down cake! I used a 9 inch cake pan and it came out perfectly. I expected it to be more syrupy? The cake wasn’t dry but i feel that something wasn’t right. The taste was good also. Maybe the pie dish is a better choice than the cake pan? I was afraid my pie dish wasn’t deep enough. Thanks! I’m glad I tried something new on your site. I usually go for the chocolate!

    1. Hi Dana! I’m so glad you tried this recipe. Since you mention the topping wasn’t as syrup-y as expected, I wonder if the cake was over-baked? If you can, try a pie dish next time– I swear by the glass pie dish linked in this recipe.

  3. You posted this recipe earlier this week and it was perfect timing as I was looking for inspiration – I made it today for dinner with my grandfather. I knew it would be a hit, a very classic dessert. Came together so easily and everyone loved it! Thanks for a great recipe!!

    1. Forgot to mention, it was dense but not as dense as I had expected after reading the post. Definitely still light and a great crumb!

    2. Such a sweet recipe to share with your grandfather! Thank you so much for giving it a try, Amanda – I’m glad it was a hit for all!

  4. We always cook our pineapple upside down cake in a cast iron skillet for that perfect crunch. So, I tried it with this recipe. Instead of melting the butter and sugar and pouring over the apples, you can just melt it in the cast iron skillet and press the apples in. Saves a step and another dirty pan!

    My kids helped me with the spices for this one and something was off. Lol I tried new vanilla my husband had picked up from the Arabic store, and maybe it was the oddness of flavor. I will definitely have to make it again sometime! It was perfect to just throw together on a whim after dinner and we had everything in our pantry, so that was a success!

  5. Another AMAZING recipe from Sally! For anyone who is GLUTEN FREE, this recipe converts easily and comes out smelling like heaven and tasting divine. I used a 1:1 GF flour (like Bob’s Red Mill) and followed the weight measurement of 190g. You MUST weigh the flour, no exceptions. I followed all other instructions and measurements as listed. PERFECTION.

    PS to fellow GF bakers: Sally recipes almost always convert to gluten free as long as you use a measure-for-measure GF flour blend. I like King Arthur’s and Bob’s Red Mill for the price point and because they are easy to find. Just follow Sally’s WEIGHT measurement for recipes using all-purpose or whole wheat flours.

    1. Thank you for this feedback, London! I’m thrilled to hear you were able to successfully make this recipe gluten free. I’m sure many other readers will appreciate this tip!

  6. So good!! I just made this with Fuji apples and it turned out amazing! I baked for 20 min, then loosely covered for another 22 min and it wasn’t remotely done. Took the foil off and baked baked another 15 min to perfection. I believe I own the exact same Pyrex dish that you do and used that. I wonder if my apples were a little large? I created that pattern you did but still had extra- loaded on a few extra slices, but that might explain why mine took longer to cook. But I loved the amount of apples and don’t regret it 🙂 Thanks for another fantastic recipe!!

    1. Hi Emily – That could certainly be the case, or it could be your oven’s temperature is off a bit. I’m glad to hear it was a delicious success for you! Thanks so much for giving this recipe a try 🙂

  7. Absolutely delicious…

    1. Wow! A perfect cake for two people. I was trying to use up some apples and this was a great use of them. Very easy, followed directions exactly. Thanks and happy baking to everyone!

  8. I took this too a BBQ yesterday and it was a huge hit. Thanks again for another easy and successful recipe!

    1. Such a great addition to a BBQ spread! Thanks so much for making and sharing my recipe, Caitlin.

  9. Tastes incredible! Another great recipe Sally. Thanks.

    1. You bet, Thomas! Thank you so much for making my recipe. Happy to hear you enjoyed it!

  10. Sheila Sharkey says:

    Fabulous dessert . The inly proem iz my British gas oven, it took 90 mins to cook, but boy , what a fantastic flavousome dessrt . My husband lovedit Many thanks Sally, from accross the pond .

  11. I made this last night and I was quite disappointed. I have made other recipes from this site and they are always excellent (the pumpkin pie is the world’s best) but this cake is quite bland. The caramelized apples on top are its saving grace. The cake itself is only so-so. My boyfriend described it as “bread-ey.” I followed the recipe as is and I’m a very good, experienced baker. The cake has more of a light muffin texture, and it’s something I would serve for brunch rather than dessert. A buttery coffee cake would work better in my opinion. The five-star rating surprised me.

    1. I am so agree with you! It was just so-so. I will not make it again 🙁

  12. I made this caramel apple dessert last night (for my birthday) and it was really good!
    *There are a few hints to the next baker: when the recipe says to cook the brown sugar and butter for 1 minute, that is enough, really! Don’t over cook.
    *I would make more “sauce,” meaning more brown sugar and butter. There wasn’t a lot when I flipped the cake over- none dripped over the side.
    *Also, I did spray my pie pan with Pam, and I’m glad I did!! Part of the cake stuck to the pan.
    Overall a very tasty cake! I will make it again, definitely!!

    1. So glad you enjoyed this cake, Linda, and thank you for including it in your birthday celebrations! Since you mention the cake stuck to the pan and the cake wasn’t as syrup-y as you’d hoped, it sounds like it may have been slightly over baked. An easy fix for next time! Try decreasing the bake time just a bit. Use a toothpick to test for doneness – a mostly clean toothpick means the cake is ready. Thank you again for giving this one a go!

  13. Will the caramel come out ok with a plant butter substitute? I recently found out my son is lactose intolerant so will also be using mootopia milk without lactose that has proven to work well when baking other things. Thanks!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sarah, We have not tested this with plant based butter but please let us know if you try it!

  14. I have made this cake 3 times since you featured it last week! It is so delicious and my family absolutely loves it. It is easy to make!

  15. KATHRYN YOUNG says:

    I made this cake today and I think I am going to make it in the pie dish as suggested. I think this is a fabulous recipe but i think i should have taken it out of the oven 2 or 3 minutes before I did…. just a tad heavy/or dry but it will work and I need more apples next time. Always enjoy your recipes.

  16. Ijeoma Verberckmoes says:

    I made these with aquafaba (of chickpeas) instead of the eggs, non-dairy butter and I replaced the apples with pears. They came out wonderful! I wonder which other recipes I can veganize …

  17. Tasted delicious but the cake came out dry after taking it out after exactly 40 minutes. It’s great as long as you make sure to get some caramel apple with every bite. But we love the taste so much we are putting this on the menu for thanksgiving dessert and will make sure to check it and take it out earlier next time.

  18. Made this last weekend and it was awesome! Making it again tomorrow but was wondering, can I use heavy cream instead of milk? Realized that’s all I have in the refrigerator right now. Thanks for the great recipe!

  19. The caramel apple topping is absolutely delicious! I could eat that on its own (in fact, I recommend you do!). I baked the cake for exactly 44 minutes in the same pie dish and the cake/bread part did not taste bad but it was very dry as others have mentioned 🙁 If there is a way to have a moist bread I will make this again but until then…off to the next recipe.

  20. I made this 2 days ago and, as always, it was perfect! It looked just like the picture and it tasted fantastic. Last night it was delicious again-kind of like how leftover lasagna tastes great the second day.
    We have never been disappointed with your recipes after stumbling on your Coconut Cake recipe. Now our favorite cake-but there’s a lot of recipes we haven’t tried!
    Thanks Sally!

  21. This was a great finisher to a lunch I went to today! My cake did stick to the aluminum foil tent but, it was no problem! The cake was lighter, moist, and not too sweet! It fed 7 adults and 3 small kids with small slices but I could have easily eaten half of it myself! I’ll definitely make it again!

  22. Did I miss when you’re supposed to add in the milk? I realized after I was trying to spread the batter. Ugh!

  23. I made this today and the flavor was great!! The only problem was that the cake stuck to the sides of the pie dish (I used a 9.5 inch dish). I lost a good half an inch to the pie dish in the process of removing the cake. Any tips on avoiding this?

    Thanks again! Wonderful cake.

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Melissa, If it was just the sides that stuck, if you try this recipe again, run a knife around the edges before inverting. That should help!

  24. Made shortly after you posted. It was very good and a hit. Making again for Thanksgiving instead of pie. Thinking of adding some toasted chopped pecans before the apples and finishing off with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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