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

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!


This Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake Is:

  • melt-in-your-mouth soft & moist
  • extra flavorful like our beloved apple cinnamon bread
  • 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 (188g) 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

132 Comments

  1. Just made it- its perfect! So moist, and apples with caramel..mmm..just heaven! Thanks for the recipe! Keep awesome job going:)

  2. Dear Sally. This is the second recipe I have tried from your blog! I really love reading it and you photograph the pictures so well. I just have one problem: you post so many delicious looking things I simply cannot keep up! So this beaut is in the oven right now as I type and already the house smells wonderful. I cannot wait to eat it, but alas, it is for a work meeting tonight and should arrive (ahem) mostly intact!

  3. Sally, your blog is my new addiction. I just discovered you this month. This cake is the second of your recipes I have tried. YUMMY! I made this like a pineapple upside down I made once, everything in the same pan. Easy! I used a round cast iron skillet, made the caramel in that, took it off the heat, layered the apple slices and then spread the cake batter. Perfect. My cast iron is well seasoned so not a thing stuck, slipped out beautifully. Rich, dense, delicious cake. Thanks!

  4. Veggie Mama says:

    Just made this today with my daughter for her Grandfathers birthday. I didn’t have nutmeg or cloves so just went with plain old cinnamon. I also added raisins to the cake batter. It ended up only cooking for 40 minutes as the caramel started to overflow and my smoke detectors were going off. lol! I checked it and the toothpick came out clean so I just pulled it from the oven. I’ll have to wait to hear back on how it actually tasted, but it smelled incredible and flipped so easily! Thanks for the recipe!

  5. This is probably THE best cake I’ve ever eaten.  Made it a few days ago but didn’t have any, nuked some in the microwave this morning and it was incredible! I subbed pecans for the walnuts and just made it in no -stick brownie tin, worked perfectly. I used less sugar in the cake itself but it was so light and moist! Amazing flavour! 

  6. Akriti Sharan says:

    This recipe doesn’t disappoint! This cake was a big hit at my party! Will definitely bake it again!

  7. Would this cake freeze well?

    1. With the apple topping, it really isn’t ideal for the freezer.

  8. Just wanted to let you know…I made this for the annual Friendsgiving bakeoff that I host, and it won 🙂 Thank you for the consistently delicious recipes!

  9. Hi Sally! Just made this cake today. Its wonderful! The whole house was filled with its aroma. I love me some apples and this cake was lovely. Thanks! 🙂

    1. I wish I could make this scent into a candle to have all fall!

  10. Hi Sally ,
    I made this cake today and I followed the recipe exactly. It turned out very delicious and all my family liked it. Although it was too sweet for me. I had one problem – The caramel stuck to the pan and was not part of the cake when it was done. Thank you very much for sharing the recipe .

  11. This cake turned out amazing and was wiped out in less than 10 mins:)..making it again today..thank you for the recipe!

  12. Oh wow, this is the first Sally recipe I ever made and it’s always been a winner. I get asked to make it all the time! Can’t wait to try the “new and improved” version….although how you improve on perfection is beyond me!! Thanks Sally!!

    1. Love to read that! So glad this recipe has been a keeper for you. Definitely let me know what you think of this updated version, Ella!

      1. It’s hard to believe but it IS better than the original! I took it to a friend’s house while it was still and it was gone in an hour!! Thanks Sally!!

  13. Hi Sally, love your blog! Can I still add the walnuts to the updated recipe?

    1. Absolutely! Sprinkle about 1/4 cup on top of the apples before pouring/spreading on the cake batter.

  14. Hi Sally, this recipe looks amazing! I’ve been meaning to ask on a number of recipes, I always have half & half and 1% milk. What do you think about a blend of that as a substitute for whole milk?

    1. It depends on the recipe, but in small quantities (such as 6 Tbsp in this recipe), it would be fine to combine half-and-half and 1% milk. Use 3 Tbsp each. However, when you’re working with larger quantities of milk, I would either just use whole milk or use more 1% than half-and-half (instead of half each). Does that make sense? Half-and-half can get quite heavy, especially in cake batter.

  15. Can this recipe be made with a firm pear instead of apples ?

    1. Absolutely! No other changes to the recipe needed.

  16. Can I use a springform pan?

    1. Hi Dil, you could but I fear the buttery topping will drip out the bottom, no matter how tightly the springform sides are sealed to it. Definitely place a baking sheet underneath should liquid begin to drip.

  17. This recipe is so easy to follow and the outcome is so delicious! I do plan on making it again and again and again.
    Thanks for the recipe!!!

  18. This cake looks amazing. My son is allergic to eggs – just curious, can you think of a substitution for the eggs that might work? Thanks!! Love your site – it’s amazing!!

  19. Sally when first started following you when you started your blog this is one of the first recipes I tried. I have made it a few times. It is AMAZING. Esp with icecream.

    I love how far you’ve come. It’s like you have been a part of my life for the past 7+ years. I feel like you’re a part of my family even if it is only thru cyber space 🙂

    Lots of love and hugs

  20. I loved this cake! It was so easy to make. Thank you so much!

  21. Hi Sally! We made your homemade bagels the other day and today we want to make this cake. I have one question. I only have a Bundt pan or a 9×1.5 cake pan. Which do you recommend? And any changes I should make based on the one I pick? Thanks so much! Love all your stuff.

    1. Hi Susy! So glad that you tried and loved the homemade bagels recipe. Truly one of my favorites. (Love the everything bagels!) A Bundt pan could work, but arranging the apples could be difficult. The 9×1.5 inch pan could also work, but I would only fill with batter 3/4 of the way to the top and use any leftover cake batter for a few plain cupcakes on the side. This answer is a little late though– did you try either of them already?

  22. Sally, thanks for so many wonderful recipes. Your explanations are great and are a very good resource for answering questions. Now I have one, can I make half the recipe? My oven is small plus there is only 2 eating it.

    1. Hi Anna! Thank you so much for your kind words. I appreciate it so much! You can certainly halve this recipe by halving all of the ingredients. I recommend trying it in a 9×5 inch loaf pan. I’ve never tested it, but that’s what I would try first. I’m unsure of the best bake time.

  23. Hi Sally,
    If I made this in the 10 inch cast iron skillet, would the baking time be the same?

    Thank you,
    Beth

    1. Hi Beth, the bake time will be very similar. Use a toothpick to test for doneness.

  24. Dear Sally, this was a huge hit with my family! The caramel, soaked up into the apples and the cake is unbelievably good. The second time, we had it with vanilla ice cream, also yum! Thanks for this awesome recipe 🙂

    For anyone in favour of a slightly less sweet cake: I made a version with only half the amount of sugar in the batter which was still sweet enough for my taste. I had to reduce the amount of milk as well, to about 3 tbsp (45 ml) to get a still thick and not too runny batter, because the consistency changes with so much less sugar.
    Turned out wonderful with this changes (cake is definitely on the dense side, but we love that over here :-)).

  25. 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 🙂

  26. 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.

  27. 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!

  28. 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!

  29. 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!

  30. 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!!

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