Apple Spice Cake with Caramel Sauce

This apple spice cake with caramel sauce is a moist and tender three-layer cake laden with apple, sour cream, and warming spices and is finished with chopped pecans and a caramel drizzle. Go on, impress your friends.

An apple spice cake with caramel sauce and a pecan crust on a parchment round.

Here’s an apple spice cake that showcases the flavors and smells of Christmas. This three-layer extravaganza has a touch of molasses and shredded apple to keep it moist. As the cake bakes, it fills the house with a fragrance that beats the most expensive holiday-scented candle.

Many amateur cooks are intimidated by just thinking about making a cake that doesn’t come from a box. Yes, it takes extra time, but it isn’t hard. Just follow the steps outlined below. I say, if you want to make an impression, bring on a tall, showy homemade cake. Your friends will be talking about it long after the party is over.–Rebecca Rather

Apple Spice Cake with Caramel Sauce

  • Quick Glance
  • 1 H
  • 1 H, 40 M
  • Serves 14 to 16
5/5 - 1 reviews
Print RecipeBuy the The Pastry Queen Christmas cookbook

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  • For the apple spice cake
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter (12 oz), at room temperature
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light molasses
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups peeled and shredded Granny Smith apples (about 4)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger (optional)
  • For the caramel icing
  • One (14-ounce) bag caramels
  • 4 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (1 oz), at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 cup mascarpone (Italian cream cheese, available at most grocery stores)
  • 2 cups pecan pieces, toasted (optional)


  • Make the cake
  • 1. Place one oven rack in the bottom third of the oven and a second rack in the top third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease three 9-inch cake pans with butter or cooking spray, then line each with a parchment paper round and grease the rounds.
  • 2. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat in the molasses. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, salt, and ground spices to blend. Add the flour mixture and sour cream alternately to the batter. (Start and end with the flour mixture, adding the flour mixture in 3 increments and the sour cream in 2 increments.) After each addition, mix on low speed just to combine the ingredients. Stir in the shredded apples, vanilla, and the ginger, if using.
  • 3. Spoon the batter (it will be thick) evenly into the prepared pans. Place two cake pans side by side on one rack and the third on the other. Stagger the cake layers on the oven racks so that no layer is directly over another. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until firm to the touch. Monitor the layers carefully for doneness; each one may be done at a different time. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pans and unmold the cakes onto wire racks to cool completely, 15 to 30 minutes, before frosting.
  • 4. The cakes can be kept frozen, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 3 weeks. Defrost them at room temperature before unwrapping. Frost immediately.
  • Make the icing
  • 5. In a medium stainless-steel bowl, combine the unwrapped caramels, 2 tablespoons of the cream, and the 2 tablespoons butter. Place the bowl over a saucepan filled with 2 inches of simmering water. Stir the caramel mixture until smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat. Let cool, stirring the mixture every few minutes until cool to the touch, about 20 minutes. (If the mixture is too warm, it will melt the buttercream frosting when it is stirred in later.)
  • 6. While the caramel is cooling, make the buttercream: Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the 1 1/2 cups butter on medium-high speed for about 1 minute, until pale in color. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons cream, and the vanilla and powdered sugar, and beat for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the mascarpone and beat on medium-low speed until incorporated. Do not overbeat the mascarpone or it may separate. Reserve 1/4 cup of the cooled caramel mixture to drizzle over the cake once it is frosted. Stir the remainder of the caramel into the frosting, using large strokes to create caramel swirls throughout. Don’t stir it too much or the ribbons of caramel will disappear.
  • 7. Place one cake layer on a serving plate and spread a thick blanket of frosting on top. Add the second layer and spread thickly with frosting. Add the third layer and cover the top and sides of the cake with an even layer of frosting. Use a small spoon to drizzle the reserved 1/4 cup of caramel over the top of the cake. Pat on the toasted pecan pieces, if using, to cover the sides of the cake.


  • Using the proper tools for cutting frosted layer cakes ensures that individual servings look as good as they taste. I use a large serrated knife, dipped in hot water, for cutting. I wipe the knife off with a clean dishcloth after each piece, which ensures that every cut is as clean as the first.

Recipe Testers Reviews


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  1. I make it, and my centers a sunk in a bit. Any recommendations? I did do moist towels around the edge to keep them flat for assembling but I’m wondering if that is what happened.

    1. Kirsten, the mast common culprit is the oven temperature isn’t correct. Do you have an oven thermometer? They’re inexpensive but very useful. You might find that when you set your oven at 350°F, it may run cooler. When the cakes are taken out of the oven, they can sink a bit when they cool.

  2. Absolute success. First try ever on a layered cake, I took a chance for my cousin’s birthday and it turned to be the perfect dessert!

    So let me tell you about my experience:

    1. I prepared the cakes the day before. What makes the difference is the apple: Even though I didn’t necessarily taste it that much, it helped keeping the moisture until the day after. I must say I was a little concerned about it; before assembling it I considered soaking it with a simple syrup as it looked a bit dry to me: NO NEED! Thanks to the apple and the frosting, it was really moist and fluffy. (And it could have turned out too sweet–remember all the caramel and the frosting–but the cake itself needs to be spicy and not sweet for balance.)

    2. The only thing I changed was the caramel: Instead of using unwrapped caramels I just made a small batch of salted caramel with sugar, butter and cream. It provided the cake with another level, the saltiness balanced really well with the other components. I didn’t only mix some caramel with the frosting but I also drizzled it on top of each frosting layer. Caramel is never too much!

    3. To anyone considering baking this cake: DO IT! It is really worth and doing it in separate days is not a problem, it turns out gorgeous and delicious anyways! Just remember the caramel must cool down before using it with the frosting, and if you want to speed the cooling it will crystallize. So give yourself enough time for it!

    Thank you again for your wonderful recipes. You guys are always my go-to site when looking for desserts. Never disappointed!!

    1. Hurrah, Marta! And many thanks for letting us know. Love your salted caramel trick (and yes, yes, yes, caramel is never too much). In fact, we were so taken with your stunning, we swapped the photo you sent for the photo from the cookbook. You’ll find it at the top of this page. Gorgeous! Many thanks and looking forward to hearing which recipe from the site you make next…

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