Apple Spice Cake with Caramel Buttercream

This apple spice cake with caramel sauce is a moist and tender three-layer cake laden with apple, sour cream, and spices and 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.

This apple spice cake with caramel buttercream comprises a triple layer of awe-inspiring cakedom that’s redolent of fall spices and frosted with an incredibly indulgent caramel buttercream.–Renee Schettler Rossi

Apple Spice Cake with Caramel Sauce

  • Quick Glance
  • 2 H
  • 3 H
  • Serves 12 to 18
5/5 - 1 reviews
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Ingredients

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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 (3 to 4)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger (optional)
  • For the caramel icing
  • One (14-ounce) bag caramels
  • 4 tablespoons heavy cream, plus more as needed
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (1 oz), at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 cup storebought or homemade mascarpone
  • 2 cups pecan pieces, toasted (optional)

Directions

  • Make the apple spice cake
  • 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Place 1 oven rack in the bottom third of the oven and a second rack in the top third of the oven. Butter three 9-inch cake pans and then line each with a parchment paper round cut to fit and butter the rounds.
  • 2. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  • 3. Beat in the molasses. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating between each addition.
  • 4. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, salt, and ground spices to blend.
  • 5. 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.
  • 6. Switch to a spoon and stir in the shredded apples, vanilla, and ginger, if using. The batter will be quite thick.
  • 7. Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared pans. Place 2 cake pans, side by side, on 1 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.
  • 8. Let the cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pans and carefully invert the cakes onto the wire racks, then turn them right side up to cool completely, 15 to 30 minutes. (The cakes can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 3 weeks. Defrost them at room temperature before unwrapping. Frost immediately.)
  • Make the caramel buttercream
  • 9. 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.
  • 10. Remove the bowl from the heat. Let cool, stirring the mixture every few minutes, until the mixture is cool to the touch, about 20 minutes. (Exert patience. If the mixture is too warm, it will melt the buttercream frosting when your stir it in later. If the caramel stiffens by the time you use it rewarm it very gently and, if necessary, stir in a little extra cream.)
  • 11. While the caramel is cooling, using a stand 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.
  • 12. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons cream, the vanilla, and the confectioners’ sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low or low, add the mascarpone, and beat until incorporated. Do not overbeat the mascarpone or it may separate.
  • 13. Set aside 1/4 cup of the cooled caramel mixture to drizzle over the cake once it’s frosted. Stir the remaining 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.
  • 14. Place 1 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 evenly cover the top and sides of the cake with 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. Slice and serve. Originally published August 1, 2007.

What You Need To Know About How To Slice This 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

This apple spice cake with caramel sauce was a bit of a project, but it was well worth the effort. This would be a wonderful cake for an autumn or winter gathering and is large enough to feed a crowd.

As I was making the batter, the smell of the spices and apples was just delightful (and so was the batter that I shamelessly licked off of the paddle). I made the cakes one day and put them in the fridge overnight and then made the icing and frosted the cakes the next.

This icing is absolutely to die for. The tang of the mascarpone cuts into the sweetness of the caramel perfectly and harmonizes with the spice of the cake. The caramel for the icing needed a bit extra cream to remain pliable enough to incorporate into the buttercream mixture. It took a little muscle to combine the two, but the outcome was spectacular! I miscalculated the amount to put in between the layers, and should have used more there, so I had a bit left over (which I will enjoy with a spoon when nobody’s looking).

I think I’d up the cinnamon a bit, perhaps an extra teaspoon or so. I did add the optional fresh ginger, and didn’t use the optional pecans.

The caramel I set aside for the top was too stiff to use and I had to add a little extra cream and warm it to get it soft enough to drizzle.

This cake was quite large and you could easily get 18 servings from it.

The apple cake was pleasantly and gently spiced. The buttercream has a nice taste and a good texture, not at all gritty as some are.

I feel that 2 layers instead of 3 would also have been perfectly adequate. I thought that buying caramels make this cake quite expensive when it would have been simple and cheaper to make a caramel sauce to drizzle over the cake. I found that my caramels seized when I melted them so I didn't use the caramel sauce.

What a great recipe to try while welcoming some fall weather in New England!

While reviewing the ingredients, I was aghast at the amount of spices that the recipe asked for. I was already planning on writing snarky comments about overpowering cinnamon...but the cake was perfectly spiced without being too spicy. While this is not a quick recipe, and it certainly calls for quite a few ingredients and steps, it does come together quite simply. Definitely the kind of recipe you make a day or so prior to the event where you plan to serve it because you will be in the kitchen on and off for at least a couple hours.

Even if you did make and freeze the cakes ahead of time as the author offers, the decorating and caramel drizzling are going to eat some time. Were I to make any criticism it would be that it is a HUGE cake. As there are only two of us in the house, this is too much cake for us to eat. So I ended up giving two of the layers away and just keeping one layer for us. But if you are having a birthday part in the fall, and want to knock everyones socks off, here is your recipe.

Also, the recipe made the perfect amount of frosting. I did not use the pecans. Though I am sure they would be lovely, this cake is a gajillion calories and decided to leave them out.

This time of year I welcome an excuse for baking with apples and warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. This recipe has all the right components that trigger this cake lover and push me over the edge. I had my first slice with my morning coffee, followed by slimmer slices and nibbles throughout the day. (Best to store it out of view and smell!)

As a beginner baker, I appreciate the added notes throughout the recipe. I did take heed but I still made some rookie mistakes. Fortunately the recipe is forgiving enough to still look and taste delicious. I will make it again for sure!

The cakes baked quickly and mine went a bit too far by 35 minutes. This did not impact the moistness of the final cake thanks to its rich ingredients like 6 eggs, sour cream, and molasses.

The frosting is distinctive with the mascarpone but even with the author's caution, I struggled to get the desired result. When adding the mascarpone to the buttercream, my frosting broke very quickly, even when using the suggested low to medium speed. The taste was still luscious but the texture went from shiny smooth to rough and dull. I also found that my reserved 1/4 cup of caramel sauce for drizzling stiffened while I struggled to frost the assembled cake. So I blended the sauce with the frosting on top for a swirl visual effect instead.

The chopped pecans around the sides gave the cake a nice finished look in spite of my stumbles and the toasted pecans broke up the cake's sweetness. I would say the complete taste was more of a spice cake than an apple cake.

Be sure to serve the cake at room temperature so the caramel sauce is warm and gooey. This way you can see the caramel sauce ooze between the layers of cake when slicing. It's so inviting!

Fall flavor perfection in cake form. A perfectly moist cake topped with the ultimate in buttercream frosting au caramel.

It worked well to stagger the 3 pans in oven. All 3 baked perfectly in 35 minutes.

My only complaint about this recipe is the 10 minutes it took to unwrap the caramels and the 35 minutes it took to heat up caramel sauce. I would be tempted to use caramel sauce in a jar the next time I make this cake, it would be a major time saver. The caramel sauce may have been a bit thick (more cream next time?) but after a bit of coaxing it blended nicely with the buttercream. There was enough frosting for all layers and to cover the cake. It will serve 12 generous slices.

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Comments

  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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