This apple cake with caramel glaze from Edna Lewis is pudding-like and laden with apples, pecans, and spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg.
This apple cake is a cake that I first served for breakfast on a hunting plantation in South Georgia. Spicy and flavorful with a moist, pudding-like texture, this is a truly easy cake—just stir together by hand. [Editor’s Note: We want to emphasize that this is truly pudding-like in that it’s less like a cake and more lovely spiced apple chunks clinging to one another with just enough cake to hold things together, which is not a terrible thing at all.]–Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock
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Tips for Making This Apple Cake
This is an easy cake recipe with little room for failure or even mediocre results. Although there are a couple things we found helpful to explore before making it…
What kind of apple should I use?
This cake is never going to be terrible no matter what apple you use, although we prefer those that veer towards tart since the cake itself is plenty sweet. This means Granny Smith or even Golden Delicious. That said, we’ve used Pink Lady as well as Gala apples and not been disappointed. Just know that the cake will be even sweeter if you use an apple that doesn’t have a slightly sour smack.
Do I really need 3 pounds of apples?
Absolutely. Edna Lewis designed this cake to be more like apples held together by cake rather than a cake with the occasional piece of apple. As a result, the texture is sorta spongy and pudding-like, although we quite like it. You may want to enlist the help of others before you start peeling.
Apple Cake with Caramel Glaze
For the apple cake
- Butter for the baking dish
- 1 cup light brown sugar packed
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
- 3 large eggs
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- About 3 pounds apples (such as Granny Smith or Winesap), peeled and diced into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 1/4 cups not-too-finely chopped pecans
For the caramel glaze
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- Pinch salt
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
Make the apple cake
- Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
- In your largest bowl or container, beat the sugars and oil until very well blended. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt, and gradually add to the sugar and eggs, mixing just until well blended. Stir in the vanilla. Then incorporate the apples and pecans. The batter will be quite thick and mostly apples.
- Scrape the batter into the buttered baking pan.
- Bake the cake until a skewer or toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean and the sides of the cake begin to pull away from the pan, 60 to 75 minutes. (You may want to begin checking the cake for doneness after 50 minutes.) Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the pan while you prepare the caramel glaze.
Make the caramel glaze
- Melt the butter in a saucepan, and add both the sugars and the salt. Stir until blended, and cook over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream, and boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
Assemble the apple cake
- Use a skewer or toothpick to poke holes all over the top of the apple cake and pour the warm caramel glaze over the surface. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Wow! Edna Lewis has a real winner here. This apple cake is rich, sweet, unpretentious, yet classy. It would work for breakfast, brunch, tea, or dessert—not wanting to over-gild the lily, I’m still thinking it would be extra-decadent for dessert with a little scoop of French vanilla or dulce de leche ice cream. Or, if you have extra heavy cream leftover from making the glaze, just go ahead and whip it up—in this case, I’d serve it atop the cake, and just a little dollop would do just fine!
The cake is moist and full of apples. I think many varieties of apples would work. We happened to have Pink Lady apples around, a little past their prime, so this seemed a good use for them. If I’d had Granny Smith apples or if I’d had to go out to buy apples, I think they’d be my go-to apple variety here.
The glaze was a lovely finishing touch; however, the delicious cake would be very good as-is, especially warm from the oven. Serves 12?! No one would have any trouble eating 1/12th of this cake, but a smaller piece would surely suffice. I cut the cake in the pan into the twelfths specified, then left it on the kitchen table. When I returned, someone had cut each twelfth in half. Later he shared with me that, although he cut the pieces smaller since they were so sweet and rich, he ate a second small piece right after the first! I am a pecan fan, and pecans are integral to the Southern palate from which this recipe emanates, but for any non-pecan fans, this could easily be made with walnuts, or the nuts could be omitted altogether.
“This looks just like a cake my grandma used to make.” “Is that apple cake? My mom always made it when apples were in season.” These were comments at a recent party where I served this apple pecan cake. Edna Lewis never fails to produce soul-satisfying recipes that don’t involve gourmet ingredients or fancy techniques, just a big dose of good ol’ Southern cooking that you would serve your family.
I did use a stand mixer to mix the ingredients. My cake was done at 60 minutes, when the cake tester came out clean and the cake was just loosening from the sides of the pan. I cut the cake into small squares and placed them on a large platter to serve at an outdoor party. The cake held up well after 1 day and the caramel sauce helped keep the cake moist and delicious.
This was a delicious fall dessert and perfect for serving a crowd. The batter is jam-packed with apples (which, while mixing, seems to be at least 50% apple by volume) and resulted in a texture that reminded me of sticky toffee pudding, but less heavy. As such, the texture can be a little more “squidgy” than cake-like, so know that it won’t please everyone. Paired with ice cream, it was delicious. Nobody had any difficulty polishing off their slices.
When making this recipe, you will make the mistake of thinking you have selected a large enough bowl. Do yourself a favor and mix it in the biggest bowl you own, because I found a 5-quart bowl was too small to mix the apples in without getting some jumping overboard. Don’t make this with a sweet apple—the tart apples hold up better while baking and balance the sugar content of the batter nicely.
Additionally, to achieve the caramel shown in the recipe photo you will need to cook your caramel longer than indicated in the recipe. I followed the timing for the recipes and found that the caramel thinly lacquered the surface of the cake. While not as impressive as the photo, the flavor of the caramel that penetrates into the rest of the cake is a tradeoff I’m happy to make.
While the recipe indicates it serves 12, I would argue it must be scaled for football linebackers because I easily got 24 modestly sized pieces out of it.
My first suggestion would be to change the name of this cake to APPLE APPLE APPLE cake. Fall means trips to farms to get the freshest apples, and there are so many varieties. I bought a large bag of goldens and red delicious at a self-serve stand yesterday in Pajaro Valley, on an outing to the ocean. Three pounds is a lot of apples and for me it was 10 good-size apples that were a bigger pile than the flour.
I preheated my oven way too early! To cut, and peel, and dice, is going to take you a good chunk of time. I really wondered if I’d weighed them correctly, as it seemed I’d never get the apples to blend with the exceedingly thick batter. Be sure to use a very large bowl to be able to blend them lightly. As I cut them, I thought that I’d never make this cake again just for all the time it takes to prep the fruit…but after a taste of that warm cake, I’ve rethought it.
I used a glass baking pan and it took 70 minutes to be completely baked. The smell of all those apples was really wonderful. I actually thought that the neighbors would show up for cake!
The glaze isn’t thick but it doesn’t really soak into the cake. I’m not sure you would really miss the glaze. It’s a nice touch but the cake is almost pudding-like with so many apples. At least 15 servings as the cake is rich and heavy, in a good way. Be sure to pour a large ice cold glass of milk when sit down to enjoy. Carb- and sugar-load will settle in about 10 minutes. A great winter desert!
It’s loaded with apples and I love that.
I used a full three pounds of gala apples and that’s a great amount. It was heavy to mix all of those apples in the thick batter but it all fit in my biggest bowl and with several turns, I was able to get the apples coated with the thick batter. It was hard though, I will say. I baked the cake in a glass 9×13 inch pan. It’s definitely a good cake for a crowd. It filled the pan all the way up to the rim.
For the cake itself, it mixed up fine. It took me about 15 minutes to peel and chop the apples, so it was about 25 to mix up the cake itself. Just for ease, I would add the vanilla into the wet ingredients before adding the flour mixture.
I baked the cake for 77 minutes at 325°F. I tested it for doneness at the 60 and 70 minute marks. At 77 minutes, the tester came out clean and the cake was pulling away from the edges, just slightly. For the caramel glaze, it was easy to mix up and make, however, I thought it was super sweet when poured over the cake. I think it needed more salt.
Originally published February 17, 2021