This apple layer cake is fall fabulous! Layers of tender spice cake filled with apple pie filling and covered with a rich caramel frosting.
If the title alone has you asking, “Should we add a layer cake to our Thanksgiving dessert table this year?” The answer is yes. Bake a practice cake or two in advance. Thursdays are a good day to celebrate… something. And celebrations call for cakes!
This is going to sound so silly, but the cake came to me in a dream. It was kind of a bad one, honestly. We’ve been enjoying the apples we picked a few weeks ago in snacks, baked goods, etc. But in my dream, I opened our pantry and found 2 FULL sacks of apples – probably about 10 pounds worth. I woke up freaking out, checked the pantry (no apples), and decided to bake a cake to calm down.
For the record, had I found an extra sack or two of apples, I would have pulled out my slow cooker to make more applesauce. It’s easy, I can can or freeze for later, and the whole family loves it.
Let’s talk caramel apple spice cake!
This cake is made of three distinct parts. You have a tender spice cake, an apple pie filling, and the caramel frosting. We are going to go over tips and tricks for each in 3 separate parts.
The recipe is written so each part is made from scratch. If you feel uncomfortable baking a cake from scratch or making the filling from scratch, feel free to use a box mix and/or canned pie filling. It won’t be the same as a fully from scratch cake, but we do the best we can where we are and it is enough.
Personally, when I bake with the girls, everything is prepared in advance, or we take some shortcuts. How you bake a cake isn’t as important as the time you share with the people baking with you.
Spice Cake Tips
You might be wondering what spice cake is. Spice cake is a generic name for basically any cake that has a lot of spices for seasoning. These are usually warm spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Spice cakes can be butter based or oil based, there’s not really a fixed way to make them.
The cake in this recipe is butter based. With the additional egg yolks and cake flour, it is very tender. This is perfect for this layer cake recipe because the star of the show is the filling and caramel apple flavors. The cake provides the balance and ties everything together.
If you don’t have cake flour, you may use all-purpose, but the results won’t be the same. A great DIY cake flour option is to measure out your all-purpose flour, remove 5 tablespoons of flour (2 per cup), and replace with an equal amount of cornstarch. Sift well and you’re all set!
Apple Pie Cake Filling
I like making the apple pie filling from scratch because I can control the sweetness. Extra filling is phenomenal over yogurt, ice cream, pancakes, or French toast. So while it takes a few extra minutes, it’s well worth it if you can.
For the best texture, cut the apples into small cubes. Small cubes provide the best textural contrast in the cake.
You may make the apple cake filling in advance, up to a week. Keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. Just be warned that it might not last long enough to make it into cake!
Cooked Caramel Frosting
If you’ve never had caramel frosting, you are in for a treat! Similar to my fudge frosting, this caramel frosting is a rich, cooked frosting recipe. And just like the fudge frosting, you don’t need any special equipment to make it – just a saucepan and a mixing bowl or stand mixer.
The resulting frosting sets up pretty quickly as it cools. You will have enough time to build your layers and frost. This just isn’t the kind of frosting I would use to pipe intricate designs.
If you are looking to make the cake with smooth sides instead of a spackled look like the photos, I recommend using a bench scraper. Keep a pot of hot water around to dip the scraper. The heat will help the scraper glide over the frosting, giving you nice clean sides.
I recommend making this frosting when you need it as it’s a bit tricky to reheat and reuse later.
A few final caramel apple spice cake notes
Once you’ve assembled your cake, enjoy it! If needed, a fully frosted cake may be stored overnight in the refrigerator. The frosting does help prevent drying, but a box or cake carrier will also help. Allow the cake to sit at room temperature 20 minutes before serving.
The cake is best enjoyed within 3 days.
Happy baking, darlings!
Apple Cake Filling:
- 4 apples, peeled and cubed
- 1/2 cup apple juice or apple cider
- 1/2 cup water, divided
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/3 cup sugar (see notes)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1 large egg
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 1/4 cups milk, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups cake flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 12 tablespoons butter
- 2 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
Make the Apple Cake Filling:
- Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the apples, lemon juice, sugar, apple juice, cinnamon, 1/4 cup water, salt, and spices. Stir occasionally.
- Cook for 5 minutes or so until the apples have softened and most of the liquid has evaporated.
- Whisk together the remaining water and cornstarch. Pour into the pan and stir. Allow the mixture to simmer for another 1-2 minutes until thickened. Remove from the heat.
- Transfer to a heat-safe container to cool before use. Once completely cool, cover and refrigerate until needed. May be made in advance.
Bake the Spice Cake:
- Preheat your oven to 350 F. Grease and line 3 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper (see notes).
- In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy.
- Stir in the egg and egg yolks, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.
- In a large measuring cup, combine the milk and vanilla extract.
- In a smaller mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and allspice.
- Add 1/3 of the dry mixture to the butter and sugar. Stir to combine. Pour in half the milk. Stir until just combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Repeat, ending with the last 1/3 of the flour.
- Evenly divide the batter between your prepared cake pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean or with no more than a few moist crumbs.
- Remove the baked cakes from the oven and allow to rest in the pan 10 minutes before inverting and wrapping in plastic wrap. For best results, allow the cakes to rest several hours at room temperature, up to overnight. If you'd rather decorate the cake that day, refrigerate until chilled. Cold cakes are easier to work with!
Make the Caramel Frosting:
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. When it has mostly melted, add the sugar, salt, and cream. Continue to cook until it comes to a boil, stirring periodically to make sure the sugar dissolves evenly.
- Cook at a low boil for 3 minutes until thickened. Remove from the heat, transfer to the bowl of your stand mixer, and allow to cool for about 30 minutes.
- When the caramel is completely cool or just the faintest bit warm, sift the powdered sugar. Use the paddle attachment on your mixer (a hand mixer works too) to beat in the powdered sugar, one cup at a time.
- Keep in mind that this frosting will thicken as it cools. If you need the frosting to be a little thicker, add more powdered sugar. If you need to thin, add more cream.
- Use immediately. If you find that the frosting starts setting too quickly, you can microwave it at 50% power for 10 seconds to make spreading easier.
Assemble the Caramel Apple Spice Cake:
- Level the first layer of your cake (if needed) and place on a cake platter or cake board. Use a piping bag or freezer-weight plastic bag with a corner snipped off to pipe a border with your caramel icing. Fill with apple pie filling.
- Top the first layer of filling with your second layer of cake. Repeat the process above for creating the apple filling layer. Top with the final layer of cake.
- Use a warm offset spatula to spread a thin layer of the caramel frosting over the whole cake as a base. Chill for 5 minutes - it doesn't take long for the frosting to set.
- Apply the rest of the frosting over the cake.
Apple Cake Filling Notes
- If you don't want to make the cake filling, use canned apple pie filling in its place.
- The recipe will make enough to fill either 3 or 4 layers of cake, so you have some flexibility in how to cut your layers.
- Extra apple pie filling ban be refrigerated up to a week and used as a topping for anything from pancakes to ice cream.
- You may make the apple pie cake filling up to 3 days in advance.
- Feel free to adjust the final amount of sugar to suit the sweetness level of your apples. Keep in mind that the frosting is pretty rich and the cake also adds sweetness.
- The exact spice mix is up to you. Some mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves works best.
Spice Cake Notes
- If you use salted butter in the recipe, you may omit the salt.
- To make your own cake flour, use a mixture of all-purpose flour and cornstarch. For this recipe, you would need to measure out the 2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour. Remove 5 tablespoons of flour. Add 5 tablespoons of cornstarch and sift together very well to combine.
- The baking times are for baking the batter in 3 cake pans to make 3 layers. Should you be baking in 2 cake pans, your baking time will be in the 28-34 minute range.
Caramel Frosting Notes
- If you are using salted butter, omit the salt in the recipe.
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