Unfussy Apple Cake Recipe

A deliciously unfussy and relatively healthy apple cake recipe. Red-skinned apples punctuate a buttermilk batter and a final sprinkling of sugar before baking lends a nice top crust.

Unfussy Apple Cake

I love this apple cake - here's how it came into being. I accumulated seven different kinds of apples over the past ten days or so. Not really on purpose (election anxiety?), but it happened regardless. There are Rome Beauties in the crisper, Honeycrisps in the refrigerator, Fujis in a bowl on my kitchen island, Braeburns and Galas still in a grocery bag on the counter, and a mix of three tiny heirlooms that found their way into my purse. Time to make an apple cake. Nothing fancy, I used my standard buttermilk cake batter (which I love, and find endlessly adaptable), plenty of hot and spicy cinnamon, and the apples? I decided the sweet, juicy Fujis would take the stage as the signature ingredient. Their rosy skins ended up dotting the cake like confetti, and they bring a sweetness to the cake that allowed me to keep the sugar elsewhere in the batter to a minimum.

Apple Cake Recipe

I used a vibrant, spicy Saigon cinnamon in my cake (also known as Vietnamese cinnamon). Have you tried it? It has fun notes of red-hot candy, and a more complex, less woody scent than the cinnamon many of you are used to. If you come across any from a good spice vendor, be sure to pick some up. Not to worry if you can't track it down, the cinnamon you typically use for baking will work here as well. I bought mine at the Farmers' Market (Marin) from Kathy and Bill - who some of you might remember I visited last year. Kathy showed me how to make her pumpkin pie spice blend, which I then used in last year's pumpkin pie recipe.

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Unfussy Apple Cake Recipe

A big, floppy dollop of boozy, slightly sweet whipped cream takes this cake over the top. Wanting to keep this cake simple, I also had to restrain myself from adding any extra ingredients although I had a block of quince paste (membrillo) that would have been nice cut into tiny cubes and mixed into the batter, or caramel cut into little cubes, or toasted walnut or pecans, or, or, or.....I used a huge, flaked Japanese sugar on top of this cake (you can see it in the photo), but any big-grain sugar will help lend a nice crunchy, sweet, sugar crust. If you don't have whole wheat pastry flour, unbleached all-purpose flour will work as a more conventional substitute.

2 cups sweet, crisp red apples, cut into 1/4 cubes (peel on)
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tablespoon aluminum-free baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup dark Muscavado sugar (or other fine-grain natural cane or brown sugar), lump-free
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled a bit
3 tablespoons large grain sugar

Preheat the oven to 400F degrees, racks in the middle. Butter and flour (or line bottom with parchment paper) one 9-inch square baking dish or tart pan, you can also bake it in a 9x13 pan but really keep a close eye on it after 20 minutes - it will be quite thin.

Place the chopped apples in a bowl of water along with the juice of one lemon. Set aside. Combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, sugar and salt in a large bowl. And in a separate smaller bowl whisk together the eggs and the buttermilk. Whisk in the melted butter. Pour the buttermilk mixture over the flour mixture and stir until barely combined - try not to over mix. Now drain the apple, shake off any excess water, and fold the apples into the cake batter.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, pushing it out toward the edges. Sprinkle with most of the large grain sugar. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until cake is just set and a touch golden on top. I like this cake every-so-slightly under-baked, just barely, remember it will cook for a little while after you remove it from the oven.

Serves about 12.

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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The dark muscovado sugar I use is sort of moist and clumpy - it's nearly impossible to sift. I just made this cake and I had to mix the sugar in with the liquid ingredients. It's in the oven now so we'll see how that worked out. I was wondering though, since the sugar is somewhat sticky, should the half cup be packed or loose? HS: Thanks TR, my sifter must have bigger holes - I just updated the recipe to call for lump-free sugar. My Muscavo always has boulder sized clumps in it, that's what I was hoping people would avoid.


The cake sounds absolutely delicious. I love the use of Saigon Cinnamon. I am sure it is a great compliment to the Fujis. I can't wait to make this for my next party or when I just want to indulge in something delicious.


I thought 1 tbsp of baking powder seemed like a bit much to me. And was worried it might be a typo. I'm glad to have been able to read through everyones comments. And no one said that. Lots more experience out there than what I have. I'm new to baking with wheat flour. Do you need more leaving with heavier flour? That would make sense, just never thought about it before. HS: Hi Bonnie, 1 tablespoon is correct.

Bonnie Farmer

I think I'm going to attempt this for thanksgiving, it looks great!


Christine asked about where to get Saigon cinnamon in the East Bay. Lhasa Karnak on Telegraph and Dwight in Berkeley has some that is delicious. 2482 Telegraph Ave. It is an amazing, family and locally run herb and spice store. Enjoy! HS: Thanks Charlotte!


This is so easy and dee-lish! I just tried it with a macoun, a gala and a granny smith... in mini muffin tins... bake time still about 20 min. It'll be perfect for holiday parties...


This cake also works well if you use a healthy oil instead of the butter. I'm partial to macadamia nut oil. Better for the cholesterol :)


Any thoughts on how a gluten-free version might fare here?


Looks yummy! Heidi, what booze do you recommend for that boozy dollop of whipped cream?


Heidi, This looks insanely fantastic! You always have a way of taking simple ingredients and making something that looks gourmet. I especially like that this recipe is different than the typical apple crumble or upside-down cake, that I would think of. Can't wait to try this out. PS Side note: I just purchased a Canon Rebel XSi, and am excited to start using it in hopes that my food pics will come out half as gorgeous as yours! Sheila www.livewell360.com

Sheila | Live Well 360°

Oh my heavens, does that look GOOD?! I've always used my Great-Grandma Susie's apple cake recipe...I think it consists of flour, baking soda, oil and apples. Yup - that's pretty much it. Oh, and loads of sugar. It's a HEAVY cake, but it keeps for ages on the sideboard, which is what she needed it for. Just a note on Cinnamon - I recently picked up some Saigon Cinnamon at Costco for about $3.50 for a good big bottle. (Not the HUGE costco size bottles, but still much larger than what you can find on the grocery shelves.) I'm so excited to try it out!

Aunt LoLo

This looks fantastic. I have a bunch of accumulated apples too.


I was thinking apple pie today as I too have been collecting apples. To celebrate a time for change- I am making this apple cake today to share with neighbors. On a side- I have been dehydrating apples like crazy all fall- what a great snack!


This is beautiful. I am however, even more impressed that you found it in yourself to cook around election night. I didn't eat all day yesterday because my nerves were shot.


This looks great and will be perfect for my pre-Thanksgiving Celebration! I love your site and this will be my first recipe to try!


This will be perfect for my Thanksgiving Celebration! I haven't made one of your recpies yet but I am a huge fan of your site.


This will be perfect for my Thanksgiving Celebration! I haven't made one of your recpies yet but I am a huge fan of your site.


What a fabulous apple cake! I've really been into all the amazing fall recipes and this one will be joining my "to-make" list!

Jen (Running with Food)

This looks DELISH! Do you think fresh cranberries would turn it to mush? I was powerless against a mountain of them at my local grocery and am now the proud owner of four bags.


the perfect fall cake. was it moist enough? this recipe is almost identical to the apple cake i make for rosh hashanah each year, right down to the buttermilk, but mine has twice as much fat (half oil, half butter) and only 2 c. flour. I also put a mix of brown sugar, butter, oats, and cinnamon on top, which seems to seal in some moisture. I usually make it with tart apples, so no lemon juice required. tried cutting down the fat one year, but having less fat in the crumb of the cake seemed to make for a soggier cake the next day, as moisture from the apple chunks seeped into the dry cake.


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