Caramel Apple Cake has layers of moist, spiced vanilla cake filled with caramelized apples and a drizzle of salted caramel sauce. Pecans (optional!) add a nice crunch, and the whole cake is covered in swirls of brown butter cinnamon cream cheese frosting. Top with a salted caramel drip and candy apples for the ultimate fall cake!
Why you’ll love this Caramel Apple Cake:
- Plush Cinnamon Cake – This decadent fall dessert has layers of ultra moist, spiced vanilla cake.
- Spiced Apple Filling – A stovetop spiced apple filling is spooned between the cake layers. Our apples are diced & sautéed with brown sugar and spices for a bit to make them tender & caramelized.
- Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting – The silkiest cinnamon cream cheese frosting blankets this cake!
- Salted Caramel Drip – For a show stopping dessert, finish things off with a salted caramel drip!
As always, the full recipe with measurements & directions can be found at the bottom of this post. This recipe uses basic ingredients but do note the cake flour and that some need to come to room temp before using.
- Apples – I used honeycrisp, but any baking apple will work in this filling.
- Cake Flour – Cake flour produces a lighter crumb in cakes, and I highly recommend using it! Spoon & level your flour for best results, or use a scale. Scooping the measuring cup directly in will lead to too much flour. 1 cup of cake flour weighs 110 grams, whereas 1 cup all-purpose flour weighs 130 grams. (Some people standardize at 120, 125, or 130 – I’ve chosen 130.)
- Sour Cream – Use full fat sour cream, at room temperature.
- Butter – I always use salted buter for the best flavor, but feel free to use unsalted butter if you prefer. Let it come to room temperature before baking.
- Eggs – This recipe uses a mix of egg whites and whole eggs to create the perfect vanilla cake. Let them come to room temperature first.
- Milk – Just like our other cold ingredients, your milk needs to be at room temperature. I use 2% milk.
- Vanilla extract – Use a good quality, pure vanilla extract for the best flavor.
- Dairy-free – Use your favorite, trusted dairy-free products in this cake in place of the butter, milk, sour cream, and cream cheese.
- Gluten-free – I have not tested a gluten-free version of this cake. Let me know if you try it!
- Apples – Like I said, feel free to use whatever baking apple you like best – honeycrisp, gala apples, golden delicious, pink lady, and granny smith apples are all great options. Or, use a mix!
- Cake Flour Substitute – Make your own cake flour by spooning & leveling 1 cup of flour into a measuring cup, using a flat edge to level it off. Add to a mixing bowl, then remove two tablespoons (scoop & level them off). Add two tablespoons of corn starch, then sift this mixture twice. This is important to evenly mix the ingredients and to give the same light texture as cake flour.
How to Make this Caramel Apple Cake Recipe Step-by-Step:
Step 1: Make Apple Filling. Peel and dice your fresh apples into small pieces, and cook them in a medium saucepan over medium heat for about 8-10 minutes, with butter, brown sugar, and spices. Set aside.
Step 2: Make Caramel Sauce. Make your caramel sauce first, by cooking sugar until it’s melted, then whisking in butter and heavy cream. Let this cool until it’s thick enough to drizzle. This can be made up to 1 week ahead.
Step 3: Make Cake Batter. Cream together the butter and oil. Then, beat in the granulated sugar for two full minutes. Add the eggs, then the sour cream and vanilla on medium speed. Scrape the sides of the bowl to make sure everything gets incorporated. Slowly add the flour mixture with the mixer on low. Then, slowly repeat with the milk.
Step 4: Bake Cake Layers. Pour batter batter into your prepared cake pans and bake as directed in the recipe card below. Let the cake layers cool completely before frosting and assembling the cake.
Step 5: Make Frosting. Beat together butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and a splash of heavy cream for the most delicious, creamy frosting! Beat in the cream cheese last to avoid a weepy frosting.
Step 6: Frost & Assemble Cake. Frost the bottom cake layer with an even layer of frosting, and pipe a border of frosting around the cake layer, and fill with the apple filling, a drizzle of caramel sauce, and a handful of nuts (if using). Repeat this with the 2nd layer, then add the final layer upside down for a perfectly flat top. Apply a light layer of frosting all over the cake and smooth with a cake scraper. This is the crumb coat. Chill for 20-30 minutes, then cover the cake with the remaining frosting.
Serving + Storing this Recipe:
Let the cake chill for at least 30 minutes before slicing, or up to overnight. If you’re chilling it overnight, let the frosting firm up in the fridge for about 30-60 minutes, then wrap snugly in plastic wrap. Add the caramel drip once the frosting is set on the cake. Top with the candy apples (if using) just before serving. Let the cake come to room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving.
Expert Success Tips:
- Avoid a Dense Cake – Be sure to follow the directions in the recipe when mixing the cake batter for the best results. It’s important to mix things in gently, and for as long as specified to ensure the best possible cake texture.
- Creamy Frosting – There’s no need to sift your powdered sugar for my frosting recipes! They turn out perfectly creamy every time.
- Prepare your Cake Pans – Prepare your baking pan as directed in the recipe to prevent sticking.
- Oven Thermometer – An oven thermometer will tell you if your oven is actually running at the temperature you set it to. Your oven may not be accurate. Accurate oven temperature is crucial for most bakes, so I leave an oven thermometer in at all times to keep an eye on my oven’s calibration.
- Kitchen Scale – A food scale is the best way to make sure your flour is at the proper weight, since amounts will vary SO widely based on how you measure it, as well as the measuring cup you use, as they are not standardized.
Yes! Bake in two 8-inch cake pans, or one 8×8 or 9×9 square pan. With the square pan, you’ll have one thick layer, so I recommend slicing through it to create two thinner layers. Or you can divide the batter between two 8×8 or 9×9 pans if you happen to have two.
Absolutely! This full recipe makes 36 cupcakes, and halving it will yield about 18.
Any good baking apple will work! I don’t recommend soft apples like McIntosh as they will become mushy. Use something like Jonathan, Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp, Gala, or Fuji. Some people recommend granny smith but I personally don’t like the taste of those.
Make-Ahead Tips for Caramel Apple Cake:
- Cake Layers: You can make the cake layers, let them cool, then store them on dinner plates wrapped securely in plastic wrap for 24 hours before assembling the cake.
- Apple Filling: Make this up to 2 days ahead and store in the fridge. Stir in a tiny splash of water or apple cider before using to help get the filling saucy (not runny) again.
- Frosting: The frosting can be made 1 day ahead and stored in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap. Let come to room temp for 10-20 minutes, and beat with your mixer to get it back to spreadable consistency before using.
- Cake Layers – In a pinch, use a boxed spiced cake mix to save time and make the remaining elements yourself.
- Apple Pie Filling – If you want to use canned apple pie filling, you can, but I recommend adding some more spices to it, to taste. Add some cinnamon, nutmeg, and a pinch of cloves. You’ll also need to dump the can out onto a cutting board and chop the apples into bite sized pieces so it’s easier to slice the cake later.
- Nuts – You can omit the pecans if desired, or use walnuts instead!
- Offset Spatula – Offset spatulas make frosting this delicious dessert so easy! They can also be used for spreading cake and brownie batters evenly in your pan.
- Cake Turntable – If you make at least a few cakes a year, a cake turntable makes the frosting process a breeze!
- Piping Bag & Piping Tip – I like to use a reusable piping bag and a Wilton 1A or 2A piping tip, but you can use a plastic bag with the corner snipped off in a pinch.
- Acrylic Discs – These small acrylic discs can be placed on top of the cake to make removing the candy apples easy. The ones linked are 5 inches in diameter, but they have other sizes available.
- Parchment Rounds – I love having these parchment rounds on hand so I don’t have to spend time tracing and cutting out rounds each time I bake cakes. The 8-inch size works for 8 or 9-inch cake pans! (It doesn’t have to cover every inch of the pan and it will still work!)
More Apple Recipes to Love:
- Caramel Apple Cider Cookies
- Salted Caramel Apple Galette
- Cranberry Apple Crisp
- Homemade Apple Fritters
- Caramel Apple Crumb Cake
- Apple Cider Old Fashioned Cocktails
- The Best Recipes to Make During Apple Season
More Layer Cakes to Love:
- Incredible Funfetti Cake
- Perfect White Birthday Cake
- Salted Butterscotch Crunch Cake
- Peach Cobbler Cake
- German Chocolate Cake
- Best Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting
- Mojito Cake
Did you make this recipe? Snap a photo and leave a comment!
Caramel Apple Cake
Salted Caramel Sauce
- 1 cup granulated sugar 215 grams
- 6 tbsp salted butter, cubed
- 1/2 cup + 1 tbsp heavy cream
- generous sprinkle flaky sea salt
For the Apple Filling
- 4 medium apples 5 & 1/2 cups, 775 grams, or 27 ounces diced. I used a mix of honeycrisp & golden delicious
- 1/4 cup salted butter, cubed
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1 and 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 2 tbsp apple cider See substitute in notes below
- 2/3 cup chopped pecans optional
For the Cinnamon Vanilla Cake Layers
- 3 and 1/2 cups cake flour 385 grams
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 and 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- pinch of ground cloves
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 cup + 2 and 1/2 tbsp salted butter, softened at room temperature 148 grams
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 and 2/3 cups granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 large egg white use fresh, not boxed
- 1 tbsp + 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup full fat sour cream, at room temperature
- 1 and 1/2 cups milk, at room temperature
For the Brown Butter Frosting
- 2 and 1/2 cups salted butter, cubed
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- 6 and 2/3 cups powdered sugar add an additional 1/2 cup or so to taste if it's not sweet enough for you
- 2 tbsp apple cider
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- pinch salt
- 3/4 tsp cinnamon plus more to taste – i always add more, but start light if you don't want a ton of cinnamon
For the Candy Apples (Optional)
- 3 medium apples
- 3 tbsp corn syrup
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 4 wooden skewers or popsicle sticks
- Make the Apple Filling: Rinse & peel your apples. Dice into bite size chunks. Add all the apple filling ingredients to a medium pan over medium high heat. Cook for 15 to 18 minutes, stirring lazily the whole time. If the liquid all dries up at any point, add a splash more cider or water to keep things saucy. Taste around 15 minutes and finish cooking once desired tenderness is reached. Transfer apple mixture to a medium bowl to cool (this can be done at room temp or in the fridge). Make-Ahead Tip: This can be done up to 2 days ahead. Store in a jar in the fridge.
- Make Caramel Sauce: Make the Salted Caramel Sauce according to my easy, 10-minute recipe (linked in the blue text). Let cool at room temp for 20 minutes or so, until thickened.Make-Ahead Tip: This can be cooled at room temperature and stored in a jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
- Prep the Cake Pans: Prepare three 9-inch cake pans. Preheat your oven to 350℉. Rub shortening all over the inside of each pan, coating each evenly. Cut a round of parchment paper to fit inside each (tracing is the easiest way, or buying pre-cut rounds). Place this on top of the greased pan bottom, then grease over the parchment paper. Add a handful of flour, and tap the pan around to coat the inside with flour, tapping out any excess.
- Make the Cake Batter: In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt. In a large bowl, cream the softened butter with a hand mixer for about 30 seconds, until creamy. Add the vegetable oil and cream together with the butter for 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat on high speed for 2 full minutes. The mixture will be fluffy. Add two eggs, and beat on medium high speed for 45 seconds. Repeat with the third egg and the egg white. Add the sour cream and vanilla and mix on medium low speed until just combined. Add half of the dry ingredients with the mixer running on low speed. Add the milk with a few streaks of flour remaining, then when the milk is almost mixed in, add the remaining dry ingredients. When just a few streaks of flour remain, turn off the mixer and use a spatula to make sure everything is combined – don't over mix!
- Bake the Cakes: Divide batter evenly between the pans. (You can eyeball this or use a kitchen scale.) Bake the cakes, the first two pans together, and then the 3rd cake pan on its own after the first two are done. This will ensure the most even bake. Bake the cakes in your preheated oven for 19-24 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center will pull out moist crumbs and the cakes shouldn't jiggle in the center when you move the pan.Let cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then, invert onto cooling racks to cool completely before frosting and assembling. Remember to peel off the parchment rounds.
- Make the Brown Butter Frosting: Brown the butter by melting the butter in a large pan over medium heat, then continue cooking, stirring lazily, until the butter becomes foamy and golden. This takes about 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before using. Cream the browned butter and cream cheese together in a large mixing bowl. Ad the powdered sugar, 2 cups at a time, mixing between each addition. Add the last 1/2 cup to taste. Add the heavy cream, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt, and mix until just combined.Note: If your frosting becomes weepy at any time, pop it into the fridge or freezer to firm it back up a bit.Make-Ahead Tip: Brown Butter can be made up to 2 weeks ahead. Store in fridge. Let come to room temp before using as you would regular butter. in this case, mix in the cream cheese last when making the frosting. Frosting can be made 1 day ahead and covered & chilled in the fridge. Let it come to room temperature for 10-15 minutes before using, and re-mix with your mixer to get it to a spreadable consistency again.
- Assemble the Cake: Place the first cake layer on a cake stand protected with wax paper strips, or a turntable. (A turntable is the easiest!) Use 1 and 1/3 cup of frosting to top the first layer, spreading it evenly with an offset spatula. Pipe a border of frosting around the cake layer and fill with 3/4 cup of apple filling (194 grams). Add a drizzle of salted caramel sauce, and a handful of nuts (if using – about 1/3 cup). Place the second cake layer on top and chill for 5-10 minutes to set things so the layers don't slide around. Repeat with the second layer. Add the final layer and give the cake a thin layer of frosting on top and on the sides. Use a cake scraper to smooth out and remove excess frosting. This is your crumb coat, so don't fret if it isn't perfect. Pop the cake in the fridge for 30 minutes to set the frosting. Then, apply the remaining frosting, using the cake scraper to smooth the top and sides of the cake. Chill the entire cake in the fridge for 30 minutes, or until the frosting is set before covering it (with plastic wrap or a cake lid) or serving it.Tip: If your frosting is getting too soft at any point from sitting out, pop it back in the fridge for a bit to firm back up.
- Make Candy Apples: This step is optional, but packs a big decorative punch! Stick the skewers into your apples. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with nonstick spray. Add the corn syrup, sugar, water, and cinnamon to a medium pot over medium heat. Stir until combined, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, stop stirring. Use a candy thermometer to keep an eye on the mixture – it needs to reach 300 degrees F, or hard crack stage. This will take 5-8 minutes or so. Once it's there, Remove the pot from the heat and let it rest for a few minutes so the bubbles disappear. Dip the apples in this sugar syrup and place on the prepared cookie sheet. Once candy has hardened & cooled, you can add them to your cake! Try using small acryllic discs to protect the top of your cake.
- Serve + Store: Serve the cake once it's chilled as directed above. Slice into as many slices as desired! Store leftovers, tightly covered, in the fridge for 2-3 days. The cake will naturally start to dry out a bit once it's been cut and put back in the fridge, so just be sure to seal and store it tightly.