Apple Spice Cake ~ With Brown Butter Frosting!

Layers of spicy apple cake, crunchy candied pecans and a smooth browned butter frosting come together beautifully to create an amazing, fall-inspired layer cake! All the comforting flavors of autumn will hit you with one bite. Beware, this cake is dangerously delicious!

Leaves are beginning to change colors, pumpkins are everywhere, the morning breeze is growing chilly, hot tea has become my best friend….autumn is truly in the air! Although fall has only just begun, I’m already pulling out decorations and testing all kinds of pumpkin and apple recipes. I love pumpkin spice everything, but sometimes I feel like apples get overlooked. So, before I begin my annual obsession with pumpkins, I want to continue my tribute to apples from my Healthy Apple Crisp Muffins post by making this Apple-Spice Cake. After many trials, and lots of apple chopping, I finally completed this cake recipe. And let me tell you, all that work was so worth it!

All that being said, let’s dive in to creating an deliciously spiced fall cake. You’ll definitely impress your friends and family with this one!

Cake Ingredients

All-Purpose Flour~ For cakes, I find this type of flour to be perfect for creating a fluffy texture. Although most of the recipes on my website are healthy and use whole wheat flour, this cake is not meant to be healthy. So this means that we can skip the fiber and nutrients today and use white flour instead!

Salt, Baking Soda, Baking Powder~ Salt is very important in cake and other desserts because it accentuates sweetness and adds flavor. Baking powder and baking soda are also key ingredients in this cake. Leave them out and you’ll have flat pancakes instead of fluffy cakes!

Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, Ginger, Vanilla Extract~ This recipe uses a lot of spices, but I promise that the flavor is outstanding! The spices are what make this cake so flavorful, so I wouldn’t recommend omitting any. And don’t forget the vanilla extract! Vanilla adds depth to the overall taste of the cake.

Canola Oil~ Instead of butter, I use oil for this cake because I find that oil creates a moister, softer cake. Personally, I dislike dry cake, so I made sure that this cake was anything but dry. You can use canola or vegetable oil. I haven’t experimented with melted coconut oil, but feel free to give it a try.

Unsweetened Applesauce~ I know this is an unusual ingredient for a cake, but it actually adds more moisture and another element of apple flavor. If needed, you can substitute sweetened applesauce or add more oil. I imagine that mashed banana would work too, but, unless you don’t mind an underlying banana flavor, I would not recommend substituting that ingredient.

Brown Sugar~ For this cake, I chose to use brown sugar because it adds an almost caramel note. I used light brown sugar, but dark brown would work as well. In a pinch, you can use white granulated sugar.

Eggs~ Eggs bind the cake together and help it achieve a fluffy texture. Because I haven’t experimented with egg substitutes, I cannot vouch for those results. Make substitutions at your own risk!

Milk + Vinegar~ To make sour milk, simply whisk together 1 cup of milk (any dairy or non-dairy type will work) and 1 tbsp of white or apple cider vinegar and set aside for 5 minutes before using. Sour milk is considered to be a substitute for buttermilk in many recipes, so, if you wish to use buttermilk, you can.

Chopped Apples~ I love using Granny Smith apples, but a sweeter apple variety works great too. Be sure to peel and chop your apples into small cubes before folding them into the batter.

Candied Pecan Ingredients

Pecans or Walnuts~ I prefer pecans, but walnuts are a great substitute. For this recipe, I buy my nuts in halves, not pre-chopped. This helps prevent the nuts from burning so quickly on the stove.

Brown Sugar~ I love the rich caramel-like flavor brown sugar gives to the candied nuts! Light or dark brown sugar works.

Butter~ Butter adds richness and combines with the sugar to create a caramel to coat the nuts. I believe that dairy-free butter sticks (like Country Crock Plant Butter Sticks) will work instead of real butter, but I would not substitute with margarine, or oil.

Salt~ You can use regular table salt, but, if you have coarse kosher salt on hand, I recommend using that instead. The salt adds an amazingly addictive, salty note to the sweet nuts.

Ground Cinnamon~ A touch of cinnamon makes a big impact on the taste of the candied nuts. And it complements the spices in the cake beautifully!

Brown Butter Frosting

For the frosting, check out my Brown Butter Vanilla Frosting recipe post for ingredients and step-by-step instructions. You will need to make one batch of this frosting recipe.

The Dance

Now that we’ve looked at all the ingredients, let’s get started putting this cake together! For the cake, I used three 6 inch round cake pans, which I lined with circles of parchment and greased. To make parchment circles, simply trace the cake pans on parchment with a pencil and then cut them out with scissors.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside. In a large bowl, stir together the wet ingredients before pouring the dry ingredients into the wet and gently stirring until just combined. You may need to use a whisk to get rid of any lumps of flour before folding in the chopped apples. The batter will be fairly thin and runny.

Divide the batter evenly among your prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans at least thirty minutes before turning them out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. After they cool, use a serrated knife or cake leveler to level the layers out so they are flat. Personally, I prefer to make the cake layers a day ahead of time and freeze the layers before frosting them because I find that method to be easier. But, you can also completely cool the cakes and then frost on the same day if you prefer.

Candied pecans are so easy and quick to make! Simply combine the sugar, butter, cinnamon and salt in a small pan on the stove and then add the nuts. Toast nuts over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until you smell a nutty, toasted aroma. If you smell something burnt, you’ve gone too far! After taking the nuts off the stove, immediately spread them out on parchment before chopping them into small pieces. Once the nuts cool, they should be crunchy, not sticky.

To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on a cake plate and apply a layer of brown butter frosting. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of chopped candied nuts onto the frosting before placing the next cake layer on top. Repeat these steps with remaining layers.

Once you have stacked all the cake layers, begin to frost the outside of the cake using an offset spatula and cake scraper. Or you can just use a knife. It doesn’t have to be perfect! I chose to completely cover the outside of the cake and then press leftover nuts onto the sides, but you can leave the cake naked (no frosting on the sides) or semi-naked (thin, transparent layer of frosting on the sides) if you prefer. You can also pipe leftover frosting into swirly designs. Get creative, and then welcome in the season of autumn by sharing with family and friends!

Apple Spice Cake ~ With Brown Butter Frosting!

Layers of spicy apple cake, crunchy candied pecans and a smooth browned butter frosting come together beautifully to create an amazing, fall-inspired layer cake! All the comforting flavors of autumn will hit you with one bite. Beware, this cake is dangerously delicious!
5 from 4 votes
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Cake Cooling Time 3 hours
Total Time 4 hours
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 14 slices


  • three 6 inch round cake pans


Apple Cake Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar light or dark
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups peeled and finely diced apples

Candied Nuts Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup brown sugar light or dark
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3/4 tsp coarse kosher salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups pecan or walnut halves

Make One Batch of Brown Butter Vanilla Frosting (link in post above)


  • For the cake: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit and grease three 6 inch round cake pans with cooking spray. I also like to cut out three circles of parchment and place them in the bottom of my pans to ensure that my cakes don't stick.
  • In a medium size bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Set aside.
  • In a measuring cup, whisk together the milk and vinegar and allow to sit about five minutes. In a large bowl, stir together the brown sugar, oil, applesauce, eggs, vanilla extract and your "sour milk".
  • Add the dry ingredient mixture to your wet ingredients and gently whisk together until just combined before folding in the chopped apples.
  • Divide the batter evenly among your prepared pans before placing them in the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool about 30 minutes in the pan before turning them out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Use a serrated knife to cut off the tops of the layers so that they are nice and flat. Also, you want the layers to be completely cool before assembling the cake. I like to freeze my layers overnight so that they are even easier to frost.
  • While the cakes bake, make the candied nuts. In a medium saucepan over low/medium heat, combine the brown sugar, butter, salt and cinnamon. Allow butter to melt completely before adding the nuts. Stir to coat the nuts with the caramel sauce and then allow to cook about 5 minutes while constantly stirring. After 5 minutes, remove from the heat and pour the candied nuts onto a sheet of parchment paper and let them cool and harden. Before using, use a large knife to chop the nut halves into small pieces.
  • Make the Brown Butter Vanilla Buttercream (link in post above).
  • To assemble the cake: Place one cake layer onto a cake stand and cover with a layer of buttercream. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of candied nuts on top of the frosting before placing another layer of cake on top. Repeat with the next layer. After placing the final layer on top, spread frosting over the whole exterior of the cake. Use remaining nuts to decorate the sides of the cake.
  • Cut cake into slices and serve!


*Cake will stay fresh in the fridge for up to a week. After a week, place leftover slices in the freezer and freeze for up to three months. Be sure to thaw slices overnight in the fridge before eating.
**Want to skip the layers? Make the cake batter and pour into a greased 9×13 inch baking dish instead and increase the baking time about 5-10 minutes. Frost with brown butter frosting and top with candies nuts as desired. Slice into squares and serve!
Keyword apples, autumn, cake

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