The Late, Great Applesauce Cake

applesauce cakeSo, funny about that applesauce cake I just made …

Ok, mildly funny, anyway. Or maybe not that funny. Maybe not funny at all. Maybe I am weeping miserably in a corner, as the cake sits forlorn on the table, waiting, waiting for a chance that will never come …

You see, the Post had an apple bake-off. As a new member, obviously I wanted to establish myself as a baker to be reckoned with. Or at least one who can produce something edible and of a moderately pleasing appearance.

Only the thing is, I was going to be in Durham until about 11pm last night, which meant I didn’t exactly have a lot of time to produce my entry. Also, did I mention that my house is being renovated and half my kitchen is packed away, and also, the whole place is basically a giant rubbish heap?

Well, I guess I just did. Mention it, I mean.

So I decided to make an applesauce cake. An applesauce cake is one of the easiest things known to man. It’s basically a giant muffin: blend your wet ingredients, blend your dry ingredients, stir them together, and Bob’s your uncle.

But I wanted it to be, you know, attractive. So I made some little apple rosettes. I stuck them in the cream-cheese-and-creme-fraiche frosting and realized the entire thing needed to be in the refrigerator, lest it all come apart. I planned to leave my house just before the 3 pm judging, and was in fact calling an Uber when … I realized that the results were being announced at 3pm and the judging had already taken place.

As you can see from the picture, the cake has a certain … majestic aspect. It is far too much for two people to eat. It is going to the office on Monday, where I will shoot sullen glances at anyone who asks where it was on Friday.

In the meantime, if you need a recipe that can be put together even when you have one square foot of counter space, and about a third of your normal utensil set … this is that cake.

Applesauce cake


  • 3 1/4 cups plus two tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • a heaping 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • a heaping 1/8 teaspoon (or scant 1/4 teaspoon) cloves
  • 1 7/8 cups applesauce (measure out two cups, then take out two tablespoons)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 24 tablespoons (3 sticks) butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1/3 cup apple cider
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla


  1. Preheat the oven to 325F. Grease and flour 3 9-inch pans, and if you have parchment rounds, I advise using them. It’s a sticky cake
  2. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a bowl. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together all remaining ingredients in another bowl.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just blended. Let me repeat that: until JUST blended. Overmixing will activate the gluten in the flour and make your cake extra heavy. Applesauce cake is already pretty heavy.
  5. Divide the batter between prepared pans and smooth the top. Bake at 325 for 35-40 minutes.
  6. Let cool in the pan for ten minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack.

While the cake is cooling, you may (or may not) prepare the OPTIONAL cider syrup to brush the top:

Cider Syrup


  • 1 cup cider
  • 1/2 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup*


  1. Boil the cider and the syrup together until it’s reduced by about half. You should have between 1/2 and 3/4 of a cup of syrup when you’re done.
  2. Brush over the top of each layer while the cake is cooling. If you have extra, store it in the fridge, because holy googly moogly it’s delicious.

Lyle’s Golden Syrup Cream Cheese Frosting

Regular cream cheese frosting would have worked just fine. So would a vanilla or caramel buttercream. But I’m fond of this recipe, which is a bit richer


  • Two packages of cream cheese, softened
  • One stick (1/4 pound) butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup Lyle’s
  • 8 ounces creme fraiche
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • Approximately 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, to desired sweetness

Put everything except the confectioner’s sugar in a stand mixer and beat it. No, I mean, assault it. Whack the heck out of it. This should go on for at least five minutes, or until the frosting is feeling no pain. Add the confectioner’s sugar, a few spoonfuls at a time, tasting for sweetness. When it’s about as sweet as you want it, give it another round in the stand mixer. Don’t feel bad. By now, it’s beyond pain.

Chill for at least an hour. (Don’t skip this step. It’s a soft frosting and it needs help to firm up)

Frost the cake. If you want to be really fancy, you can add the ALSO STRICTLY OPTIONAL apple rosettes on top:

Apple Rosettes


  • Two apples
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Slice the apples as very thin. I used a mandoline set to 1/16th of an inch, which gave lie to the old proverb “You can’t be too rich or too thin”. It turns out that 1/16th of an inch apples are not very substantial when you try to roll them into rosettes. I suggest 1/8th of an inch. Though if you’re doing this by hand, you’re more likely to get 1/4 of an inch.

Toss the apple slices with the lemon juice and sugar and leave for five minutes. This will both make them more flexible, and prevent them from browning.

Now shingle about five slices of apple.

What does that mean, shingle the apple slices, I hear you cry? I have never heard that term before!

Yeah, neither had I when I first saw a recipe that called for this. Then I realized they meant you should lay five slices on top of each other, mostly but not entirely overlapping, like shingles. (the non-overlap bits should move this awkward assemblage in a horizontal, rather than vertical, direction).

Now, starting at one side, roll it tightly. The result should look rose-ish. But let’s be honest, it will probably take you two or three to get the hang of it. Luckily apples are cheap. You might buy a spare apple, just in case, then slice it if you need it.

Lay your rosette seam-side down in your frosting to get the effect pictured above.

Yeah, you’re sayingthat’s gonna work. Which, fair, but honestly, it sounds harder than it is. Frankly, I was skeptical I could pull it off, but damned if it wasn’t pretty cute. This step took me about 20 minutes from start to finish, including not knowing what the hell I was doing and throwing away several mangled apple piles that looked not at all like roses.

Et voila! Fancy applesauce cake! A little involved. But it would also be delicious if you just made the cake, which takes about three seconds, and used your favorite confectioner’s sugar icing. Or a glaze. Or, you know, just ate it straight out of the pan. Because applesauce cake is delicious.







  • For those in the US, Lyle’s Golden Syrup is available at specialty stores, some grocery stores, or on Amazon. I just bought a food-service sized container, and use it as a substitute for corn syrup, among other things.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Matthew Calvin says:

    Awesome, thanks for the recommendation for Golden Syrup, I’ve had trouble finding it ever since I’ve moved to the USA from NZ. I’ll definitely give it a try and see how it compares to the Chelsea I’ve been schelpping back each time I go home.

  2. cfm56dash7 says:

    My Grandmother used to make a version of applesauce cake. She ended up flavoring her icing with strong coffee and it would end up solidifying into a crackly shell. There was also a family tradition that would not allow the cake to be simply cut into typical wedges. It had to be quartered and then each of the quarters sectioned into parallel slices.

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