Fresh Apple Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
This old-fashioned Fresh Apple Cake recipe is all the bits I cherish about fall—apple picking, chunky sweaters, cinnamon sticks, and crackly orange leaves—turned into a warm hug of a dessert and slathered with dreamy caramel cream cheese frosting.
When I think about the perfect fall day, I envision red leaves against icy blue skies, backyard football games, and piping hot mugs of cider.
I imagine pink cheeks, fuzzy slippers, and oversized, squashy armchairs.
Most importantly, my perfect fall day necessitates a big, warm slice of freshly baked apple something. Something frosted. Or glazed. Or ice creamed. Or frosted AND ice creamed.
Fresh Apple Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting, you are that apple something of my eye!
This fresh Apple Cake is a moist, rich spice cake studded with hunks of tart apple and bits of toasted walnuts. It is scented with cinnamon and nutmeg and allspice and is the kind of homey, comforting dessert I imagine myself loving as a kid and baking as a grandma and craving every autumn in between.
The apple cake recipe was a bit of a saga to get right, but it was worth every Granny Smith (and GASP honeycrisp!) in the bag.
If you follow me on Instagram, you may have witnessed the incident in which the beautiful apple bundt cake I stayed awake until midnight to bake emerged from its pan in 10 odd pieces.
As I learned the hard way, this apple cake is so supremely moist and apple packed, it’s better suited for a regular square baking dish than it is a bundt pan.
(Don’t worry though—I pieced that broken bundt back together, poured caramel glaze over the top, and served it at a dinner party. No leftovers!)
A few adjustments to the recipe later, and I have for you a perfect, more reliable Fresh Apple Cake, scratch-made and ready to be slathered in cream cheese frosting.
But not just any cream cheese frosting. CARAMEL cream cheese frosting. This Fresh Apple Cake is special, and it deserves a special topping to match.
The addition of the brown sugar makes the cream cheese frosting taste like caramel, no making of actual caramel required. Translation: it’s quicker and easier, which means you will be eating apple cake sooner than later. YES.
Add a shower of toasted walnuts and you have a creamy, crunchy sensation in every bite.
Another yummy twist for the next time you bake this cake, as I suspect there will be a next time: Fresh Apple Cake with coconut and pecans (swap pecans for the walnuts and add a sprinkle of both on top). New topping, same warm, happy fall feeling.
Every fall, I like to treat myself to at least one indulgent apple dessert. It’s my grown-up way of experiencing the same unabridged autumn bliss I did as a kid diving into a pile of leaves, with fewer bruises. I can attest to this because I tried jumping into what I thought was a large, cushy leaf pile recently. Let’s just say I don’t bounce back the way I once did.
While Vegan Apple Crisp, Hasselback Apples, and baked Apple Chips are a few of my go-to healthy apple treats, this Fresh Apple Cake is extra special. Don’t skip the cream cheese frosting, and be generous with the nuts. Your inner leaf-jumping kid (and outer apple-dessert-loving adult) will thank you!
Fresh Apple Cake
For the Apple Cake:
- 3/4 cup walnut halves
- 1 2/3 cups white whole wheat flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter — at room temperature
- 1/2 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs — at room temperature
- 1/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt — at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups peeled and 1/4-inch-chopped apples — about 2 medium apples—choose a firm, flavorful variety such as Granny Smith, Fuji, McIntosh, or Cortland
For the Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 6 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese — at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter — at room temperature
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
Place the rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 9x9-inch or 8x8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper so that it overhangs two of the sides like handles. Lightly coat the parchment with nonstick spray. Set aside. Place the nuts in a single layer on an ungreased baking pan. Bake until toasted and fragrant, about 8 to 12 minutes. Do not walk away during the last few minutes (this is when nuts love to burn). Immediately transfer to a cutting board. Coarsely chop and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the white whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, stopping in between each to scrape down the bowl. Beat in the Greek yogurt and vanilla extract. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients, mixing just until evenly moistened. Fold in the apples and 1/2 cup of the toasted chopped walnuts. The batter will be very thick.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and with the back of a spatula, spread it evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the edges are light golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes. The baking time will vary depending upon the moisture content of your apples. The center of the cake will still feel soft but should spring back just a little when touched. Check at the 35-minute mark. If your cake isn't done but the top is browning more quickly than you would like, loosely tent it with foil, then continue baking as directed. When it's done, place the pan on a wire rack and let cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting: In a mixing bowl or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter, and brown sugar at medium speed until creamy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and salt and beat until blended. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating just until combined. Increase the mixer speed to high. Beat 1 additional minute or until smooth. Spread the frosting generously onto the cooled cake. Sprinkle the remaining walnuts over the top. Slice generously and serve.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. (I find it tastes even better and more moist on day two! Let come close to room temperature prior to serving.)
- Freeze (frosted or unfrosted) for up to 1 month. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
Nutrition InformationAmount per serving (1 slice (of 12)) — Calories: 321, Fat: 17g, Saturated Fat: 8g, Cholesterol: 62mg, Carbohydrates: 37g, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 25g, Protein: 6g
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