the first days of autumn have arrived. there’s a hint of coolness in the air. the leaves are just starting to turn. time for spiced everything! more than pumpkin or pumpkin spice, my heart loves apples + chai. this caramelized apple spice cake is full of all my favorite fall flavors. oh, and its topped with a brown butter cream cheese frosting. there’s also some salted maple caramel, for good measure. drooling yet?
short ingredient list, tons of flavor
this caramelized apple spice cake is made from some basic ingredients. but, together they make a show stopper of a cake! here’s what you need:
- unsalted butter
- maple syrup
- chai or pumpkin spice
- all purpose + cake flour
- baking powder + baking soda
- canola oil
- brown sugar
- milk + lemon juice/buttermilk
- vanilla extract
- cream cheese
- powdered sugar
- heavy cream
- flaky salt
from these ingredients you will make: caramelized apple puree, spice cakes, cream cheese buttercream and salted maple caramel!
4 recipe parts, plan ahead!
this cake is made from four separate parts. this can be a lot to complete on one day. so, its best to plan ahead! here’s how to make, store + thaw the parts when you are ready to assemble + serve!
- caramelized apple puree: this can be made 1-3 days before using in the recipe. follow the directions in the recipe. puree the apples. store in the fridge in an air tight container. bring to room temperature before using in the cake.
- spice cakes: these cakes can be made the same day you make the caramelized apple puree. prepare the cakes according to the recipe. cool to room temperature. wrap each cake layer individually. for ease of storing, place both wrapped layers in a clean cake pan. freeze overnight or up to several days before icing. the cakes are easiest to spread frosting on when they are cold.
- brown butter cream cheese buttercream: this can be made the day you plan to assemble and serve the cake. to prepare in advance, follow the recipe directions. store in the fridge in an airtight container for 1-3 days. store in the freezer in an airtight container wrapped in plastic wrap for several weeks. bring to room temperature before icing the cake.
- salted maple caramel: prepare by recipe directions. store at room temperature for one day. store in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. gently reheat in the microwave in 30 second intervals.
substitutes: homemade + store bought
let’s talk time savers! while this recipe is best with the homemade versions, some store bought fixes can work. here are my best picks:
- cake flour: measure 1/2 c all purpose flour. scoop 1 tbsp out. replace it with 1 tbsp cornstarch. sift 3-4 times.
- buttermilk: measure 1 c milk. add 1 tbsp lemon juice. mix well. let sit for 10 minutes to curdle.
- maple syrup: don’t go with anything but pure maple syrup. the imitation stuff won’t make caramel. for caramelizing the apples, use agave or honey. for the salted maple caramel, go with regular salted caramel.
- canola oil: any neutral oil will work. I’ve used a light olive oil in this recipe to great results.
- caramelized apple puree: store bought applesauce in a pinch. only in a pinch. the puree is better.
- brown butter: this is for flavor more than anything else. use regular unsalted butter as a substitute.
- cream cheese: mascarpone cheese would be so delicious! you can also use your favorite store bought frosting. you’ll need about 4 c total frosting/buttercream for the cake.
- salted maple caramel: go with regular salted caramel or use a store bought version. I love the one from trader joes! you’ll need 1/4 -1/3 c for the cake
my tips + tricks for a layer cake
I covered many of these tips in this blog post. but, a few stand out for this recipe. here are my best tips for this spice cake:
- use (2) 9″ cake pans. use the same brand and type of pan if possible. these are the ones I use and love. if you don’t have these cake pans, you can also use:
- (3) 8″ cake pans
- 9X13″ cake pan
- 24 cupcakes
- remember that the baking times will differ. for more information on the approximate baking times, check out this article
- use cake strips. these are a wonder. simple and gets you the perfect cake lift every time. these are the ones I use and love
- line the bottom of the cake pans with parchment paper
- apply the buttercream on a cold cake
- plan to use about 3/4-1 c buttercream on the middle layer and top. the rest will be used to ice the edges
- store the assembled cake in the fridge until you are ready to serve. this should be done on the day you plan to serve. let the cold cake rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes
more fabulous fall cakes
- roasted banana chai spice cake
- chocolate fig loaf cake
- cinnamon streusel banana coffee cake
- chai spice apple cupcakes with tahini butter cream
caramelized apple spice cake
- medium sauce pan
- food processor or blender
- 2- 9" cake pans
- parchment paper
- electric or stand mixer with paddle and whisk attachments
- food scale, recommended
- candy thermometer
caramelized apple sauce
- 3-4 (330-340g) medium-large apples, peeled and cubed (about 5-6 c)
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 4 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
chai spice cake
- 2 c (250g) all purpose flour
- 1/2 c (60g) cake flour*** sub: see notes
- 2 tsp (8g) baking powder
- 1 tsp (6g) baking soda
- 2 tbsp (10g) chai or pumpkin spice see notes for spice blends
- 1 c (237ml) caramelized apple puree, recommended* sub: see notes
- 1/2 c (113g) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 c (118ml) canola oil or preferred netural baking oil
- 1 1/3 c (270g) brown sugar
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 tsp (10ml) vanilla extract
- 1 c buttermilk** see notes for homemade version
brown butter cream cheese buttercream
- 1 c(226g) unsalted butter, browned and reduced down to 12tbsp (169g)
- 8 oz. (226g) cream cheese, room temperature
- 4 c (480g) powdered sugar, sifted
- 2-3 tbsp (60-90ml) milk of choice, as needed
- 1 tsp (5ml) vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp salt
salted maple caramel
- 1 c (237ml) pure maple syrup
- 2 tbsp (28g) unsalted butter, evenly cubed
- 1/4 c (60ml) heavy cream
- 1/2 – 1 tsp flaky salt
caramelized apple sauce*
- Melt butter in a medium sauce pan. Once melted, add cubed apples and cook 5 minutes over medium heat. Apple will brown slightly. Add maple syrup and ground cinnamon. MIx well to combine. Continue to cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. The syrup will thicken and the apples will soften. Remove from heat, straight into a food processor or blender. Cool apples for 10 minutes or to almost room temperature before pureeing. This step is optional, but gives the cake a wonderful texture while bringing lots of flavor. If you prefer to skip the puree step, make sure to smaash the apples really well, like you would making banana bread.
caramelized apple spice cake
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two 9" cake pans with parchment paper along the bottom. If needed, lightly grease the pans. Use non stick if possible. Set aside.If making homemade buttermilk: combine the milk and lemon juice, stir and allow the milk about 10 minutes to curdle.
- Whisk together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, chai (or pumpkin) spice and salt. Set aside.
- In stand mixer with whisk attachment or hand held with beaters, beat oil and room temperature butter on medium speed until smooth and well combined, about 3 minutes. On medium speed, beat in a slow stream of sugar. Beat until light, fluffy and well combined.This should take about 2-3 minutes in total.
- Add eggs one at a time. Beat each egg for about 20 seconds before adding another egg. Add vanilla extract. Beat until well combined. Add caramelized apple puree a few tablespoons at a time. Beat until fully combined.
- Using a large spatuala, mix the dry ingredients and buttermilk into the wet, in this order: dry, milk, dry, milk, dry. Make sure not to overmix.Wet cake strips if using and fit around the prepared cake pans.
- Evenly pour cake batter into each of the prepared cake pans. If using a food scale, make sure to take the weight of each cake pan prior to filling. Make sure the an even weight of batter is added to each pan. If you don't have a good scale, add 1 c to each pan until all the batter is added.
- Bake at 350 F for 32-35 minutes. Cakes will be golden brown, with edges pulled slighly from the sides of the pan. The middle of the cake should quickly spring back when a finger is pressed gently onto the top, when the cake is baked through. If the indent slowly springs back, bake an addtional 2-3 minutes. Start checking for doneness around 30 minutes.
- Once baked, rest cakes in the pan for 10-15 minutes on a cooling rack. Carefully invert the cake onto the cooling rack ( or plate placed on top.) Tap the pan a few times to encourage the cake to release. Lift the cake pan off the cake (which should be face down on the second cooling rack). Place the original cooling rack on the lined bottom of the cake. Gently flip right side up. Cool the cake on the cooling rack for about 1 hour.Wrap each of the cakes in plastic cling. Chill the room temperature cakes for 2-3 hours or overnight to make frosting easier. When ready to frost, pull the cakes from the freezer.
brown butter buttercream frosting
- Once the cake is baking, make the brown butter. To make brown butter, melt butter in a clear heavy bottom pot or sauce pan. You can use the same one from caramelizing the apples. Once the butter starts to foam, whisk continuously until brown bits start to form. Remove from heat, pour into clean bowl, skim the foam from the top and cool to room temperature (25-30 minutes).Chill the butter in the fridge an addtional 30-40 minutes. You can the butter to be softened like room temperature butter. While chilling the butter in the fridge, pull out the cream cheese to come to room temperature.
- In a stand mixer with paddle attachment or with electric mixer and beaters, cream together the brown butter and cream cheese until smooth and well combined, about 4-5 minutes. Add sifted powdered sugar 1/2 c at a time. Add vanilla extract and salt. Beat on high until desired consistency is reached. Add milk as needed to thin out the frosting. If the frosting becomes too soft, place the mixing bowl in the fridge for 30 minutes to set.
salted maple syrup****
- Pour maple syrup into a small or medium sauce pan. Place candy thermometer into the pot. Bring the maple syrup to a boil over medium heat. Allow maple syrup to boil without stirring until it reaches 230F on the thermometer. This is right before soft boil. Once it reaches this temperature, remove from heat and whisk in butter until fully combined.Pour in heavy cream, stir until fully combined. Add salt and stir until fully combined. Pour salted maple caramel sauce into a heat proof airtight container to bring to room temperature. Caramel can be kept at room temperature for a day. Store in the fridge for longer storage, up to 1-2 weeks. Gently reheat in the microwave. You will have caramel sauce leftover from this recipe. To top the cake you will need about 1/4 c of caramel sauce.
assembling the cake
- Spread about 1 tsp frosting on the cake stand or serving plate. Place bottom cake on a cake stand or serving plate. Spread 3/4 c frosting on the top of the bottom cake layer. Add the next cake on top of the frosting. Spread 3/4 c on top of the top cake layer. Spread the frosting to the edges, leaving the excess frosting hanging off the edges. Spread the remaining frosting along the sides. Dirzzle the caramel over the edges of the cake. Using a spatula, frosting knife or back of a spoon, smear the caramel into the frosting. This caramel is thinner than tradtional caramel, so expect the caramel to run a bit. Add caramel to the top.Once assembled with frosting and caramel sauce, the cake can be placed in the fridge until ready to serve (the same day). If serving the cake more than a few hours after preparing it, all components can be prepared in advance. Assemble the same day you plan to serve the cake.