Old-Fashioned Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

This cake is an old, old favorite of ours. It's a cake where the whole is definitely more than the sum of the parts. The moist, semi-chunky cake, spread with the frosting equivalent of brown sugar fudge, is perfect served with a cup of coffee or, better still, a glass of ice-cold milk.

Our thanks to the wonderful Bakery Lane Soup Bowl cookbook for the inspiration for this recipe.

Prep
20 mins
Bake
42 to 47 mins
Total
2 hrs 2 mins
Yield
one 9" x 13" cake
Old-Fashioned Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan.

  2. To make the cake: Mix all of the ingredients except the apples and nuts in a large bowl. As soon as the mixture comes together and becomes pretty uniformly crumbly, stop mixing; you don't want it to turn into a cohesive mass.

  3. Add the apples and nuts, and mix until the apples release some of their juice and the stiff mixture becomes a thick, creamy batter, somewhere between cookie dough and brownie batter in consistency. Don't worry if the mixture doesn't immediately loosen up; this will take about 3 minutes at low speed in a stand mixer. 

  4. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, smoothing it with your wet fingers.

  5. Bake the cake for 45 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, or with just a few wet crumbs clinging to it. The temperature at the center of the cake will be about 205°F.

  6. Remove the cake from the oven and place it on a rack to cool a bit while you make the frosting.  

  7. To make the frosting: Sift the confectioners' sugar into a bowl or onto a piece of parchment or wax paper; set it aside.

  8. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar and salt and cook, stirring, until the sugar starts to melt and the mixture becomes fairly smooth. While you may still notice a bit of grittiness from the sugar, you shouldn't see any melted butter pooled atop the sugar. Add the milk, and bring to a boil.

  9. Remove the syrup from the heat and pour it into a medium-sized mixing bowl (large enough to accommodate the confectioners' sugar). Let the syrup cool in the bowl for 10 minutes. 

  10. Pour the confectioners' sugar into the warm syrup in the bowl, then add the vanilla extract or flavor. Whisk until everything is thoroughly combined. You need to work fast here; the frosting stiffens up quickly as it cools.

  11. Pour the warm frosting onto the cake, spreading it over the entire surface.  

  12. Cut the cake — either warm or at room temperature — into squares to serve. Store the cake, covered, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.

Tips from our Bakers

  • Want to make this gluten-free? For great results, substitute King Arthur Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour for the all-purpose flour. Bake the cake for about 50 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Gluten-free baked goods often need a bit more time in the oven to thoroughly set their structure, thus the slightly extended baking time. 

  • To toast nuts, place them in a single layer in a cake pan. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 6 to 9 minutes, until they're golden brown and smell "toasty." Or dry-fry them (no oil) in a skillet set over medium heat. Done this way they can go from perfectly browned to burned quickly, so keep your eye on them.

  • Want a cake with more body? Leave the peels on the apples, and chop them coarsely rather than finely.

  • For added flavor in both cake and frosting, add 2 tablespoons boiled cider to the cake batter along with the apples. When making the frosting, replace 2 tablespoons of the milk with 2 tablespoons (43g) boiled cider; or a tablespoon each boiled cider and bourbon.

  • Want to bake a couple of round cakes rather than a sheet cake? Divide the batter between two lightly greased 8" round cake pans. Bake as directed, starting to check the cakes at around 38 minutes.

  • To guarantee lump-free frosting, be sure to sift the confectioners' sugar before adding it to the butter mixture. Any lumps from unsifted sugar may disappear as you whisk the frosting; but to guarantee no lumps at all, sift the sugar first.

  • Some readers have remarked that the frosting is quite sweet. For a less-sweet experience overall, reduce the amount of frosting by using 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar and 2 tablespoons milk. You'll still have enough frosting to cover the cake in a thin layer.