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.

20 mins
42 to 47 mins
2 hrs 2 mins
one 9" by 13" cake
Old-Fashioned Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting


  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a 9" x 13" pan.

  2. To make the cake: Mix all of the ingredients except the apples and nuts in a large bowl.

  3. Beat until well combined; the mixture will be very stiff, and may even be crumbly.

  4. Add the apples and nuts, and mix until the apples release some of their juice and the stiff mixture becomes a thick batter, somewhere between cookie dough and brownie batter in consistency. Don't worry if the mixture doesn't immediately loosen up; this will take 3 to 5 minutes at medium speed in a stand mixer.

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

  6. 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.

  7. Remove the cake from the oven and place it on a rack to cool as you make the frosting; don't remove the cake from the pan.

  8. To make the frosting: Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar and salt and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts.

  9. Add the milk, bring to a boil, and pour into a mixing bowl to cool for 10 minutes.

  10. After 10 minutes, stir in the confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Beat well; if the mixture appears too thin, add more confectioners' sugar.

  11. Pour the warm frosting onto the cake, smoothing it over the entire surface. Cut into squares and serve — warm, or at room temperature.

  12. Store the cake, covered, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.

Tips from our Bakers

  • To guarantee lump-free frosting, sift confectioners' sugar before adding to the butter mixture. Usually all the lumps disappear as you beat the frosting; but to guarantee no lumps at all, sift the sugar first.
  • 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."
  • Some readers have remarked that the frosting is quite sweet. For a less-sweet frosting, use 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar, and reduce the milk to 2 tablespoons. You'll still have plenty of frosting to cover the cake.
  • Want to make this gluten-free? For great results, substitute King Arthur Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour for the all-purpose flour in this recipe, no further ingredient changes necessary. Be sure to bake thoroughly; gluten-free baked goods often need a bit more time in the oven.