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Caramelized-Apple Spice Cake

Apples caramelized in butter and an array of fall spices lend a unique character to this exceptionally moist cake, which lies hidden beneath a mantle of brown-sugar buttercream. Marzipan garnishes -- tinted gold -- make a festive finish.

  • Yield: Serves 12 to 14
Caramelized-Apple Spice Cake

Photography: Maura McEvoy

Source: Martha Stewart Living, November 2007


  • 2 1/2 sticks (20 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
  • 2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and grated on the large holes of a box grater (4 cups)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/4 cups pecan halves (5 ounces), toasted dark and finely ground in a food processor
  • Brown Sugar Swiss Meringue Buttercream
  • Gold Marzipan Pumpkins, Leaves, and Acorns


  1. Put 1/2 stick butter into a large nonstick skillet. Using the tip of a paring knife, scrape seeds from vanilla bean into skillet, and toss in pod. Cook over medium heat until butter is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in apples, cider, and 1 cup granulated sugar. Raise heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes. Reduce heat to low, and cook until apples are golden and translucent and liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Discard vanilla pod. Let cool.

  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-by-2-inch round cake pans. Dust with flour, and tap out excess. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Reserve 1/4 cup flour mixture.

  3. Beat remaining 2 sticks butter, remaining 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, and the brown sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, and add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low. Beat in flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the sour cream and scraping bowl as needed. Add remaining 1/4 cup flour mixture to apple mixture, and toss. Fold in apple mixture and pecans.

  4. Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake until tops are dark golden brown and a toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes on a wire rack. Run a knife around edges of cakes to loosen. Unmold cakes, and let cool, right side up, on rack. (Cakes can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

  5. Assemble cake: Trim each cake so it's 1 3/4 inches high. Place 1 cake, cut side up, on a cake stand. Spread 1 1/2 cups buttercream over top. Place remaining cake, cut side down, on top. Spread 1 cup buttercream over entire cake. Refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes. Spread remaining frosting over cake. (Cake can be refrigerated, uncovered, overnight.)

  6. Before serving, decorate with marzipan pumpkins, acorns, and leaves.

Reviews (20)

  • ATXLDY 22 Sep, 2012

    Thank you for the other reviews! This definitely makes 3 (8 inch). I am an experienced bakers but did have challenges with my batter. I had carefully measured my ingredients but the batter was stiff-I added some cream and sour cream and it seemingly worked. The texture, as someone else has described, was not like a fine texture but more like an old fashioned coarser textured (but yummy) texture. The brown sugar/apple syrup one person suggested was awesome. Make sure to increase the frosting

  • ChristinaStallard 23 Nov, 2011

    Definitely divide your batter among three standard 8- inch cake pans. Begin checking the cakes after 35 minutes so they don't become overcooked. If your cakes seemed a little dry upon taking them out of the oven, make a simple syrup out of apple cider and brown sugar and brush onto the warm cakes as they cool. This also gives the cake a more apple-y taste.

  • dahoop 20 Nov, 2011

    OK, this cake was a huge it at Thanksgiving last year. Be sure to have most of the day if you do it all in one day (which of course is a no no...plan ahead). I used a three layer as well, made for a much more impressive cake. The taste of the cake with the buttercream was out standing! Uncle Jack and Aunt Johanna were in love with this cake. Well worth the time, energy and butter!! Thanks, Martha and staff!

  • jillinsch 6 Nov, 2011

    I should have read the reviews first! This recipe definitely made WAY too much batter. Should have divided it amongst 3 pans. My oven is now a huge mess... awesome.

  • cns1008 29 Nov, 2010

    I increased recipe by 1/2 and made (3) 9" rounds to get the effect shown in the photo. I also ran the apples through the shredder on my food processor; to do this by hand as suggested would take forever. I suggest adding diced apple bits to the batter to get more of the apple flavor. This cake didn't taste much like apple unless you got a chunk. I also cut back the cooking time to about 45 min, I think 55-65 would have made it dry. Butter cream frosting was light with mild flavor.

  • Mayson 13 Oct, 2010

    I'm a little confused. That cake looks HUGE! Are there really only two trimmed 8 inch cakes in the whole thing? Is there a missing third layer or are the cakes supposed to be sliced in half with layers of frosting in between, perhaps? I really want to make this cake because it looks incredible and delicious. But, I want to make sure it turns out as tall and impressive as in this picture! Thoughts??

  • pbfmott 6 Oct, 2010

    This cake was truly fabulous! From the first taste of the batter to the final product! However the icing was disgusting in my, and several others opinions and so I used a cream cheese frosting. Really, this icing would never do a cake like this justice.

  • pbfmott 6 Oct, 2010

    This cake was truly fabulous! From the first taste of the batter to the final product! However the icing was disgusting in my, and several others opinions and so I used a cream cheese frosting. Really, this icing would never do a cake like this justice.

  • boodgie 6 Oct, 2010

    I pride myself in my baking abilities but the cake recipe was very dry . I used 2 9inch pans, cut the baking time to 35 minutes and it was still dry and that was with a lower oven temp also. Loved the frosting. I made leaves out of whole wheat tortillas, brushed . sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, baked and then brushed with an edible bronze pearl gum paste powder. used the leaves on the whole outside of cake. Also used store bought pretty marzipan leaves on top and around a very pretty pumpkin or

  • vafallon 1 Oct, 2009

    one of the best cakes I eer crafted by hands...recipe was spot on for me....moist and delicious, the frosting was beautiful.
    will try it again, this time i will use the batter for an upside down cake!

  • elisefk 28 Nov, 2008

    yummy cake. cooked in convection oven: 45 min not done, but at 55 min, just very slightly dry. way too much batter for 8 inch pans. next time will either do 2, 9-inch or 3, 8-inch. made 3 larger pumpkins(2

  • carlacat 1 Nov, 2008

    I love this cake so much, I am making it again this year for Thanksgiving!

  • carlacat 1 Nov, 2008

    I love this cake so much, I am making it again this year for Thanksgiving!

  • carlacat 1 Nov, 2008

    I love this cake so much, I am making it again this year for Thanksgiving!

  • MimiMartini 18 Sep, 2008

    I also used three standard 8-inch pans (perhaps even 9-inch). I also used food coloring to make the pumpkins orange with green stems and green leaves before adding just a touch of gold and copper sparkle to the tops. I got lots of complements at a fall baby shower, especially lots of questions about the delicious frosting. LOVE IT!

  • cowgirlkitty 22 Jun, 2008

    Made cake and batter bubbled and ran onto oven floor. Would recommend using three standard 8 inch pans. The homemade applesauce and toasted pecans were so good alone that this grand looking cake was really disappointing. It had a lumpy/bland crumb paired with really rich silky butter frosting. I didn't think the textures complemented each other. The cake might be ok as a rustic snacking cake without the frosting.

  • nytefalle 10 Dec, 2007

    I ran the apples through the grating disc of my food processor instead of using a box grater and used creme fraiche instead of sour cream. I forgot about the pecans until the last minute, so I had my husband run the untoasted nuts through the food processor as I mixed the flour into the apples. This was made for a dinner party and everyone loved it and raved about the buttercream.

  • hlg22 4 Dec, 2007

    I made this for a bridal shower and it was a huge hit. Left the pecans out (forgot them), but otherwise made no changes to the recipe. I did not trim the cakes as they were very level and it was fine. Very impressive and (relatively) easy to make cake, though the marzipan was time consuming. I made the marzipan on Friday night, baked the cake and frosted it on Saturday, and kept in the fridge until I served it on Sunday. Lots of compliments.

  • bethanyjg 20 Nov, 2007

    Thanks for sharing! I will definitely make 3 layers when I try it then. :)

  • adozeneggs 20 Nov, 2007

    This cake was soooo yummy. I found that the recipe seemed to make a lot of batter for 2 8 inch rounds though. Next time, I'll make it in three layers. My cake didn't seem as tall as the cake in the photo. Still, it was beautiful and delicious!!
    I made fewer marzipan details and piped a leaf border around the top and the bottom. The cake was a big hit at a dinner party.

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