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Apple Spice Cake

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A moist apple spice cake fit for fall.

This apple spice cake recipe makes a big ol’ layer cake that’s moist and full of fall spices, plus a “secret” ingredient to make it stand out from all the rest. 

finished, decorated apple spice cake recipe.

Meet This Apple Spice Cake

This is, quite simply, an incredible apple spice cake, especially if you like spice. It is hard to have a bad apple cake — almost all of which combine that perfect flavor combination of apples and cinnamon.

But this apple spice cake recipe from pastry chef and cake artist Monica OConnell goes several steps beyond regular apple cake, for something bigger, moister, and very flavorful — a big layer cake with a special secret ingredient to add depth and color.

This recipe comes courtesy of baker Monica OConnell. Monica is the owner and cake artist behind Curtis & Cake, a custom cake boutique specializing in high-end wedding and specialty cakes. She was gracious enough to share her recipe for this apple rye cake in accompaniment with her profile on Unpeeled.

apples spice cake ingredients.

The Bold Ingredients in This Moist Apple Spice Cake Recipe

Rye flour is uncommon in sweet baking, but you’ll use it here for subtle but great effect.

The rye flour is a great move here. I think of an apple spice cake as earthy and autumnal. Rye flour deepens the color to a darkish brown and adds a very mild tang, which seems to heighten the flavor of the mace, cinnamon, and light brown sugar.

I also love the use of baking spices. The combination of apples, cinnamon and mace smell like fall baking. The use of light brown sugar — atypical in many cakes — helps add additional color and a mild note of caramel. Bright orange zest complements the baking spice aroma, and the olive oil deepens the flavor and makes the cake super moist.

All of these ingredients — the baking spices, flour, rye flour, brown sugar, olive oil, orange — add up to one big, super moist spiced apple cake that is not afraid to be bold. This is no simple, shrinking violet apple cake. This is a bold, intense apple cake that takes a little more effort to make, but is 100% worth the effort. (Also, your kitchen will smell amazing.)

apples and baking spices for cake

The Best Apples for Baking Cakes

There are many varieties of apples, but certain lend themselves especially well to baking. Which apples are the best for baking cakes? The best baking apples combine sweetness and tartness, and do not turn to mush when baking.

My favorite apples for baking this apple spice cake are:

  • Honeycrisp: Honeycrisp apples are great baking apples thanks to their sweet-tart flavor and firmness when baked
  • Macintosh apples
  • Granny Smith apples: One of the most common baking apples, and great if you want something on the very tart side
  • Jonagold (a combination of Jonathan and Golden Delicious)
  • Braeburns

Also be sure to check out my article on the best (and worst) apples for apple pie.

baked apple rye cake layer in cake pan

Cake Ingredient Checklist

You will need the following ingredients to make this apple spice cake recipe. Most are standard baking ingredients, with the addition of the apples and rye flour, which you may not have on hand. I prefer King Arthur rye flour, but you can generally source rye flour from many supermarkets or online.

  • 6 or 7 medium-sized apples (900 g.)
  • 3 cups (400 g.) unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups (200 g.) rye flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda (no baking powder needed)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon mace (nutmeg is the best substitute)
  • 1 1/3 cups (280 g.) sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups (280 g.) light brown sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups (500 ml) olive oil
  • 1 orange, zested
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (vanilla extract works, too)
  • 4 eggs

As an option, you may want to add some nuts for extra texture. In this cake, add 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts or pecans into the batter. Stir the nuts in with the apples. 

finished, decorated apple spice cake recipe.

Spiced Apple Cake Recipe Instructions

Here are the recipe steps to make this cake. The recipe basically follows a standard creaming method, using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, with the apples folded in at the end before baking.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease two 9″ cake pans with nonstick cooking spray or oil, and line the base with parchment paper.
  2. Peel, core, and roughly chop the apples and lightly pulse them in a food processor. The apples should look grated or in very small pieces. You can also grate the apples on a box grater
  3. Stir together the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Set aside.
  4. Put the sugars, olive oil, orange zest, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time. Mix on medium speed until lightened and very smooth. Scrape the bowl with a spatula.
  5. Fold in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Scrape the bowl.
  6. Stir in the apples and nuts, if using, and mix just until the batter is smooth and even.
  7. Divide the cake batter between the cake pans and bake for 45 to 55 minutes until done. The cake will be done with the centers spring back and a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean with a few crumbs, moist but not wet.
  8. Let the cakes cool for about 20 minute on cooling racks, then turn the cakes out to cool fully to room temperature on a wire rack before finishing with buttercream.

rye apple spice cake with buttercream and apple decoration

Apple Spice Cake: Recipe Notes

  • I baked this cake in two 9″ cake pans, which makes high layers that take about 45 to 55 minutes to bake. But you could also do three 8″ layers or two slightly less filled 9″ layers and a tea loaf or a few cupcakes.
  • The cake batter will seem dry until the last step. Don’t worry. Once you add the grated apple, it will loosen and become pourable like “normal” cake batter.
  • And don’t forget my #1 rule of cake baking: Scrape the bowl often. Unmixed flour and egg loves to lurk at the bottom of the bowl. (My #2 rule: Always lick the spatula. I know, salmonella. I can’t help it.)

To frost and decorate, I used a simple vanilla buttercream frosting and twisted apple peel into rosettes, but Monica also suggests a chèvre or cream cheese buttercream, and a candied walnut garnish.

The cake layers will be high, so feel free to slice each layer in half, pro-baker style, and make four thinner cake layers to fill with buttercream.

Thanks, Monica, for this beautiful cake recipe.

Apple Spice Layer Cake Recipe

Love apple spice layer cake? You’ll also love these great fall dessert recipes and more:

apple spice cake recipe

Moist Apple Spice Cake

A big, bold apple spice layer cake recipe made with rye flour, baking spices, and orange zest for extra depth and flavor. This cake recipe can be easily halved, and keeps for several days.
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time45 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keywords:: apple cake, christmas desserts, fall baking, layer cake, spice cake
Servings: 2 9" layers or 24 - 28 cupcakes
Author: Adapted from Monica OConnell


  • 6 or 7 (900 grams) medium-sized apples such as Honeycrisp, Braeburn, or Granny Smith apples
  • 3 cups (400 grams) unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups (200 grams) rye flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon mace (nutmeg is the best substitute)
  • 1 1/3 cups (280 grams) sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups (280 grams) light brown sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups (500 ml) olive oil
  • 1 orange, zested
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (1 teaspoon vanilla extract works, too)
  • 4 large eggs


  • Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease two 9" cake pans and line the cake pan bases with parchment paper.
  • Peel, core, and roughly chop the apples and lightly pulse them in a food processor. The apples should look grated or in very small pieces. Alternatively, you can peel and grate the apples on the wide grate of a box grater.
  • Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  • Put the sugars, olive oil, orange zest, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time. Mix on medium speed until lightened and very smooth.
  • Add the dry ingredients and mix on low until just combined.
  • Stir in the apples and mix just until the batter is smooth and even.
  • Divide the cake batter between the cake pans and bake for 45 to 55 minutes until done. The cake will be done with the centers spring back and a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean with a few crumbs, moist but not wet.
  • Let the cake cool in the cake pans on wire cooling racks for about 20 minutes or until cool enough to touch with your bare hands. Run a knife or small offset spatula around the edges of the cake pan, then turn the cake layers out onto the wire rack to finish cooling.
    PRO TIP: Why not just let the cakes cool in the cake pans? Two reasons. First, the cakes will be harder to remove once cool. Second, keeping the cakes in the cake pan will produce condensation, making the cakes a bit gummy.
  • Let cool to room temperature on a wire rack before layering with buttercream. This cake could also be served on its own as a single layer (freeze the other one) with a simple dusting of confectioner's sugar.


This apple spice cake keeps well at room temperature for up to three days. I never refrigerate cakes; the humidity tends to dry them out.
To freeze, wrap each fully-cooled cake layer separately in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Defrost, unwrapped, at room temperature.
The best apples for baking apple cake are Honeycrisp, Braeburn, Macintosh, and Granny Smith apples. Choose any apple that is firm and crisp, with a good balance of sweet and tart flavors.


  • When I try to pin this recipe, it says the image is broken and it won’t pin. Is there a way you could fix it? It looks like a delicious recipe.!

    • Unpeeled

      Ugh. Hi, Anne! There is a tech issue with the pinning feature. I have reached out to Pinterest support, as well as the company that facilitates the pinning feature, and hope it will be resolved very soon. Thanks for pointing this out. Tech issues are so frustrating, and I am sorry for the inconvenience. The email and print features do seem to be functioning fine as a possible alternative for now.

  • If I wanted to make this cake in a simple, single loaf tin and eat it without the frosting, would I need to use half or a third of the recipe? cheers, x

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Robin! Good question. I think that 1/3 recipe would be plenty since it’s really big cake. It might be ever so slightly low, but I think that a half recipe will be too much. Let me know how it turns out; I’d love to know the answer to this for future reference!

      • 5 stars
        hey there 🙂 so i made 1/2 of the recipe (i was too lazy to think about 1/3 eggs and all) and baked it in a 30x11cm loaf tin (here in Germany it’s a classic tin for cakes with egg/fat/sugar-based batter, like marble cake, lemon loaf, etc,, and making it in this tin feel more like baking a cake and less like a bread loaf). i didn’t have white sugar and i’m also never quite sure about the translation of the brown sugar variations available here but I used light brown raw cane sugar as well as muscovado sugar and even a bit of black strap molasses cause i really like the depth it gives alongside rye flour. since the dough was a bit wetter than it would’ve been without the molasses, I had to bake it like 65min but it came out moist, and fruity and is super delicious even three days later. s0 long story short, half a recipe works well in a 30x11cm loaf, for the standard bread loaf bans which are a bit shorter but wider, maybe 1/3 would be more appropriate

  • Josephine B.

    5 stars
    Gorgeous cake with the most amazing flavor from the combination of ingredients. Wow factor. (PS–My cake did NOT look as pretty, hahah, but we really loved it anyway!)

    • Unpeeled

      Haha, well, I have had a lot of practice, but I am sure it was beautiful nonetheless and I’m glad you thought it tasted great.

  • 5 stars
    Wow this is a big, good cake!!! Really a gorgeous color and the flavor was also so very good. Everyone should make this! Thanks for the recipe. I wish I could have gotten my apple peel rosettes to look as pretty as the ones in the picture — haha.

  • Kristine

    5 stars
    This is A FANTASTIC recipe! I saw it a few days ago and had to make it right away, even though I had no special occasion for it. I took it to my sister’s house, and split it between her, my parents, and my husband and kids. It’s a good thing, because I COULD NOT STOP EATING IT! Lol! It makes a large cake – I made it with three 9″ rounds, and it was very tall. The flavor is so complex and irresistible, with the savory notes from the olive oil and rye, the tiny salty crunch from the kosher salt in the icing, the deep spice flavor of the mace, the contrast between the sweet chunks of apple and the orange zest. The texture is perfect – dense and moist, with the apple pieces distributed very evenly so there’s apple in every single bite. This goes into my gold star recipe file, to be made again and again. Thanks for a great recipe!!

    • Unpeeled

      Thanks, Kristine!! I love this cake, too, and you’re right: It’s a BIG ol’ cake. So glad you loved it.:)

  • 5 stars
    Delicious!!! Made a 6” layer cake with the apple roses and 16 cupcakes. Made the recommended butter cream frosting!! So yummy but be warned it makes a lot of frosting. I put too much frosting between layers so next time would go lighter between the layers. The cupcakes were also great!! And the apple roses were so pretty. Will definitely be making a again

  • 5 stars
    Made yesterday and everyone loved. It is a very big cake!!!

  • Tessa L.

    5 stars
    Loved this cake. It tastes very moist and has a good spice cake flavor. I did not have rye flour so I used all-purpose for the entire amount and it came out very well. Love your blog!

  • Sally Louise Prangley

    Hi Lisa! I discovered you this summer and have been enjoying many of your recipes! I’ve made the zucchini dump cake several times and my son consumed about half a loaf in one sitting! For this apple cake, do you think I could bake it in loaf pans instead? And if so, what temperature and for how long would you suggest I bake it? Many thanks!

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Sally! Thanks so much!! (That zucchini cake is one of my favorites.) You can definitely bake this in loaf pans. Keep the same temperature. 350 is a great temperature for cakes. My guess is that it will take slightly longer. Same rules apply for doneness: the top should spring back lightly and not sink when pressed, and a cake tester should come out clean with a few crumbs clinging to it. You could even halve the recipe, which I think would make one nice loaf cake. Keep me posted, and thanks for writing!!

  • Christine

    Hi Lisa,
    I am new to your community (thanks to Jenn Segal 😉 ) and I am tempted to start with this apple cake….but I have a question: there is olive oil used in the recipe, I am afraid that it’s flavor is too strong for me( and it is quite a lot of it. Could I substitute with another cooking oil?
    Thank you very much for your reply!

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Christine! Yes, you’re right that olive oil has flavor in a way other oils do not. Feel free to just substitute a neutral vegetable oil. I usually use canola oil in my baking. Happy baking; I would love to hear how it turns out!

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