Recipe: Honey-Apple Layer Cake

published May 18, 2016
Honey Apple Cake
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(Image credit: Christine Han)

Craving cake, but don’t necessarily have an occasion to make one for? Well then it’s a pretty good thing that you don’t need to wait until your birthday to make this honey-apple cake. This recipe falls under what I call “casual cakes,” meaning cakes that are perfectly suitable for Sunday brunch, afternoon tea, or any random Wednesday night when you need to fulfill a relentless cake craving without having to make something completely over the top. There’s a whole chapter in my book dedicated to these cakes without occasion.

With layers of fresh apple cake, honey buttercream, and a touch of crunchy oat crumble, you may even end up devouring a slice of this one for breakfast!

Apples in the Summertime

Not everything apple has to be packed full of cinnamon or slathered in caramel. When paired with other flavors, like vibrant cardamom or lively lemon zest, this apple cake takes on more of the essence of a fresh, crisp apple rather than those treats typically associated with warm, comforting spices and cooler autumn weather. When looking for a similar feel as cinnamon and nutmeg in the summer, try cardamom.

The honey sour cream buttercream filling is perfect for this heavenly cake. Using a Swiss meringue buttercream as its base, the filling is as smooth as silk. The honey adds a mild, floral flavor, while the sour cream keeps the sweetness manageable and adds a subtle, refreshing tang.

I love adding a bit of texture to my desserts, and everyday cakes like this one are no exception. Top it off with an easy oat crumble made on the skillet, or just a handful of your favorite granola!

See, you can have cake on a casual afternoon (or breakfast, we won’t judge)! Save the decadent chocolate ganache for date night or Valentine’s Day, and the cake covered in sprinkles or dripping with salted caramel for a milestone birthday. This carefree design even swaps the swirly chocolate bark, technicolor ganache drips, and gold leaf that you can find on today’s trendiest, most whimsical deigns for a quick stovetop oat crumble.

(Image credit: Christine Han)

How to Look Good Naked

Since the sides of a naked cake are mostly exposed, be sure to grease and flour the cake pans with care and/or line the bottoms with a piece of parchment. Now is not a good time for chunks of cake to get stuck in your cake pan. Also, without that thick layer of frosting that other cakes have, the exposed sides are more susceptible to drying out, so be mindful of storing (keep any leftover cake wrapped well in plastic in the refrigerator). To ensure the layers are beautifully even, always wait until the cakes have completely cooled before trimming with a long serrated knife.

Honey Apple Cake

Makes 1 (8-inch) cake

Serves 10 to 12

Nutritional Info


For the fresh apple cake:

  • Butter or nonstick cooking spray, for the pans

  • 2 1/2 cups

    (315 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon

    baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    fine salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    ground cardamom

  • 1/2 cup

    plus 2 tablespoons (150 milliliters) grapeseed oil

  • 1 1/4 cups

    (250 grams) granulated sugar

  • 2 teaspoons

    finely grated lemon zest

  • 2

    large eggs

  • 1

    large egg yolk

  • 1/2 cup

    (120 milliliters) buttermilk

  • 1 3/4 cups

    (280 grams) finely diced peeled apples, such as Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, or Pink Lady

For the honey-sour cream buttercream:

  • 1/2 cup

    (120 milliliters) large egg whites

  • 1 cup

    (200 grams) granulated sugar

  • 1 1/2 cups

    (3 sticks/340 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    pure vanilla extract

  • 2/3 cup

    (160 milliliters) sour cream)

  • 2 tablespoons


  • 1/4 teaspoon

    ground cardamom

For the skillet oat crumble:

  • 1 cup

    (85 grams) quick-cooking oats

  • 1/3 cup

    (40 grams) chopped walnuts (optional)

  • 2 tablespoons


  • 1 tablespoon

    unsalted butter

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly grated nutmeg

  • 1/8 teaspoon

    fine salt

For assembly:

  • Honey, for drizzling (optional)


Make the fresh apple cake:

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F (175°C). Grease and flour 2 (8-inch or 20-centimeter) round cake pans and set aside.

  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom and set aside.

  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the oil, sugar, and lemon zest on medium speed for 2 minutes. Turn the mixer to medium-low and add the eggs and egg yolk one at a time. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

  4. Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix on medium for no more than 30 seconds after the last streaks of the dry ingredients are combined. Fold in the apples.

  5. Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake for 24 to 26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Let them cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.

Make the honey-sour cream buttercream:

  1. Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk them together by hand to combine.

  2. Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water and place it over medium-high heat. Place the mixer bowl on top of the saucepan to create a double boiler. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Whisking intermittently, heat the egg mixture until it registers 145° to 155°F (63° to 68°C) on a candy thermometer, or is hot to the touch.

  3. Once hot, carefully fit the mixer bowl onto the stand mixer. With the whisk attachment, beat the egg white mixture on high speed for 8 to 10 minutes, until it holds medium-stiff peaks. When done, the outside of the mixer bowl should return to room temperature and no residual heat should be escaping the meringue out of the top of the bowl. Stop the mixer and swap out the whisk attachment for the paddle.

  4. With the mixer on low speed, add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, and then add the vanilla. Once incorporated, turn up the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is silky smooth, 3 to 5 minutes.

  5. Remove all but 2 1/2 cups of the buttercream from the bowl (save the remaining for another use). Add the sour cream, honey, and cardamom to the mixer and mix until combined.

Make the skillet oat crumble:

  1. Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Stirring intermittently with a wooden spoon, dry-roast the oats and walnuts (if using) until fragrant and slightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes.

  2. Add the honey, butter, nutmeg, and salt and stir to evenly coat the oats. Cook, while stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat, spread out the mixture on a piece of parchment paper, and let it cool.

Assemble the cake:

  1. Once the cakes have completely cooled, halve them horizontally to create 4 even layers. Level the cakes and choose which layer will be at the bottom. Place it on a cake plate or serving dish.

  2. Spread on a quarter of the buttercream with an offset spatula. Top with the next layer of cake and repeat two times more with the buttercream, ending with the fourth layer. Frost the top of the cake with the remaining buttercream. Garnish the top with a generous handful of the skillet oat crumble. (Sprinkle any leftover crumble over yogurt.) Drizzle with honey, if using.

Recipe Notes

Storage: The assembled cake will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days. Store the oat crumble separately at room temperature and sprinkle on when ready to serve.

Crumble shortcut: Use store-bought granola in place of the skillet oat crumble.

Reprinted with permission from Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakesby Tessa Huff, copyright (c) 2016 by ABRAMS.

Styling Credits

  • Food styling by Barrett Washburne
  • Acacia cake stand courtesy of Crate & Barrel
  • (Image credit: Tessa Huff)

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