Recipe Review

This Easy, Old-Fashioned Apple Cake Is Famous for a Reason

updated Jun 24, 2021
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Credit: Patty Catalano

Community cookbooks — the dog-eared, grease-stained books on your grandma’s cookbook shelf — are some of the best sources of tried-and-true recipes. After all, they were published by schools, churches, and local organizations to highlight the best recipes of their community. If you love the nostalgic treasure hunt of flipping through the spiral-bound books but have a hard time deciding which recipe to try, you’ll love the Old_Recipes subreddit.

That’s where I found the recipe for an easy apple-studded cake that’s perfect for fall. The original post includes a photo of the recipe for “Fresh Apple Cake” by Dena Heafner, but doesn’t provide many more specifics. Some Redditors noticed it was similar to an apple cake recipe from the 1982 edition of the “Calling All Cooks” cookbook, while others suggested it originated as a back-of-the-box recipe from Wesson Oil.

Regardless of its origin, fans of this recipe agree that this cake has an unbeatable moist texture and can sit for days on the counter (if it lasts that long!). Since I’m all for adding an autumnal counter cake to my repertoire — especially one that requires just one bowl, a pile of diced fresh apples, and a sweet brown sugar glaze — I was more than happy to give it a go. Here’s what happened when I tried Reddit’s Fresh Apple Cake.

Credit: Patty Catalano

How to Make Fresh Apple Cake

This is a simple one-bowl cake that uses the muffin method for assembly. Begin by whisking a neutral oil (the recipe specifies Wesson, but canola or vegetable oil can be used in its place) with eggs and granulated sugar. Sift in self-rising flour (if you don’t have any, here’s an easy recipe), followed by vanilla extract, chopped apples, and nuts. The original poster advised peeling the apples and using baking apples like McIntosh or Golden Delicious (I used a combination of peeled Fuji and Gala.). As for nuts, I used pecans, although walnuts would be a good choice.

Spread the thick batter into an even layer in a 9×13-inch baking pan. (I lined the pan with a parchment sling.) Bake at 350°F for 40 to 45 minutes, then cool while you make the frosting. For the frosting, heat butter — I used unsalted — and light brown sugar until the butter melts. Add milk and bring the mixture to a boil, then cool for five to 10 minutes. Add vanilla extract and stir. The recipe says to “beat” the frosting, and after consulting Kitchn staffers familiar with this genre of icing, we determined the frosting is intended to be a glaze. I stirred the sugary mixture with a wooden spoon until the mixture was smooth and homogenous.

Credit: Patty Catalano

My Honest Review of the Reddit-Famous Fresh Apple Cake

This cake has a lot going for it. The batter is made with pantry ingredients and mixed by hand in a single bowl, and the apple flavor takes center stage. Center slices of the fresh apple cake are tender and moist, while the edges develop a chewy, caramelized texture. It’s a cake to commit to memory.

Unfortunately, things went downhill once I added the icing. Not unlike the syrup added to a poke cake, the icing plays an important role in adding flavor and moisture to this cake. I prepared it with unsalted butter — the standard in baking — but without any added salt, the icing was one-dimensional and tooth-achingly sweet. The proportion of icing to cake was also unbalanced, and saturated the cake when poured on.

A Few Tips for Making Fresh Apple Cake

  1. Use sweet-tart, crisp apples. McIntosh and Golden Delicious were among the only apple choices widely available decades ago when this recipe was first introduced. Instead of choosing these mild and sometimes mealy varieties, opt for sweet-tart apples with a crisper texture. I chose Gala and Fuji apples, although Jazz, Braeburn, and Honeycrisp apples are also good options.
  2. Reduce the glaze and sprinkle with salt. Instead of saturating the cake under the brown sugar glaze, reduce the icing by half. Drizzle a thin layer of glaze over the top, but you might not use it all (reserve the rest for drizzling over vanilla ice cream, as one Redditor suggests). Sprinkle the cake with a finishing salt, like Maldon, to balance the sweetness and add sparkle and texture.
  3. Or omit the glaze altogether. Although the glaze does help lock in moistness, the cake is the true star here, with the sweet apple flavor and moist texture. I think a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream would be great in place of the glaze.