Recipe Review

I Tried Smitten Kitchen’s Big Apple Crumb Cake and It’s an Easy Way to Use Up Fall Apples

published Oct 18, 2021
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Credit: Megan duBois

Fall is here and that likely means you have an abundance of apples in your kitchen. While you and your family might be munching on an apple a day, there always seems to be a few left over at the end of the week that no one wants to eat. Cue: Smitten Kitchen’s Big Apple Crumb Cake recipe. After scrolling through the original recipe and seeing some of the final cake photos with the perfectly cooked apples and chunks of crumb topping, I immediately knew I needed to try this for myself. So, I went to the grocery store to pick up the few things I didn’t already have at home and got to work.

Get the recipe: Big Apple Crumb Cake at Smitten Kitchen

How to Make Smitten Kitchen’s Big Apple Crumb Cake

This recipe is fairly basic and only takes a few ingredients — most of which you likely already have in your pantry. To start, preheat your oven to 325°F and spray an 8- or 9-inch square pan with cooking spray. Set the pan aside until it’s time to assemble your cake. You’re also going to need three bowls — two large-sized and one smaller one — for each of the layers of your crumb cake.

Credit: Megan duBois

The first large bowl is for the apples. After coring and slicing the apples in larger slices, add the lemon juice, sugar, and cinnamon. Toss all of the ingredients together and set aside. Next, you’ll take your second large bowl to begin your cake batter. Start by creaming together butter and sugar until it’s light and fluffy, then add the egg, sour cream, and vanilla and beat until well-combined. After that’s done, sprinkle the top of the batter with baking powder and salt and mix well. Lastly, add the flour and mix until it’s fully incorporated and disappears. 

Your smallest bowl will be used to make the crumb topping. First, whisk together the melted butter, both white and brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt until the sugar starts to dissolve and everything is evenly mixed. Then, add the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until it’s fully incorporated. This mixture will be very thick.

When adding your apples, crumb topping, and cake batter to your pan, these don’t need to be layered in any particular order. My suggestion, however, is to start with the apples so that they can begin to make a sweet syrup from the combination of juice they will release along with the lemon juice and cinnamon. 

Credit: Megan duBois

If you do it this way, you’ll want to then scrape the cake batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth it out into one even layer. Then you’ll arrange more apples by hand on the cake batter, slightly overlapping them. Pour the juice left in the apple bowl over the apples and place the crumb topping over the slices by breaking the thick mixture into smaller pieces. Place the pan in the oven to bake.

For it to taste its best, you’ll want to bake the cake until the apples are soft when a toothpick is inserted and the juices are bubbling — this should take about 50 to 55 minutes. Cool in the pan until the crumb cake reaches room temperature. Slice and serve with powdered sugar as an optional topping.

My Honest Review of Smitten Kitchen’s Big Apple Crumb Cake

This recipe is proof that apple and cinnamon really do make everything better. I love the smell of cinnamon, which filled my entire house with a warm, autumnal scent while the cake was baking. The apple crumb cake was sweet — thanks in most part to the juicy apples —without being overly sweet. It also had a nice contrast of textures with the spongy cake, the soft apples, and the slightly crispy crumb topping. I would serve this as the pastry basket for a brunch with friends, or take it to a holiday get-together to have after an indulgent meal when a fruit-forward dessert is welcome. 

The suggestion to top with powdered sugar is nice for serving as a dessert, but for breakfast with a cup of coffee, I think I’ll just stick with the plain apple crumb cake. After having to wait for the cake to cool off completely, the recipe says it can be covered and stored on the counter, or in the refrigerator. I chose the refrigerator because in all honesty, cold cake is the superior way to have it, in my opinion. After having another slice of this for breakfast the following morning, the apples were still just as sweet, but the crumb topping was a little soft because of all of the juice that was absorbed from the apples. It was still good, but if you want that texture contrast, you’ll definitely want to eat this on the day you make it.

Credit: Megan duBois

Tips for Making Big Apple Crumb Cake

  1. Mix some chopped nuts in with the crumb topping. On day two or three when the crumb topping begins to soften, the nuts should stay crunchy, which is nice for an added textural contrast.
  2. Peel the apples. The recipe says you can choose between peeled or unpeeled apples, but cooked apple skins are not the most pleasant texture. If you do choose to peel the apples, add one more apple to what you think you’re going to need to ensure you have enough. 
  3. Use a boxed cake mix. While the actual cake layer of the apple crumb cake was good, I wanted more cake. This is where a boxed white cake mix would come in handy. Not only are you getting a more substantial cake layer, but you’re also using a shortcut that will end up tasting about the same. After all, the star of this recipe is the apples. Just be sure to divide the cake mix over two square pans. If you do this then you could also double your apples and crumb topping to make a second crumb cake to share. 
  4. Choose your apples wisely. Some apples are better for baking than others. Choose an apple that’s crisp and juicy, but won’t turn to mush when it’s cooked. I chose Macintosh apples, but other good options include Honeycrisp and Pink Lady varieties.