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Tantalizing and Tart Apple Cider Cake

Apple, cinnamon, brown sugar — these are some of the classic flavors of fall and they’re the inspiration for this apple cider cake.  It’s a spin on the classic spice cake you may already know, but this has the special kick that tart cider brings to the table.  Your taste buds will enjoy the layers of apple flavor from the apple cider mix, apple juice, and applesauce in both the cake itself and the glazes (that’s right — there are two glaze options for this cake!).  

Make this apple cider cake for one of your holiday gatherings and then watch how quickly it disappears.  Your guests will thank you!

Closeup of a plate of apple cider cake servings with cider molasses drizzle.

A Sign of Maturity

I hated spice cake as a kid.  HATED it.  I couldn’t understand why something so unappealing could be called “cake” at all.  In my opinion, it had no business being in the same category as the chocolate and yellow cakes that I did love so much.  (I felt the same way about carrot cake, coconut cake, and German chocolate cake.)

I can’t remember exactly when I ate spice cake again, nor the reason why I would have tried it since it was such a negative childhood memory.  But it’s an undeniable fact that my palette changed drastically once I became an adult and one day spice cake’s status got changed from “Don’t Eat” to “Definitely Eat” — and it’s been a beloved fall food of mine ever since!

Variety is the Spice of Cake Life

I’ve made traditional spice cake with vanilla icing many times.  I’ve made it in round, layered form, in 9 x 13 sheet cake form, in cupcake form, and even bundt cake form.  I’ve also made two 8 x 8 sheet cakes, which are the perfect size for going into a side-by-side freezer.

Closeup of electric mixer beaters with cake batter on them.

One year for a potluck Thanksgiving I brought a layered pumpkin spice cake with cream cheese frosting.  It was ENORMOUS — the tallest cake I’ve ever made — and it felt like it weighed close to 10 pounds!  It was also one of the most delicious cakes I’ve ever made because after everyone hit the dessert table, all that was left were some crumbs.  That recipe came back in cupcake form quite a few times.

This apple cider cake is my latest spice cake version.  I wanted something with some zing to it and the tart flavor of apples is just what I was looking for.

Layers of Apple Flavor

Like the apple cider cookies I made, I’m using layers of apple flavor for my apple cider cake — apple cider mix, applesauce, and apple juice.  Another “triple threat” recipe!

Closeup of apple cider cake servings without drizzle.

The apple cider mix and applesauce are found in the cake batter, with the apple cider mix and apple juice as the stars of the two cake’s glazes.  (We’ll get to those glazes in a bit.)

For even more apple-y goodness, you can add some fresh apple to this apple cider cake.  You have several options for doing this — in “upside down” form, by cooking the apples down to soften them and putting them in the batter, or by creating an apple layer on top of the cake.  I didn’t have any fresh apples on hand, so I had to stop at three kinds of apple flavor in this recipe (but I see a quadruple version happening at some point).

How To Make Apple Cider Cake

Electric mixer beaters mixing dry ingredients into batter.

This is one of the easiest from-scratch cakes I’ve ever made — fewer ingredients than other cake recipes and a really simple process to make it.  Plus, I don’t have any of the stress and anxiety when I make glazed cakes as I do when making a cake that I will frost with icing.  I always have ridiculously high expectations of my frosting jobs (that I hardly ever meet) so it’s nice to take the pressure off myself by going the glazing route instead.

Apple cider cake ingredients.

First, sift together flour, salt, baking soda, and 1 package of apple cider mix into a small bowl.

Glass bowl with sifted dry ingredients.

Add one teaspoon of ground cinnamon and set aside.

Ground cinnamon sprinkled onto dry ingredients.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until well combined (I’m happy to say my mixer was back on the job for this recipe).

Electric mixer beaters creaming butter and brown sugar in white mixing bowl.

Add three tablespoons of apple juice and mix well.  Add one egg and mix on medium-high speed until a light and fluffy consistency, about 5 minutes.

Creamed butter and sugar with egg mixed in.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing well on low speed.

Small batch of dry ingredients added to wet ingredients.

Add the applesauce on low speed and then mix on medium speed for 2-3 minutes.

Adding applesauce to cake batter.

Pour the batter into a greased 9×9 baking pan and spread evenly.

Pouring cake batter into pan.

Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes (the cake is done when a toothpick inserted into the center is clean when removed).  Be careful not to overbake your cake — check at 25 minutes to see if it needs the full 30 minutes.

Closeup of pan of apple cider cake batter ready to go into the oven.
Apple cider cake ready to go into the oven.

The Glazes

You’ve probably been curious ever since I mentioned there are two glazes you can make for this cake.  The second glaze wasn’t planned and it came about because I felt like the photos of my plated apple cider cake servings needed a little something extra. But I liked the second glaze so much that I decided it needed to be mentioned in this article.

I used both glazes I made.  The first was a “soaking” glaze that the apple cider cake absorbed and the second one I used for a decorative drizzle after I plated servings of the cake.  The second glaze added a slightly different flavor than the first glaze.

Closeup of whisk with drops of apple cider glaze on it.

Two glazes will be too much for some people.  (I suspect I may be part hummingbird and I have a pretty wicked sweet tooth that not everyone shares.)  I’m fully aware that most people won’t make both and will choose between the two.  It’s going to depend on a couple factors as to which glaze you’ll likely choose.

If you suspect you’ve overbaked your cake, then I recommend you make the first glaze because it will be poured over the cake to soak into it.  This will definitely restore moisture to a cake that’s on the dry side.  If your cake isn’t dry, you can still use the first glaze — your cake will simply be “extra moist.”

Glaze 1: The Soak

Ingredients for the first glaze option.

To make the first glaze, melt 1 tablespoon of butter with 5 tablespoons of apple juice over medium-low heat.  Add two packages of apple cider mix and ¾ of a cup of brown sugar.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring often.

Saucepan of glaze simmering.

Allow your apple cider cake and the glaze to cool for about 30 minutes.  Pour the glaze over the cake and spread evenly so it covers the sides of the cake as well.  Let the cake fully cool until the glaze is absorbed before serving.

Square of apple cider cake after soaking up glaze.
Apple cider cake after soaking up first glaze.

Glaze 2: The Drizzle

Now you could stop here and enjoy the apple cider cake as it is (I sampled it at this stage and it was really good)….or you could go to the next level and make a second glaze for drizzling your cake servings once they’ve been plated.  

Ingredients for second glaze option.

If you made the first glaze, this one is purely optional.  Or if your cake isn’t overbaked, you might decide to forgo the first glaze entirely and use this one instead to drizzle on your plated apple cider cake servings, and call it good.  Trust me, any option you choose will be delicious!

For the second glaze you’ll combine apple juice, molasses, light corn syrup, and a package of apple cider mix in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over low heat and then simmer for 3-4 minutes.  

Saucepan of second type of glaze boiling.

Let it cool until it reaches syrup consistency and use a spoon to drizzle over your plated pieces of cake.

Serving of apple cider cake drizzled with cider molasses glaze.
Apple cider cake with cider molasses drizzle.

Storing and Freezing Apple Cider Cake

This can be a really moist cake, so my usual rule about “no cakes stored in the fridge” can be broken (unless yours is on the drier side, in which case I wouldn’t suggest it).  Just be sure to cover your apple cider cake tightly with plastic wrap or put it in an airtight container.  It will probably keep for about a week, if there are still any pieces left by then.

If storing at room temperature, you’re probably looking at 3-4 days for this cake.  Like I said, it can be really moist with the soaked-in glaze and I always worry about food with high moisture content growing mold at room temperature.  (If I even think my husband and I won’t be able to polish off a baked good before it goes bad, I’ll text the neighbors to let them know I’m on my way and I’m bearing food gifts!)

An apple cider cake will last about 3 months in the freezer.  Wrap it tightly in multiple layers of plastic wrap and then in several layers of aluminum foil before it goes into the freezer.  You’ll want to thaw it out the night before you plan to serve it.

As Good As Expensive Candles

The wonderful smells that fill your kitchen as the cake bakes and the glazes simmer on your stove will make your mouth water — I’m talking “Yankee candle” aroma!  The tang of the apple flavor is what makes this version so good.  I’d put an apple cider cake in the same category as a coffee cake because it would work well at the breakfast table or as a treat to serve at other times of the day.

Three squares of apple cider with cider molasses drizzle.

This apple cider cake calls to mind quiet, afternoons spent on the sofa under a cozy afghan, reading a book (or indulging in the guilty pleasure of a Hallmark Channel movie), with a cup of tea and a plate of this scrumptious cake at your elbow.  As I’m typing this, I’m enjoying a cup of Chai tea and a small square of cake, while listening to Rhiannon Giddens on Pandora.

Pure fall bliss!

Tantalizing and Tart Apple Cider Cake

Tantalizing and Tart Apple Cider Cake

Yield: 9-16 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Bake Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time (for second glaze): 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes

If you aren’t a fan of regular spice cake, this apple cider cake might be the one that changes your mind!  It’s full of tart apple flavor that comes from apple cider mix, apple juice, and applesauce.  There are two kinds of glaze for this cake.  Make one or both to use -- the choice is up to you.  What’s certain is this is the kind of cake that doesn’t have any leftovers at gatherings!  Add this to your fall food lineup for the holidays or as a seasonal treat to enjoy at home.

Ingredients

  • For Cake
  • 1 ½ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 package apple cider mix
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons apple juice
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened applesauce
  • For 1st Glaze (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 5 tablespoons apple juice
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 2 packages apple cider mix
  • For 2nd Glaze (optional)
  • 5 tablespoons apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 package apple cider mix

Instructions

  1. Grease a 9x9 baking pan and set aside.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and apple cider mix.
  3. Add ground cinnamon and set aside.
  4. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, and apple juice with an electric mixer until well-combined.
  5. Add the egg and beat on medium high until the mixture is pale and fluffy.
  6. Gradually add dry ingredients, mixing well on low speed before adding the next batch.  Combine well.
  7. Add applesauce and mix until well-combined.
  8. Pour cake batter into the prepared baking pan and use a spatula to spread evenly.
  9. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick or skewer comes out clean from the center.

Glaze Option 1: Soaking Glaze

  1. To make the first glaze, add butter and apple juice to a small saucepan.
  2. Melt the butter into the juice over medium-low heat.
  3. Mix in the packages of apple cider mix and brown sugar
  4. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Allow the glaze to cool before pouring over the cake, spreading so that it completely covers the cake.
  6. Let the cake cool and soak up the glaze.

Glaze Option 2: Drizzling Glaze

  1. To make the second glaze, combine apple juice, molasses, corn syrup, and a package of apple cider mix in a small saucepan.
  2. Mix well and bring to a boil over medium-low heat.
  3. Reduce the heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes.
  4. Let the glaze cool to syrup consistency and use a spoon to drizzle over plated cake servings.
Piinterest image for Apple Cider Cake.

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