Whoever thought of putting caramel and apples together was a flavor genius. I just love the sweet and salty complexity a good homemade caramel adds to apples (and apple-flavored things!), so as soon as I perfected this apple spice cake recipe, I knew I had to pair it with salted caramel buttercream and turn it into an caramel apple masterpiece! It’s become such a Fall classic in our household that I make it every year as soon as the leaves start changing colors.
First, let’s talk about this apple spice cake, because it’s the foundation of all this flavor. It’s made with unsweetened applesauce to give it a rich apple flavor and make it ultra-moist. Combining the apple flavor with the cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg not only gives this cake the perfect spice, it also makes your kitchen smell amazing as it’s baking! There’s nothing more cozy than the aroma of this cake in the oven, especially on a picturesque Fall day.
Next, let’s talk about all this salted caramel tastiness. It all starts with this homemade salted caramel recipe. It’s such a versatile consistency of caramel that you’ll be using it to dip the apple cake topper, drip the sides of the cake, and whip it up into salted caramel buttercream for filling! It’s one of my favorite Fall staples. I like to use the time that the cakes are baking in the oven to make the caramel, because it needs to cool completely to room temperature before using it in buttercream, dipping apples, etc. The cool thing is, it’s a super easy recipe that only involves four ingredients and about 20 minutes of your time.
Once your homemade caramel is cooled to room temperature, you’ll be ready to make the salted caramel buttercream. I like to fill and crumb coat the cake with salted caramel buttercream and then mask the cake (aka frost the final buttercream layer) with vanilla buttercream, just so I can use even more salted caramel for garnish. You can totally skip the vanilla buttercream mask by making a double batch of the salted caramel buttercream for filling and frosting the cake, it all just depends on how much you love caramel. It pairs so well with this cake that you can totally get creative with the final presentation and mix things up a bit!
For my final cake presentation, I garnished the bottom edges with chopped almonds, then dripped the cake with salted caramel before placing a caramel apple on top. The goal here was to make it look like the caramel apple was dripping down the sides of the cake. Here’s a quick video to show you the process:
The dripping caramel apple design is an easy and intentional way to represent the cake flavors, but you can feel free to decorate however you want! The flavors of this cake are so autumnal and beautiful that you could do something even more simple and let the flavors speak for themselves. However you decorate, I hope this recipe becomes as much of a Fall tradition for you as it has for me!
Salted Caramel Apple Cake
An ultra-moist apple spice cake paired with salted caramel buttercream filling, then topped with vanilla buttercream, dripping salted caramel, and chopped almonds. A Fall classic!
Apple Spice Cake
- 3 1/2 Cups (460g) all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp allspice
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 1/2 cups (339g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup (162g) packed brown sugar
- 1 1/2 cups (300g) granulated white sugar
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 3 1/2 cups (840ml) unsweetened applesauce
Homemade Salted Caramel
- 1 1/2 cup (300g) granulated white sugar
- 9 Tbsp (128g) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into cubes
- 3/4 cup (180ml) heavy whipping cream, room temperature
- 1 3/4 tsp kosher salt
Salted Caramel Buttercream Filling
- 1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 4 cups (480g) powdered sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (120ml) homemade salted caramel recipe above
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
Vanilla Buttercream Topping
- 1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3 1/2 cups (420g) powdered sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 Tbsp whole milk or heavy whipping cream, room temperature
- pinch of salt, or to taste
- 1 medium apple
- 1/2 cup chopped almonds
Make The Apple Spice Cake
Preheat the oven to 350ºF and prepare three 8-inch or four 6-inch cake pans by spraying the sides with cooking spray and fitting the bottoms with a wax or parchment paper circle. Whisk together all of the dry ingredients and set them aside.
Cream the butter on high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the brown and white sugars and continue to beat on high for 3 more minutes, scraping down the bowl and paddle once in between. Add the eggs one at a time, then turn the mixer to medium for one full minute.
Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the applesauce, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. When it just begins to come together after the last flour addition, turn off the mixer and give it a few stirs by hand to make sure everything is incorporated. The batter will be thick.
Pour cake batter amongst three 6-inch cake pans (fill to 2/3 full) and smooth the tops, then bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let the cakes cool completely before filling and frosting.
Make The Homemade Salted Caramel
Have everything pre-measured and ready to go (you’ll be constantly stirring). Place the sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, until it melts into an amber-colored liquid and no sugar clumps remain, 6-8 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium. Carefully add the butter (it will bubble up when you do) and use a whisk to combine it with the sugar mixture until the butter is fully melted and incorporated, 1-2 minutes.
Add the heavy whipping cream in a steady stream while whisking. As soon as the cream is incorporated, let the caramel boil for a full minute before removing it from the heat and stirring in the salt.
Let the caramel cool completely to room temperature before using it in a buttercream recipe, dipping a caramel apple, or dripping the cake. It will thicken as it cools.
Make The Salted Caramel Buttercream
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter on high until it’s fluffy and light (almost white in color), 5-6 minutes, scraping down the bowl and paddle a few times in between. Turn the mixer to low and add the powdered sugar a few cups at a time, scraping down the bowl and paddle after each interval. Add the vanilla.
With the mixer still on low, add the salted caramel. Add a pinch of salt, increase the speed to medium, and mix for 2 full minutes.
Make The Vanilla Buttercream
With a hand mixer or paddle attachment on your stand mixer, cream the butter on medium-high until it’s creamy and light (almost white) in color. About 7 minutes.
Add the sifted powdered sugar, one cup at a time, scraping down after each addition and making sure each cup is fully incorporated before adding the next one. Add vanilla, milk, and salt and mix on medium-low for another two minutes until fully incorporated.
Fill and crumb coat the Apple Spice Cake layers with Salted Caramel Buttercream, then place in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes before frosting a final layer with Vanilla Buttercream. Garnish the bottom edge of the cake with chopped almonds, then place the cake back into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to chill before moving on to the next steps.
While the cake is chilling, pour the remaining Homemade Salted Caramel into a small bowl. Insert a popsicle or cookie stick into the apple and dip it into the caramel, coating it thoroughly. Let the excess caramel drip off of the apple and then set it onto a sheet of wax paper, then place it into the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes to set.
To create the caramel drip effect, first do a test drip on the chilled cake with room temperature salted caramel. If it's too thick, microwave it in 15 second bursts to bring it to perfect drip consistency without heating it too much. Drip the sides of the cake with salted caramel and partially fill in the top before topping with the caramel apple. Garnish with more chopped almonds on top of the cake and apple.
Make Ahead Notes: The cake layers can be made ahead and stored, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature for up to two days. Alternatively, you can store the wrapped cake layers in the freezer for up to 2 months before thawing and frosting.
The Homemade Salted Caramel can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When you're ready to use it, reheat it in the microwave in 15 second intervals until it reaches room temperature.
Both of the buttercream recipes can be made ahead and stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When you're ready to use them, bring them back to room temperature and re-whip each in your stand mixer to bring back to smooth buttercream consistency.
What are some of your favorite Fall flavors? Besides caramel apple, I love a good Chai Latte and am hoping to incorporate those tasty flavors into a cake and/or cupcakes SOON! In the meantime, if you make this caramel apple cake, I’d love to know how you like it. Tag me on Instagram or let me know in the comments below!