This 3-layer Apple Cider Cake is bursting with the sweet-tart flavor of crisp apples. The cake includes concentrated Apple Cider Syrup and shredded sour apples for a double hit of apple flavor and enough cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice to make you feel all warm and cozy.
Fill and frost the layers of apple cake with Apple Cider Buttercream and then cover the whole thing with a drippy, bittersweet blanket of Dark Chocolate Ganache.
And, what's the best way to decorate an apple cake? With apple roses, of course! I'll show you an easy method for making them.
As a child, I have very clear memories of standing in front of a chocolate shop bakery case trying to decide which of the giant caramel apples I wanted. Inevitably, I'd select one covered in chocolate.
That combination of flavors and textures is still one of my favorites. The tart crunch of an apple coated in rich caramel and bittersweet chocolate was irresistible.
That's what I was chasing when I stepped into the kitchen to create this apple cider cake. What I soon discovered is that it's actually quite difficult to bake a cake with a strong apple flavor. A combination of concentrated apple cider and shredded apples was the solution and a thick layer of apple cider buttercream and chocolate ganache is the perfect finish.
Ingredients Needed to Prepare This Recipe
- Apple cider. To make this cake, boil 1.5 liters of apple cider until it's reduced to just 1 cup. See below for my recommendation about what brand of apple cider to use.
- Brown sugar. Feel free to use either light or dark brown sugar in this cake, both of which contribute a delicious caramaly flavor to the batter.
- Butter! This is an all-butter cake and between the batter and the buttercream, you'll need a LOT of butter. I promise you'll have no regrets. Also, I recommend using unsalted butter so you have more control over the amount of salt in both the cake and the buttercream.
- Flavorings: Orange zest, vanilla extract, and almond extract work together to create a warm, rich flavor in this cake.
- Spices: ground cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg
- All-purpose flour. Preferably unbleached.
- Salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
- Granny Smith apples. Macintosh apples also work well. The important thing is to use apples that are tart and crisp.
- Lemon juice. Tossing the shredded apples in a bit of fresh lemon juice gives them a brighter, more tart flavor that's the perfect compliment to the sweet cake batter. And, the little bit of extra acidity from the lemon juice helps this cake bake up with a soft, tender texture.
- Heavy cream. Cream is used in both the cider buttercream and to make chocolate ganache.
- Powdered (confectioners) sugar. Powdered sugar dissolves completely into butter for the smoothest, creamiest apple cider buttercream.
- Bittersweet chocolate that's at least 70% dark, and up to 85% extra dark.
- A few red apples to make apple roses.
It's very important to choose high-quality ingredients for this cake if you want the best possible flavor.
My favorite apple cider is Martinelli's. Not only is it flavorful and delicious, but it's also relatively easy to find in most major supermarkets, or you can order it on Amazon.
For the chocolate ganache, I almost always use Lindt. I order bars of Lindt Milk Chocolate, 70% Dark, 85% Dark, and 90% Dark in bulk, and store them in the freezer so that I always have the right kind of chocolate on hand for whatever I'm baking.
How To Bake a Cake with an Intense Apple Flavor
Like most fruit, apples are largely water. So, if you add a lot of apples to the cake's batter, you also end up adding a lot of water. Too much water weakens both the flavor and the structure of a cake.
So, if adding a lot of apples isn't the way to bake a cake with an intense apple flavor, what is? I thought that adding some apple cider might work... but, once again, didn't want to water down the batter.
The solution? Reduce the apple cider into thick apple cider syrup!
The apple cider syrup has a deliciously concentrated, tart apple flavor that goes a long way, boosting the flavor of the cake and the buttercream without watering everything down. Here's what you do:
- Pour a large 1.5 liter jug of apple cider into a skillet and let it boil until it's reduced to just 1 cup.
- Use half of the apple cider syrup in the cake batter and reserve the other half to make apple cider buttercream.
Grated Apples is the Secret to a Moist, Fluffy Cake
Besides flavoring this cake with concentrated apple cider, I also wanted to include fresh apples.
The problem with adding chunks of apples to cake batter is that you can end up with a slightly gummy texture around each chunk of apple. To ensure a fluffy, even texture, I decided to grate the apples.
Grating the apples not only allows you to evenly incorporate the apples throughout the batter, it prevents the watery, slightly mushy areas of cake that chunks of apples can create. The result is a supremely moist cake with a tender, fluffy crumb.
Apple Cake Decoration: How to Make Apple Roses
I wanted to decorate this cake with something that would leave no doubt that it's an apple cake, and couldn't be happier with the little bouquet of apple roses.
Apple roses are surprisingly simple to make. Simply slice a few apples, dunk them in a pot of boiling sugar water, drain, and roll up into sweet little rose buds.
Remove the core from an apple by slicing one half away from the core, then the other.
Remove and discard the apple core.
Working with one apple half at a time, slice it into thin ¼-inch slices.
You can do this with a sharp knife, but the easiest tool to use is a mandolin.
Drop the apple slices into a pot of boiling sugar water, allow them to cook for just a few seconds, then pour them into a colander to drain.
This quick soak in hot sugar water softens the apples and keeps them from browning.
Blot the apple slices with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture and then lay three slices on a work surface so they overlap.
Then simply roll them up.
Place the apple rose buds onto the top of the cake or cupcakes as you create them, pressing them into the soft ganache, which will hold them in place.
It's important to have the blanched apple slices ready to be rolled into rose buds BEFORE pouring the ganache over the cake or cupcakes. If you wait too long, the ganache will start to harden, making it difficult to press the rose buds into it.
Make Ahead and Storage Tips
The layers of apple cake, or cupcakes, can be kept tightly wrapped at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Or, freeze the cake layers for up to 3 months.
The apple cider buttercream can also be prepared up to 2 days in advance or frozen for up to 3 months. Store the buttercream in a covered container. If frozen, allow the buttercream to thaw in the refrigerator overnight. The buttercream will not spread if it's cold, so allow cold buttercream to come to room temperature and re-beat for a minute or two before using.
Once frosted with cider buttercream, the cake (or cupcakes) can be loosely covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. However, the chocolate ganache and apple roses should be prepared and added to the cake the same day you are serving the cake, preferably within 6 hours.
More Popular Apple Recipes
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For the Apple Cake:
- 1.5 liter (50 ounces/ 1.6 quart) Apple Cider
- 1 ½ cups (319 grams) packed brown sugar, light or dark
- 16 tablespoon (8 ounces/ 226 grams) ) unsalted butter, melted
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 3 ¾ cups (450 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons table salt, or 2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 semi-packed cups shredded Granny Smith apples that have been peeled and cored (about 1 ½ pounds/ 680 grams) *See Note.
For the Apple Cider Buttercream:
- 3 sticks (24 tablespoons/ 12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¼ teaspoon table salt (Or, ½ teaspoon kosher salt)
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ½ cup apple cider reduction, at room temperature (reserved from step #2 in cake recipe instructions)
- 4–5 cups (455 - 570 grams) powdered sugar
For the Chocolate Ganache:
- 6 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, at least 70% dark and up to 85% extra dark
- ¾ cup (170 grams) heavy whipping cream
- ¼ teaspoon salt
For the Apple Roses (optional, for decoration):
- 3 red apples
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- mint leaves for decoration (optional)
Make the Apple Cake or Cupcakes:
- Grease three 8-inch round cake pans with vegetable shortening or butter. Line the bottoms with a round of parchment paper and coat the paper in a bit of vegetable shortening or butter. Coat the inside of the pans with flour. (Here's how to prevent cakes from sticking.) If making cupcakes, line a couple of muffin pans with paper liners. *This recipe will make a total of 36 cupcakes.
- If making cake layers: preheat the oven to 325° F ( 162° C) If making cupcakes: preheat the oven to 350° F (176° C).
- Pour the apple cider into a 12-inch skillet (or larger) and set it over medium-high heat. Let the cider boil until it’s reduced to 1 cup (8 ounces). Towards the end, the cider will begin to reduce very quickly, so keep a close eye on it, pouring it into a measuring cup from time to time to measure.
- Pour ½ cup (4 ounces) of the cider reduction into a medium size bowl. Add the brown sugar and butter, and stir to combine. Let sit until cooled to room temperature. Reserve the remaining ½ cup (4 ounces) of cider reduction for the Apple Cider Buttercream.
- Once cool, add the eggs, orange zest, vanilla, and almond extract to the cider and brown sugar mixture. Stir vigorously with a wire whisk to combine, whisking until smooth.
- In a separate bowl, add the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. Stir to combine.
- Add the lemon juice to a separate bowl and stir in the shredded apples, tossing them around in the lemon juice to coat.
- Add the cider and sugar mixture and the shredded apples to the flour mixture and stir to combine – stirring just long enough so that all the dry ingredients are moistened and the mixture is homogenous.
- Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans or cupcake pans.
If baking cake layers: bake for 35-40 minutes, until the cakes are pulling away from the sides of the pans, and a toothpick stuck in the center of one of the layers comes out without any evidence of raw batter. If baking cupcakes: bake for 23-25 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in the center of one of the layers comes out without any evidence of raw batter.
Make the Apple Cider Buttercream:
- Add all the buttercream ingredients to the bowl of a Stand Mixer, starting with just 3 cups of powdered sugar. (You can also use a hand mixer.) Beat on medium-high speed until completely blended and smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl from time to time.
- Continue to beat in as much more powdered sugar as you need to create a thick frosting that’s stiff enough to hold its shape. If using it to fill layers of cake, it should be fairly stiff so that the cake layers don’t slip around when stacked.
- Ice the cake or cupcakes with the buttercream, spreading it in between each layer of cake, and covering the top and sides of the cake. Place the iced cake or cupcakes in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before topping with Chocolate Ganache.
For the Chocolate Ganache:
- Chop the chocolate into very small pieces and put in a bowl.
Heat the cream just until bubbles begin to appear around the sides of the pan – you want to heat it right up to the boiling point, but do not let it come to a full boil.
- Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand for 2 minutes to melt the chocolate. Stir until all the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth. Stir in the salt. (*If the chocolate isn’t completely melted after stirring for a few minutes, set the bowl over a small saucepan of boiling water and stir just until all the chocolate is melted – be careful to not overheat or the chocolate will burn.)
- Let the ganache cool to room temperature, stirring it from time to time. This will take about 20 minutes. Do not try and cool it faster by placing it in the refrigerator. Doing so will result in a ganache that is goopy and does not pour smoothly.
- Remove the cake from the refrigerator and pour the chocolate ganache over the top of the cake, letting some of it drip over the sides. If making cupcakes, spoon about a tablespoon of ganache over the top of each buttercream frosted cupcake.
Make the Apple Roses:
- Have the blanched apple slices ready before pouring the chocolate ganache over the top of the cake. You want the chocolate to be soft when placing the chocolate roses into the ganache. *See the video and step-by-step instructions with photos above this recipe.
- Slice 3 red-skinned apples in half, cutting around the core. Using a sharp knife or mandolin, cut each half into ¼ inch slices.
- Add the sugar and three cups of water to a large saucepan. Set it over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the apple slices to the boiling sugar water all at once and stir gently. When the water comes back up to a rolling boil, remove the pan from the heat and drain the apple slices in a colander set in the sink.
- Let cool slightly then lay the apple slices out on a paper towel, blotting them with another paper towel to remove any excess moisture.
- Lay 2 or 3 slices of apple on a work surface in a horizontal line so that their edges overlap. Roll the apple slices up into a rosebud and place them into the freshly poured chocolate ganache. Repeat to create as many apple roses as you like.
- If using, press mint leaves into the ganache next to the rosebuds.
The cake can be kept at room temperature for a few hours until ready to serve. *See notes below on storage and make-ahead instructions.
What are the best kind of apples to use in this cake?
It’s important to use tart, crisp apples for this cake. Granny Smith is my top choice but Macintosh also works well. I use my food processor to shred the apples; a box grater will work as well. Cut the apples into quarters then peel and core each quarter before shredding.
What kind of chocolate is best to make chocolate ganache?
It’s good to use very dark chocolate in the ganache for this cake in order to prevent the cake from becoming overly sweet. Chocolate that’s at least 70% dark is preferred, and I usually reach for 85% dark. When poured over the top of the cake, very dark chocolate ganache provides a nice balance to the sweetness of the buttercream.
How to Store Apple Cake
The layers of apple cake, or cupcakes, can be kept tightly wrapped at room temperature for up to 2 days. The apple cider buttercream can also be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Store the buttercream in a covered container in the refrigerator. Allow the buttercream time to come to room temperature and re-beat for a minute or two before using. The cake (or cupcakes) can be frosted and stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. The chocolate ganache and apple roses should be prepared and added to the cake the same day you are serving the cake.
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OXO Good Grips Hand-Held Mandoline Slicer
KitchenAid 6 Qt. Professional 600 Series Bowl-Lift Stand Mixer
NutriChef Non-stick Carbon Steel Muffin Pans
Wilton Aluminum Round Cake Pan, 8 x 3-Inch
Cuisinart Nonstick Hard-Anodized 12-Inch Skillet
OXO Good Grips Box Grater
Cuisinart 14-Cup Food Processor
Lindt Excellence 85% Cocoa Dark Chocolate 4-3.5oz bars
Lindt Excellence Bar, 70% Cocoa Smooth Dark Chocolate, 3.5 Ounce (Pack of 12)
Martinelli's Apple Cider, 50.7 oz
Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 799Total Fat: 16gSaturated Fat: 10gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 65mgSodium: 317mgCarbohydrates: 207gFiber: 4gSugar: 237gProtein: 6g