Irish Apple Cake is a light and tender vanilla spice cake with a crunchy sugar topping that's loaded with tart, crisp apples.
Corned beef and cabbage with Mustard Sauce and THIS cake are on the must-bake list at our house every year on St. Patrick's Day. But honestly, we love this cake so much that I make it year-round. Serve this cake with creamy vanilla custard sauce or buttery whisky sauce.
What is Irish Apple Cake?
Irish Apple Cake is a soft vanilla cake that's subtly sweet, packed with apples, and gently flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
There is some variation in what's considered a "classic" Irish apple cake. Here's what you can expect from this recipe:
- Tall, thick slices of vanilla cake flavored with a hint of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves
- A LOT of tart, crisp apples
- A crunchy, sugary topping that's the perfect contrast to the soft vanilla cake and tart apples (it's my favorite part of this cake!)
The cake is traditionally served with custard sauce (crème anglaise), but whiskey sauce is also a delicious choice.
Ingredients Needed to Prepare this Recipe
- All-purpose flour
- Baking soda and baking powder work together to help the cake rise while it bakes and give it a light, tender texture.
- Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla give this cake a delicious warm flavor that's the perfect complement to the tart apples.
- Granny Smith apples or a similar variety of tart apples. It's important to use tart, crisp apples in this cake.
- Butter. Using unsalted butter gives you more control over the amount of salt in your cake, but I have made this cake many times with salted butter and can say with confidence that both salted and unsalted butter works equally well.
- Vegetable or canola oil. A bit of oil keeps this cake moist and tender.
- White granulated sugar.
- Buttermilk adds flavor and works with the baking soda to ensure a soft and tender texture.
- Pure vanilla extract.
Step-by-Step Photos and Instructions
Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to a large bowl and stir to combine. Peel, core, and chop the apples into bite-size pieces and toss them with the flour to coat.
Separate the eggs so that you have 2 egg yolks in one bowl and 4 egg whites in a separate bowl.
Beat the butter, oil, and sugar with an electric mixer for about a minute.
Add the egg yolks, buttermilk, and vanilla and beat for about a minute more.
Scrape the batter into the bowl with the apples and flour and use a spoon to stir everything together.
The batter will be very, very thick. Don't worry! That's how it's supposed to be. Just keep stirring until all the dry ingredients are moistened.
Either clean out the bowl of the electric mixer you've been using or use a handheld mixer to beat the egg whites with a bit more sugar until they are thick enough to hold their shape when you lift the beater from the bowl.
Very gently, fold the beaten egg whites into the cake batter, stirring just until the egg whites are about 90% incorporated.
Scoop the batter into a 10-inch springform pan. It's important to coat the inside of the pan with butter or vegetable shortening and flour before adding the batter so the cake won't stick. Here's how to prepare a pan to prevent the cake from sticking.
Mix a couple of tablespoons of sugar with a bit of nutmeg and sprinkle it over the top of the cake.
The cake is now ready to bake! For most people the cake will take 50-60 minutes to bake but if yours is taking longer, don't worry about it! The bake time is largely dependent on how juicy your apples are.
To test that the cake is done, insert a toothpick in the center and remove it. If there is no raw batter on the toothpick the cake is ready to be removed from the oven. Set the cake on a wire rack and allow it to cool before removing the sides of the springform pan.
Tips for a Moist and Tender Cake
- Be very careful to not overwork the batter. To bake a cake with a soft and fluffy texture, stir the flour gently into the batter by hand. Be sure to mix only long enough to combine the ingredients and moisten all of the flour.
- Use buttermilk instead of milk. I like the subtle tang the buttermilk gives to the cake. Buttermilk also reacts with the baking soda to create an even lighter and more tender crumb.
- For a tall, fluffy cake that comes out of the pan easily, bake this cake in a springform pan. The removable sides of a springform pan is tall enough to contain a lot of apple-packed cake batter and make it super easy to remove the cake from the pan.
How to Serve Irish Apple Cake
Serve this cake with vanilla custard sauce or whisky sauce.
Custard sauce, also known as crème anglaise, is basically unfrozen vanilla ice cream. It's a thin sauce, not thick like pudding. The sauce soaks right into the tender cake creating a texture that's almost like bread pudding. SO GOOD.
Also, custard sauce is a cinch to make and will keep in your refrigerator for about 2 weeks. If you have some left over after the apple cake is eaten and gone, drizzle it on pretty much any other pie, cake, or brownie. Or, stir in some cream and pour it into an ice cream maker to make vanilla ice cream.
Irish Apple Cake is also absolutely delicious drenched in spoonfuls of buttery Whisky Sauce.
Honestly, there are few desserts that can't be improved with a drizzle of whisky sauce. Making the sauce is super easy, requiring a small handful of ingredients and about 20 minutes of your time.
Whisky Sauce will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks, but if it actually lasts that long in your house, you've got considerably more willpower than I do. 😊
Irish Apple Cake FAQs
Yes - IF the pan is large enough. Use a 10-inch cake pan with 3-inch tall sides or a 9 x 13 rectangle baking pan. Grease and flour the inside of the pan and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. (Here's how to prepare cake pans so the cake will not stick.)
It's important to use tart, crisp apples in this cake. I used Granny Smith, but any variety of tart apple will do. Tart apples hold their shape and will retain a bit of crunch even after baking which is really delicious in this cake.
It can be a bit challenging knowing exactly when this cake is done baking. The water content of apples can vary quite a bit. So, be flexible with the timing.
In my oven, Irish Apple Cake takes approximately 56 minutes. In yours, it might take a few minutes less, or a few minutes more.
To test for doneness, poke a toothpick into the cake in a few different place to check for evidence of uncooked batter. Because the cake is super moist, you might have some cake crumbs clinging to the toothpick, which is perfectly fine. But, if you see any batter on the toothpick, keep baking for a while longer.
At room temperature, this cake will keep well for up to 2 days. If you refrigerate the cake, it will keep well for up to 5 days. Store the cake in a covered container or wrapped with plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out.
The Best Part of this Cake is the Crunchy, Sugary Top
Right before baking, Irish Apple Cake is sprinkled with sugar, creating a thin, crackly layer that is a delicious contrast to the soft, tender cake. Irish Apple Cake is also sometimes baked with a streusel topping which is also delicious! But, I prefer the sugar and nutmeg topping.
I baked this cake yesterday in a completely empty house. It was a challenge to not pick off that sugary layer and eat it before my family got home because it's my favorite part!
Don't worry. I didn't. They all got slices of cake with the sugary topping still intact. Lucky for them, I can occasionally summon some restraint.
More Delicious Apple Recipes
- Caramel Apple Pie
- Apple Cake with Cider Buttercream and Chocolate Ganache
- Apple Cobbler with Chewy Cookie Topping
- Apple Cinnamon Pancakes
- Bakery Style Apple Fritters with Maple Glaze
- Saucy Apple Slab Pie with Crumb Topping
- Apple Cinnamon Muffins with Streusel
- Easy Homemade Apple Butter
If you give this recipe a try, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, or take a picture and tag it #ofbatteranddough on Instagram.
For the cake:
- 3 cups (360 grams) all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon table salt (1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt)
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon cloves
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 pounds Granny Smith apples (4 large or 6 medium apples; about 6 cups chopped apples), or a similar variety of tart apples
- 2 whole large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 large egg whites (reserve the yolks for the custard sauce), at room temperature
- 1 stick (4 ounces/ 113 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
- ¼ cup (50 grams) vegetable or canola oil
- ¾ cup (150 grams) plus 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar, divided
- ¾ cup buttermilk, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- For the Sugar topping: 2 tablespoon (25 grams) granulated sugar + ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
For the custard sauce:
- 1 ¾ cups (397 grams) whole milk
- ½ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Make the Cake:
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (176 degrees C). Butter a 10-inch spring form pan and fit the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper and then shake flour around in the pan to coat the inside of the pan completely. Shake out the excess flour and set aside.
- Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to a large bowl and stir with a wire whisk to combine. (*See note)
- Peel and core the apples, and then chop them into chunky bite-size pieces, about the size you’d want if adding them to a fruit salad. Add the chopped apples to the flour mixture and stir to combine. Set aside.
- Separate the eggs so that you have 2 egg yolks in one bowl and 4 egg whites in a separate bowl. (Here's how to separate eggs.)
- Use an electric mixer to beat the butter, oil, and ¾ cup (150 grams) of sugar on medium-high speed for 1 minute. Add the egg yolks, buttermilk, and vanilla and beat for 1 minute longer.
- Scrape the batter into the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula just until all the ingredients are combined and all the dry ingredients are moistened.
- Clean the mixing bowl and beaters of your electric mixer. Then use the electric mixer to beat the egg whites until they are foamy. (Or, use a handheld mixer.) With the mixer running, sprinkle in 2 tablespoons (25 grams) of granulated sugar. Continue beating until stiff peaks form (when you lift the beaters from the egg whites they form a peak that holds its shape). Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter, stirring gently just until combined. Be careful to not over mix. It’s ok to have a few streaks of egg white in the batter.
- Scrape the batter into your prepared pan. Combine 2 tablespoons (25 grams) of sugar with ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg and sprinkle the mixture evenly across the top of the cake batter.
- Bake the cake in the center of the oven for 50-60 minutes. To test for doneness, poke a toothpick into a few different places on the cake and inspect it for evidence of raw batter.
- Remove the cake from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack before removing the sides of the pan.
Make the Custard Sauce:
- Pour the milk into a heavy-bottomed medium-size saucepan and cook over medium heat until bubbles appear along the edges of the pan.
- While the milk is heating, beat the sugar and egg yolks with an electric mixer until the mixture is thickened slightly and pale yellow, about 3 or 4 minutes. Beat in the cornstarch.
- With the mixer running, gradually pour the heated milk into the egg yolks in a thin steady stream. Stop the mixer halfway through pouring in the milk to quickly scrape down the sides of the bowl. Resume beating at medium speed to slowly add the remaining milk.
- Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula, until the sauce thickens enough to coat the spoon with a light, creamy layer. Do not let the mixture come close to boiling. The maximum temperature it reaches should be 170 degrees.
- Strain the sauce into a bowl through a fine mesh strainer and stir in the vanilla. Cover and refrigerate. Custard sauce can be served over Irish Apple Cake either warm or cold and will keep for 2 weeks, covered in the refrigerator.
- This cake is also delicious served with whisky sauce instead of, or in addition to, the custard sauce.
- Be sure to use a large mixing bowl for this batter. The batter for this cake is made by continuing to add more of the ingredients to the same bowl you use to mix the flour and spices. By the end, you'll have a lot of batter in that bowl, so it's important to use a large one.
- Irish Apple Cake will keep well at room temperature, covered, for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Nutrition information is for the cake only and does not include the custard sauce or whisky sauce.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: ⅛th of the cake
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 536Total Fat: 21gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 101mgSodium: 539mgCarbohydrates: 78gFiber: 5gSugar: 37gProtein: 9g