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The Best Fall Harvest Apple Cake Recipe

Vespa's recipes have appeared in "Midwest Living" and "Taste of Home." She belongs to Cook's Recipe Testers for "Cook's Illustrated."

Apple cake made with whole wheat pastry flour

Apple cake made with whole wheat pastry flour

Apples, Apples Everywhere!

Some of my favorite fall activities are hayrides, collecting leaves, and picking apples. A trip to the local orchard is often an all-day affair where we enjoy picking bushels of shiny apples, guzzling icy apple cider, and sampling warm apple cake.

The orchard's apple cake is one of my favorites. I wait all year for the chance to sink my teeth into a warm slice of heaven. Moist and bursting with chunks of apple, it's hard to eat just one piece. This is my version of that wonderful cake. It's a great way to use up all those shiny red treasures you brought home from the orchard.

You can bake the cake in a bundt pan, although I prefer to use my 9x13 inch glass pan. It's a great dessert to make for a picnic crowd or a gathering for your children. You can make the cake with or without the streusel topping, although we always enjoy the crunchy, buttery topping.

My favorite apple here in Peru is called the Israel apple. It's a sweet-tart version that's perfect for eating or baking. Similar ones in the U.S. would be Jonathan, McIntosh, or Fuji. You could also try a tart, firm ones such as Granny Smith.

Serve the warm cake with a cold glass of milk, a piping-hot mug of coffee, or soul-warming spiced cider. Enjoy!


  • Any variety of apple will work in this recipe, but we prefer sweet-tart varieties such as Jonathan or McIntosh.
  • Be sure to use ripe apples. Unripe, hard apples won't tenderize as well in the oven.
  • Use real butter, not margarine, for the best flavor.
  • For a healthier version of this cake, substitute whole wheat pastry flour for the unbleached flour and raw sugar for the white.
  • For a lower sugar cake, omit the streusel topping and reduce sugar to half a cup.
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Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

30 min

40 min

1 hour 10 min

1 large sheet cake


  • 3 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 cups apple, peeled, cored and diced
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
  • 1 cup brown sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a 9x13 inch rectangular pan.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar with an electric mixer on high for 5 minutes. Add butter and blend. Stir ground cinnamon into the chopped apples.
  4. Add flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Add vanilla and fold apples into the batter. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  5. Pour 1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 cup butter, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon into a small bowl.
  6. Using a pastry blender, combine the ingredients until they resemble small peas. Sprinkle over batter.
  7. Bake for 40–50 minutes until a tester toothpick comes out clean.
  8. Let the cake cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.
  9. Serve warm cake with a tall glass of milk or a mug of spiced cider. Enjoy!
Dice the apples

Dice the apples

Mix it all together

Mix it all together

Are You Going to Pick the Apples From an Orchard?

Here are some tips I recommend if you're going to go pick your own apples.

  • Go Organic, If Possible: Do research before choosing an apple orchard. The closest orchard isn't always the best. Find out whether the orchard is organic, conventional, or low-spray. You don't want your family exposed to harmful pesticides.
  • Make Sure They Have the Apples You Want: Call the orchard ahead of time and ask for their apple picking schedule. Different varieties of apples are ready to pick at different times of the fall season.
  • You Might Need to Bring Lunch: Ask if food is available for purchase. If not, be sure to pack a picnic lunch. Take along a cooler so you can safely transport any perishable items that might be available for sale at the orchard, such as berries.
  • Protect Yourself: Whether or not the day is sunny, be sure to pack a hat and sunglasses. After all, picking apples means you'll need to look up, perhaps toward the sun, in order to find the best ones. It is also a good idea to bring along reusable bags to pack the fruit in. And if you have a baby, bring along the stroller. Carrying a baby and a heavy bag will quickly wear you out!
  • Don't Expect Perfect Produce: And remember, if you choose to pick organic apples, they won't look perfect like the shiny, flavorless apples often sold in supermarkets. Savor the fact that you can bite into an apple right from the tree and enjoy the security of knowing they are free of harmful pesticides that could hurt your family.
  • Pick Ample Apples: If you enjoy baking, be sure to pick enough apples for this delicious cake, apple butter, applesauce, and apple pancakes. You won't regret it!

© 2014 Vespa Woolf

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