This ultra moist and fluffy applesauce cake is made with unsweetened applesauce for lots of apple flavor, plus four different spices for added warmth and depth of flavor. The brown butter cream cheese frosting on top is the perfect finishing touch!
Applesauce is a favorite baking hack of mine for replacing some of the oil in a dessert to prevent it from being too greasy. But using applesauce in a cake as the star ingredient is something I’ve only recently tried!
This applesauce cake is reminiscent of my spice cake. It’s packed with warming spices and brown sugar for layers of flavor, but the abundance of applesauce in the batter imparts a delicate apple flavor that classic spice cake lacks.
Although the cake would taste delicious with regular cream cheese frosting, I opted to brown the butter before adding it to the frosting. Browned butter is incredibly rich, with a slightly nutty flavor. It takes just a few extra minutes to prepare, and the results are bakery-worthy!
The ingredients needed for this cake are pantry staples I always have on hand. I’ve provided a full ingredient list with measurements in the recipe card below, but here’s an overview of the key items you’ll need:
- Applesauce: It’s best to stick with an unsweetened applesauce for this recipe. If you can only find applesauce with added sugar, just reduce the granulated sugar by 2 to 3 tablespoons.
- Spices: The batter is infused with ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. I think the flavor is perfectly balanced in this recipe, but you may add even more spices if desired.
- Sugar: I used a mixture of granulated sugar and brown sugar in the batter. Granulated sugar adds a neutral sweetness, while the brown sugar adds more moisture and flavor to the cake.
- Oil: Applesauce keeps the cake incredibly moist as is, but you also need a little oil to ensure the perfect texture. I recommend a neutral oil, like canola or vegetable.
- Butter: You’ll want unsalted butter to make the frosting. It doesn’t matter if it’s at room temperature or not before browning it.
- Cream cheese: Buy full-fat cream cheese that’s sold in a brick. Do not use whipped cream cheese or cream cheese spread in a plastic tub; neither will work in the frosting.
How to Make Applesauce Cake
This is a straightforward cake recipe that anyone can follow. The batter is simply baked in a 9×13-inch pan, allowed to cool, then topped with brown butter cream cheese frosting.
Let’s review how the cake is made:
Make the Applesauce Cake
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and spices.
- In another mixing bowl, whisk together the applesauce, oil, eggs, vanilla, and both types of sugar.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet, then mix until just combined. Make sure not to over mix your batter at this point, otherwise you may end up with a dense cake.
- Turn the batter into a greased 9×13-inch baking dish and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
While the cake cools, you can prepare the brown butter cream cheese frosting!
Brown the Butter for the Frosting
- Add the sliced butter to a saucepan (I recommend using one with a light colored bottom so it’s easy to tell when the butter is ready!).
- Heat over medium heat until the butter is fully melted. Once melted, continue cooking the butter for an additional 5 to 10 minutes. Make sure to stir the butter or swirl the pan often to prevent it from burning.
- Once you see brown bits of butter on the bottom of the pan and smell a nutty flavor, immediately remove from the heat and pour into a heat-proof container. Set it aside to cool for about 3 hours — it should solidify and come back to room temperature during this time.
Make the Frosting & Assemble the Cake
- To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the room temperature brown butter (brown bits included) and cream cheese until combined.
- Add the powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until combined.
- Spread the frosting over the cooled cake and enjoy!
Frequently Asked Questions
The browned butter adds a rich, nutty flavor to the cream cheese frosting. However, you’re welcome to use room temperature unsalted butter instead to create a regular cream cheese frosting.
Sure thing! You may add 3/4 cup to 1 cup of chopped walnuts or pecans to the cake batter.
Absolutely! Just make sure to use smooth applesauce (i.e. fully pureed without any chunks) that doesn’t contain any added sugar.
Yes, you may make the entire recipe up to three days in advance. Store the cake in the fridge, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap to keep it fresh.
Or, you may bake the cake and brown the butter the night before. The next day, make the frosting and assemble the cake.
- Use a light-colored saucepan or skillet to brown your butter. This will make it much easier to tell when the butter has browned so you don’t accidentally burn it.
- Let the brown butter come back to room temperature before mixing the frosting together. If needed, you can place it in the fridge to speed up the process. Just make sure that it’s not too cold when you mix it with the cream cheese.
- Technically you don’t have to brown the butter to make the frosting, but it adds so much flavor and finishes off the cake beautifully.
More Apple Recipes To Try!
- 2 cups all-purpose flour spooned & leveled (250 grams)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 ½ cups unsweetened applesauce (375 grams)
- 1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar (200 grams)
- ½ cup granulated sugar (100 grams)
- ⅔ cup canola or vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
- ½ cup unsalted butter sliced into tablespoon-sized pieces (115 grams)
- 8 ounces brick-style cream cheese softened (226 grams)
- 2 ½ cups powdered sugar (300 grams)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- To make the applesauce cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Spray a 9×13 baking pan well with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.
- In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the applesauce, brown sugar, granulated sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract until fully combined.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it out into one even layer.
- Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until the top of the cake is set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
- To make the brown butter cream cheese frosting: Add the sliced butter to a skillet or saucepan. Place the saucepan over medium heat until the butter is completely melted. Once the butter is melted, allow it to cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often or swirling the pan often, until the butter is browned. The butter is browned once you see brown bits of milk solids on the bottom of the pan and smell a nutty-aroma. Immediately remove the butter from the heat and pour it into a heat-proof dish.
- Set aside until the butter comes to a solid room temperature (this will take at least 3 to 4 hours). You may refrigerate the butter to speed up the process, but make sure it’s at room temperature before mixing the frosting together.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle or whisk attachment, or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese and brown butter together until smooth.
- Add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract and continue mixing until fully combined, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. If you prefer a sweeter frosting, feel free to add another ½ cup (60 grams) of powdered sugar.
- Spread the frosting on top of the cooled cake and smooth it out with the back of a spoon or an angled spatula.
- Serve and enjoy or cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to serve.