Preserves in Action: Applesauce Cake

April 19, 2012(updated on August 30, 2021)

pint of applesauce

As we head into the beginning of the 2012 canning season, I’m trying to clear out some of jams, pickles and sauces I put up in 2011 (and if I’m being perfectly honest, there’s quite a lot from 2010 that I’m still working through too).

I know that for some of you, applesauce is one of the first things that you run out of. Around these parts, I struggle to move through it simply because I’m the only one who will touch it. It remains on my canning to-do list because I like to have it on hand. However, I still have half a dozen pints that need to be eaten and I know that apple season will be back before I know it. Time to take action.

applesauce cake

That’s where my mom’s applesauce cake comes in. Throughout my childhood, she made it for potlucks, on those nights when my sister or I had a school success to celebrate or even just when a jar of applesauce had lingered too long in the fridge. The taste of the batter and I feel like I’m seven years old again.

This recipe has a murky origin story. It was printed in the newsletter that my grandmother’s chiropractor published once a month. We don’t where it was a cake of his own creation or if he cribbed it from a cookbook and then failed to credit it. All I really know is that it entered my mom’s looseleaf binder of recipes when she was pregnant with me and has stayed with us ever since.

frosting applesauce cake

Part of why this cake became such as staple is that it’s easy. I make it in my stand mixer, but really, it’s sort of unnecessary. My mom has never had a mixer beyond a hand held one, and never pulled it out for this cake. She just stirred the batter together with a wooden spoon and still, it never took more than five or six minutes from beginning to end.

Its other virtue is that it’s sweetened with maple syrup (though now that maple syrup prices have gotten so high, it’s more of an indulgence than it once way) and uses homemade oat flour (blitz rolled oats in the blender and you’ve got oat flour). In today’s culinary language, that means that it doesn’t include refined sugar and is gluten-free (provided you use oats that aren’t processed in facilities that also process grains with gluten). Not bad for a quick little cake.

cream cheese frosted applesauce cake

You can either bake this cake in one large 9 x 13 pan or two smaller 8 x 8 pans. I like to divide it into two cakes, so that I can serve one and freeze the other for later. It also bakes more quickly in the smaller pans.

We rarely ate this cake frosted when my mom made it for the family (to sell her bare cake, she referenced the unfrosted cake that Tacy’s mother made in the Betsy-Tacy books. A huge fan of that series, my childhood self would happily accept the unfrosted slice when that comparison was made). However, for parties and events, it would be frosted with a homemade cream cheese frosting. Scott much prefers it frosted, but will accept an unfrosted square when there’s nothing else sweet in the apartment.

Do any of you have a family cake like this one? I’d love to hear your stories!

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Applesauce Cake

Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time35 minutes
Total Time1 hour
Servings: 18 servings


  • Cake:
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup real maple syrup
  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 2 cups unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 cups oat flour*
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 3/4 c raisins optional
  • 1 c chopped nuts optional
  • Frosting:
  • 4 ounces butter
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter one 9 x 13 or two 8 x 8 cake pans.
  • Cream together butter and maple syrup. Add eggs and applesauce and beat until well combined.
  • In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices. Ad the dry ingredients to the wet in three batches, thoroughly combining after each addition.
  • Fold in raisins and nuts if you are using them (I never do, but it's a nice option if you want a sturdier cake).
  • Pour into prepared pan(s).
  • For smaller pans, bake just 30 minutes. If using a single, larger pan, bake for 45-50 minutes.
  • Combine butter and cream cheese in a medium bowl and beat with a hand mixer. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract and beat to incorporate. I prefer a very lightly sweetened frosting, so I use just 1/4 cup powdered sugar in this frosting. For a more assertive sweetness, use 1/2 cup (or more!).
  • Spread evenly on top of the cooled cake.


Serving: 2g

*Oat flour is easily made by grinding rolled oats in your blender or food processor. If you make too much, save it and incorporate it into your next baking project.

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52 thoughts on "Preserves in Action: Applesauce Cake"

  • You already know about my constant abundance of fresh eggs…but I also have a ton of applesauce that I froze when I came into 3 giant boxes of apples. Right after Lucy decided she was no longer interested in applesauce. I can only eat so much applesauce. But cake? Yep, we can do cake =) Thanks!

    Oh, we also had a frozen strawberry dessert cake thing… I have to see if I can find a recipe. I LOVED it as a kid. I’m not sure what is in it and if I would currently be horrified or delighted. =)

  • This applesauce cake along with the hershey cocoa powder mayo cake and zucchini bread, tomato soup cake were depending on the season always on our counter… Thanks for posting… This cake holds a deep comfort place in my heart!!

    1. I have a Campbell’s cookbook with that tomato soup cake recipe in it. I’ve never made it, despite years of being intrigued by it.

  • Well, our (whole extended) family’s cake was Miss Hulling’s split layer cake, either chocolate or lemon. A St. Louis bakery rather than homemade, but no less evocative. Then, for years my own go-to cake was to bake Joan Nathan’s Jewish apple cake — delicious and dairy-free, which is convenient if you keep kosher and are having chicken for dinner — and for the last two years I’ve been making my friend Martha’s cake for my daughter’s birthday (she’s only two). But you’ve got me thinking of this cake of yours and the jars of canned apples I still have, that I just might turn to sauce and get baking!

  • I have very little inclination to bake. I am not good at it, but…………..there are a few, a very few things (few being the operative word) that I bake and they are all out of the 1969 Edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook. I am in serious need of a new book as the binding is deteriorating tremendously, as it has been well-used over the years, with stains and a few stuck together pages that have been peeled apart.

    Great recipes are in this book including some things I can actually bake successfully and it contains my favorite applesauce cake, ever! I don’t usually make it any other time of year but, autumn, as it just has that cozy feeling, making the house all fragrant with apples and spices. Oh yes, I can change my ideas and certainly make it now. This might just put me over the edge to use up some applesauce in spring!

  • Looks great. Even that applesauce by itself looks great. My family has a blueberry coffee cake that’s a similar seasonal treat like this one. I’m looking forward to trying this… thanks!

  • When I was in first or second grade my class published an apple cookbook. It is complete with mimiographed pages and a hand-drawn construction paper. We make two recipes from that book still, Applesauce Raisin Cake and Jewish Apple Cake. We just had the latter for my mom’s birthday on Sunday.

    1. Oh! I love that! Feels similar to the fact that I still make the same cranberry bread from the back of the Cranberry Christmas book.

  • OH my this is definitely on the menu for today! This and a cup of coffee!! Plus I am always, I repeat ALWAYS in need of an easy cake to make especially with 3 teenage boys and making 2 8×8’s is even better, one for evening snack & 1 to go in lunches! Thank you! Now I’m off to make this cake!! I wonder how it would do with grated carrots since we have more on hand (only 40 lbs or so left!) than we know what to do with.

  • I have a cake like this – we call it garden cake because I can grate or chop whatever is in abundance that season and fold it into the cake and it is delicious. It has lots of whole grain, uses apple sauce in place of much of the oil, has a healthy portion of veggies or chopped fruit and is very forgiving if substitutions are necessary – it is just about virtuous and most important it is very child friendly. I morphed it out of a Joy of Cooking spice cake recipe and I hope someday my grandchildren will make it for their children and talk about how their Nana taught them to bake making this cake.

      1. Yes, please! I made applesauce for the first time this past year and I’m not going through it very fast. It’d be great to have some recipes to use it up!

  • Hey, this cake is totally like the applesauce cake that my family has made forever! Ours used sugar instead of the syrup, but I’ll bet it comes from the same place – we called it either applesauce or Spanish Bar Cake (and I successfully “sourdoughized” it too, starter loves to ferment with apples I think!) I’m usually not all about posting links on other’s websites, but I’m excited at the similarities:

    I look forward to merging your recipe with mine, since I’ve been baking more and more with maple syrup and honey lately. Thanks!

  • This reminds me of my applesauce bread/cake that I make. Last year I was making applesauce to can and accidently used 4 tablespoons of cinnamon instead of 4 teaspoons. I hadn’t realized until the next day. I didn’t want to throw it out so I just substituted my cinnamon applesauce for crushed bananas in my banana bread recipe. It came out perfect! Don’t forget to sprinkle some sugar on top before baking. 🙂

  • This is great – I make applesauce when the apples are going soft, but my kids don’t generally eat it. They will, however, eat cake!

    Our go-to cake is called chocolate syrup cake – my mom’s contribution to the church cookbook when we were young. Not sure where the original came from – she got it from a friend. It’s a nice sweet yellow/chocolate cake – almost a pound cake. You make the yellow cake batter, and then pour half of the batter into a tube pan; then add chocolate syrup and a bit of baking powder to the other half and pour it on top. You don’t mix them – the chocolate part just sort of sinks into the middle of the yellow part, so not quite a marble, but close. What I like about it is that it’s a nice, sweet cake – it does not need frosting, so is perfect for bake sales (this cake became known at my son’s school when he was little), and it uses simple ingredients that you either have at home, or can buy at just about any little grocery or corner store. So when your child tells you at 8:00 at night that they need a cake for the next day (or when they told you days ago and you forgot), you can make this one.

  • That cake sounds wonderful! When I was growing up, our traditional family cake came from the Duncan Hines box, sad to say–but now I think our most-loved cake is plum cake, sometimes made with yogurt and sometimes without. Plums sunk in damp wheaty cake, hooray!

  • BETSY-TACY! You don’t even know how many times in my life I’ve thought “This is how Betsy did it!” Even went to an apprecation society once, and we made fudge.
    I’m looking forward to an abundance of apples this year from my in-law’s tree, and trying to convince my partner to plant fruit trees of our own.
    Our family cake is probably German Chocolate cake, from the Betty Crocker cookbook. Or really, the banana bread (which is still my penultimate banana bread recipe).

  • we had a “volcano cake” that we made occasionally for holidays and birthdays. it was supposed to be a chocolate cake from the ultimate southern living cookbook, but we forgot/didn’t bother to level the lower layers of the cake so it would fall apart and crack at the top, looking like a volcano. still delicious! this applesauce cake looks awesome though, I’ve been somewhat disappointing by the applesauce cakes in most of my cookbooks.

  • I’m excited about this cake, but more excited to find other people who loved the Betsy-Tacy books. They were favorites, and I grew up along with her. When my daughter was born (1979) most of the books had been reprinted, and bought all they had. I credit these books and Understood Betsy (Dorothy Canfield Fisher) for a lot of my sense of who I am.

  • In our family, the go-to cake is known as Wacky Cake – a chocolate cake made with vinegar and baking soda for leavening and no eggs. With butter frosting, it’s amazing. Still one of my favorites and I can practically make it from memory. The go-to cookies however, were applesauce cookies! My mom found them in a cookie cook book and they are one thing I always remember from my childhood. When I feel reminiscent, I make them. Simple with no chips or nuts – just a easy cookie. And the recipe makes A TON!

    In my husband’s family, the cake is a spice cake. It’s yummy, but makes me cringe when I make it because there’s 2 cups of sugar in it. In ONE 8″ cake.

    1. Yes!! I was also going to put forward Wacky Chocolate Cake (also known as Amazon Chocolate Cake in the Cafe Beaujolais Cookbook, and by my college roommates as Snack Cake, ’cause you can mix it in the pan and never frost it, and it’ll be gone by morning…)

      It’s my favorite for heart-shaped layer cakes coated in Cream Cheese Frosting!

    2. Wacky Cake is the go-to cake in my family as well! My dad requests wacky cake with peanut butter icing for his birthday every year.

  • As our children and their cousins were out living on their own I began being beseiged with requests for various family recipes that have been a part of all of our lives. The calls would come asking for “Aunt Dorothy’s Banana Bread” etc. So for Christmas everyone received a cookbook called “Margie’s Kitchen” full of all of the good family foods. Most recipes had a photo related to the original cook plus a little story of the recipe and the original cook. It is treasured by all. Additional copies have been made and given to the grandchildren as they leave home.

  • I’m making this tomorrow night! We still have quite a few jars of apple sauce from our tree last fall.

    My go-to cake recipe is in a different category than this one – it’s the recipe on the back of the Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa powder container. It’s simple and the most delicious chocolate cake you will ever taste. It’s like eating a chocolate bar. And this is coming from someone who usually bakes her cakes from scratch.

  • As I was reading this I kept thinking oh that looks so good, and started going through conversion as to how I would make it gluten free. Ha! And to my surprise it is, fantastic!! This makes me so happy. I too have about 8 jars of applesauce left so I will be making this often:) Thank you!

  • I have to tell you how much it has meant to me to see this cake. My daughter turns 1 in a month and I have been toiling over what to give her for her celebration, knowing I would have to deal with a lot of talk if I didn’t give her some type of cake. Well, this cake is perfect, and it meets all my needs to feel good giving it to her, and she’s had all the ingredients except 2 (in the actual cake). I literally can’t tell you how much it means to have found this cake and feel good about making it for her. Also, I could write about an old family cake, but my mom’s go-to was a rum cake, it was amazing, and she found it on a Bacardi bottle like 30 years ago!

  • Hey! So I totally made this cake today and it’s FAB with apple butter on top!! Thanks for the recipe!

  • My family has an applesauce cake in our history too. Ours comes from my great grandmother, and there is always a debate about whether to add raisins (my dad & I say yes, my sister says no) or if it should be frosted or not. The frosting from my great grandma’s recipe is like a thick maple-y fudge, and it also goes on another one of her recipes that’s titled “Poor Man’s Cookies.” I guess molasses was a cheap sugar substitute during the Great Depression, hence the name!

  • I have a very similar recipe (and for much the same reason) and, coincidentally, it is of murky origin as well. I “use up” my apple butter in my cake (and, so, do not add extra spices) and bake it in loaf pans. Once cooled, the loaves are split in half, frosted on the cut side and sandwiched back together. My guess was that this was an easier way to pack the cake for school lunches than a cake slice that had the frosting on the outside. Well wrapped in parchment and then plastic wrap, the loaves keep a long time as well. I always can more apple butter than I know we can go through just so I have some for this recipe….

  • This is a little different – no fruit involved – but my grandmother raised chickens so she always had a lot of eggs. The cake she made most often, of course, was angel food. I loved it and she made some kind of sugar icing that turned hard like candy. I loved that icing too. After she died my mother told me she was making it wrong and it shouldn’t have hardened but I loved it that way!

  • Thanks for this recipe! I was searching for a cake recipe that would be appropriate for my nephew’s first birthday. I’m glad to find this one that has No refined sugar! I changed the applesauce to pumpkin and baked little mini cakes. It tasted so good my husband and I ate a few of them before we could even deliver them to my nephew.

  • Delicious recipe. I made it last year shortly after you posted this but just got around to posting it on my blog, so I thought I’d leave you a comment about how much I enjoyed it. I used your seckel pear jam along with some plum sauce in place of applesauce–terrific. Love this recipe. Thanks for sharing it.

  • YUM!!

    This cake was light and tasty! We loved the raisins. (I used golden raisins (sultanas)).

    Also, I didn’t have much maple syrup, so I had to use half maple, half honey, and it worked out just great!

  • The recipe sounds delicious. I am going to try it very soon. Growing up my mom always made what she called Raw Apple Cake. Recipe calls for grated apples. Of course it called for cinnamon and other spices. It also had and abundance of oil. It is a moist heavy cake. You just can’t get enough. She never frosted it because it was sweet enough on it own. Being from the Yakima Valley in Washington State we have an abundance of apples every fall. This cake was a great way to use them up. She always added walnut from our local trees which we cracked open with hammers on the front porch. A great childhood memories for me. She still makes it around Christmas time. A tasty treat indeed!