Apple Butter Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream

Diving into a slice of apple cake with a fork

My Apple Butter Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream is the perfect fall dessert ~ think golden apple spice cake with a plush caramel frosting. It’s got the perfect fall color palette, too; if it was a cashmere sweater, I’d buy it 🙂

apple butter cake on a platter with apples

Apple butter cake with brown sugar buttercream is a home run!

Is someone you love celebrating a fall birthday? Are you hosting Sunday dinners for the family, or bubble-mates? Or maybe you just feel like doing a little distractibaking. This gorgeous cake is perfect for all that and more. You’ll want to keep it front and center in your recipe box all season long.

biting into a slice of apple butter cake

Apple butter makes a rich apple layer cake

Apple cakes are a dime a dozen in fall, they’re in all the magazines, and all over Pinterest. They can be chunky or smooth…spicy, or not so much. They come one, two, or three stories high, frosted, glazed, or naked. They’re all great, but I think I’ve come up with a unique interpretation, using thick rich apple butter.

Apple butter is basically apples in their most concentrated form, so it results in a wonderfully aromatic, ‘apple-y’ cake.

apple butter cake with brown sugar frosting, sliced open on a platter

Brown sugar buttercream is our new favorite frosting

The warm spices of the apple butter cake layers are lovely and sophisticated, but the cara-melly brown sugar buttercream? It can only be described as a ‘wow’. The frosting is the first thing that hits your tastebuds and it’s downright spectacular. The flavor of brown sugar is surprisingly rich and complex ~ it’s associated with caramel and toffee

Difference between white and brown sugars

  • White and brown sugar come from the same source: sugar cane or sugar beets.
  • Molasses is a byproduct of processing white sugar, and the only difference between white and brown sugar is that brown includes the molasses, which gives it its color and flavor.
  • There’s a misconception that brown sugar is healthier than white, but that’s not true, they’re virtually equal nutritionally.
  • You can actually make your own brown sugar by adding a little molasses to white sugar and processing in a food processor.

Difference between light brown sugar and dark brown sugar

  • Light brown sugar usually has about 3.5% molasses, while dark brown sugar can have up to 6.5%.
  • If a recipe simply calls for ‘brown sugar’, it means light brown.
  • But you can use either one interchangeably in recipes; the only difference will be a deeper flavor and color, and it’s fun to experiment with the two.
apple butter cake on a platter with apples

Why is there no brown sugar in my brown sugar buttercream?

Good question! I knew I wanted to do a brown sugar frosting on this cake, but how? Frosting is smooth and creamy and brown sugar is grainy, not a good match. One option would be do do a complicated cooked frosting in order to melt the brown sugar, but I didn’t want to bother with that, so here’s my brilliant solution…

  • A few tablespoons of molasses makes the perfect brown sugar/caramel flavor in this frosting.
  • Why? Because brown sugar is simply white sugar with the addition of molasses, adding a bit to my frosting does the trick.
  • The result is easy to whip up, and super decadent tasting.
  • This is one frosting recipe you’re going to want to hold on to, trust me 🙂
Making brown sugar buttercream

My BEST frosting troubleshooting tip:

If your frosting is lumpy, which happens when little bits of powdered sugar don’t dissolve well, or your frosting has tons of air pockets, which happens when you whip it, especially with a stand mixer, all is not lost ~ here’s my no fail solution:

  • Transfer your frosting to the bowl of your food processor and process until smooth. This works like a charm to remove lumps and excess air. The resulting frosting is smooth and creamy, no lumps, no air pockets.
a slice of apple butter cake with fork

More apple cakes ’cause it’s FALL!

Diving into a slice of apple cake with a fork
4.86 from 41 votes

Apple Butter Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream

My Apple Butter Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream is the perfect fall dessert ~ think golden apple spice cake with a plush caramel frosting.
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Yield 16 servings
Author Sue Moran


For the apple butter cake

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup apple butter
  • 1/2 cup milk or half and half

For the brown sugar buttercream

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 5 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp molasses
  • 4 Tbsp heavy cream


For the cake

  • Preheat oven to 350F and butter 2 8-inch cake pans. I like to place a circle of parchment paper at the bottom of my cake pans as well to insure easy removal.
  • Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg and set aside.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 2 sugars together about 5 minutes, until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.
    Mixing the batter for an apple butter layer cake
  • Add the apple butter and the milk, and mix briefly to combine.
  • Add the flour mixture, about 1/3 at a time, and mix briefly to combine but don't over mix.
    Apple cake batter in mixer
  • Give the batter a final stir by hand to make sure there aren't any pockets of unmixed ingredients, and then divide the batter into the two prepared baking pans.
    batter for apple butter cake, plus baking pans
  • Bake for about 25-35 minutes until risen and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes in the pan before turning out on to a baking rack to continue cooling. Allow the cake layers to cool completely before frosting.
    apple butter cake layers cooling on a rack

For the buttercream

  • In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, add the butter and salt and beat for a minute or so until very smooth. Add the powdered sugar, about a cup at a time, beating between each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to get everything fully incorporated. Add the molasses and cream and continue to beat until everything is smooth and well mixed. Note: if your frosting seems a little too thick, add a touch more cream or molasses, but go slowly. If your frosting is a little loose, blend in a little more sifted confectioner's sugar.
    Brown sugar buttercream frosting in a mixing bowl
  • Frost the top of one layer with a generous amount of frosting.
    Frosting an apple layer cake
  • Stack the second layer on top, and frost the sides, and finally the top.
    apple butter cake, with slice cut

Cook’s notes

The nutritional information for recipes on this site is provided as a courtesy and although tries to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.
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    Leave a Reply

    Please rate this recipe!

  • Reply
    Amy Liu Dong
    October 3, 2020 at 8:15 pm

    5 stars
    I would love to make this Apple Butter Cake for everyone and I am sure they will love it. YUM!

  • Reply
    October 3, 2020 at 3:59 pm

    5 stars
    We made this today, actually our 22 year old son made it. We all loved it and his grandmother was almost in tears with joy. Great recipe. Thank you.

    • Reply
      October 3, 2020 at 5:37 pm

      Oh gosh, best report ever!

  • Reply
    October 3, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    5 stars
    Brown sugar buttercream?? Why have I never heard of this! I’m dying to give this a try!!

    • Reply
      October 3, 2020 at 1:34 pm

      You need this in your life 😉

  • Reply
    October 3, 2020 at 10:29 am

    5 stars
    This cake is so incredibly delicious. It’s going to be a regular for birthday celebrations.

  • Reply
    Kim Carnahan
    October 3, 2020 at 6:48 am

    3 stars
    I am a bona fide apple butter fanatic, so I made this recipe immediately. It did work well in a 9 x 13 pan, and the icing is nice and thickly layered in this pan. The flavor was good but not outstanding. The apple flavor was decidedly more subtle than in a raw apple cake. I used an Amish apple butter that is very flavorful, and it was just lost in this cake. The texture is very nice – I used a low gluten heritage white flour. The cake raised higher than a cake in this size of pan typically does, but it baked very evenly and came out a really nice color. The icing is good but not spectacular. The added salt never dissolved, resulting in a “salted caramel” sort of flavor and texture. It makes a lot of icing, which I really like. This cake contains an exorbitant amount of butter (5 sticks total!) so if watching your animal fat consumption you might want to steer clear. It seemed to me that it might make a nice Bundt cake with streusel instead of icing. This cake along with the icing was a lot of work, and I probably will not make it again due to the subtlety of the flavor – I was missing the apple butter sweet/tartness.

  • Reply
    October 2, 2020 at 5:36 pm

    5 stars
    Everything about this apple cake is delicious but the brown sugar buttercream is to die for! Another great recipe from you, thank you!

  • Reply
    October 2, 2020 at 8:55 am

    What is apple butter, I have ever heard of it before, I live in Spain. Also sticks of butter are what weight and cups of flour I see differing amounts when I google it. Thank you.

    • Reply
      October 2, 2020 at 9:39 am

      Apple butter is basically an apple puree that’s been cooked down until very thick, so a very thick smooth spread. You can make it yourself, easily. I have a couple of recipes on the blog and a new one coming out next week. Our sticks of butter are 113 grams, and my cup of flour is 125 grams.

  • Reply
    Beverley Marsh
    October 2, 2020 at 7:38 am

    This cake looks yummy!! Do you have an apple butter recipe that you make yourself which you use in your cake? I’m in the UK and I have never eaten apple butter. I have found a few recipes on line but they all have different ingredients. I don’t want to make one and it’s not good to use in your recipe. Please can you help?

    • Reply
      Karyn Carpenter
      October 11, 2020 at 4:06 pm

      Beverly, there are lots of recipes for slow cooker apple butter. My daughter is currently in the UK and was hungry for some and has been making it that way.

  • Reply
    October 2, 2020 at 7:05 am

    Sweetened or unsweetened apple butter?

    • Reply
      October 2, 2020 at 7:56 am

      That’s totally up to you, either will work. I used a very dark store bought apple butter that had a touch of brown sugar.

  • Reply
    Maura Murto
    October 2, 2020 at 6:29 am

    Hi Sue! This looks amazing! I’d like to take it to a group of restaurant employees as a snack. Is it possible to do this in a 9×13 pan? Would the time or temperature need to be changed? Thanks so much for all the great recipe ideas!

    • Reply
      October 2, 2020 at 6:31 am

      We tested this recipe in the round cake pans, but I’m sure you could bake it in a 9×13. The temp wouldn’t change and the time would be approximately the same, but be sure to check early.

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