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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  • Reply
    October 10, 2021 at 9:25 am

    5 stars
    Lovely flavour- great Thanksgiving dessert. I added some vanilla extract plus small amounts of ground ginger, allspice, mace, cardamom and just a pinch of cloves to the cake batter- not too much, so the apple taste is still there. The cake has a dense texture so I found it needed the full 35 minutes in the oven, even on convection (fan). The molasses icing really complements the cake. We loved it.

  • Reply
    February 26, 2021 at 5:12 am

    Love the icing. Cake was bland and mine turned out lighter than the photos. It turned out moist but just didn’t have enough flavor for me. I’m positive I followed the recipe correctly cuz I measure everything out before hand and double check before mixing. Boyfriend liked it tho.

  • Reply
    November 22, 2020 at 6:22 pm

    5 stars
    This. Was. Amazing.

    The only changes I made were to increase the temp 25 degrees, reduce the baking powder slightly, and probably decreased bake time a little but I didn’t pay too close attention–I kept checking after 20 minutes. These changes were only because I’m baking at 6600′ elevation. Everything else I followed exactly and it came out fabulous! My cakes didn’t sink!
    I would call it molasses buttercream rather than brown sugar buttercream just because the molasses flavor was very strong–my husband said too strong but I liked it. I used my homemade apple butter in the recipe. Great cake! It’s a keeper!

  • Reply
    November 22, 2020 at 9:07 am

    Question do I use light brown sugar or Regular brown sugar for the cake ?

    • Reply
      November 22, 2020 at 9:35 am

      I use granulated white sugar in the cake, but you can use light or dark brown if you like.

  • Reply
    Shar Carlson
    November 6, 2020 at 1:37 pm

    This cake sounds delicious. Could this cake be made as a bundt cake?

  • Reply
    Josee Marchessault
    October 20, 2020 at 7:59 am

    5 stars
    I made this cake! We are only three in my household and the other two are not dessert fiends like me so… I made the cake as written, froze one cake for later use, made half a recipe of frosting. It is one of the best fall cakes I have ever tasted. I am never ever disappointed in any of your recipes! Thank you!

    • Reply
      October 20, 2020 at 8:12 am

      Thanks so much Josee, I’m grinning as I read your comment, remembering my first bite 🙂

  • Reply
    Karyn Carpenter
    October 11, 2020 at 4:09 pm

    4 stars
    Loving the flavor of this cake! I made it as a wedding cake for here in the states as we celebrate our daughter’s wedding in the UK. I did want to check, the recipe calls for 2 8′ layer pans, but I believe it should say 9′. Mine boiled over some, but still entirely workable.

  • Reply
    Rita Leferink
    October 10, 2020 at 7:21 pm

    Would applesauce work instead of apple butter?

  • Reply
    Sapana Behl
    October 7, 2020 at 1:29 am

    5 stars
    Apple butter cake looks so delicous and moist. I love the tips to make the frosting smooth, mine always gets lumpy.

  • Reply
    Alex Ryder
    October 6, 2020 at 12:19 am

    5 stars
    Wow this looks incredibly delicious – like a carrot cake hut with apples. And I’d also buy a jumper that colour. Love the look of that molasses buttercream. Will definitely five this a try. Thank you.

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