The Ultimate Apple Tart Cake Recipe: A Pie In a Cake

Here is what I like most about autumn, even more than the apple cider and the crunchy leaves and the chilly air that makes me reach for a sweater while I cradle a cup of tea: like the other seasons, fall doesn’t arrive in one grand, magical instant.

Image of autumn leaves and twigs strewn on the ground.

Although its place on the calendar is fixed, autumn’s effect on daily life comes more gradually, reaching us through small, almost imperceptible shifts day by day — the gusts of wind, the days of rain, the hazy fog over some afternoons, until, one day, someone says: Hey, look around you, see those red leaves?

It’s fall! And then, as we notice, we remember the Used To Be and marvel, that what was once hot and humid has become cooler, darker, crisper, more colorful, as if the change had occurred overnight, just like that, when in reality, it had been coming for a while.

Image of a treetop with fluffy clouds and the blue sky as the background.

I like this about fall because it is like life, and by that, I mean it is like the way a person you sit next to at work, through daily conversations and shared lunches and common experiences, becomes, over time, much more than someone you sit next to at work, changing from an acquaintance not in one day or one moment, but in the slow, daily shifts of knowledge and understanding that make a friendship.

It is like the way years fly by, in a series of moments and days that keep coming, so that I sit here, now at 27, wondering how in the world I was a senior in high school ten years ago, how recent and how faraway that seems and how much has changed and how much hasn’t.

View of a treetop with the clear blue skies at the back.

These are the kinds of things parents are always saying, too, you know what I mean? How a newborn baby becomes a toddler becomes a kindergartener becomes a high school kid becomes a going-away-to-college adult. None of these changes happens in an instant; though birthdays and anniversaries can be marked, the change from one stage to another comes in tiny steps, almost inconsequential ones, that, one after another after another, add up to New.

A night lamp on top of a wooden table beside a window.

And new seasons are sometimes bittersweet; never is this more apparent than in fall. As our days darken, by minutes each day, they will lead to a night sometime very soon, when the sun will set as I type at my work desk, an hour or so before leaving for the day, and there will be a sadness with that — not unlike the loss of friendship, one which after months of moments spent choosing not to listen or becoming too preoccupied to think of someone else before yourself, slips away.

I guess what I’m saying is that I like autumn because it demonstrates something true: everything is changing, constantly, in ways so small that we cannot even recognize them, and that is part of what makes every moment valuable. We can think sometimes that moments do not matter, that obsessing over our own problems or being lazy or blowing someone off are just individual decisions, without consequence, but that is not true.

Top view of luscious golden apple tart cake.

Even the smallest decisions are leading towards something, so we will make the New improved, like the seasons remind us four times a year, by making our own almost-imperceptible shifts every day — when we smile at a stranger, bring someone the bag they just dropped, extend grace when we are hurt or, do something as simple as make a homemade cake and eat it on a Friday night, while the leaves turn all around us, and say it was good.

Apple Tart Cake
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg of Orangette

This cake is all the beauty of an apple tart but with a cake base that is sweet and firm, strong around the edges from being in a springform pan. You could use Granny Smith apples, like Molly did, but then go ahead and up the sugar from 3/4 cup to 1 full cup to counteract the bitterness.

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
5 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into a few pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 large Honeycrisp apples, peeled, cored and sliced as thinly as you can into similar-shaped slices (if they’re too thick, they’ll be more noticeable in the finished cake, rather than soft and caramelized)

For topping:
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.

Combine the sugar, flour and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitting with a steel blade attachment (did I tell you I got a food processor for my birthday?? I LOVE IT SO MUCH). Pulse to mix, then add the butter, and pulse until no large lumps remain.

Add the vanilla and the egg, and blend well — mine looked a little like cookie dough, but the original recipe likens it to cornmeal, so I’d imagine either is fine. Plop this mixture into the prepared springform pan and spread it evenly around the bottom.

Try to form the edges to curve up a little on the sides, like the rim of a very low pie crust. Starting from the outsides (this is the only way that works for me, and yes, I’ve tried starting from the insides), arrange the apples in a tight, circular pattern.

You will feel like there are way too many apples to fit, you really will, but just fit them in there as tightly as you can. It will work.

Slide the pan into the oven, and bake for 45 minutes. While the cake bakes, you can make the topping: Combine the ingredients in a small bowl, and whisk to blend well.

Then set it aside. After the cake has baked for 45 minutes, remove it from the oven and spoon the topping evenly over it.

Bake for another 30 minutes or so, until the topping looks set. Transfer the pan to a wire rack, and cool for 20 minutes.

Then run a thin knife around the edge to release any areas that may have stuck, and remove the sides of the pan. Feel free to swoon at how beautiful it looks — I sure did.

Cool completely before serving.

Note: This cake is a perfect make-ahead recipe, which is what I did Friday night, planning for dinner with a friend Saturday. Just wrap it up tightly in plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature until you’re ready to eat it.

Oh, and, by the way, it was wonderful with vanilla ice cream on top.

Yield: One cake, about 8 servings

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About Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home,, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.

25 thoughts on “The Ultimate Apple Tart Cake Recipe: A Pie In a Cake”

  1. really lovely, shanna. i started embracing fall just this year, and the way you describe your feelings toward this season makes me appreciate it, and life, even more.

  2. Love the pictures. You have captured the beauty of everything I love about Autumn.
    The month of September is really when the year begins for me.
    I think I will try that recipe for our Thanksgiving dinner.

  3. The first photo is darling—captures perfectly the subtle and graceful nature of this season. Beautiful words, my dear. Once again, you’ve got me thinking…

  4. I don’t have a food processor, but I have a Magic Bullet Blender that has a flat blade…perhaps that could be coerced into working for me (I have a regular blender too). This looks wonderful.

    Question: What are your thoughts on including one of those “hands on time/total time” guides at the beginning of your recipes? Or maybe just mentioning approx. how long it took you from start to finish? I am very bad at estimating how long something like this will take me! 10 minutes before putting in the oven? 20? 30?

    I might have to make this recipe this week…

  5. Really beautiful post. I enjoyed reading it. The physical aspect of fall is so lovely, but you made it even lovelier by showing how analogous it is to life. I have a mind to make this cake sometime when there are friends to share it…

  6. My most recent post was a list of the most underrated things I could think of, many of which have to do with the Autumn season. This entire post would fit nicely into the list – you and I would get along famously. I remember reading Molly’s post for this cake and bookmarking. Never got around to making it, but I’m drooling over it once more.



  7. Aw, Whitney, that was sweet. And it definitely was great meeting up last night! I’d love to do it again, although wherever we meet will have a hard time living up to Burt’s, am I right?

    Jacqui, I love that you’ve just started appreciating fall. (Is it weird to think this is your last October single? Ha!) Thanks for being such a good listener/reader of posts like these, btw – you just always get it.

    Celeste, Me too! It really hit me when I got back from Colorado, but the signs had been in place earlier in September, and I have loved it all. Oh, and we have Thanksgiving to look forward to now! Thanks for that reminder – it is my favorite holiday!

    Sprouted Kitchen, Oh, Sarah, you are too kind. I chuckled when I read that you’d quote me. Am I blushing?

    Jennifer, Thank YOU, dear! I am thinking, too—trying to notice more and value what is small, and these are hard habits to cultivate, you know?

    Kim, I didn’t have a food processor for the longest time, so I always (this sounds so tacky) would try to make do with my stick blender. It didn’t always work the same and sometimes not at all (!) but, IMO, you make do, you know? Great idea about the hands on time – I will def think about that. My problem is I always get lost in what I’m doing and forget to keep my eye on the clock! But, at least for this recipe, I think it was about 30ish minutes of prep (including the peeling/slicing apples), and then there’s over an hour of total baking time and then 20 minutes to cool. Does that help?

    Danielle, Thank you! I love that you said you want to make this when there are friends to share it. That’s a beautiful small step—cooking for and sharing food with friends—that we all need more of.

    heather, Well, if you’re ever in Chicago, I hope you’ll let me know! We’ll have to sit down and swap stories!

    Michelle, Thank you!

    Hannah, Oh, you are kind. Thank you so much!

    Christiane, Yes, apples are so fall to me! Thank you for stopping by!

  8. Lovely post. I adore Autumn but the last few days have been cold and damp so I’m holding out for some of the crisp bright days which make me so happy. I’m on my own in the flat this weekend so planning a spot of baking and leisurely cooking – I can’t wait.

  9. Truer words were never spoken. I love fall for its fleeting nature, for the five days of blazing colors followed too swiftly by yards littered with leaves, for the shortening days and the crisp air… And for apples, in every form. Just lovely.

  10. What a lovely post! I love autumn and the food associated with it! Korea actually has lovely autumns. We have persimmons trees in our backyard, and my mom dries the leftover persimmons. My image of fall is my mom stringing up persimmons outside to dry. I haven’t spent an autumn in Korea since high school (I agree with how high school seems so far away, and yet so recent), so I’m looking forward to experiencing autumn in Seoul!

  11. Hi Shannalee, see, I’m Nigerian. Fall for me is a new season, very different from rainy and dry, back home. Last fall I fell in love with the season, with the landscape ablaze with reds, browns and golds….peppered with greens. I embraced it when darkness called early and the whole family stayed in, all wrapped up warm sipping hot cups of tea. I loved the early mornings when the heat of the house became stifling and my face was blasted by cold when I walked out the door to catch the bus. I fell in love with autumn last year…and the romance continues

  12. Kim, I am so glad you said something because now I’m thinking about time more. Tonight I spent WAY TOO MUCH TIME making doughnuts for example, and I’m sure you’ll hear about that soon here, ha!

    Gemma, I’ve had some leisurely baking and cooking lately, too, just perfect for those damp and rainy days, actually, which we’ve been getting in Chicago, for sure! Enjoy yours!

    Caitlin, I love the words “five days of blazing colors.” That’s such a perfect image!

    Jessica, Back in the day, I used to look around the Internet at fall pictures. Like, I’d just waste an hour or so looking at leaves. Yeah. But anyway, that’s when I first saw Asia’s fall and it is GORGEOUS! I hope you’ll post photos when you get to Seoul! I would love to hear more!

    JessieV, What a lovely way of putting it. These are changes easy to love I think!

    Kitchen Butterfly, Thanks for sharing that! I love hearing your perspective on experiencing fall for the first time, and I am going to try very hard to remember what you said about darkness calling the family in together when I am tempted to complain. There is something very cozy about the darkness, that is true.

  13. Regarding your follow-up comment, our realization is the first step, right? I also find it especially difficult to focus on the small moments while living in a city. I usually escape to the seaside most weekends to regroup and gather together the little sentiments that may pass by unnoticed among the city’s clatter.

    BTW, love your blog’s new look. Cheers!

  14. Kim, Ha! True, true.

    Jennifer, There’s a lot of truth in that, I think. Cities tend to be much busier, more active places, and that does affect your mind. Maybe that’s why I love getting away to Wisconsin so much. Thanks for the feedback on the header, too!

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