For Mother’s Day last year, my Kindergarten-aged son was tasked with making me a book at school. One of the prompts was “What would you buy your Mom if you had a million dollars?” His response was pure gold: “An Ina Garten toy.”
Hopefully Ina’s marketing team will get on that toy launch soon. But in the meantime, this Fresh Apple Spice Cake from the Barefoot Contessa herself is all the gift I need.
I’ve seen this cake making its way around the interwebs lately and, while I pride myself on being an Ina devotee, I’d never tried this recipe before. Once I realized November was quickly approaching and I hadn’t made enough apple desserts this season, I knew it was time to give this classic a try.
I’ve made many apple cakes in my day, and to be completely honest, they usually leave me wishing I’d made apple crisp instead. This recipe lives up to the hype. It’s well-spiced and texturally complex thanks to chopped pecans, golden raisins, and diced green apples.
A Fancy but Easy Cake
As someone who develops recipes for a living, I can be pretty picky when trying to find something I want to bake. This recipe had me intrigued at first glance because of the generous warming spices, fresh citrus zest, and soaked raisins. I knew it would be packed with flavor.
Plus, it’s an oil-based cake, which means no waiting around for butter to soften and no need to lug out the stand mixer. Ina does recommend assembling this in a mixer, but you could definitely mix it all by hand.
Quick Tips for Making Ina Garten’s Fresh Apple Spice Cake
While the recipe isn’t designed to be a one-bowl cake, if I can turn a recipe into a one-bowl situation, I will. To achieve that with this recipe (and most cakes I make), I lay out a large sheet of parchment on the counter and set a sieve on top. I measure my dry ingredients directly into the sieve, then sift everything directly onto the parchment. I then pick up either end of the paper and use it as a sort of funnel to stream the dry ingredients into the wet with very minimal mess, and most importantly, dishes.
One note on the ingredient list: if you do not have any rum on hand, you can simply plump the raisins in water. While I love the subtle oaky hint the rum-soaked raisins lend to the cake, I would not consider it worth buying a full bottle just to make this cake, especially since you drain the excess liquid off before baking.
How To Make Ina Garten’s Fresh Apple Spice Cake
Yields one 9×13-inch cake for 12 very generous servings. You’ll need:
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 cup dark rum
- 1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons fresh orange zest (from 2 oranges)
- 1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and 1/4-inch-diced (3 to 4 apples)
- Caramel sauce, optional, for serving
- Vanilla ice cream, optional, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350°F and butter and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan. Set a piece of parchment on a work surface and sift the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves together. Set aside.
Once the oven is to temperature, place the pecans on a small sheet pan and toast for 5 to 10 minutes, or until fragrant. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Place the raisins in a medium microwave-safe bowl and cover with rum. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and microwave for 60 seconds. Set aside while you assemble the batter.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, oil, and vanilla. Mix on medium speed until well combined, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and slowly stream in the flour mixture by forming the parchment paper into a sling. Mix until only a few streaks of flour remain. Drain the raisins and discard the liquid. Add the drained raisins, toasted pecans, and chopped apples to the bowl and fold with a rubber spatula until evenly distributed.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it into an even layer. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool the cake completely, then cut into 12 squares. Serve topped with warm caramel and vanilla ice cream.
I have two pretty picky kids, and while I fully made this cake for my enjoyment, I think I will try grating the apples next time to give the cake a more cohesive crumb structure and avoid their eye rolls at the thought of eating cooked apples (the horror!).
The beauty of this cake is in its versatility. It makes an amazing dessert when topped with caramel and ice cream, but would also be delicious as a breakfast cake. I would describe the taste and texture as very similar to a good carrot cake, so cream cheese frosting would be a welcome addition.
The warming spices make this an ideal cake to prepare for Thanksgiving breakfast or brunch. It stays moist for a few days, and by swapping one of the apples for a cup of fresh cranberries, I think it would be super festive for the holidays.
As with most things in life, Ina tends to know best. This is the only apple cake I’ll be making from here on out.