Tender, moist, and absolutely loaded with autumn apples. This gluten-free and dairy-free apple cake is fabulously fall and fantastically delicious. The apple trees outside are bursting with bright juicy apples ready for the picking and I could think of no better way to use them up than with a sensational seasonal apple cake covered in dreamy whipped salted caramel buttercream frosting.
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Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Apple Cake
Three decadent moist layers of warm apple cake stacked high with the most glorious whipped salted caramel buttercream. The subtle autumn sweetness of the apples contrasts beautifully with the cozy salted caramel sauce mixed into the cinnamon-speckled frosting.
Topped with the remaining caramel sauce for a show-stopping golden drip and even more of that delectable frosting in mile-high swirls make this gluten-free and dairy-free apple cake pure cozy fall comfort in every single bite.
What Makes Up An Apple Cake
With a warm comforting combination of apples and cinnamon, this apple cake is made up of 3 different components:
- Apple Cake Layers – moist oil-based apple cake layers loaded with sweet shredded autumn apples.
- Salted Caramel Sauce/Drip – flavoring the buttercream, this salted caramel sauce is ridiculously easy and ridiculously delicious. The sauce is used to drip decadently over the cake for final decoration too.
- Salted Caramel Frosting – whipped salted caramel buttercream with a touch of cinnamon makes this frosting spoon-licking scrumptious.
Apple Cake Ingredients & Substitutions
As always this recipe is gluten-free and dairy-free. That said, I do test each recipe with “regular” ingredients and make notes of alternatives or swaps so that everyone can enjoy it.
Here are a few key ingredients for this cake but make sure you scroll all the way to the bottom recipe card for the complete ingredient list.
- Gluten-Free Flour: Check to see if your blend contains xanthan gum. This can also be swapped for regular cake flour if you are not gluten-free. Note that gluten-free flour blends can vary in weight so I recommend measuring by the cup. I made this cake with Kinnickinnik all-purpose baking mix. If you are not gluten-free, swap the flour with regular cake flour and omit the xanthan gum.
- Dairy-Free Butter: I enjoy baking with Becel plant-based bricks but any dairy-free butter substitute will work. You can also use regular butter if you are not dairy-free.
- Dairy-Free Milk: I love to bake with unsweetened almond milk but this recipe will work with any type of dairy-free or dairy milk.
- Oil: Use canola or vegetable oil for best results.
- Apples: I used crisp tart granny smith apples for this cake but you can use whatever apple you prefer or have on hand. Make sure you peel them first before shredding them.
- Applesauce: Homemade or storebought will do for applesauce. However, I used unsweetened but sweetened will work just fine too.
- Cinnamon: Fresh is best, that’s at least my motto when it comes to spices. Make sure to swap out your spices every 2 years. While they may not go rancid, they certainly will lose their potency over time. Not a cinnamon fan, you can simply omit it.
- Vanilla Extract: I will always encourage pure vanilla extract. It’s truly the best but with that said, artificial extract works as well in a pinch or on a budget.
The Easiest Oil-Based Apple Cake layers
These oil-based spice cake layers are as easy as they come. One bowl and a whisk are all you need to mix this batter up. And thanks to it being oil-based, they bake up so incredibly moist and flavorful.
Get started by mixing up the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, xanthan gum (if using), and salt in a bowl to combine and set aside. Next up, combine the oil, sugar, eggs, milk, applesauce, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and mix until smooth. Add in the dry ingredient mixture and combine.
With a spatula, gently fold the shredded apples into the cake batter and mix until just combined. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans and you’re ready to bake these perfectly moist and perfectly delicious oil-based apple cake layers!
How To Make Dairy-Free Salted Caramel Sauce
Salted caramel sauce, while so darn tasty, is notorious for being fickle to make. It’s a fine line between perfectly golden caramel sauce and burned. I’ll walk you through this dairy-free salted caramel sauce to ensure you have success.
Here are a few tricks for dairy-free salted caramel sauce triumph:
- First, make sure all the ingredients are measured, at room temperature, and ready to go before you start.
- Swirl, never stir. This is key to preventing crystallization. The steam running down the pan will help dissolve any sugar crystals that may develop on the edge of the pot.
- Keep an eye on it at all times. It can go from light to dark amber to burnt quickly.
- Store salted caramel sauce in a heatproof airtight container. Note that once it cools to room temperature it may separate. Simply reheat and stir to combine again.
And always remember, slow and steady wins the salted caramel sauce game!
Apple Cake: Step By Step Instructions
Step 1: Mix the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and xanthan gum (if using) together and set aside.
Step 2: Mix together the oil, sugar, oil, eggs, milk, applesauce, and vanilla until fully combined and smooth.
Step 3: Combine the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
Step 4: Gently fold the shredded apples into the cake batter.
Step 5: Divide the cake batter into three 8-inch cake pans that have been prepared with baking spray and parchment paper and bake for approximately 30-35 minutes. Cool cakes on a cooling rack.
Step 6: Cream the butter in a mixer on high speed for 10 minutes until light and fluffy. Add in the icing sugar, salted caramel sauce, cinnamon, and salt, and mix until combined.
Cake Assembly Tips
Stacking a cake with a soft salted caramel frosting like this apple cake can feel daunting. But, as they say, slow and steady wins the race. Therefore, let’s set you up for cake success with a few tips and tricks.
Here are a few assembly tips:
- Fully Cooled Cake Layers: even if a tiny bit warm, layers will slip when warm. Ensure that each cake layer is fully cooled if not even a bit chilled. I will even work with semi-frozen cake layers if I have to bake them a few days before stacking.
- Leveled Cake Layers: flat and level cake layers will sit far easier than crooked ones. I use this super easy cake tool to ensure each cake layer is perfectly level.
- Chilled Frosting/Cake: Salted caramel frosting can be quite soft simply due to the nature of the caramel sauce. If the frosting starts to feel too soft, stop what you are doing and place the buttercream and cake into the fridge to chill. Remember, don’t rush it. Take your time.
How To Decorate An Apple Cake
“As you desire” is often how I refer to cake decoration. It’s not that I don’t want you to make the exact same cake as I did, it’s simply that I don’t want you to feel like you *have* to make the exact same cake. We all have an inner cake artist and I always want to encourage you to let it shine.
That said, I break down this gluten-free and dairy-free apple cake decor for you real quick in these 4 simple steps.
Step 1: Crumb coat the cake and allow it to chill for 20 minutes. See the above section for stacking tips and tricks.
Step 2: Put a final “beauty” coat of frosting on the cake and smooth the sides and top edge with a cake smoother and allow to chill again in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Step 3: Gently heat the remaining salted caramel sauce for 5-10 seconds in the microwave or until it reaches a thick but pourable state. With a piping bag or spoon, drip the salted caramel sauce over the edges and immediately place it in the fridge.
Note that salted caramel sauce will never harden like a ganache drip and will continue to slowly drip down the cake. I recommend not pouring the drip until the day of serving. If you would like the drip to harden, add ¼ cup of white chocolate chips to the caramel sauce and heat together until fully melted and smooth.
Step 4: With a piping bag fitted with a Wilton 1M piping tip, pipe swirls around the top border of the cake. Chill the cake until ready to serve.
Storing and Freezing Instructions
This cake can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days. It can also be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months.
If you want to bake these layers a few days in advance, you most certainly can. I recommend allowing the cake layers to cool, wrap them in plastic wrap, and freeze until you a ready to stack and decorate the cake. Simply remove the layers from the freezer for approximately 1 hour before stacking and decorating to slightly thaw them.
The Yummiest Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Apple Cake
A piece of fall deliciousness, this fantastic gluten-free and dairy-free apple cake is a delicious combo of sweet and salty in every single bite. Fluffy moist cake layers packed with tart crisp apples and covered with smooth whipped salted caramel frosting. This autumn apple cake is pure warm and cozy comfort in every scrumptious bite.
Make sure you tag me on social media @cakedbykatie and leave me a rating and review below if you make it. Can’t wait to see it!
Autumn Baking Ideas
Here are a few other yummy fall recipes that I think you’ll love:
- Spice Cake (Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free)
- Chocolate Pumpkin Cake (Dairy-Free)
- Chai Oatmeal Cookies (Dairy-Free)
- Espresso Molasses Cookies (Dairy-Free)
- Honey Pumpkin Cupcakes (Dairy-Free)
- Spiced Pear Donuts (Dairy-Free)
- Almond Chai Cake (Dairy-Free)