Apple Stack Cake (one 8", 6 layer cake or one 10", 4 layer cake)
Apple stack cake gained popularity in Appalachia well over a hundred years ago because it offered people in isolated communities a way to enjoy a fruit laden dessert well into winter. By using apple butter rather than spendy buttercream, it didn’t cost much to put together either.
If you’ve never had or heard of this Appalachian classic, you can read more about it on Gilt Taste. It has a wonderful gingery apple flavor and doesn’t require any expertise to make. For all its towering layers, it embodies the word rustic. So don’t worry if it leans, if patches of cake show through the apple butter, or if crumbs wind up where you normally wouldn’t want ‘em. It doesn’t have defects, it has character.
Most recipes for apple stack cake require aging the cake for a day or two, a bit like fruit cake, to let the flavors meld and give the lean cake layers a chance to soak up the apple butter. But as I researched the cake, I found the oldest recipes called for serving it immediately, warm if possible. So if you’ve made stack cake before, throw what you know out the window. This cake does not want to wait. Eat the day you make it. A slice the next day has its merits, but slowly turns to mush with each passing day.
This recipe makes four 10” or six 8” layers, all quite thin. I doubled it to make the twelve layered monster in the photos. Generally, the cake will feed two people for every layer made; as written, it will serve twelve. If you’d rather make a half batch, click through the link above to Gilt, which includes a smaller recipe.
Apple Stack Cake
26 ounces all-purpose flour, sifted
8 ounces unsalted butter or lard, room temperature
8 ounces brown sugar
1 Tablespoon ground ginger
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
2 tablespoon baking soda
12 ounces molasses or sorghum
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
4 ounces buttermilk
4 ounces unsalted butter, melted
4 cups apple butter (store bought is fine)
12 tablespoons heavy cream
1 Tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350°.
Traditionalists can make this in a 10” cast iron skillet, brushed generously with melted butter. For a more modern approach, make the layers in 8” cake pans lined with parchment and lightly greased.
With a hand or stand mixer, the latter fitted with a paddle attachment, cream lard or butter with the brown sugar, gingers, baking soda and molasses. Beat on medium about four minutes; stop halfway to scrape the bowl down. Reduce speed to low, add the eggs one at a time. Once fully incorporated, add the flour all at once, followed by vanilla and buttermilk. Continue mixing on low speed until homogenous. It will look very thick compared to a standard cake batter.
Use 15 ounces of batter per 10” skillet, or 10 ounces batter per 8” pan. Either way, you will need to use an offset spatula to spread the batter into a thin, even layer in each skillet or pan.
Bake until the cakes have puffed and spring back when touched lightly, about 12 minutes for the 10” layer or 10 minutes for the 8” layers. Loosen the cakes by running a knife around the edges of the skillet or pan, then invert onto a wire cooling rack.
If using the cast iron skillet, dust off stray crumbs with a clean towel, brush with fresh butter and refill with batter; you don’t need to wait for the skillet to cool. Bake as before.
With standard layer cakes, you must let the layers cool before stacking because the heat of the cake will melt the buttercream. But such is not the case with apple butter, so you can begin stacking the cakes as soon as you’d like.
Set the first cake on a serving plate or cake stand. Brush lightly with melted butter. Use an offset spatula to spread ½ cup apple butter over the top from edge to edge. Continue laying like this, brushing with butter then covering in apple butter. When you reach the last layer, spread any remaining apple butter over the top and sides of the cake.
As I said, it’s a notoriously rustic cake. Embrace its imperfections.
Enjoy immediately, with a sprinkling of fresh nutmeg and a splash of cream. If the cake has a chance to cool before serving, serve with warm cream; cold cream is unexpectedly lovely with warm cake.
For more information on how to store cakes, see this post from the Kitchn.
Jan 23, 2012 · 2:48 PM
Oh, what a stunner. If you can believe it this already has me longing for next autumn…
· Meister @ The Nervous Cook · www.thenervouscook.com
Jan 23, 2012 · 3:56 PM
What a gorgeous cake. For some reason I’ve always found rustic cakes to be elegant in the same way a wild mushroom is when you discover it peeking out of the earth. There is just something authentic about them. Can’t take my eyes of the photos either…I just want to ease into them.
· Terris @ Free Eats · www.freeeatsfood.com
Jan 23, 2012 · 3:56 PM
Holy cow, I kind of want to die from eating that entire cake. That looks amazing, and I’ve never had anything like it in Germany.
· Kiri W. · www.healthyfoodietravels.net
Jan 23, 2012 · 4:03 PM
That’s a great summary, I found your blog page browsing for a related subject matter and came here. I could not find much additional info, so it was good to discover this website.
· RUMAN · youtu.be/BNdVhnXo80A
Jan 24, 2012 · 10:35 AM
@Meister, me too, actually. This cake is my favorite part of the autumn, but since I make up a huge batch of apple butter around then too, I enjoy it all winter long. It tastes like September.
@Terris, I will be sure to pass that along to Sarah Jane; her photos just blow me away. There is a certain elegance to those old timey, rustic cakes…
@Kiri, it’s a little like a spiced apple dobos, I suppose….but uniquely American, I believe!
@RUMAN, what kind of info were you looking for?….
@Beth, thanks so much!
Jan 24, 2012 · 11:34 AM
This is beautiful! I love apple cakes but haven’t ever heard of an apple stack cake…can’t wait to try this!
· Lauren · www.bytes-from-texas.blogspot.com
Jan 24, 2012 · 3:33 PM
I’m just amazed, wow, what a cake!
· Michelle · amourbeurre.blogspot.com
Jan 24, 2012 · 6:29 PM
I’ve been wanting to try an apple stack cake; this looks more fabulous than I imagined!
· suzanne · www.flourarrangements.org
Jan 24, 2012 · 7:58 PM
@Lauren, it’s really rare for people outside of this little slice of the country to have heard of it. I’m trying to remedy that! haha
@Michelle, my grandmother used to make it one layer at a time in a cast iron skillet. So hardcore! I for one am glad for 8” cake pans.
@suzanne, I really hope you try it out! Let me know what you think. Don’t skip the cream, it’s such an amazing touch.
Jan 24, 2012 · 9:37 PM
The cake looks so inviting and the pictures are beautiful!
· Shumi · thenovicehousewife.wordpress.com
Jan 24, 2012 · 11:12 PM
This is gorgeous! All those layers are intimidating though I’m sure this is incredibly tasty, I love the combination of molasses and ginger in baked goods. Hmmm!
· Laura (Blogging Over Thyme) · www.bloggingoverthyme.com
Jan 26, 2012 · 1:52 PM
@Laura, it’s definitely a show stopping cake, but when it comes to that many layers it’s not tricky, just time consuming. A half batch tastes just as good, too.
@Mellie, you are so right. Nothing compares to homemade apple butter! Next best is from an orchard, where they use such a huge variety of apple to make it. And store bought is definitely a distant third.
Jan 27, 2012 · 1:55 PM
This cake looks awesome! I feel compelled to feature you in my Friday Food Fetish roundup and on Pinterest. Let me know if you have any objections and keep the amazing food coming…
· Javelin Warrior · cookinwluv.blogspot.com/
Jan 28, 2012 · 12:03 PM
@Javelin Warrior, absolutely not, what an honor! Thanks so much.
Feb 08, 2012 · 10:23 PM
I ended up making the stack cake this past weekend. I didn’t quite realize how much apple butter it called for and ended up using all of my remaining homemade apple butter (made over an open fire in a 30 gallon copper kettle – that was fun).
Anyway, I thought it was tasty but then my taste buds were so dulled by Super Bowl related excess by that point so it could have been actually spectacular and all I would have gotten was tasty.
As a side note, the dough really didn’t want to smooth out for layers 3-5 (I used 9” cake pans). It started getting really sticky but for some reason the first two were fine. Strange.
Feb 08, 2012 · 10:35 PM
@Ben, okay, that is freaking cool that you made apple butter over an open fire! Oh, many, I understand post-Super Bowl taste bud fatigue. I hope it was a worthwhile investment of your apple butter!!
May 07, 2012 · 3:15 PM
My grandmother made a cake like this, the only difference is, she used homemade fried apples and alternated that with applebutter between the layers, ending with the fried apples on top. I can’t wait to make this again. You don’t have to wait for fall…this cake is good ANY time of year…Yummmm
May 07, 2012 · 4:23 PM
@Cynthia, what precious memories! Fried apples sound incredible, I’ll have to try that variation out next time!
May 20, 2012 · 10:41 AM
Stunning cake and amazing pictures! That should´ve been a lot of work
· Paula @ Vintage Kitchen Notes · www.vintagekitchennotes.blogspot.com
May 21, 2012 · 10:51 PM
@Paula, It’s not so bad on a rainy autumn afternoon, that’s for sure.
Jun 04, 2012 · 5:50 PM
I’m so happy to have found your site — your images and recipes are gorgeous! This cake = simply stunning!
· Valentina · www.cookingontheweekends.com
Jun 04, 2012 · 8:00 PM
Thanks, Valentina! I can take credit for the food, but the photos are all thanks to the lovely Sarah Jane Sanders.
Sep 16, 2012 · 9:51 AM
Lovely photos! I make a version of this for a friend that uses cooked apples between the layers BUT the apples are from dried apples. It makes a difference.
I have mentioned a stack cake on several other blogs and wonder if the Smith Island cake was inspired by this one. The Dobos torte,1000 layer, manycakes of many layers
Sep 16, 2012 · 12:50 PM
Hi Penny! Using just dried apples is a very traditional approach. I like blending them with fresh, but you pretty much can’t go wrong. From what I can tell, the Smith Island cake seems to have evolved separately, but almost all cake making cultures have a multi-layered cake of some sort, as you mention. Something in human nature must make these layers irresistible to all of us.
Sep 28, 2012 · 12:23 AM
my Grandma and Mom both of which are passed, used to make this for the holiday’s every year. I had been looking for this recipe for quite sometime. Thank you for posting. great tutorial and pictures. Fall is here, I’m going to the orchard to get my apples to make applebutter soon.
Sep 28, 2012 · 9:20 AM
Hi Ann. Aww, that sounds like an awesome plan. Nothing kicks off fall for me quite like a trip to the orchard. I hope this recipe makes a good substitution for the one your family used to enjoy.
Feb 01, 2013 · 9:49 AM
Hi Titanic! Iooove that you live somewhere where you can buy a stack cake! I live in central Kentucky, but have never seen one for sale. Half my family comes from West Virginia too, maybe we’re long lost cousins.
Dec 05, 2013 · 3:05 PM
My friend asked me to make this for her to give as a Christmas gift. I would need to make the layers by Dec. 20, and then assemble and deliver to her by the 22nd. She won’t give the cake until the 25th. Will it still be good? I see that you wrote it becomes mushy. I was going to tell her to store it in the fridge. Would you share your thoughts with me?
Dec 05, 2013 · 6:12 PM
Hi Jenn! Yeah, sadly this is really not a make-ahead cake. In my opinion, it’s best the day it’s made, though it does have a certain charm as time goes on, kind of like day old pie? It’s tasty, but a shadow of its former self. It might be better to give her a big batch of apple butter and an IOU for putting the cake together?