Big Little Recipes

This 4-Ingredient Apple Cake Is As Easy As It Gets

September 24, 2019

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re making an apple cake you’ll make on repeat all fall.

Of all the apple cakes on our site, the most popular one comes by way of our Genius column, and an unknown person named Teddie. Who is Teddie? “We don't know,” Kristen Miglore wrote. “This marks the first recipe in our series with an anonymous genius.”

While its creator stayed mysterious, the genius of the recipe itself was clear. Teddie’s Apple Cake is rich, tender, and moist. But to get there, you’ll need 10 ingredients: all-purpose flour, vegetable oil, granulated sugar, eggs, cinnamon, baking soda, vanilla extract, apples, walnuts, and raisins.

So what if I told you that we could drop that number to four? And that we could skip the oil altogether? And the baking soda, too?

It’s easy to assume that, without any fat, a cake would turn out dry (or, at least, not that exciting to be around). And it’s even easier to assume that, without any leavener, a cake would be as flat as a cracker. But in reality, neither is true.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Also, I have gluten free guests coming soon - what flour would you recommend in place of the white whole wheat for a similar consistency? Thank you!”
— Ellen D.

If you don’t believe me, just ask angel food cake, which is little more than flour, sugar, and whipped egg whites. Or dive into a The Great British Baking Show marathon, and keep an ear out for a “fatless sponge” (more whipped egg whites).

While those classics can be tricky, this four-ingredient apple cake is anything but. Because instead of separating eggs and whipping their whites and streaming in sugar (slowly! do it slowly!), you simply crack whole eggs into a stand mixer, dump in some sugar, and let the machine do its thing.

The inspiration is Russian apple sharlotka. In Food & Wine’s version, there are flavorings like cinnamon, nutmeg, almond extract, and lemon juice. In Smitten Kitchen’s, vanilla extract and a shake of cinnamon at the end. In both, however, the core ingredients stay the same: all-purpose flour, granulated sugar, eggs, and apples.

This cake doesn't need butter or oil to be moist and decadent. For that, we have apples. Photo by James Ransom. Prop stylist: Amanda Widis. Food stylist: Olivia Mack McCool.

Here, that template is our guide—but switching up the first two ingredients changes everything. Instead of using all-purpose flour, we’ll use white whole-wheat. As writer and whole grain expert Maria Speck explains, “White whole wheat is a true whole grain, but milled from a different wheat variety that’s lighter in color than regular whole wheat flour.” Which is to say, white whole-wheat is nutty and flavorful, but not nutty or flavorful enough to be distracting. We’ll also replace the sugar. Instead of granulated, which is as neutral in flavor as it is in color, we’ll call in light brown, which has the same outgoing personality as toffee.

These two simple swaps make additions like spices and extracts utterly unnecessary. Which leaves us with white whole-wheat flour, brown sugar, eggs, and apples (plus salt for contrast). That’s it. I love when such a small ingredient list adds up to something so big.

Just like Teddie’s, this cake is chock-full of what you came for—apples, apples, and more apples—bound together by a plush, tender batter that could have been a graham cracker in another life. But unlike Teddie’s, you can count the ingredients on one hand. I’ll be using the other hand, happily, to stuff my face.

What’s the littlest cake recipe you know? Tell us in the comments!
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • HomeKuchen
  • Claudp
  • kdenton
  • Foodie52
  • jojojiang
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


HomeKuchen April 22, 2023
I copied this recipe "Teddie's Apple Cake" from my mother-in-law's recipe file back in 1987 and she had copied it from her mother's file in the 1950's. It's still a winner and a favorite in our family!
Claudp March 1, 2023
There are a few things wrong with this cake. First - 3-7oz apples do not equal 198 grams. I added more & it helped - somewhat. The lack of fat and use of whole wheat flour made it too dry for me. Even adding vanilla & cinnamon didn’t help. I’ll keep making my go-to recipe which is much, much better using oil.
kdenton November 6, 2022
I tried this with a.p. Flour 1/2 tsp cinnamon and a 1/2 tsp of apple cider concentrate. It was moist, not so sweet than a scoop of ice cream was too much. I would make it again but add more spice and vanilla. Out of the oven, the top was crunchy, but softened when leftovers were covered overnight. Still yummy.
Foodie52 October 27, 2022
I use butter in my Apple Cake and I cream the butter and sugar together.
jojojiang October 24, 2022
This cake is very delicious .This cake was a huge satisfied. It's more like a Dutch Baby, baked in the oven. It is easy, proofer delicious. Rather flat taste and testy. I followed the recipe exactly.
Do apply your apples on this recipe.
jojojiang October 24, 2022
This cake is very delicious .This cake was a huge satisfied. It's more like a Dutch Baby, baked in the oven. It is easy, bakery proofer delicious. Rather flat taste and testy. I followed the recipe exactly.
Do apply your apples on this recipe.
Edica L. October 22, 2022
Do you think I could use almond flour instead?
Foodie52 October 27, 2022
Yes, I do when making Apple Cake - I use a combo of Almond Flour and a gluten-free flour like Coconut Flour. Just add 1 tablespoon of Baking Powder. Also let batter sit in pan for 15 minutes or more before baking.
Foodie52 October 27, 2022
Sorry - 1-2 teaspoons of Baking Powder not 1 tablespoon.
IshanWatkins September 30, 2022
These are terrible. There are short bread with chocolate in it. None of the "Carmel" flavor is there. At best there are a bland crunch cookie at best there are chocolate shortbread if that's your thing go for it but nothing about this is your new favorite chocolate chip cookie.
Nancy B. September 24, 2022
I make an apple cake with no fat whatsoever with just apples, eggs, flour and sugar (plus baking soda and salt). Moist, appley, cinnamony goodness
Try it. 8x8 greased pan preheat oven 350°
▪️I + 1/3 cup AP flour
▪️1 tsp. baking soda
▪️1 tsp. cinnamon
▪️1 cup sugar
▪️ 2 eggs
▪️ 4-5 cups small diced apples (I use combo of Granny Smith and any other red apples.
Mix all together well. Mixture with be thick and sticky. Spread into prepared pan. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake @ 350° for 25-35 minutes until top is golden brown and cake is cooked.

Cookrose December 16, 2019
Not sure what you're going to end up with here, but it won't be cake.
Brlwnkas August 19, 2022
Cookrose, what do you mean it not gonna be a cake.😄 so what it gonna be then😄
june S. November 24, 2019
Baked the cake and it came out like the picture and tasted the way it was described. Definitely something I will make again. Delicious and not heavy at all. I think it is pretty enough with the powdered sugar to be part of a dessert table for those who want something lighter. I enjoy your recipes and tips. Keep it up!
Ellen D. November 18, 2019
Emma, myself and my guests loved this recipe. Two questions - I made it in a 10 inch pan because I was not paying attention. If I make it again in a 10 inch, what proportions would you recommend? Also, I have gluten free guests coming soon - what flour would you recommend in place of the white whole wheat for a similar consistency? Thank you!
Donna F. November 18, 2019
I wanted to like this easy apple cake, but I did not (and neither did my family). Although I am fond of earthy, not so sweet cakes, this one felt like it came out of the depression. It needed something and would benefit from being baked in a loaf and smeared with cream cheese. It was so bland and rudimentary, as to be boring and unsatifying.
Ronnie August 28, 2021
I make a pear cake that's a similar concept (but uses white flour and sugar). Adding chocolate chips (great with pears and apples) takes it from bland to great. It's almost like a baked Dutch Baby. Great for brunch.
Sarah November 16, 2019
I made it, so delicious. Next time I will add some blueberry to it, I don't know why but I just thought its gonna add a depth of flavor.
Nancy G. November 16, 2019
I love apples but don't like overly sweet desserts. How much can I decrease the one cup of sugar before it affects the overall texture of the cake?
Emma L. November 17, 2019
Hi Nancy! I don't like overly sweet desserts either and, in my opinion, this isn't—especially if you serve it with unsweetened whipped cream, sour cream, or crème fraîche. If you want to reduce the sugar, I would start by taking out a couple tablespoons and going from there.
cole November 16, 2019
Can regular flour be used in this cake ?
Emma L. November 17, 2019
Yes, you can swap in all-purpose—the flavor will just be milder.
cole November 18, 2019
Thank you 🙏🏻
jpriddy November 15, 2019
I look forward to baking this!
Debbie F. October 20, 2019
Would a silicone “pan” work with this recipe?
Thank you
Emma L. October 20, 2019
Hey Debbie! Can you share a link to the pan you're thinking of? I'm not too familiar with silicone cake pans...curious to hear if other Food52ers have worked with them!
Debbie F. October 21, 2019
It is a DeMarle pan
Debbie F. October 25, 2019
RaquelO October 7, 2019
Can this be made with Gluten-free flour?
Emma L. October 8, 2019
Hi, not sure! Curious to hear if anyone has tried that with this recipe. I imagine your best bet would be an all-purpose gluten-free blend.
Vicki L. January 31, 2020
I just made it with half whole wheat and half almond flour .I also added 2 tsp of apple pie baking spice and 1/2 cup apple pie moonshine soaked and drained raisins and 1/2 cupped chopped pecans...Yummo!
Jaclyn T. September 29, 2019
I made these into cupcakes with a healing tablespoon of cinnamon! So delicious for a small snack! I only baked them for 50 minutes and they were moist and cooked through perfectly,!
Emma L. September 30, 2019
Cupcakes sound adorable! Awesome to hear that the recipe translated well to that pan.