Brown Sugar Apple Upside-Down Cake with Apple Cider Caramel & Spiced Walnuts

September 25, 2009
11 Ratings
Photo by Joseph De Leo
  • Prep time 45 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Serves one 8-inch cake
Author Notes

I love upside down cakes because they are beautiful and rustic at the same time. Apple cider caramel has become a family favorite for it's delicious apple and spice flavor. This cake is an excellent time to use a silicone cake pan. When you turn the cake out, you can actually push it out with your hand to make sure you get a clean patten on the top. —Erin Jeanne McDowell

Test Kitchen Notes

WHO: Erinmcdowell is our resident baking expert.
WHAT: A gorgeous apple upside-down cake to add to your autumn dessert list.
HOW: Layer apples and batter together in a pan, bake, and then top with apple cider caramel and a spiced-walnut mixture. Dig in.
WHY WE LOVE IT: The caramel and walnuts make an already-special apple cake even more party-worthy. Think autumn, squared—plus an outrageous-smelling kitchen, to boot. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • Apple Cider Caramel
  • 1 quart apple cider (992 g)
  • 1 tablespoon butter (14 g)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (2 g)
  • Brown Sugar Apple Upside Down Cake
  • 2 Honeycrisp Apples, very thinly sliced (1/8" thick) (160 g)
  • 5 ounces butter (141 g)
  • 1 1/3 cups dark brown sugar (283 g)
  • 2 eggs (114 g)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (15 g)
  • 1/2 cup whole milk (115 g)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (60 g)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour (240 g)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt (3 g)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (2 g)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (2 g)
  • 1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped (128 g)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (3 g)
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (2 g)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves (1 g)
  1. Apple Cider Caramel
  2. In a large pot, bring the apple cider to a boil. Reduce heat slightly, and simmer the cider until it reduces to about a cup. Do not stir the cider after this point (it may crystallize if over-agitated).
  3. Continue to reduce the cider until it begins to get thick and caramelize. When the caramel is thick and could coat a spoon, remove the pot from the heat.
  4. Stir in the butter and salt. Spread half of the caramel at the bottom of a greased 8" cake pan. Reserve the other half of the caramel.
  1. Brown Sugar Apple Upside Down Cake
  2. Fan the apples into the base of the prepared cake pan (with caramel in the base) into a circle, with the points of the apples going to the center. Set aside.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping well after each addition. Add the vanilla, mix to combine.
  4. Alternately add the milk/heavy cream and the dry ingredients, mixing just to combine.
  5. Scoop the prepared batter into the pan atop the apples. Bake at 350 until baked through, about 15-25 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.
  6. Heat a small saute pan over medium heat. Add the walnuts, and toast, tossing occasionally, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  7. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and continue to cook, tossing to coat. Let cool completely before using them to garnish the finished cake. Serve the cake warm, topped with reserved apple cider caramel and the spiced walnuts.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Silkwind
  • Kiyomi
  • Hannah K
    Hannah K
  • The Fiery Epicurean
    The Fiery Epicurean
  • Regine
I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, Savory Baking, came out in Fall of 2022 - is full of recipes to translate a love of baking into recipes for breakfast, dinner, and everything in between!

45 Reviews

Andjelka March 4, 2023
First of all thanks a lot for converting the measuring in grams as well. Saves me a lot of time :-).
I made this because it reminded me of an old recipe my mom use to make. And, as a bonus, the nuts are delightfully spiced and served as garnish. This is great in my household; my husband loves nuts in apple pie but my son is absolutely disgusted with it.
KM November 7, 2022
I was looking for a different kind of dessert to make for the boss's Autumn Party. I've put myself in a position to where the bar keeps rising on my desserts! Macarons were suggested by the staff, but I always do those (to the dismay of my husband's desire for Snickerdoodles). To make hubby happy I was looking for apple themed sweets and came across this! Thank you Erin! This was fabulous!! I multiplied 1.5 on the recipe and made it in a 10" springform. I may have had extra large apples but didn't feel I should put more than I did in, so munchies. I boiled down 6 cups of apple cider that just covered the bottom of the pan so I boiled down 6 more cups to top the cake with. This stuff is delish!!!! The cake was a huge hit, nothing left!! I have plans to make 2 more through the coming holidays! You must make this!!!!
Silkwind October 15, 2017
After reading the comments I made quite a few changes which I'll list bellow for anyone who wants to try.
I made it I cooked it in a 9'' pan, which worked perfectly, for 55 min, and it came out nice and moist. I had some leakage with my springform pan but that has nothing to do with the recipe, although if you plan to use a springform pan I'd suggest checking with some water to see if it will leak. I also used the advice of doubling the caramel which is fantastic because it really does taste great although be warned that if you make it on a low heat it will take about 4 hours to totally reduce. I was lazy and got pre sliced apples which are gala apples usually and I thought it gave it a wonderful tart flavor. I also added the spices for the walnuts right to the batter because some people said the sponge part of the cake wasn't great. I found adding the spice to the batter made it very flavorful. Also, I had pecans instead of walnuts so I used those, not that it makes much difference and I caramelized them using a tablespoon of white and brown sugar, butter, and I added 3 tables spoons of maple syrup, and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Finally I had to make it with krusteaz gluten free flour and per most gluten free cooking I added an extra egg to help hold everything together. All my friends and family thought it was a great recipe, including my dad who I know has doubts about gluten free cooking. Finally I was a bit unsure if the recipe called for holding the reserved caramel back until you'd cut a slice for yourself or to just pour it over the cake after it was out of the oven, I elected to /carefully/ pour it over the top right after I'd gotten it out of the pan (probably why it was so moist). The resulting cake tastes a lot apple pie filling but in cake format.
LizTerry October 7, 2021
Poured reserve caramel over after or before turning it out of the pan?
arun October 12, 2021
arun October 12, 2021
arun October 12, 2021
very nice..
arun October 12, 2021
nice ..
Deborah October 5, 2016
I made his cake this past weekend with great success. I made it in my springform, baked it for about 45, and it came out perfectly--even though I subbed the flour for King Arthur's Gluten-Free Measure for Measure mix. Came out just great. I omitted the walnuts to accommodate a nut-free guest and instead added the spices (in somewhat scanter amounts) into the batter, which boosted the flavor nicely. I also doubled the amount of caramel and was glad I did. The one change I may make next time is to significantly cut the salt in the caramel. Fantastic recipe overall!
NC November 30, 2015
I made this cake as per the recipe for Thanksgiving and it was divine! Yes there are some inaccuracies in the recipe; baking time was not long enough but that is easy to figure out if you have baked cakes before. Left my cake in for 45 minutes. I also used a 9 inch deep cake pan, because that is what I have, so I didn't have any of the run-over problems other did. That said, in the future I will either bake it in 2 pans so I can layer it or slice the one cake in half and put cider caramel in the middle to make it a layer cake. I also made twice the cider caramel - used a half gallon and reduced it to about 1 1/2 cups and at that point it started to caramelize. It was quite thick and one of the absolutely best things I have ever eaten!! The brown sugar flavor of the cake was excellent as well and complimented the cake well. This is not a fine textured cake, it is a bit coarse and dense, which I thought was nice with the caramel. I left off the nuts because I didn't think they were needed, and the overall presentation and flavor was awesome. Thanks for the recipe!
Sujatha November 23, 2015
Commented previously but updating to say that tho the presentation is not the same my favorite Apple cake is Dorie Greenspan's Apple loaf cake. Not as glamorous in theory but absolutely delicious.
Emily November 23, 2015
This cake looks beautiful, no question about that, but it's just not exceptional taste-wise. It doesn't taste bad, but it doesn't taste special either. I would opt for a different cake recipe with a similar presentation.
Kiyomi November 21, 2015
I read the comments before baking and found them extremely helpful. Apple cider caramel boiled down for a little over an hour. The cake finished baking at about 55 minutes. Overall it was relatively successful. That being said, I don't think this cake is worth the effort. I think an apple cake, where the apples are diced into a spiced batter might be a little more tasty.
Bell P. November 2, 2015
I am assuming the recipe is asking for ground cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Or am I wrong?
burkeboys3 September 23, 2015
I didn't have any walnuts so I just added the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves to the dry cake ingredients and it turned out delicious!
Hannah K. November 24, 2014
I agree with the comments of Sujatha and The Fiery Epicurean. Should've read through comments before baking I had to bake this cake for an hour and 15 minutes! And I spent most of the time managing the oven mess (read: cleaning as it baked!) so my house wouldn't be consumed with smoke. The cake eventually baked, as as the Fiery Epicurean said (and I'll add to) for the effort it took to deal with the mess this cake became in the oven, it did not taste special at all. For an elegant apple cake dessert I highly recommend : Gâteau Breton aux Pommes
The F. October 11, 2014
I would agree that the baking time is significantly off. I think I would've used a 9 inch pan instead of an 8 inch pan next time to avoid that are bubbling over in the oven. I think this is a great base recipe but it needs to be rewritten with more thorough instructions as it just seems like a bunch of random things compiled together and published...I didn't think it was the best dessert either the cake was just okay it almost tasted like dry unflavored oatmeal and there's nothing really outstanding about that
Sujatha September 25, 2014
Should have looked at these comments before baking. As others have mentioned, bake time was seriously off. Cake was gooey in middle at 40 min, and i was fooled by a tester that appeared clean. So surprised that i even reheated my oven with a temp probe later to check it, but my oven temp is right on. I would say check at 45, and expect at least 50-55 min bake time. Not the first time i have had an issue with bake times or preparation details on this website, love the ideas on this site but the details are often "off." Will make a habit of checking comments in the future. Wouldve been delicious, btw, and of course my kids have eaten most of it anyway.
Melinda September 15, 2014
I am going to try this recipe out using black walnuts.
Regine May 3, 2014
Why don't you enter this recipe in the walnut contest?
Selina April 5, 2014
Totally in love with this cake. Although it's all been said, I do have to agree that the bake time should be altered. I foolishly didn't read the comments before making it for my husband's Grandmother's 81st birthday (when will I ever learn?.) Since I had wanted to serve it warm, it threw off the timing of the afternoon a little bit, but when it finally cooked through, it was the stuff of brown sugar fantasies. . . Thank you!
Ghost H. July 15, 2013
This cake was very yummy!~ I made it for my husband's birthday last year. I will try it again when apples come back to market.
cathy July 15, 2013
I also had a problem with the time to bake....mine was done in 45 min. Also the quart of apple cider I think I should of simmered longer but it simmered down to 3/4 c. and slightly coated the spoon so I thought it was thick enough but it ran almost completely out of my 8" spring form pan! I had placed my spring form on a foil wrapped cooking sheet and the cider ran out of spring form and onto the foil and charcoaled black. Made a mess but have released from the spring form and it looks ok...so I'll see how it tastes tonight! Was wondering if a special brand of Apple cider would work better or just should have thickened and reduced less than the 3/4 c. but because the recipe said reduces to about a cup I thought it was about right :( Not so. Beware.
Cinnamin April 1, 2013
This is gorgeous! I must try this...have never tried an apple upside down cake with cider!
softenbrownsugar December 4, 2012
Shared this on our Facebook Page. LOVE Brown sugar recipes!
Thank you! (I also included the warning about maybe using 2 pans instead of one.) :o)