Ginger Cake with Apple Buttercream "Frosting"

October  4, 2018
14 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 2 hours
  • Makes two layer 8 inch cake
Author Notes

My mom used to make a lovely pink applesauce in the fall. I loved the way the skins add tartness, thicken the texture, and of course, lend their lovely hue. I found by cooking the mixture down even more to further reduce the liquid, the texture gets more like apple butter—thicker and smoother (and still pink)! Turns out, it makes a lovely, deliciously fruity alternative to traditional frosting on a layer cake. I paired it with a light, fluffy ginger cake (complete with a sprinkling of minced candied ginger on the surface) – it’s a really yummy cake with all the goodness of fall (and it makes your kitchen smell ten kinds of amazing). —Erin Jeanne McDowell

What You'll Need
  • Pink Apple Butter
  • 7 medium red skinned apples, such as McIntosh, cored and diced (about 875 grams)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (200 grams)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt (2 g)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (2 g)
  • 1/3 cup apple cider (76 grams)
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (45 grams)
  • Ginger Cake
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (180 grams)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (6 g)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt (2 g)
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger (6 g)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (3 g)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (2 g)
  • 4 large eggs, separated (228 grams)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (or other neutral oil) (99 grams)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (200 grams)
  • 1/3 cup (77 grams) whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (5 g)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (1 g)
  • 1/2 cup minced crystallized ginger (92 grams)
  1. Make the apple butter: in a large pot, stir the apples, lemon juice, sugar, salt, ginger, cider, and cider vinegar to combine. Heat over medium heat until the mixture begins to simmer – continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples soften, 20-25 minutes.
  2. Puree the mixture using an immersion blender, blender, or food processor until smooth. Return to the pot and continue to cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reduces slightly and thickens. It should be thick enough that when you dip it into the apple butter, it will fully coat a spoon without dripping off (and it will continue to thicken as it cools).
  3. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until well chilled, at least two hours.
  4. Make the cake: preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease two 8 inch cake pans with nonstick spray, line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper, then flour the sides of the pan.
  5. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, and nutmeg to combine. In another medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, vegetable oil, and sugar until pale and thick, about 1 minute. Add the milk and vanilla and whisk to combine.
  6. Gradually whisk the flour mixture into the yolk mixture, mixing just until combined.
  7. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar to medium peaks, 3-4 minutes.
  8. Add about 1/3 of the egg whites to the batter and mix with a silicone spatula to combine. Add the remaining whites in 2-3 additions, folding gently just until incorporated.
  9. Divide the batter between the two prepared pans and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle the surface of each cake with half of the crystallized ginger.
  10. Bake the cakes until they pull away from the edges slightly and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 25-30 minutes.
  11. Cool for 15 minutes inside the pan, then invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
  12. When the cake is cool, place one cake layer (ginger side up) on a platter or cake stand. Scoop some of the apple butter on top, and spread into an even layer. Top with another cake layer (ginger side up). Frost the top and sides with the remaining apple butter. Serve immediately.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Tori Pintar
    Tori Pintar
  • Amira Fahmy
    Amira Fahmy
  • Audrey
  • Katie Reed
    Katie Reed
  • FrugalCat
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!

24 Reviews

Tori P. November 23, 2018
This is a delicious light cake. The candied ginger on top of each layer is a genius tip. It adds so much. I made it with pumpkin butter and a creme fraiche whip cream as my frosting for Thanksgiving, it was a huge hit!
Amira F. October 28, 2018
How long will the apple butter last in the fridge?
Allie V. November 10, 2018
I also have this question!
Erin J. November 10, 2018
Up to 5 days!!
Aoife M. October 28, 2018
Have you ever made it into a traybake/sheet cake style bake?
Audrey October 26, 2018
I've got a bunch of ginger pulp from juicing... do you think it'd be possible to adapt this recipe to include that in some way?
Erin J. October 27, 2018
You could definitely incorporate the pulp - most easily into the apple butter. You could really add it to taste when you purée the apples - you just may need a little extra time to reduce the mixture to be sure it’s thick enough!
Katie R. October 25, 2018
Just made the “frosting”.. it’s delicious! Keeping it in the fridge until tomorrow when I make the cake. I think this will be my Go-to fall birthday cake recipe! Thanks for sharing!
Erin J. October 27, 2018
So glad you enjoyed it! The “frosting” is wonderful for making ahead, and so many ways you can use any leftovers, too!
FrugalCat October 24, 2018
WOW. I made the cake, using coconut oil and turbinado sugar (like always). I baked it in a muffin tin for cupcakes, and frosted them with plain whipped cream. I'm waiting for cooler weather to make the apple butter (I live in South Florida).
Erin J. October 27, 2018
That sounds like such a delicious version - love the idea of using whipped cream with this cake! And cupcakes - how fun!
Holland October 24, 2018
Should the apples be peeled?
Katie R. October 25, 2018
You can, but the peels give it the pink color..
Erin J. October 27, 2018
That’s right - it also helps make the mixture thicker, helping it ultimately get to this texture (and adds a tartness I love) - plus why add the extra step of peeling?
Ana October 29, 2018
I have to say that somehow it was not clear to me that I was supposed to not peal the apples. I'd suggest adding that note to the recipe :)
I loved this cake so much, it easily became one of my favorites! Thank you for the recipe :)
Charlotte R. October 23, 2018
Would fresh ginger work in this recipe instead of the crystallized ginger?
Erin J. October 27, 2018
You could definitely just add a heaping tablespoon of grated fresh ginger to the batter, but the candied ginger really makes this lovely textural contrast that really adds to the overall cake!
Alexandra October 22, 2018
How long does this cake keep? Would it be best stored covered in the fridge, and then taken out and bought to room temp before eating?
Erin J. October 27, 2018
Because the apple butter has a lot of moisture, it may not keep as long as some layer cakes, where the frosting almost forms a protective outer layer! But up to 2 days in the fridge should be great! It is still yummy served chilled, but bringing to room temp is nice for sure!
karon October 10, 2018
It's amazing how few typos and grammatical errors this site has, considering the number of recipes that are offered. That is why I'm always surprised to find one.

Erin J. October 10, 2018
Thanks so much for pointing it out! I’m a particularly fat-fingered typist, I’ll admit! Corrected now, thanks again!
karon October 10, 2018
What happened to the proof reader for this recipe?
Erin J. October 10, 2018
Hi Karon - if there’s something you’re having trouble with or an instruction that’s confusing, definitely let me know! I’m happy to help and always looking for ways to make recipes better + clearer!
Karen H. October 30, 2018
The cinnamon isn’t mentioned in the instructions. I assumed it was to be added to the flour with the other spices.