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This easy apple sheet cake is made with fresh apples + apple butter for maximum apple flavor. It’s soft, velvety, moist, full of cinnamon, and topped with a brown sugar glaze. A great fall dessert that serves a crowd.

Apple sheet cake made with fresh apples and a brown sugar glaze on top. A fork full on plate ready to eat.

Sheet cakes are great for family or group gatherings. They serve a lot and are relatively simple to make.

This apple sheet cake is full of fresh diced apples, plus apple butter (a super thick, seasoned applesauce), and topped with a brown sugar glaze. It’s so light and fruity, we actually ate the leftovers for breakfast the next day. (Mom points on that one!)

Glazed apple sheet cake in a pan cut into slices.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SHEET CAKE AND REGULAR CAKE?

The main difference between sheet cake and regular cake is the size of the cake pan

Sheet cake is made in a sheet cake pan, which is quite large, with shallow 1-inch sides. Sheet cakes are made in either a half sheet pan, which is 12×18-inches — OR a jelly roll pan, which is 10.5×15.5-inches.

Regular cake is typically made in a 9×13-inch baking dish, or as a double layer cake made in two, 8 or 9-inch round pans.

For this apple cake recipe, I used a standard half sheet pan to create thin slices of cake to go with the thin glaze on top.

Slice of apple sheet cake on plate with fork.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO BAKE A HALF SHEET CAKE?

Sheet cake takes about 15-20 minutes to bake. It’s quicker than a 13×9-inch cake, which would take approximately 30-35 minutes to bake.

This apple sheet cake bakes up quick and you don’t have to worry too much about slightly over-baking it because of the moisture from the apples and glaze.

Slice of glazed apple sheet cake on a plate with a fork full of cake.

HOW TO MAKE APPLE SHEET CAKE

The ingredients for this easy apple sheet cake are simple, but the method is slightly unusual compared to typical cake recipes.

No creaming butter and sugar for this recipe. Instead, a hot water mixture is added to the dry ingredients. It creates a wonderfully light and super tender cake.

My favorite chocolate cupcake recipe also uses boiling water, so it’s no wonder I loved this cake so much.

To make this apple sheet cake:

  • First, peel, core, and dice a couple of apples. Because this cake is pretty sweet from the brown sugar glaze, a tart apple like Granny Smith is preferred. But feel free to use what you have.
  • Next, in a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Set aside.
  • In a medium saucepan, heat water, butter, and apple butter until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a boil.
  • Pour the hot water mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients, and whisk to combine.
Apple sheet cake ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, apple butter, water, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, and diced apple.
  • Add the buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla. Stir to incorporate. Then gently fold in the diced apples.
  • Pour the batter into a greased half sheet pan and bake at 400˚F for 17-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  • Let cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Apple cake batter being poured into sheet pan.

FOR THE BROWN SUGAR GLAZE

To make a brown sugar glaze, it is important to heat the ingredients to melt the granules of sugar. Powdered sugar is used in addition to brown sugar to help thicken the texture of the glaze.

  • Prepare the glaze by placing the butter, brown sugar, milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat.
  • Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves; about 2 minutes. Allow to cool 5 minutes, then pour evenly over the cake.
  • Let glaze set for about 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
Freshly glazed apple sheet cake in a pan.
Apple sheet cake with brown sugar glaze in pan with a couple pieces missing.

BAKING AND RECIPE TIPS

  • This apple sheet cake is a great use for homemade apple butter. You can also find apple butter in the jam/jelly/spreads aisle of the grocery store. Kroger or Mussleman’s apple butter are great brands to try.
  • If you just can’t find apple butter, you can replace it with unsweetened apple sauce, but consider adding more cinnamon, or spices like cloves and nutmeg, in small quantities to help flavor the cake.
  • The best apples to use for this cake are tart ones: Granny Smith, Pink Lady, or Braeburn. Feel free to use any apple that you already have on hand though.
  • Buttermilk can be made by adding a teaspoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to plain milk and letting it sit for 15 minutes before use.
  • Storage: This cake is best made and eaten the same day. It gets juicier the longer it is stored. Keep it refrigerated for best results.
Slice of brown sugar glazed apple sheet cake on a plate with a fork.

MORE FRESH APPLE DESSERTS

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Glazed apple sheet cake in a pan cut into slices.

Apple Sheet Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze

Yield: 24 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Rest Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes

This easy apple sheet cake is made with fresh apples + apple butter for maximum apple flavor. It's soft, velvety, moist, full of cinnamon, and topped with a brown sugar glaze.

Ingredients

Apple Cake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (stir, spoon & level)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1/2 cup apple butter*
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk*
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups peeled and diced Granny smith apples (about 2 medium apples)

Brown Sugar Glaze:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a sheet pan with cooking spray. Set aside. Peel, core, and dice apples.
  2. For the Cake: In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan, heat water, butter, and apple butter until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a boil. Pour the hot water mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients, and whisk to combine.
  4. Add the buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla. Stir to incorporate. Then gently fold in the diced apples.
  5. Pour the batter into the greased half sheet pan and bake at 400˚F for 17-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 to 15 minutes.
  6. For Glaze: Place the butter, brown sugar, milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves; about 2 minutes. Allow to cool 5 minutes, then pour evenly over the cake.
  7. Let glaze set for about 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Notes

  • Storage: This apple cake is best made and eaten in the same day. Cover and refrigerate leftovers up to 5 days.
  • Apple Butter: This apple sheet cake is a great use for homemade apple butter. You can find apple butter in the jam/jelly/spreads aisle of the grocery store. Kroger or Mussleman’s apple butter are great brands to try. Unsweetened applesauce will also work, but you may want to add additional spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg) in small quantities.
  • Buttermilk can be made by adding a teaspoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to plain milk and letting it sit for 15 minutes before use.

    Nutrition Information:
    Yield: 24 Serving Size: 1
    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 165Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 16mgSodium: 73mgCarbohydrates: 38gFiber: 1gSugar: 29gProtein: 2g

    This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix, and is an estimation only.

    This easy apple sheet cake is made with fresh apples + apple butter for maximum apple flavor. It's soft, velvety, moist, full of cinnamon, and topped with a brown sugar glaze. A great fall dessert that serves a crowd.