My husband Tony is a huge fan of apple desserts and because he hates pumpkin ones (I know…wild) I try to make him a little something special with apple each year. His favorite dutch apple pie just so happens to be an AK reader favorite, too, so when I dreamed up this epic apple coffee cake a couple years back I knew it was going to be a winner.
Coffee cake is one of those desserts or brunch treats that can be really good or ends up being dry and bland. You know I would never give you a dry cake recipe! This apple coffee cake is perfectly moist thanks to applesauce (for intense apple flavor!) and the secret ingredient, brown butter.
Oh yeah baby, we’re mixing rich, nutty, amazing brown butter right into the coffee cake batter.
The result is a cake that truly melts in your mouth. The team and I kept sneaking bites of it all day while we were recipe testing last fall, and the crumb alone is delicious enough to write home about. Pair this coffee cake with pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving and you’ve got yourself the best dessert table ever! Or go traditional and enjoy it on Thanksgiving morning with a hot cup of coffee. Yes, we’re already talking about Thanksgiving, but this coffee cake is delicious all season long. Hope you love it!
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What is coffee cake?
I know the title makes it sound like we’re baking a cake that has coffee in the batter, but traditional coffee cake is a single layer cake that has a cinnamon-sugar streusel topping instead of a frosting. It’s often served with tea or coffee, hence the name!
Ingredients in this apple coffee cake
This homemade apple coffee cake uses plenty of pantry staples to make a cake that’s deliciously tender, filled with cozy flavors and has the perfect amount of moisture. No one likes a dry coffee cake! Here’s what you’ll need to make it:
- For the topping & streusel: you’ll need all purpose flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and butter to create a delicious middle layer and crumb topping.
- Wet ingredients: the coffee cake gets its moisture from butter, unsweetened applesauce & eggs. You’ll also need pure maple syrup and vanilla to sweeten! Some coffee cake recipes call for sour cream or greek yogurt to add additional moisture, but this one is perfectly moist without it.
- Flour: we’re using all purpose flour as the base of the cake as well.
- Spices: we’re filling this warming apple coffee cake with cinnamon, allspice, ginger & nutmeg. SO good.
- Baking staples: don’t forget baking powder, baking soda (yes, both) and salt.
- Mix-ins: gotta have those sweet, crunchy apple pieces in every bite! You’ll just chop a medium, peeled honeycrisp apple. Many people use granny smith apples, but I prefer the juicy sweetness of honeycrisp.
- For the glaze: this simple, delicious glaze is made with butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and milk.
A note on ingredient swaps
I recommend sticking to the recipe the best that you can to ensure success! A few notes on common substitutions:
- For the butter: feel free to use vegan butter to keep this cake dairy free. Do not brown the vegan butter, just use it as-is in the recipe.
- For the brown sugar: if you’re out of brown sugar you can actually make it yourself right at home! Check out our full tutorial and let me know if you try it.
- For the flour: I think that an all purpose gluten free flour will work in this recipe, but please note that I have not tested it out to be sure. Let me know if you do!
- For the eggs: similarly to the flour, note that I have not tested this recipe with flax eggs (but let me know if you do).
Jazz up your apple coffee cake
If you want to jazz this cake up and get a little ambitious: add in ½ cup of butterscotch chips or peanut butter chips to the batter. YUM. Mixing in chopped nuts like walnuts or pecans would also be delicious!
How to brown butter
The brown butter adds such an incredible flavor to this coffee cake and is easier to make than you think! Get all of my tips and tricks for browning butter in this post and get ready to add it to literally everything.
How to make the best apple coffee cake
- Make the streusel. You’ll start by mixing together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt, then stirring in the melted butter until the mixture resembles clumps of wet sand. Place it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it (even a day ahead of time!)
- Brown your butter. Next, brown your butter and set it aside to cool before using it in the recipe.
- Mix the wet ingredients. You’ll then mix together all of the wet ingredients until they’re nice and smooth.
- Whisk the dry. In a separate bowl, whisk together all of your dry ingredients.
- Make the batter. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until just combined. No need to use a stand mixer or a hand mixer! Fold in those chopped apples.
- Layer the cake. Because we want that yummy streusel center, you’ll pour half of the batter into the square baking pan, sprinkle on half of the crumble topping, then repeat with the other halves before baking for about 45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Glaze & serve. While the cake is cooling on a wire rack you can mix your glaze up. Drizzle it over the cooled cake, slice and enjoy! It’s even delicious with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
Don’t forget these cake-baking tips
With a few of my essential cake-baking tips, you’ll make the perfect apple crumb cake time and time again.
- Follow the recipe. The best way to ensure that this coffee cake turns out well is to follow the ingredients and instructions exactly.
- Use room temp ingredients. Be sure to use room temp eggs and to cool down the brown butter before adding it to the recipe. This will prevent the two from coagulating.
- Do not overmix. When combining the wet and dry ingredients be sure to mix until the batter is just combined. Overmixing will create a dense, gummy texture.
- Cool, then glaze. Let the cake cool for at least 30 minutes before adding the glaze, otherwise, the glaze will soak right into the cake.
Make it ahead of time
Feel free to either bake the entire cake 1 day ahead of serving and store it covered at room temp, or you can prepare the whole streusel topping and store it in the refrigerator 1 day before baking the rest of the cake.
Storing & freezing tips
- To store: feel free to keep the apple coffee cake covered at room temperature for 1-2 days, then place it in the fridge covered for up to 1 week.
- To freeze: let the cake cool and then wrap it well in plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Place the full cake in an airtight container or zip-top freezer bag. To serve it, thaw the cake in the refrigerator overnight, then let the cake come to room temp before adding the cinnamon glaze and serving it.
More fall treats you’ll love
I hope you love this amazing brown butter apple coffee cake! If you make it be sure to leave a comment and a rating so I know how you liked it. Enjoy, xo!
Brown Butter Apple Coffee Cake
Incredible brown butter apple coffee cake with a delicious streusel center and topping. This apple coffee cake recipe is perfectly moist, filled with warming spices, and has hints of caramel-like flavor thanks to the brown butter. Drizzle with the homemade cinnamon glaze for the ultimate treat that’s great for the holidays!
- For the topping & streusel:
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup salted butter, melted
- Wet ingredients:
- ⅓ cup salted butter* (unsalted is fine too!)
- 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup pure maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Dry ingredients:
- 1 ¾ cup all purpose flour (or sub gf all purpose flour)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 medium honeycrisp apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped into ¼ inch pieces (about 1 cup chopped apple)
- For the glaze:
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- ¾ cup powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of cinnamon
- 1-2 tablespoons milk of choice, to thin glaze to your liking
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8×8 inch pan with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
First make your streusel: in a medium bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add in the melted butter and stir together with a fork until it begins to form into crumbles and resembles clumps of wet sand. You may need to use your hands/fingers to form into nice thick ‘crumbs’. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the fridge until ready to use.
Make your brown butter: add ⅓ cup butter to a large saucepan or skillet and place over medium heat. The butter will begin to melt, crackle, and then eventually foam. Make sure you stir constantly during this process. After a couple of minutes, the butter will begin to brown and turn a nice golden amber color on the bottom of the saucepan, this usually happens right when it foams. Continue to whisk and remove from heat as soon as the butter begins to brown and give off a nutty aroma. Set aside to cool for 5-10 minutes.
In a large bowl, mix together the wet ingredients until well combined: applesauce, eggs, maple syrup, vanilla extract and cooled brown butter.
In a separate medium bowl: whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, nutmeg and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined; do not overmix. Fold in the chopped apples.
Pour HALF of the batter into the prepared pan; sprinkle with HALF of the streusel mixture. Then top with half of the remaining batter and top with remaining streusel mixture.
Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a tester comes out clean with just a few crumbs attached. Allow the cake to cool for 30 minutes before glazing.
To make the glaze: In a small bowl, mix together the melted butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and milk. Start with a little bit of milk to thin the glaze, knowing you can always add more to thin if necessary. Drizzle the glaze back and forth over the cake. It does make a good amount of glaze, so you can always cut it in half or omit it from the recipe (but I highly recommend the drizzle!). Cut into 12 slices. Store covered at room temp for 1-2 days, then transfer to the fridge for up to 1 week.
To make gluten free: I suggest a 1:1 gluten free all purpose flour.
If you want to jazz this cake up and get a little ambitious: add in ½ cup of butterscotch chips or peanut butter chips to the batter.
See the full post for tips on making it ahead of time and freezing it for later!
Recipe by: Monique Volz // Ambitious Kitchen | Photography by: Eat Love Eats
This post was originally published on November 16th, 2021, republished on September 27th, 2022, and republished on October 1st, 2023.