A Sweet, Easy Autumn Apple Cake

As promised, today I’m going to share one of my very favorite apple cake recipes. Years ago I found the first part of the recipe in an old cookbook,”Maxine Mulvey’s Hello Neighbor Book,” from Maxine’s cooking show that aired on KOA Radio in Denver back in the early 1960s. I can’t remember what attracted me to the recipe at the time, but I probably only had one egg on hand and wanted to make a quick apple dessert. I remember thinking I’d messed up the recipe because the batter was so stiff, but the cake turned out great and won rave reviews. Since then I’ve made it dozens of times.

To prepare the cake, you’ll need 2 or 3 tart baking apples. I like Granny Smiths and Pippins, but feel free to use your favorites. Peel and core the apples, and cut them into 1/2 inch pieces:

You’re aiming for about 2 cups of chopped apples. Next, toss the apples with one cup of granulated sugar in a large bowl. The apples and sugar need to co-mingle in the bowl for 30 minutes; this is important, because the sugar and juices from the apples create some desperately-needed liquid to thin the batter. You’ll see what I mean later. If you think of it, give them a stir about every ten minutes to help dissolve the sugar.

Now would be a great time to preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and butter an 8- by 8-inch square cake pan. In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 cup vegetable oil and an egg, and beat well. In a separate bowl (Sorry, three bowls! I can hear you saying, “You said this was easy!”) whisk together  1 – 1/2 cups flour, 1 – 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Back in Maxine’s day they likely sifted these ingredients together, but this is the 21st century and whisking is far quicker.

Herein begins an artsy selection of mostly-beige photographs:

Study in Beige #1

If you want to add 1/2 cup of nuts (pecans or walnuts will do nicely — just make sure they are beige!), feel free to toss them in. Now the recipe veers off into uncertain territory. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and stir until well combined. If you’re like me, you’ll think you’ve done something wrong. “What’s this?” you’ll say. “This can’t possibly be right. Why, this isn’t cake batter; it’s the consistency of drywall compound!”

Study in Beige #2

Which is sort of accurate, because what’s unique about this cake is that it’s a whole lot of apple-y goodness held together by a minimum of grout-like batter. Stir in the apple mixture, and things will improve — just a little. Instead of immovable sludge, you’ll have a semi-spreadable Liquid Nails sort of batter. Go ahead and drag it around your prepared pan, trying to keep the apples evenly distributed throughout. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect:

Study in Beige #3

Right about now you’re probably wondering why I — a person who supposedly cares and blogs about eco-friendly living — would be cooking in a disposable pan. I confess, I doubled this recipe and made a cake for a friend and I didn’t want her to have to return a pan to me. At least I found disposable pans made from recycled aluminum — as evidenced by the hand model gently cradling a tiny, green-dyed earth — but I still have a case of Green Guilt.

Anyway, you can bake the cake right now, if you like, for 30 to 35 minutes. When you remove the pan from the oven, the apples will be suspended in a surprisingly tender cake, and hopefully you’ll like the result so much you won’t even cuss me about having to wash three bowls, assorted utensils and a pan. You can sprinkle the cake with a little powdered sugar if you want, or just eat it plain standing over the sink so the crumbs don’t get everywhere.

Alternatively, before you bake the cake you can add this streusel-y topping which originally appeared in a coffee cake recipe in Maxine’s book. Simply combine (in another small bowl! Aren’t you glad you bought the 4-piece set?) 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 ½ tablespoons flour, 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon and 2 tablespoons cold butter (the original recipe calls for unsalted butter, but you most definitely want salted butter). Use your hands to work the dry ingredients into the butter, until you have a crumbly mixture that looks like this:

Study in Beige #4

Sprinkle the topping decoratively on top and bake the cake for 35 to 40 minutes. When you remove it from the oven you’ll see a mouth-watering culinary landscape of apple-y, crispy hills and valleys surrounding those tender apples:

Study in Beige #5

Cut the cake in squares and eat it plain, top it with ice cream or — if you’re feeling decadent — drizzle it with heavy cream:

Since this cake contains apples, grain and eggs I personally think it makes a very suitable breakfast.

You can find the text of the recipe here, and I’d love to hear how you’re enjoying the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of autumn.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of 15 books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

8 thoughts on “A Sweet, Easy Autumn Apple Cake”

  1. That’s the funniest way to cook, I loved it. You should write a cook book, I hate cooking from Chef’s cook books because it never comes out the way theirs does. You made me laugh and I just had to have a go, felt like we were cooking it together, thank you and, by the way it is really yummy. Thanks again, Mary.

  2. I baked this last night with my kiddos and they loved it. We paired it with vanilla ice cream it tasted delicious. Thank you for sharing this awesome recipe.

  3. I did a search for Maxine Mulvey’s soft peanut butter cookies. My mom used to make them and I have never found the recipe. Is it in the Hello Neighbor book? If so, would it be possible to get the recipe? Thanks so much for your time.

    • Dear Donna,

      Your note sent me on a lovely hunt to find Maxine’s book in the shelves, but alas, it does not contain a single recipe for Peanut Butter Cookies.

      Naturally, I immediately started craving soft peanut butter cookies which sent me down a new rabbit trail. Have a look at this recipe:


      It gets excellent reviews, and I think it looks promising because it contains both butter and shortening. This is the case with my favorite gingersnap cookie recipe (“Best Gingersnaps on the Planet” http://www.happysimpleliving.com/2007/04/12/the-best-gingersnaps-on-the-planet/ ), and the cookies stay nice and chewy. Instead of Crisco, you can find healthier organic vegetable shortening at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.

      Good luck in your quest, and if you find a great peanut butter cookie recipe I’d love to hear about it!



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