A perfectly spiced Mulled Apple Cider Cake topped with a brown sugar “penuche” frosting. Bake this delicious cake on a crisp fall weekend and enjoy the lovely aromas swirling around your kitchen.
Mulled Apple Cider Cake
It’s apple season! And also one of my favorite seasons for indulging in all things sweet. The air is cooling and all of the upcoming holidays just have me feeling extra happy and eager. I’ve been dying to use apple cider in something for a couple of weeks now, and a simple sheet cake (loaded with frosting) was a no-brainer. I love cake. And since I’m dairy-free I rarely get to indulge in it (unless I bake it myself).
This cake recipe is the kind you make on the weekend, when you’re in the mood to spend some time mulling the apple cider, allowing the boiled brown sugar to cool for the frosting, and enjoying the “fall” aromas swirling around your kitchen. Now, you don’t have to use mulled apple cider, but you’ll need to reduce the cider for around 20-30 minutes anyway so why not add in a cinnamon stick (or two!) and a few orange slices? The result is a spicy, more flavorful apple cider. And then you’ll also add lots of spice into the batter for extra fall flavor. For this, feel free to adjust the spices to your liking.
What is Penuche Frosting?
Growing up, my grandma would make yellow sheet cakes with penuche frosting. I didn’t know what exactly it was at the time, I just knew it was delicious and that she would have a little plate of extra frosting waiting in the refrigerator for my mom to snack on. Penuche frosting is made with melted brown sugar and butter, so it’s super sweet with a lovely, unique caramel-like flavor. It’s truly delicious, and it pairs wonderfully with any cake you’d like with brown sugar flavor (apple cake, cinnamon cake, caramel cake, etc).
To make the frosting, you’ll add the vegan butter (or regular butter), brown sugar, and a bit of plant-based milk (or regular milk) to a saucepan. You’ll bring the sugar mixture just to a boil, remove from the heat, whisk in vanilla extract, and then allow the mixture to cool completely. This part is important as it needs to be cool in order to make a stiff frosting. It can take up to 1-2 hours for the hot sugar to cool, so to speed this process along, I like to transfer the hot mixture to another, heat-proof bowl and stir it occasionally. Once it’s cool, you’ll simply beat in the powdered sugar until the frosting reaches a thick, spreadable consistency. Spread it over the cooled cake and enjoy that sweet brown sugar flavor.
Some of the Ingredients I Like for This Recipe
Whole wheat pastry flour adds fluff to this cake. This flour is a staple in my pantry for baking cakes and quick breads. I love it, and I highly recommend it for this recipe! You can use all-purpose flour in its place, but I promise the WWPF really makes a difference in the cakes texture.
Coconut sugar is my go-to sweetener. It’s unrefined, low GI, and doesn’t taste like coconut. Plus, it tastes less sweet than regular white sugar, which helps balance the sweetness of the penuche frosting.
Mulled apple cider is a delicious and spicy warm cider that bring in lots of fall flavor to this cake. Feel free to reduce your apple cider without the added spice/orange.
Applesauce brings moisture and sweetness to this cake! Plus, it goes along with the apple theme, so I felt it was perfect.
Light brown sugar is necessary for the traditional penuche frosting. The molasses taste adds a unique flavor to the frosting. I don’t recommend any substitutes as I’ve tried coconut sugar in the past with no luck.
More Fall Recipes
Apple Cider Cake
- 1 1/2 cups (345g) apple cider
- 1-2 cinnamon sticks (optional)
- 1/2 an orange, sliced (optional)
- 1 cup (130g) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cup (150g) whole wheat pastry flour (or 163g AP flour)
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 3/4 cup (124g) coconut sugar (or other sugar - see Note 1)
- 1/2 cup (90g) olive oil (or other baking oil)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup (255g) unsweetened applesauce
- 3/4 cup (170g) plant-based butter (or regular butter)
- 1 cup (224g) light brown sugar, packed
- 1/4 cup (58g) almond milk (or regular milk)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ~3 3/4 cups (450g) powdered sugar
Reduce the Apple Cider
- In a medium pot, add the apple cider, cinnamon sticks, and orange slices. Bring to a boil over hight heat, and then lower the heat and simmer until the liquid reduces to a 1/2 cup. This can take up to 30 minutes.
- Once reduced, strain the liquid into a bowl to cool.
Start the Penuche Frosting
- In a clean, medium-sized pot, add the butter, brown sugar, and plant-based milk. Place over medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a full boil. Immediately remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla.
- Transfer the hot sugar mixture to a heat-proof bowl to cool completely, stirring occasionally to speed the process along. This will take 1-2 hours. Meanwhile, bake the cake...
Bake the Cake
- Preheat your oven to 350°F. Prepare a 9x13" cake pan with non-stick spray and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
- In a medium mixing bowl, add the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Whisk until well combined and then set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat together the mulled apple cider, coconut sugar, oil, vanilla, eggs, and applesauce until combined. Beat in the dry ingredients until the batter is smooth.
- Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan. Bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out with a few crumbs.
- Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Then invert it onto a cooling rack, remove the parchment paper, and invert the cake onto another cooling rack so it's right side up. Allow the cake to cool completely. If you don't have two cooling racks, you can flip the cake out onto a baking sheet first and then invert it onto your cooling rack. Allow the cake to cool completely.
Complete the Frosting & Cake
- Once your cake and brown sugar mixture have totally cooled, add 3 cups of powdered sugar to the brown sugar mixture. Beat with a whisk attachment until smooth.
- Add powdered sugar by the 1/4 cup until you've reached a thick, smooth, spreadable consistency (I added a total of 3 3/4 cups of powdered sugar to mine). If the frosting becomes too thick, add a little plant-based milk 1 tsp at a time to thin it out.
- Frost your sheet cake (out of the pan) with an icing spatula, swirling the frosting over the top of the cake. The frosting may shift a bit on the cake as it's not as stiff as a standard buttercream, but it will set up quickly. Slice and enjoy!
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for maximum freshness.
- Sugar: feel free to use another granulated sugar. See the gram measurements for some common alternatives below.
- 3/4 cup white granulated sugar = 169g
- 3/4 cup raw sugar = 160g
- 3/4 cup unrefined cane sugar = 180g