Applesauce Cake

The original copy of this recipe is a decrepit piece of scrap paper with a lone hole punch that has been reinforced. It is battered, splattered and stained.

It has been typed on an old typewriter using a cloth ribbon, a large series of Xs cancelling out the erroneous title of Nanaimo Bars, while the correct name of Applesauce Cake has been underlined in red.

And there, in my mum’s bubbled handwriting, are the adjustments she has made over the almost four decades she has carried this recipe around. It has travelled from one kitchen to the next, slowly yellowing with age, garnering new splotches as time has passed by.

The original recipe

But the flavour of this applesauce cake — warmly spiced, slightly sweet and oh-so-apple — remains a constant. A taste of childhood and home and family.

The original still resides in my mum’s kitchen, tucked away among her other recipes, typed by her or clipped from the newspaper, newer ones printed from the Internet or photocopied from magazines. But with the technology of a scanner and e-mail, I now have my own digital copy of the beloved Applesauce Cake recipe, complete with brown stain and wrinkled edges.

At its heart, it is a simple loaf cake flavoured with applesauce, nutmeg and cinnamon. But it is also a trigger for childhood memories: trying to wait for it to be cool enough to eat as it sat on the wire baking rack; running little fingers under the rack glaze that had drizzled off the edge of the cake; finally getting a slice and eating it from the bottom up so the last few bites were coated with icing.

Applesauce Cake I

The apple flavour comes through well, but it is the cinnamon and nutmeg that make the cake a little more extraordinary. I’m not a food snob by any stretch, but I will say that there is no comparison between pre-grated nutmeg in a spice jar and the taste imparted by the freshly grated stuff.

These days whole nutmegs are not that hard to find and are well worth the effort for the improved flavour alone. Not to mention, they are gorgeous when grated: cream-coloured with darker brown veins, like marble.

(A fine grater will work, but my family is devoted to the rasps scoop up from Lee Valley Tools, which make quick work of nutmeg and are ideal for zesting citrus, mincing garlic and making fluffy clouds out of Parmesan.)

While the original version made one loaf in a 9.5-by 5-inch pan (24-by 12-centimetres), it left the baker with leftover applesauce. In her wisdom, my mum amended the measurements–writing them neatly down the side of the paper– so it would use up a full can, rather than leaving her to try to deal with roughly a half-cup of the stuff. Plus, in her words, it means “more cake!”

This comes together very quickly–especially if you have the forethought to pull out the butter or margarine early. Patience must come, though, with the hour-long baking time and the dreaded cooling period, which was such a source of frustration as a kid.

My glazing skills apparently need work, but, while unattractive, it tasted just as good as when I ate it in my mum’s kitchen.

Applesauce Cake II

And yes, when I had finally waited long enough for it to be glazed and I could slice off the first piece, I ate it starting at the bottom so the last bite would be the perfect combination of cake and glaze. After all, some things never change.

Applesauce Cake III

Applesauce Cake IV

Applesauce Cake

  • ¾ cup (175 mL) margarine or butter, softened
  • 1½ cups (375 mL) sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2¾ cups (675 mL) sifted flour
  • 1½ tsp (7 mL) salt
  • 1½ tsp (7 mL) baking powder
  • ¾ tsp (3 mL) baking soda
  • ¾ tsp (3 mL) nutmeg
  • ¾ tsp (3 mL) cinnamon
  • 1 14 oz (398 mL) can sweetened applesauce

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

Cream together margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in eggs. Sift together dry ingredients. Add to creamed mixture, alternating with applesauce, beating after each addition.

If you like, stir in ¾ cup (175 mL) chopped walnuts before pouring batter into loaf pans.

Pour into two prepared (sprayed or rubbed with a bit of butter or margarine) 8-by 4-in. (20-by 10-cm) loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour or until done. (Start checking at the 50-minute mark.)

Remove and let cool for about 10 minutes before removing from pans and putting on rack to cool completely.

Sugar Glaze:

Combine ½ cup (125 mL) sifted icing sugar with 1 tbsp. (15 mL) water. Pour over cake.

This story first appeared in the Real Life section in the Calgary Herald. For more delicious recipes, visit

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  1. some of my favorite recipes are ones from the cookbooks of my mom and grandma that’ve been scribbled on no end. this looks like it’s been honed to perfection—love the moistness, love the glaze. :)

  2. I have a box full of family recipes and epicurean snipplets. And on some fateful day in the future, it will be my turn to plop it into my daughters lap…..ahhh traditions.

    P.S: Love the shoes, the pictures, and recipes. What great taste you have!

    Martina from The Foreign Kitchen

  3. LOVE old recipes like this. Sigh. I want to make it from your mom’s recipe card! The glowing computer screen doesn’t have the same feel.

  4. I made these as cupcakes for my 3 year old and we all loved them. Delicious, like a moist apple cake. I made a cream cheese icing to go over them, which after tasting the sweetness of the cake, it probably did not need. Thank you for this recipe.

  5. I was looking for the perfect Apple cake to make cupcakes, with out it tasting or textured like an apple muffin. This is perfect! Lightly sweetened, I frosted them with a maple flavor butter cream topped with bacon. De-lish! I used the recipe to the “T” but adding 1 cup shredded apple (paper toweled dried) Baked at 350 for 25 min. Thanks to all moms for always having great recipes!

  6. I once found an old recipe card from my Russian Gramma (who never dared write out a recipe) and photo copied it, then plaque mounted it for all the women in the family – because there is NOTHING like looking at your grammas/mom’s handwriting. It was the best give I’ve ever handed out (so say the people who recieved it)

  7. I made this recipe as cupcakes and added a brown sugar buttercream and it was made one of the most amazing cupcakes I have ever had-light, fluffy, and delicious! I did cut back a bit on the nutmeg-I used about 1/2 of what the recipe called for, and I think I’ll continue to make it this way, but this is THE perfect fall cupcake!
    Thanks for sharing the recipe! I love the old recipe card. My Wawa (grandma) made the most amazing rolls and I was the only one in the family who learned to make them. Now that she is gone, I cherish the old index card with her writing and splatter stains on it.

  8. Found this via a Google search for applesauce cupcakes, then reading your applesauce spice cupcakes recipe, then turning over to this recipe. Made this as cupcakes (substituting ginger for nutmeg because my spice collection is embarrassing) and made my own oatmeal and brown sugar crumble to top it with. LOVE IT.

  9. I made these today because of an excess of apple’s which I made into sauce. Instead of a loaf pan I put mine into mini bundt pans and topped with crumble. They came out wonderful! Fluffy and moist all in one.

  10. Just wanted to say thanks for the recipe. I really needed a way to use up some applesauce. Made this into two cakes and the family ate almost all of one last night. One more to enjoy today. Your mum’s recipe will go into our family recipe book now.

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