Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Cake

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My mother used to make a simple apple cake when I was a kid growing up outside of Lebanon, Pennsylvania. She made it in her tin baking pan that lasted her more than fifty years. When the weather grew cool and apple season was in full swing,  we would visit a local apple farm, one of many that dotted the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside. I can still smell the apples as they were being squeezed through presses to make cider, and remember the peck-sized wooden baskets of apples that we carried home. My dad usually picked up a gallon jug of unfiltered cider too.

You may use any variety of apple that you prefer for baking. I chose Granny Smiths for their tart flavor and firm texture, but my mother favored MacIntosh apples. Our Meyer lemon tree is loaded with ripe fruit, but any lemon will do here. We certainly didn’t have lemon trees in Pennsylvania! Because this is an old-fashioned recipe, I used my mother’s vintage 1948 hand beater to mix the cake batter for my Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Cake.

Serves 4-6


  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons yellow raisins
  • 2 tablespoons walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 1 pinch ginger

  • Butter and flour to prepare cake pan
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 large or 2 small apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • Powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Using a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Set topping aside.

3. Butter and flour a 9-inch square baking dish. Set aside.

4. Using a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the sugar and stir to combine.

5. In another medium-sized bowl, beat together the egg, white sugar, melted butter, milk, vanilla and lemon zest. Stir to combine, then add the flour mixture. Mix until just combined.

6. Pour batter into baking dish. Press apple slices into cake batter. Sprinkle topping over apple slices.

7. Bake 20-25 minutes until cake tester comes out clean and cake top is golden brown. Sift some powdered sugar over warm cake. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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27 Responses to Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Cake

  1. The Wimpy Vegetarian March 5, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    I love everything about this, including the hand beater! My mom used to have one too, but it’s long gone now. But it’s funny how a simple appliance can bring up so many memories. Love the recipe too, Liz, and a peek at living in the apple country of your childhood. Such a wonderful comforting dessert.

    • lizthechef March 5, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

      Thank you, Susan, I wish we lived nearer one another to practice with our new cameras…I need lessons!

  2. casacks March 5, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    Wonderful on every level, Liz. Such an evocative post.

  3. apuginthekitchen March 5, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    What a beautiful story and cake. I love apple cake, the egg beater brought back wonderful memories of baking in the kitchen with my Mom.

    • lizthechef March 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

      Yes, I’m so glad I have my mother’s egg beater – and remember using it when I had to stand on a stool in the kitchen.

      • apuginthekitchen March 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

        Oh yes, my Mom tied her apron on me, I loved using the egg beater.

        • lizthechef March 5, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

          I forgot about the apron – of course – thanks.

  4. TasteFood March 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    What a lovely and comforting recipe. I am saving this for a rainy day – literally.

    • lizthechef March 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

      It tasted Ok here on a cloudy day 😉

  5. Sunchowder - Wendy Read March 5, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    Love this recipe and the story of course! Your photo is also beautiful my dear 🙂 This one is a keeper, I am printing for my file. XO, Wendy

    • lizthechef March 5, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

      Thanks, dear Wendy, it is just a simple “tea” cake.

  6. Norma Chang March 5, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    How wonderful that you still have and use your mother’s vintage 1948 hand beater.

    • lizthechef March 5, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

      Yes, Norma, it was one of the first things I grabbed from her kitchen after I lost her in 2007. I donated her electric mixer because it had no sentiment for me.

  7. reciperenovator March 5, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    My mom used to make a Dutch apple cake that was very similar to this. It brings back wonderful memories! Maybe I’ll have to renovate it to make it gluten-free and vegan… it really makes the apples shine, just like yours does. Love the pretty plate and the powdered sugar.

    • lizthechef March 5, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

      Yes, please renovate! The plate is old as the hills, probably from my grandmother’s “baby” sister, who spent her final years being cared for by my mother.

  8. Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga March 5, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

    This is so me. Cake, apples, raisins, brown sugar…oh, this is my language. I was playing with yellow cake today, too. But no apples…just chocolate & PB involved.

    BTW you move to WordPress and off blogger is awesome!! CONGRATS.

    • lizthechef March 6, 2012 at 9:38 am #

      Will watch for that recipe. Peanut Butter is my downfall…

  9. jaynerly March 6, 2012 at 12:55 am #

    This sounds like a lovely cake! I love that beater! I remember when one of those was all we used, for whipping cream also for beating egg whites for making meringue, wow that required some elbow grease!

    • lizthechef March 6, 2012 at 9:37 am #

      Yes, I remember my mom and I taking turns because we each got tired from the beating!

  10. Oui, Chef March 6, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    WOW, a 1948 hand-beater…it’s almost as old as me! Would love a piece of this cake with my afternoon tea.

  11. bakeanything March 7, 2012 at 12:32 am #

    Love the hand beater! Thank you for passing this recipe to us and share it with everyone (:

  12. Fuji Mama March 7, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

    This reminds me of an apple cake someone made me once while we were living in Memphis! It was AMAZING, but I never managed to get the recipe. I have to make this. Even if it doesn’t taste the same, I don’t think I’m going to be disappointed. 🙂

    • lizthechef March 8, 2012 at 8:18 am #

      I will bet there are many versions of this cake floating around. Hey, I didn’t know you lived in Memphis…

  13. Maureen March 9, 2012 at 12:57 am #

    I had to laugh at using mom’s beater. I miss my mother but I don’t think I’d work that hard for a bit of nostalgia. My hat’s off to you. 🙂

    Your cake looks fantastic and it’s just about apple season in Australia. This cake will soon be mine!

    • lizthechef March 9, 2012 at 7:32 am #

      I admit that that beater is a bit clumsy to use – still fun once in a while. Happy apple season!

  14. BitsyBet October 9, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    I’ve been looking for a good Dutch apple care recipe and I think I’ve found it. I’ll be making this tomorrow and I’ll let you know how it turns out. I have a very similar hand beater. It was made in the 1930s and belonged to my grandmother.

    • Liz October 9, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

      I can’t wait to hear how it works for you. Apple season is the perfect time for the recipe – in fact, I think I will bake one over the weekend.

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