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Baker, recipe developer, and cookbook author Jessie Sheehan shares her recipe for an easy one-bowl apple snack cake that’s perfect for after-school snacking, or really any other time. Dust it with powdered sugar, dress it up for dessert with ice cream, switch up the fruit in season, and prepare to bake on repeat. 

In my house, after-school snacks run the gamut—from fresh mozzarella drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with flaky sea salt and pints of raspberries for my 14-year old, Jack, to chunks of manchego cheese, slices of salami, and pints of blackberries for my 16-year-old, Oliver. And lest you think that sounds awfully wholesome, and like I might even be bragging, both boys love—above all else—packets of applesauce and tubes of yogurt that can literally be squeezed right into their mouths. There was a time when packaged snacks were verboten in my kitchen, particularly those of the squeezable variety, but those days are behind us, and I tend to purchase (within reason) whatever it is they request.

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But I do draw the line at store-bought baked goods. Breakfast muffins and scones, the occasional loaf of (no-knead) crusty bread, (most) cookies, pies, and ALL cakes are homemade. This is due in part to the fact that making such goodies is what I do for a living, but also because serving from-scratch treats to my boys feels special. Perhaps it is because I did not grow up eating said sweets myself, or perhaps it is because they are just so darn delicious, but offering Jack and Oliver a slice of freshly-baked cake—maybe even still warm from the oven—when they get home from school is, in my opinion, one of life’s sweetest pleasures. And if said cake is a snacking cake, well then, all the better.

Jessie Sheehan

What Is a Snacking Cake?

A snacking cake is one of my all-time favorite cakes to make and to eat. I love its petite size, the speed with which one assembles and bakes it, the ease with which one decorates it—via a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, a simple glaze, a fast and dirty swoosh of American buttercream—or doesn’t decorate it! (I kind of dig naked cake, FYI.) And its versatility—cake for mid-morning tea, cake for after school (obviously), cake for dessert after a weeknight dinner, and cake for late-night Netflix binge-watching sessions—can’t be beaten. Lucky for me, my kids are pretty into snacking cakes too. Chocolate is probably Jack’s favorite—with just a dusting of confectioners’ sugar—and Oliver loves my brown-sugar caramel one, with the salted caramel glaze.

Related Reading: Feeding Finicky Kids: Tips & Tricks From a Mom Who Feels Your Pain

But in the fall, right after school begins, and just as everyone is adjusting to new classes and teachers and schedules, they both look forward to apple snacking cake. It is a moist, oil-based, one-bowl cake, studded with cinnamon-sugar coated chunks of apples. Like all good snacking cakes, it takes almost no time to put together and is as delicious naked as it is with a dollop of lightly whipped cream (or, if being served after dinner, or during “Dead to Me,” a scoop of vanilla ice cream). I can begin assembling the cake within an hour of when they are expected home, and serve warm cake to them as soon as they enter the front door. The cake is not super sweet, but nor is it sugar-free by any stretch. However, the apples do indeed give it a wholesome, seasonal vibe, and even Jack and Oliver prefer eating apples via cake to those pureed and served in a squeezable packet. And that feels like a pretty good parenting-win.

Related Reading: Why Do We Give Apples to Teachers?

So, if you find yourself at a loss as to what to offer up your hangry kids post-school (or in a literal show-down with them about it), might I suggest an apple snacking cake. I guarantee they will be pleased, and I’m pretty sure you will be, too.

Jessie Sheehan

Apple Snacking Cake Recipe

This cake has a soft and tender crumb and is studded with chunks of fresh apples, generously coated with cinnamon. Its one-bowl, which means assembly is lightning-fast and clean up is a breeze. Prior to baking, the top of the cake is sprinkled with turbinado sugar, providing the prettiest sparkle and a delightful crunch. If apples are not your fave, substitute chunks of stone fruit (no need to peel peaches or plums) or even blueberries in their place, and omit the cinnamon if you like.

Apple Snacking Cake

Makes: 1 cake (12 servings)
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup mild olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 medium apples (I like Granny Smith)
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • turbinado sugar for sprinkling
  • confectioners’ sugar for dusting
  • whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8x8x2-inch pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, sugars, and vanilla.
  3. Add the egg, and then the yolk, whisking after each.
  4. Add the buttermilk and whisk until incorporated.
  5. Sift the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda onto a sheet of parchment, and using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients in three additions, until just incorporated. Do not over mix.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, scraping the bowl well.
  7. Peel, core, and cut the apples into 1/2-inch chunks. Place them in the now-empty bowl, wiping it with a paper towel first, if you so desire.
  8. Sprinkle with the cinnamon and sugar and toss with your hands to coat.
  9. Top the cake batter with the apples in a single layer—you may have some leftover apple pieces. Sprinkle the cake with the turbinado sugar.
  10. Transfer the cake to the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan after 20 minutes (the cake is done when a tester inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs).
  11. Bring to room temperature before dusting with confectioners’ sugar and serving along with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
  12. The cake will keep wrapped in plastic wrap for three days on the counter—and some claim it gets better with age.

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Header image courtesy of Jessie Sheehan

Jessie Sheehan is a cookbook author, food writer, recipe developer, and baker. She is the author of The Vintage Baker (one of the Washington Post’s best cookbooks of 2018) and the co-author of Icebox Cakes (both published by Chronicle Books). She has developed recipes for many cookbooks, besides her own, and has contributed recipes/and or written for Rachael Ray Everyday, the Washington Post, Better Homes & Garden, Yankee Magazine (October 2020), Epicurious, Food52, Fine Cooking, TASTE, Chowhound, Yummly, Spruce Eats, and Little Sous, among others. She blogs at jessiesheehanbakes.com and can be found on Instagram at @jessiesheehanbakes. She likes layer cakes with lots of frosting and cookies that are thick and chewy. Oh, and she has a soft spot for chocolate pudding. She lives in Red Hook, Brooklyn, with her husband and two boys, not far from her beloved Baked, the bakery where she got her start.
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