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Irish Apple Cake with Warm Custard Sauce is a lightly sweetened dessert that is perfect for enjoying during cold weather months or celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Studded with chopped apples and topped with the wonderful vanilla sauce, this is an easy, delicious treat!
A few years back I started making this yummy Irish apple cake after first seeing it on the blog Irish American Mom. Even though it’s called a cake, it’s texture and flavor is closer to something more like a scone or quick bread since it doesn’t have nearly the same ratio of sugar to other ingredients that most American cakes have. But don’t let that stop you from trying it!
The crackly sugar sprinkled over the top and the creamy, sweet vanilla custard sauce definitely make this qualify as an Irish dessert in my book, even if it isn’t as potently sweet as, say, sticky toffee pudding (my other favorite dessert that is popular in the British Isles).
What is Irish Apple Cake?
Also known as Kerry apple cake after County Kerry in Ireland, Irish apple cake is a traditional Irish recipe, although I wasn’t able to find any reliable history about when it came into popularity.
Irish apple cake is easy to make as it doesn’t involve any creaming of ingredients or beating egg whites. It’s just a matter of mixing together the dry ingredients, adding the wet ingredients, and stirring until just combined. Then dumping it all into a springform pan.
Sprinkle some extra sugar over the top for a crunchy, simple topping and you’re ready to bake!
The vanilla custard sauce, also known as creme anglaise, it slightly more work, but not much. If you have ever made a custard ice cream base, then you will recognize the steps.
Making custard sauce involves heating milk in a small pan, then pouring about half of the hot liquid over egg yolks and sugar that have been whisked together for 2-3 minutes until light. This is known as “tempering” the egg yolks and helps bring up their temperature without scrambling them.
The tempered mixture gets added back into the rest of the hot liquid and cooked over low heat just until slightly thickened. The biggest mistake you can make is trying to cook the sauce too fast and scrambling the eggs or cooking the sauce too long, which can over-thicken it. The sauce should stay thin so it can almost sort of soak into the cake a bit.
Stir in some vanilla (bonus points if you have vanilla bean paste with flecks of vanilla in it) and you’re done! It’s basically vanilla ice cream that never got churned and frozen, which maybe doesn’t sound the best, but it’s wonderful drizzled over a warm slice of Irish apple cake.
If you don’t feel like making the vanilla custard sauce, Irish apple cake would also be delicious with a scoop of ice cream or even just a dollop of whipped cream.
Every bite of this delicious cake has chunks of sweet-tart apple that are only lightly spiced with nutmeg and cloves. And the crackly layer of sugar on top achieved by sprinkling the cake batter with a couple tablespoons of sugar just before baking, gives the most wonderfully sweet, crunchy texture contrast to the soft cake beneath.
It’s akin to the tissue-paper thin layer on the top of brownies – you just want to pick it all off and let it melt in your mouth because it’s your favorite part but you know it would be wrong (but is it really?) so you try to restrain yourself. Just me? No?
If you have any custard sauce leftover, try drizzling it over brownies, pancakes, or pie.
What kind of apples are best for Irish apple cake?
Irish American Mom says that in Ireland they would use Bramley apples, but since I don’t have access to those, I used Granny Smith. Any tart baking apple like Jonathans, Jonagolds, or Envy apples would work.
Tips for Making Irish Apple Cake
- Don’t overwork the batter. Think muffins or biscuits or scones when making this batter – you just want everything to combine without stirring or working the batter too much. This will help make the cake light and fluffy instead of dense.
- The recipe calls for you to use cake flour. If you don’t have any on hand, you can sub cornstarch and all-purpose flour instead by adding 2 tablespoons to a 1 cup measuring cup, then filling it the rest of the way with flour for each cup of flour called for in the recipe. This also helps lighten the cake.
- Don’t overbake the cake. The cake should be quite moist even when done cooking. If you insert a toothpick and still see batter, keep baking, but if just crumbs are clinging to the tester, the cake is done.
- I use a spring form pan for baking my Irish apple cake. It’s tall sides and ability to easily release the cake from the pan make it perfect for this particular recipe.
More Apple Recipes You’ll Love
- Apple Oatmeal Muffins
- Apple Cider Donuts
- Apfelstrudel (German Apple Strudel Recipe)
- German Apple Cake with Streusel Topping [Apfelkuchen mit Streusel]
- German Apple Pancakes with Cider Syrup
- Slow Cooker Homemade Apple Cider
- Best Homemade Apple Pie Recipe
- Instant Pot Homemade Applesauce
- Creamy Apple Cider Chicken Skillet
More Fabulous Irish Recipes for Your St. Patrick’s Day Dinner!
- Shepherd’s Pie Recipe
- Bangers and Mash with Onion Gravy
- Slow Cooker Guinness Beer Cheese Dip
- Irish Cream & Mint Iced Mocha
- Irish Potato Soup
- Mint Chocolate Chip Brownies
- Irish Soda Bread
- Guinness Gingerbread
- Irish Nachos
- Dark Chocolate Guinness Fudge
- Chicken Pot Pie
Irish Apple Cake with Warm Custard Sauce
- 3 cups cake flour
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon cloves
- 1/2 cup butter melted and cooled
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 4 Granny Smith apples peeled and diced
- 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar to sprinkle over top of cake
- 1 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 6 large egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together cake flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cloves and nutmeg.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the melted butter, oil, eggs, milk, and vanilla.
- Peel and core the apples, slicing into bite-size chunks, then add to the flour mixture, tossing to combine.
- Add the milk mixture to the flour and apples mixture, stirring just until combined to create a sticky dough. Transfer to the prepared pan, spreading to the edges and sprinkling with the extra sugar on top.
- Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick, skewer, or thin, sharp knife stuck into the center of the cake comes out clean with only a few crumbs on it and the top is golden brown.
- Heat the milk in a heavy bottomed medium size saucepan over medium heat until bubbles begin to appear around the edges of the pan.
- Meanwhile, whisk the sugar and egg yolks for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture is thickened slightly and pale yellow.
- Slowly whisk about half of the hot milk into the egg/sugar mixture to temper the egg yolks. Then pour the tempered yolks back into the saucepan with the remaining milk and continue to cook and stir over medium heat until the custard begins to thicken slightly, about 3-4 minutes. It should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and should be between 165 and 170 degrees F if using a thermometer.
- Remove custard sauce from heat and stir in the vanilla or vanilla bean paste. Serve warm or cold over Irish apple cake. The custard sauce will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator.