Hey friends. It’s been a little while and I’m sorry about that! My continued sadness and confusion at all that has happened and continues to happen since the election combined with the impending five year anniversary of my dad’s death, a full-tilt schedule of kid activities, and a very heavy work load have left me quite out of sorts. I didn’t mean to leave you stranded before the biggest food holiday with no recipes and I have many more to share with you than I can possibly publish before Thursday. But it will be okay. Deep breath. Let’s start with cake. Apple pie layer cake to be exact.

(Also, don’t forget that the Thanksgiving category of my archives is full of my favorite tried and true recipes for the occasion.)

This has been the year of the Milk Bar cake for me. The individual components are always spot on (cake, soak, filling, crumb, frosting) and combined, they provide the perfect textural and flavor contrasts that take each dessert from good to wow. My wonderful brother’s birthday was at the end of October and he chose the apple pie layer cake from the long list of choices with possibly a bit of influence from me. I thought I was being fairly subtle but finally he asked, “Annie, is there one of these cakes you are hoping I’ll pick?” What can I say? Subtly was never my strong suit.

This is a perfect cake for any fall celebration, be it a birthday, Thanksgiving for non-conformists, or a random Sunday with a best friend and a bottle of sparkling rosé. It starts with a barely brown butter cake, then an apple cider soak, liquid cheesecake (AKA nectar of the gods), pie crumb, apple pie filling, and pie crumb frosting. Whoa mama! Yeah, this is one amazing cake.

Though I vastly prefer the traditional 6-inch size of Milk Bar cakes, this time around I made both a 6-inch and an 8-inch cake simultaneously – one for the birthday celebration and one to photograph for you all. This was a good learning experience because I discovered that you can make a 1.5 version of a Milk Bar cake recipe and it will yield just the right quantities for an 8-inch cake. Though this cake does have many components, I was able to make two of them in a single day, starting early in the morning before work and finishing late at night. If I can do that, you can certainly tackle this fun baking project! As with most Milk Bar cakes, the majority of the components can be made in advance and the cake assembled later. Additionally the assembled cake can be frozen until ready to serve, so if you have a lot of time on your hands today, make this and then have it ready to go for Thanksgiving!

  • Yield one 6-inch layer cake


For the cake: 

  • 55 grams (4 tbsp.) butter
  • 40 grams (2 tbsp.) brown butter
  • 250 grams (1¼ cups) granulated sugar
  • 60 grams (¼ cup) light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 110 grams (½ cup) buttermilk
  • 65 grams (1/3 cup) grapeseed oil
  • 2 grams (½ tsp.) vanilla extract
  • 185 grams (1½ cups) cake flour
  • 4 grams (1 tsp.) baking powder
  • 4 grams (1 tsp.) kosher salt

For the soak: 

  • 55 grams (¼ cup) apple cider
  • 5 grams (1 tsp.) brown sugar
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon

For the liquid cheesecake: 

  • 225 grams (8 oz) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 150 grams (¾ cup) granulated sugar
  • 6 grams (1 tbsp.) cornstarch
  • 2 grams (½ tsp.) kosher salt
  • 25 grams (2 tbsp.) milk
  • 1 large egg

For the pie crumb: 

  • 240 grams (1½ cups) all-purpose flour
  • 18 grams (2 tbsp.) granulated sugar
  • 3 grams (¾ tsp.) kosher salt
  • 115 grams (8 tbsp.) butter, melted
  • 20 grams (1½ tbsp.) water

For the apple pie filling: 

  • 1 lemon
  • 300 grams (about 2 medium) Granny Smith apples (I used a combination)
  • 14 grams (1 tbsp.) butter
  • 150 grams (2/3 cup) light brown sugar
  • 1 gram (½ tsp.) ground cinnamon
  • 1 gram (¼ tsp.) kosher salt

For the frosting: 

  • ½ recipe pie crumb (already made, above)
  • 110 grams (½ cup) milk
  • 2 grams (½ tsp.) kosher salt
  • 40 grams (3 tbsp.) butter, at room temperature
  • 40 grams (¼ cup) confectioners’ sugar


  • 01

    To make the cake, heat the oven to 350˚ F. Butter and flour the edges of a quarter sheet pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Combine the butters and sugars in the bowl of a mixer with the paddle attachment. Beat together on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add in the eggs and mix again on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again. With the mixer on low speed, stream in the buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for 5-6 minutes, until the mixture is almost doubled in volume and completely homogenous. This is forcing too much liquid into an already fatty mixture and takes some time, but it is important to make sure it is fully mixed.

  • 02

    With the mixer on low speed, add in the cake flour, baking powder and salt. Mix just until the batter comes together and no dry streaks remain. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir a few more times with a spatula. Spread the batter in the prepared quarter sheet pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan once halfway through baking, until the cake is puffed and the center is no longer jiggly (the cake should bounce back when lightly poked with your finger.) Transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool completely. The cooled cake can be wrapped well in plastic wrap and stored in the fridge for up to 5 days.

  • 03

    To make the soak, combine the cider, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Whisk together until the sugar is completely dissolved.

  • 04

    To make the liquid cheesecake, heat the oven to 300˚ F. Line a small loaf pan (8 x 5-inches) with parchment paper. Place the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on low speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add in the sugar and mix 1-2 minutes more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and salt. Whisk in the milk and then the egg until you have a homogenous slurry. With the mixer on medium-low speed, stream in the egg mixture. Mix for 3-4 minutes, until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  • 05

    Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and spread in an even layer. Bake 15-20 minutes. Gently shake the pan. You want the cheesecake to be firmer toward the outer edges but still jiggly in the center. Continue to bake as needed until this texture is achieved. Do not overbake – you want this to be under baked! Transfer to a wire rack to cool, then transfer to the fridge to cool completely before using in the recipe.

  • 06

    To make the pie crumb, heat the oven to 35o˚ F. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Paddle on low speed until well mixed. Add in the butter and water and continue to mix on low speed until the mixture comes together in small clusters. Spread the clusters out on a lined baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, stirring to break them up occasionally. They should be golden brown and still slightly moist to the touch. Transfer the pan to a wire rack. The crumbs will dry and harden as they cool. (You will use half of these as the actual pie crumb, and half to make the pie crumb frosting.) 

  • 07

    To make the apple pie filling, fill a medium bowl with cold water. Juice the lemon into it. This lemon water will help keep your apple pieces looking fresh. Peel and core the apples, then halve and quarter them. Cut each piece lengthwise into thirds and then crosswise into fourths, leaving you with 12 small pieces for every apple quarter. Place the pieces in the lemon water as you go. When you are ready to cook the filling, drain the apples. Combine them in a medium saucepan or skillet with the butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, gently stirring as it heats up and the apples begin to release their liquid. Lower the heat and let simmer for 3-5 minutes, until the apples have softened some but are not easily crushed into applesauce. Let cool.

  • 08

    To make the pie crumb frosting, combine half (about 110 grams) of the pie crumb you made above in a blender with the milk and salt. Puree until smooth and homogenous. Combine the butter and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a mixer. Beat together on medium-high speed until fluffy and pale yellow, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add in the pie crumb puree. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for 2 more minutes. (Note: This makes twice the amount of frosting you will need for one cake. This frosting is difficult to make in a small enough quantity for only one cake. Use the extra for snacking or simply discard.) 

  • 09

    To assemble the cake, invert the cake from the sheet pan onto a work surface. Use a 6-inch cake ring to cut out 2 circles from the cake (these will be the top two layers.) Wipe off the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined with clean parchment or a silpat. Use a strip of acetate to line the inside of the cake ring. Use scraps from the leftover cake to place in the ring and tamp together in a flat, even layer. Dunk a pastry brush in the apple cider soak and give the layer of cake a healthy bath of half of the soak. Use the back of a spoon to spread half of the liquid cheesecake in an even layer over the cake. Sprinkle a third of the remaining pie crumbs over the liquid cheesecake, pressing down gently to anchor them in place. Use the back of a spoon to spread one half of the apple pie filling as evenly as possible over the crumb mixture.

  • 10

    Gently tuck a second strip of acetate between the cake ring and the top ¼-inch of the first strip of acetate. Set a cake round on top of the frosting, and repeat the layering process once more (brush with remaining soak, remaining liquid cheesecake, half of the remaining pie crumb, remaining apple pie filling.) Nestle the remaining cake layer on top of the apple pie filling. Cover the top of the cake with half of the pie crumb frosting. Sprinkle the remaining pie crumbs on top for garnish.

  • 11

    Transfer the assembled cake to the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours to set the cake and the filling. The cake will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks. At least 3 hours before you are ready to serve, remove the pan from the freezer, pop the cake out of the cake ring, and peel away the acetate layers. Transfer to a cake platter and defrost for at least 3 hours before slicing and serving.