Vegan Apple Cake (Torta di Mele)
4.58 from 19 votes

This vegan apple cake is inspired by Italian torta di mele. It’s so simple and elegant! Pair with espresso for an easy autumn dessert.

An angled photograph of a vegan apple cake. One slice has been cut out, and the top has been dusted with powdered sugar.

Like many people, I associate autumn and the holiday season with apple pie. Yet cake is my one true dessert.

Longtime blog readers know a little bit about my vegan cake obsession. It ranges from PB & J swirl cake to banana cake, chocolate pear cake to cherry upside down cake.

During the holiday season, I love gingerbread cake and cinnamon spice cake. Sometimes I indulge the craving for carrot cake, or I put my jars of applesauce to use in applesauce cake.

But I’ve never made a simple apple cake, and it’s time for that to change.

This vegan apple cake is inspired by torta di mele, a classic Italian treat. It’s simple, elegant, easy to prepare, and very tasty. It has become one of my favorite fall and winter desserts, and it’s my hope that you’ll fall in love with it, too.

What is torta di mele?

Torta di mele is a traditional, Italian apple cake. I’ve read that it is to Italian kitchens what apple pie is to American ones.

Torta di mele is decorated with apple slices. The apples are pushed into the batter from the top down, which creates a lovely pattern.

When I was reading up on torta di mele, I learned that the cake itself is usually very simple, with lemon zest as the main flavor note. I tried to honor that simplicity here.

I made the vegan apple cake with the same simple, vanilla cake batter that I’ve used in many other cake recipes. Different variations of the batter have turned into vanilla birthday cake, strawberry shortcake, and Nantucket cranberry pie.

A zested lemon rests on a small, round white plate.

In this version, the lemon is a little more pronounced, which is in keeping with most of the torta di mele recipes that I’ve seen.

How to make vegan apple cake

I love holiday baking, but it tends to come at a time of year when many home cooks are busier than usual. As a result, it’s a great bonus that this cake is simple to make.

Mix dry ingredients

You’ll start by whisking together all-purpose flour, baking powder and soda, and salt. That’s it for dry ingredients—it’s truly a minimalist recipe.

Mix wet ingredients

Next, you’ll stir together non-dairy milk and the juice of a lemon. This is a quick, vegan version of buttermilk.

To the vegan buttermilk, you’ll add olive oil (the fat source in this cake recipe), sugar, and vanilla.

Fold wet and dry ingredients together

Next, you’ll add wet ingredients to dry in order to make the cake batter. At this point, it’s time to also fold in fresh lemon zest.

A pale, yellow batter for baking is being whisked with bright yellow lemon zest.

Arrange apples

At this point, you’ll transfer your cake batter to round cake pan. To decorate, you’ll arrange thin, half moon shaped apple slices in the top of the vegan apple cake.

Don’t worry about making the slices overly neat or pretty or perfectly circular. I’ve put this cake into the oven many times, thinking it was messy looking, and it emerged from the oven looking just great. Anyway, the vegan apple cake is meant to be a little rustic. It’s a homey, every day dessert.

An overhead image of a plant-based, dairy free cake. It has been baked in a round, silver pan.

Serving suggestions

One of the nice things about the vegan apple cake is that you can dress it up or down, depending on what you’re in the mood for.

The cake can be made into something more festive and decorated with a thin dusting of powdered sugar. You can serve it with my favorite tofu whipped cream, and it’s also excellent with a scoop of vegan vanilla ice cream. For something that’s more sweet, you could drizzle some salted date caramel sauce on top.

It’s also fine to cut slices of the cake exactly as it is. They’re the perfect accompaniment to a warm afternoon beverage or get together with friends.

Storing and freezing vegan apple cake

The vegan apple cake should be covered and stored at room temperature for up to two days. After that, you can transfer it to the fridge for another two or three days.

If you need to store the cake for more than 4-5 days, then I definitely recommend freezing. You can wrap and freeze the whole cake (a great make-ahead dessert option for holiday parties or get togethers), or individual slices for up to 6 weeks.

More simple cakes

There are plenty of enticing, decadent desserts to savor in life. But simple cakes will always be my favorite. Here are some of the ones I love most:

An Italian-inspired apple cake rests on a serving plate and is dusted with sugar. A single slice has been cut out of the cake and is being served on a smaller dessert plate.
An angled photograph of a vegan apple cake. One slice has been cut out, and the top has been dusted with powdered sugar.
4.58 from 19 votes

Vegan Apple Cake

Author – Gena Hamshaw
Yields: 10 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (210 g)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • Juice and zest of 1 large lemon
  • 7/8 cup non-dairy milk of choice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (substitute avocado oil or another neutral vegetable oil)
  • 2/3 cup cane sugar (128 g)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 large or two small apples, peeled and cut into thin slices
  • confectioners sugar, for decorating (optional)

Instructions

  • Preheat your oven to 350F. Lightly oil or coat an 8-inch round baking dish with vegan butter.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another large mixing bowl, combine the lemon juice and non-dairy milk. Let them sit for a minute, then stir in the oil, sugar, and vanilla. Mix well, then pour these wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Add the lemon zest. Fold the batter together until it's fully mixed (some small lumps are fine).
  • Pour the batter into your baking dish. Decorate the top by pushing your thin apple slices down into it, in a pattern that suits you. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the top is puffy and golden and a toothpick inserted into the cake emerges clean. Allow the cake to cool before cutting into slices and serving. If you like, you can dust the top with confectioners sugar.

Notes

Leftover cake can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days.
A single slice of apple cake, dusted with powdered sugar, rests on a round, small dessert plate. The plate is on a white surface.

I’m savoring slices of this simple autumn cake with the Italian roast coffee that friends gave to me this past summer. It’s a new favorite, exactly the kind of treat I love, and I hope some of you will love it, too.

xo

This recipe is also my tribute to La Cucina Italiana, a digital and print publication that celebrates Italian cuisine and a love of Italian culture.

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Recipe Rating




    30 Comments
  1. 5 stars
    What a fabulous recipe! It’s simple to make, looks amazing when done and tastes absolutely delicious. I made it yesterday for the first time ( it definitely won’t be the last) and our guests thought it came from a bakery. A little dusting of icing sugar really set it off well. I followed the previous suggestion to serve it with a vanilla yogurt and I liked the combination.

    This is definitely a keeper. Thanks so much!

  2. 5 stars
    Thanks so much for the recipe

    I just went to Milan last weekend and found the best vegan pastelería, I was missing the tastes and this just perfectly replicates it.

    Thank you!

  3. 5 stars
    I made it with coconut cream and lime instead of lemons and it turned out great! Loved this recipe.

  4. 5 stars
    It was a very nice cake, i only added some almond essence and cookie-spice mix. And replaced a third cup of flour with custard ( powder).
    Loved it!

  5. I made this cake for thanksgiving, and it truly was a dream. the batter came together super easily, and it was really fun to decorate with the apple slices. It has a nice, strong vanilla flavor, and the lemon juice/zest and olive oil add some really bright, fruity notes which are lovely. It’s a no-fuss cake that is absolutely divine.

  6. hey this cake looks fab, im looking around my pantry and am missing baking powder, could i just use self raising flour as a sub?? advice would be appreciated, i want that cake 😀 thanks

  7. Do you think this would work with gluten free flour or do you have another recommendation for making this gluten free?

  8. This cake turned out perfectly fluffy and delicious. I will definitely bake this again. Thank you for sharing this recipe!

  9. This cake is delicious and so light and fluffy! I only had about half a cup of sugar left at home but it turned out perfect. Thank you!

  10. 5 stars. (Where does that go?) Long story, but I made two of these cakes today. One regular and one using 1-to-1 GF flour. Both turned out well, and looked remarkably similar. To get as much browning as you did, I put them under the broiler for a nanosecond. But so happy that my GF friends got to partake in the same dessert the rest of us were having. I agree, no powdered sugar necessary.

  11. 5 stars
    I made this and it turned out perfectly! I used unsweetened almond milk, followed the recipe precisely and it was as delicious as it was beautiful. I served it with a decadent, full fat vanilla bean coconut yogurt (has more of a custard texture) and it was absolutely to die for. I will definitely make this again. Total showstopper, but so easy to make!

  12. Gena, this looks fabulous, and reminds me of my ancestry. I love the idea of apples and lemon instead of the traditional spices and I also love the fruit pressed into the batter. I’ve been seeing that here and there lately–maybe a fig cake you posted in one of your Weekend Reading recipes–that presses fruit right into the batter. I tried it with banana bread, slicing a banana lengthwise and pressing it in and was pleased with the results. I agree these apple slices baked in look lovely as is. So pretty! (And yes, tha sprinkle of confectioner’s sugar is pretty standard in Italian baked goods! I loved looking at the site too. Made me smile. Thanks!! xo

    • It’s one of my favorite desserts in a while, Maria! I’ll have to try the pressing technique with banana now—I love banana desserts, too 🙂

  13. I wonder if you could reduce or eliminate the oil in your recipe and use apple sauce instead. It is a common substitution and I think would not change the character of the cake.

    • Hi Mark,

      I sometimes use a mix of applesauce and oil to reduce the fat. I think it might affect the texture a little, but I agree that it likely would not change the character! I’ll have to try it sometime 🙂

      G