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Applesauce-Cocoa Cake

From the book Still Life with Menu Cookbook by

Culinate editor’s note: This is a longtime favorite — a Mollie Katzen recipe that everyone loves.


This is a moist, dark cake. If you choose to add the spices, the flavor will take on an air of mystery. It is almost a spice cake, understatedly chocolate, with a touch of orange, and all the luxurious qualities of an applesauce-nut cake.

This recipe is minimally sweet, so if you prefer a sweeter dessert, you can increase the sugar to 2 cups or use sweetened applesauce.


¾ cup (1½ sticks) soft butter
cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. grated orange rind
3 cups unbleached white flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
½ tsp. allspice (optional)
¼ tsp. nutmeg (optional)
1 cup finely ground walnuts (use a food processor fitted with a steel blade or a blender, with brief spurts)
cups unsweetened applesauce
½ cup yogurt or sour cream


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a standard-sized tube pan.
  2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.
  3. Stir in the vanilla and orange rind. Set aside.
  4. In a separate bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients (including the optional spices or not). Stir them into the ground walnuts.
  5. In a third bowl, whisk together the applesauce and yogurt or sour cream until well blended.
  6. Add the dry mixture and the applesauce mixture alternately to the butter mixture (dry-wet-dry-wet). Stir just enough to blend after each addition.
  7. Turn the batter into the prepared tube pan. Bake 45 to 55 minutes at 350 degrees. The cake is done when a sharp knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

This content is from the book Still Life with Menu Cookbook by Mollie Katzen.

There are 3 comments on this item
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33% recommend this recipe
1. by Erika on Oct 27, 2010 at 2:06 PM PDT

Granted that I haven’t made this recipe (yet), but I’m confused as to how something with an entire 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar, plus applesauce, can be “minimally sweet.” I really do like this sort of cake minimally sweet; can I safely reduce the sugar to 1/2 cup?

2. by anonymous on Oct 29, 2010 at 9:00 PM PDT

I have made this recipe for years, and absolutely love it. Definitely add the spices!!

3. by Kim on Nov 1, 2010 at 7:24 PM PDT

Erika, unfortunately I don’t know the answer to your question about substituting 1/2 cup brown sugar for the larger amount. When I bake this cake, I use unsweetened applesauce; also, it’s a pretty big cake, so the 1 1/2 cups brown sugar is definitely not the dominant flavor. Instead, the spices and cocoa give it a mysterious depth. I hope you try it and report back.

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