I'd never really given much thought to why apple cake was synonymous with Jewish desserts until reading the intro to this Polish Hanukkah Apple Cake from Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous by Joan Nathan. As it turns out, the Jewish part comes from the fact that the cake is parve (made without dairy) and therefore acceptable in a meal served for the main course.
'apple cake' on Serious Eats
In the introduction to this recipe for Honey Crisp Apple Cake from Fresh from the Market, Laurent Tourondel explains that he adapted this cake from his favorite carrot cake recipe. A quick perusal of the ingredients confirms this—all of the usual carrot cake suspects are represented, even canned pineapple. But this recipe is a little more complex than that. You start by caramelizing the apples in butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar, then line your baking dish with the apples, in essence creating a tarte tatin-carrot cake mashup.