Apple Cake: Gluten vs. Gluten-Free

Gluten or gluten-free?

I honestly can’t tell.

Chances are that if we crossed paths in the last couple of weeks, then you were the unwitting recipient of a slice or two or nine of apple pie. I came into a lot of apples after a trip to Plain, Washington. We’d never been there, and let me say that it was just plain beautiful.

I’m sorry. It couldn’t be helped. You try to go without making your own pun. It’s just plain impossible.

Anyway, after making bags of apple sauce with one of my favorite people, I still went home with two heaping bags of apples.

So I made apple cake from this delicious recipe from Taste of Home. It’s quick, easy, doesn’t require a lot of ingredients, and very tasty.

And for the first time in many months, I baked with wheat flour.

I have to admit that there was something so familiar, and therefore comforting, about pulling that bag of wheat flour off the pantry shelf. For one thing, I didn’t have to mix my gluten-free flours. Instead, I simply opened one bag. I didn’t have to worry about binders or crumb or flavor, as I do when I mix gluten-free flours. I didn’t wring my hands in front of the oven door and turn on the oven light to examine the cake’s progress every two minutes.

Dang, I thought, as I baked cake after cake, this is easy. And cheap.

But where’s the challenge in that? So I decided to see how easily this recipe could be modified to make it gluten-free.

Very easily, it turned out. I just substituted gluten-free flour by weight (I’m currently loving a blend of 1 cup white rice flour, 3/4 cup millet flour, 1/4 cup sweet white sorghum flour, 2/3 cup potato starch, and 1/3 cup tapioca flour) and added an extra egg to act as a binder since we stay away from xanthan gum.

Mixer bowl full of cake batter made with wheat flour:

Mixer bowl full of cake batter made with gluten-free flour:

Pretty noticeable difference here, but once the cakes were baked and set side by side, you really couldn’t tell which was which. And as far as taste goes, maybe Nacho Man and I are just getting used to it, but we preferred the taste and texture of the gluten-free cake.

Or maybe that was just the sweet taste of success I was enjoying. Because as good as it feels to know that you can count on a recipe to produce a good cake, it feels even better to know that with a little tweaking, that recipe will produce a good cake that the gluten-free people in your life can enjoy.

Will it always be this easy? Is the point of gluten-free baking simply to substitute gluten-free flours and hope for something that reminds you of a good “regular” cake or cookie? No. But when something works, I say go for it.

Check out the Taste of Home website if you want to make the cake with wheat flour. For our tastes, the recipe made enough butter sauce to frost two cakes.

Gluten-Free Apple Cake with Caramel Frosting (adapted from Taste of Home)

serves 9


5 1/8 ounces gluten-free flour mix (1 cup + 2 teaspoons of my gluten-free mix)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 extra-large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 medium apples, cored, peeled, and shredded

1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix well.

3. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla.

4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until blended. Stir in apples and walnuts.

5. Pour into a greased 9×9″ baking pan and bake approximately 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

6. Drizzle with caramel frosting while still warm. This is one cake that’s okay to frost and serve warm.

Caramel Frosting


1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup half-and-half


1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add sugars and half-and-half. Stir constantly. When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring often.

Pair with Golden Delicious: A Cinderella Apple Story, by Anna Egan Smucker and Kathleen Kemly. It’s based on the true story of two brothers from Missouri whose search for a delicious new variety of apple took them to the apple tree of Anderson Mullins in West Virginia. A fun information book that reads like a story.

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