This Gluten-Free French Apple Cake, adapted from Cook's Illustrated, has a rich custardy bottom, a light cake layer and a crisp sugary topping. Serve it warm, or at room temperature. You can top it with vanilla bean ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream too. But I think it's perfect as-is.
Recipe by: Alison Needham, A Girl Defloured - watch the video to see us make it!
September has always meant apples to me ever since I had my first job at Bloomingcamp Apple Ranch some 24 years ago (could it really be that long…gasp!). Part of my job was to help customers select the right variety of apple for the job. Did they want to make them into pies, or eat them out of hand? Were they canning a big batch of applesauce, or did they want to through some in with their pork roast? Did they like their apples sweet, crisp, or tart? Whatever their plans were, I could help them pick the very best apples.
I remember the bracing air in the cold storage room where we stored apples by the bushel. I can still hear the cha-ching of the old fashioned register when me made a sale. But my most present memory, the one that still comes to me in my dreams, is the painfully persistent aroma of pies baking in the back. We swept and sold, advised and lugged bushels, always in a haze of cinnamon, sugar, and baking apples. Now I consider it the most beautiful scent known to man, that of pies, especially apple, in the oven. But back then, when one of my jobs was to muscle off the apple goo, deeply caramelized and fiercely clinging to the huge sheet pans on which the pies baked, the fragrance was too much for me. It was an assault on the senses.
Happily, I’ve outgrown that particular olfactory overload. Each fall I cook with apples often, both in sweet and savory applications. A year ago, when I received my Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, I swooned over their recipe for French Apple Cake. The bottom layer is moist with sliced apples and custard, the top layer is more cakey. The whole thing is sprinkled with a generous topping of sugar. It took me a year to try and make a gluten-free version. I’m not quite sure why I waited so long because the results of the Gluten-Free French Apple Cake are outstanding.
It is a beautiful confection–perfect for fall picnics. Because it is naturally light on flour, it converted amazingly well using my gluten-free flour blend and a little almond flour for flavor and structure. I think you will LOVE it. And yes, it smells so good when it’s baking in the oven.
If you are looking for a great visual on what variety of apples are best for Gluten-Free French Apple Cake (besides the Granny Smith), or for that applesauce you're planning to make this weekend, check out this amazing infographic. It was created by Sean Seidell, one of my friends from high school. I wish we had it hanging for reference at the apple ranch where I worked!
Gluten-Free French Apple Cake
- 1 ½ lbs Granny Smith apples peeled, cored and cut into 8 wedges and sliced ⅛ inch thick crosswise
- 1 tablespoon brandy
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- ¾ cup, plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose gluten-free flour blend
- ¼ cup almond flour or coconut flour
- 1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons organic granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your blend already contains it)
- 1 large egg plus 2 large yolks
- 1 cup canola oil or coconut oil
- 1 cup whole milk or dairy free milk of your choosing
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven and set the temperature to 325 degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with gluten-free cooking spray and place on a foil lined, rimed baking sheet.
- Place apple slices on a microwave safe plate or pie dish, cover and microwave on high for 3 minutes, or until apples are slightly tender and pliable. Drizzle with brandy and lemon juice and let cool for 15 minutes.
- Place ¾ cup of gluten-free flour blend, almond flour, 1 cup of sugar, baking powder, salt and xanthan gum in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Add one egg, oil, milk and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth. Scoop out one cup of the batter and place in another medium bowl.
- Add egg yolks to the larger portion of the batter and whisk to combine. Fold in the cooled apple slices and pour mixture into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with an offset (or rubber) spatula.
- Whisk remaining 2 tablespoons of gluten-free flour blend into the remaining batter and smooth batter evenly over the apple mixture in the pan, taking care to spread it all the way to the edges.
- Sprinkle the top with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and bake until the center of the cake is set, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
- Transfer pan to a wire rack and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake along the sides of the pan and let cool completely, about 2 hours more (if you can). Cut into wedges and serve.
Frequently Asked Questions about French Apple Cake:
French Apple Cake is a cake made with apple slices, a splash of booze like brady or rum, and a custardy cake base. Many also incorporate nut flour.
Granny Smith apples are the best pick for French Apple Cake, since they hold up while baking, have a strong apple flavor and add a touch of tartness. Other apples that do well in baked goods could be substituted, such as Honeycrisp, Gala or Fuji apples.
Since apple cake has lots of moisture, store in a sealed container in a cool, dry place for up to 3 days.
You can store the cake in a sealed container in a cool, dry place for up to three days. The cake can be made a day ahead if you are planning for guests.
This looks great! I don't eat dairy or milk substitutes: would water be an acceptable substitute? Thank you!
This looks fabulous! Thank you for sharing.
Carlene Henager says
I wonder if you could use apple juice or apple cider instead of the dairy.
Pinky Hordyk says
I made this today and it was VERY YUMMY. I didn't have xanthum gum so substituted ground flax seeds. I also made 2 of them, the first one was very oily so I cut the oil to 1/2 cup in the second on and it was just fine. This will definitely be a go-to recipe for gluten free dessert.
Hello. How much flax seed did you use for this recipe? Thank you.
Great recipe! Will definitely go into my recipe box. I had to make some adjustments due to what I had on hand and personal dietary restrictions...
I used coconut sugar instead of regular sugar.
Instead of the gluten free flour I did 1/2 cup brown rice flour and 1/4 cup tapioca flour.
Instead of canola oil I did half avocado oil half butter, melted.
For the milk I used coconut milk.
Thanks for sharing!!!
I made his twice. The first time as written,the second using potato flour and coconut flour,and I used coconut sugar which gave a richer flavor,then I used almond milk.
Andrea dutton says
Can you omit the brandy
G-Free Foodie says
we really like it in the cake 🙂
I don't have or use brandy. Can it be omitted or is there a non-alcohol substitute?
I soaked my apples in orange juice instead of brandy! It was delicious.
K.C. Cornwell says
That sounds delicious!
Lisa gaston says
Delicious. Didn't have the brandy so skipped it. Used coconut oil, but will make it next time w half the amount, almond milk used. And the big change - I had peaches on hand not apples- still yummy!
Andrea Macias says
I made this yesterday and it was delicious! I followed the directions exactly (using the coconut flour and canola oil) and it was perfect. It's a rare thing for my end product to look just like the Pinterest photo, but this one did! Thanks for sharing this recipe! My family loves it!
Cara Sweeney says
I made this recipe today for a dinner party I had tonight and it was a hit. Everyone liked it even those people who don't normally eat gluten-free foods! It is also a very pretty cake when it is made. I will make this one again! Thanks for posting!
Gerry Padnos says
I just made this exactly according to the recipe minus the brandy because I hate the taste of alcohol in desserts. I used coconut flour and coconut oil. I have to agree with another posting that it was fairly oily. It tastes very good and I like it overall, but I think next time I'll try 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup applesauce.
G-Free Foodie says
That sounds like it might be good! Also, you may want to mix your coconut flour with 20% tapioca.
FANTASTIC cake. I add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and it's become a family favourite. thank you!
K.C. Cornwell says
I'm so glad! It's one of my favorites too.
Made this today and it is delicious! I took other's advice and only used 1/2 cup of oil ( I used coconut oil) and it is perfection. Thank you so much for this fantastic recipe. no one will believe it is gluten and dairy free. Pretty looking, too!
You might want to remake your video: in the reserved potion of the batter (for topping), you say to add 2 cups flour instead of 2 tablespoons!
I have the cake in the oven. I'm sure it will be delicious. Can I freeze this cake without problems?
K.C. Cornwell says
We've never tried freezing it - I'm concerned that the "custard" texture won't do well after thawing. I've definitely refrigerated this cake and warmed it in the oven and it worked beautifully, if that helps.
Ann J says
Absolutely appalling. All we could taste was Canola oil.