Gluten-Free Living

Apple Season Layer Cake

Everyone thinks farmers sit back and relax during the cold East Coast winters, but the reality is my fella keeps busy with planning, tending to heartier winter crops and pruning. Organic apple trees require lots and lots of pruning, but all that work pays off come fall when we feast on the sweetest, crispest apples. This cake is a celebration of the long-awaited fall harvest, when our region produces more apples and zucchini than we can keep up with.

Naturally, my first response is to convert the harvest into something sweet: layers of cake with apple butter buttercream and a sweet and tart apple cider reduction. Made with fiber-rich brown rice flour, sweetened with honey and loaded with zucchini and apple chunks, this cake will indulge your sweet tooth in a more wholesome way.


  • CAKE
  • 3 cups (454 g) brown rice flour
  • 1½ tsp (6 g) baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp (5 g) ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp fresh grated nutmeg
  • ¾ tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp ground cardamom
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup (220 g) packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup (240 ml) honey
  • 1 cup (240 ml) melted coconut oil
  • Finely grated zest from 2 medium lemons
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (180 g) zucchini, coarsely grated
  • 4 oz (114 g) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp (30 g) salted butter, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup (45 g) apple butter
  • ¼ cup (33 g) powdered sugar, sifted
  • 6 cups (1.4 L) apple cider
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 6–7 star anise pods
  • Lemon peels from 1 lemon
  • 1 lb (454 g) apples (about 3 apples)
  • ¼ cup (55 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ½ tsp cornstarch
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 tbsp (15 g) butter


To make the cakes, preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease the bottom and sides of two 8-inch (20-cm) springform cake pans. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and cardamom. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the eggs, brown sugar, honey, coconut oil, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Fold the flour mixture into the wet ingredients, until combined. Stir in the grated zucchini.

Divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool slightly, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and cool completely.

To make the buttercream, beat the cream cheese, butter, apple butter and powdered sugar together until smooth. Keep chilled until ready to use.

To make the cider reduction, bring the apple cider, cloves, anise pods and lemon peel to a boil in a large saucepan, then simmer over medium heat. As the sauce begins to thicken, remove the spices and lemon peels. Continue to simmer until reduced to about ¾ cup (177 ml), and the sauce is the consistency of honey, 30 to 40 minutes. Set aside and let cool completely.

To make the apple rosettes, cut the apples into ½-inch (13-mm)-thick wedges. Toss together the apples, brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apple mixture, and sauté 5 to 6 minutes or until tender and golden. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

To assemble, using a lazy Susan and a bread knife, cut each cake into two layers. Place the bottom layer of cake on a serving plate/platter. Frost the layer of cake with a generous dollop of buttercream and smooth into an even layer. Add the next layer and repeat until all of the layers are in place. Frost the sides lightly and chill to set. Arrange the sautéed apples over the frosted cake and drizzle with the cider reduction.

Reprinted with permission from The Gluten-Free Grains Cookbook by Quelcy Kogel, Page Street Publishing Co. 2019. 

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