Gluten-Free Apple Cake with Brown Butter & Hazelnut

Gluten-free apple cake gets an upgrade with vanilla bean browned butter, hazelnut flour, and brown sugar all loaded with tangy apples and baked in a skillet. Serve slices of this beauty with crème fraiche or ice cream at Thanksgiving and all season long! Thanks to Vermont Creamery for sponsoring this post. 

Gluten-free apple cake recipe in a skillet topped with creme fraiche

Entertaining with Gluten-Free Apple Cake

This gluten-free apple cake is part of my gluten-free vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner. Find all of the recipes here!

Maybe it’s the pastry chef in me, but when I host a meal at home, I usually plan the menu around two things: dessert and what’s in season. I savor those after-dinner moments when everyone’s sitting around the table together, satisfied and relaxed, ending the evening on a sweet note. Because homemade baked goods have become a luxury during these busy times, taking an hour to put a gluten-free apple cake in the oven is often extra appreciated.

This gluten-free apple cake can be baked earlier in the day and served at room temperature, leaving you free to attend to the rest of the meal before guests arrive. Bring this stunner to the table, accompanied by mugs of herb tea or decaf coffee or a few sips of a good whiskey. Now watch your guests bow down to you like the domestic god or goddess you are.

This gluten-free apple cake also travels easily to pot lucks. Since it doesn’t need any refrigerator or oven space upon arrival, it makes a welcome addition to any gathering. Bring a gluten-free apple cake to Friendsgiving, Thanksgiving, winter holiday celebrations, or whip one up just because it’s apple season.

Ingredients for gluten-free fresh apple cake recipe

Ingredients for Gluten-Free Apple Cake Recipe & Substitutions

I adapted this recipe from a favorite base that comes from my book Alternative Baker: Reinventing Dessert with Gluten-Free Grains and Flours. In the book I use the same formula to make Chocolate Pear Tea Cakes with Rosemary, and a Fig and Olive Oil Cake. The cake base comes together with a bowl and a whisk, and it takes well to variations, such as this gluten-free apple cake with brown butter and hazelnut flour.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Butter is the star of this show. I use Vermont Creamery cultured butter, which now comes in handy-to-measure sticks. The culturing process adds tangy, rich flavor to this butter, with notes of buttermilk and hazelnut. This butter has a fresh, clean flavor, and it works as well slathered on toast as it does baked into a luscious cake like this.
  • Cooking this delicious butter with vanilla bean until the milk solids gently caramelize brings out notes of butterscotch to perfume the batter. But if you don’t have a vanilla bean on hand, don’t fret: just add a teaspoon of vanilla paste or vanilla extract when you add the eggs to the batter.
  • Baking powder lifts the batter.
  • Baking soda helps the cake brown, and its alkalinity neutralizes acids in the batter, giving the cake a tender (never gummy) texture.
  • A good dose of salt offsets the sweetness.
  • Brown sugar gently sweetens and adds caramel notes.
  • Loads of tart baking apples – both folded into the batter and layered over the top – bake up tender and tangy.
  • A bit of lemon juice added to the apples prevents them from browning and helps sharpen the flavors.
  • Eggs help the batter bake up light and fluffy with good structure. For those with egg allergies, one of my readers has successfully made other cake recipes using a blend of applesauce and sour cream in place of the eggs. Another option is Just Egg, a vegan egg substitute made from mung beans and other ingredients.
  • Crème fraiche, also from Vermont Creamery, adds richness and moisture. I like to serve slices of cake with a good dollop of crème fraiche as well.
  • Cinnamon sugar sprinkled over the top makes this cake smell like fall.
  • Toasted hazelnuts add a crispy finish.

Gluten-Free Flours for a Moist Apple Cake Recipe

A quartet of gluten-free flours makes this healthy apple cake bake up moist, delicate, and tender. Hazelnut flour adds tenderness and extra nutty flavor. Sweet rice flour‘s neutral flavor offsets the others, and the sticky texture helps the cake hold together. Oat flour and millet flour add a lofty crumb and whole-grain nourishment. Unlike many gluten-free cake recipes, this doesn’t need any starches or xanthan gum to help it hold together. Proteins from eggs and nut flour get the job done.

If you don’t have hazelnut flour on hand, you can substitute an equal amount of almond flour or almond meal. If you’re lacking one of the other flours, you can trade any or all of them out for an equal amount of gluten-free all-purpose flour. I prefer Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 gluten-free flour blend. If gluten isn’t an issue for you, use all-purpose wheat flour (or a blend of white and whole wheat) in place of the millet, oat, and sweet rice flours.

Cutting apples for easy gluten-free apple cake

How to Make Gluten-Free Apple Cake

This cake requires a few techniques, but all are easy to achieve. First you brown the butter by cooking it in a saucepan until it turns golden and smells nutty. (See more, below.)

Next you peel the apples and slice them off the core. I like to use a T-shaped vegetable peeler to peel the apples. Then hold an apple upright on a cutting board and use a large, sharp chef’s knife held about half an inch away from the core to slice downward, cutting the flesh away from the apple core.

Cut one of the apples into chunks to fold into the batter. For the other two apples, place a cut side down and thinly slice the apple piece lengthwise, keeping the slices together. You can cut them super thin or just kind of thin; I’ve done it both ways and it all works out great.

Now you sift the dry ingredients together. Hazelnut flour is quite clumpy and may be too coarse to go through your sifter or strainer, so just do your best. When all of the siftable ingredients have gone through, add whatever is left behind in your sifter to the bowl and use your fingers to rub out any large chunks.

Now whisk together the wet ingredients, fold in the flour mixture, and stir in the chopped apples. Spread the batter in a skillet lined with parchment paper and top with the apple slices, still together and placed cut side down. Brush and drizzle with the remaining brown butter, and sprinkle with hazelnuts and cinnamon sugar. Bake the cake until it’s done, about 40 minutes. The hardest part of this entire process is waiting for the cake to cool!

Browned butter with vanilla bean for moist apple cake recipe

How to Brown Butter

The first time I tried to brown butter, I burned butter. So don’t be like me. Watch the butter closely as it starts to caramelize as it can go from brown to burnt in seconds. If you have a light-colored saucepan, all the better to see the hue of the butter as it begins to darken.

Place the butter and vanilla pod and scrapings in a small or medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place the pan over medium-low heat and cook, swirling occasionally, to melt the butter. After 3–5 minutes, the butter will foam up, turn golden and smell nutty, with brown flecks mingling with black vanilla bean seeds on the bottom of the pan.

It may be hard to see the color of the butter beneath the foam and in the pan. If you’re unsure, spoon a little of the butter into a white, heatproof bowl. It should be golden in color and the milk solids on the bottom of the pan should be chestnut brown from caramelization, with black specks from the vanilla bean. If the butter smells burnt or acrid, discard it, clean out your pot, and start again.

When the butter is browned, remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour the butter into a heatproof measuring cup or jar to stop the cooking. When ready to use, remove the vanilla bean. You can dry the vanilla bean and use it to make vanilla extract, or put it in a jar of sugar to make it smell delicious.

Adding apples to batter for gluten-free apple cake recipe

Placing apples on top of the gluten-free apple cake batter

Apples for Gluten-Free Fresh Apple Cake

This gluten-free apple cake recipe is all about the apples. I prefer tart baking apples, such as Granny Smith, because they retain their shape when baked. Plus their tartness offsets the sweet apple dessert. Other tart baking apple varieties can be substituted. Just stay away from softer varieties like Gravenstein or McIntosh. These will break down too much in the oven and might make the batter watery.

Sprinkling cinnamon sugar over gluten-free apple cake

gluten-free fresh apple cake, before baking

My Best Gluten-Free Apple Cake Recipe

I tested the base of this recipe (the one in my book) half a dozen times, and this apple brown butter version four times. It’s nutty, rich, delicate, tender, moist, not-too-sweet, and full of warming flavors. You can eat it at room temperature with crème fraiche or lightly sweetened whipped cream. Or pop leftover slices in the toaster oven and top them with ice cream.

This recipe would also make a fitting dessert for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, since apples traditionally represent a sweet year ahead.

Gluten-free apple cake with brown butter and hazelnuts being served from a skillet

close-up of gf apple cake recipe

Gluten-Free Apple Cake with Almond Meal or Almond Flour

No hazelnut flour? No problem! You can trade out the hazelnut flour for almond meal or almond flour; all are interchangeable here. Top the cake with sliced almonds instead of hazelnuts if you prefer.

side view of the best gluten-free apple cake in a skillet

More Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Recipes

This gluten-free apple cake recipe is part of my vegetarian & gluten-free Thanksgiving dinner! Find the recipes here.

Slice of gluten-free apple cake with almond flour or hazelnut flour

Get the recipes for my GF Thanksgiving dinner here:

*Bojon appétit! For more Bojon Gourmet in your life, follow along on Instagram,  Facebook, or Pinterest, purchase my gluten-free cookbook Alternative Baker, or subscribe to receive new posts via email. And if you make this gluten-free apple cake, I’d love to see. Tag your Instagram snaps @The_Bojon_Gourmet  and  #bojongourmet.*

4.8 from 5 votes

Gluten-Free Apple Cake with Brown Butter & Hazelnuts

Print Recipe  /  Pin Recipe
Gluten-free apple cake gets an upgrade with vanilla bean browned butter, hazelnut flour, and brown sugar all loaded with tangy baked apples. Serve slices of this beauty with dollops of crème fraiche all season long.
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 45 minutes
Cooling Time: 1 hour
Total: 2 hours 15 minutes
Servings: 10 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 large tart baking apples, such as granny smith (1 pound / 450 g)
  • 1-2 tablespoons (15-30 ml) strained fresh lemon juice
  • 9 tablespoons (127 g) Vermont Creamery unsalted cultured butter
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped (or 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract, added with the egg)
  • 1 ¼ cup (135 g) hazelnut flour (or almond flour or meal)
  • ½ cup (80 g) sweet white rice flour
  • ½ cup (55 g) GF oat flour
  • ¼ cup (35 g) millet flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons (135 g) packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • cup (80 ml) Vermont Creamery crème fraiche, plus more for serving
  • ¼ cup (30 g) toasted hazelnuts, cut in half (or sliced almonds)
  • 2 tablespoons (25 g) granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Instructions

  • Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 350ºF. Line a 10-inch oven-proof skillet, cake pan, or springform pan on the bottom and sides with parchment paper.
  • Place the butter in a small, heavy saucepan. Add the vanilla bean and scrapings if using. Melt the butter over medium heat. Continue cooking, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter turns golden and smells nutty, 3-5 more minutes. Pour the butter into a heatproof bowl to stop the cooking and let cool 5-10 minutes. When cool, remove the vanilla bean, rinse, and let dry. You can reuse the vanilla pod to make vanilla extract or vanilla sugar. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the butter for drizzling over the apples.
  • Peel the apples and cut them off the core in large pieces. Slice two of the apples thinly, keeping the pieces together, and drizzle with lemon juice to prevent browning. Cut the third apple into large dice, place in a small bowl, and toss with lemon juice to prevent browning. Set aside.
  • Sift the hazelnut, sweet rice, oat, and millet flours with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Sift as well as you can – hazelnut flour is hard to sift – then add whatever flour is left in the sifter into the bowl. The goal is to remove any large clumps of hazelnut and oat flour and leavening, which all tend to be clumpy.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and brown sugar until smooth. Whisk in 8 tablespoons of the browned butter, then the crème fraiche.
  • Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until smooth, then fold in the diced apples and any juices.
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread into an even layer. Place the apple slices over the cake, keeping them together, and press them about halfway into the batter. Sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts. Drizzle with the reserved 1 tablespoon browned butter.
  • Stir together the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and sprinkle evenly over the cake.
  • Bake the cake until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs, 35-45 minutes, rotating the cake towards the end of the baking time. Remove from the oven and let cool completely, 1-2 hours. For the cleanest cuts, chill the cake before slicing.
  • Use the parchment to pull the cake out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Cut into slices and serve at room temperature with dollops of crème fraiche. Or serve slices warm with ice cream.
  • Store leftover cake covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Notes

You can use 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour (gluten-free or wheat) in place of the sweet rice, oat, and millet flours if you prefer.
Making this? I'd love to see!Tag your snaps @The_Bojon_Gourmet and #bojongourmet!

More Gluten-Free Cake Recipes:

Serving slices of easy gluten-free apple cake with hazelnuts and creme fraiche

Leave a comment & rating

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

16 thoughts on “Gluten-Free Apple Cake with Brown Butter & Hazelnut”

  1. I’ve made the chai-spiced necatrine skillet cake from your book using apples instead of nectarines and it is absolutely flawless…I didn’t dare experiement with the flour combinations because I didn’t want to gild the lily.

    I would like to make this apple cake for my in-laws, who are not gluten-free. Can I use AP wheat flour in place of all flours (including hazelnut) for a total of 305g? I will not be able to taste the cake after I make it (I’m gluten-free), so I just want to make sure I get the weight/measurement for the flour correct and avoid any embarassing disasters :)

    1. I’m so glad you like the skillet cake from AB and that it works well with apples – brilliant! For this cake, I *think* that flour substitution should work but I haven’t tried it myself either. Nut flours are a little less absorbent than other flours so it might not need to bake as long. If you try it, please let me know how the in-laws like it!

  2. Yum! As many times as I’ve made this base recipe I’ve not thought to use butter instead of olive oil. And I saw hazelnut flour at Save Mart. So this is a go. I needed a gluten free fruit dessert for Thanksgiving to balance the find raiser cheesecake.

    1. I don’t think it would be a huge difference. Hazelnut flour tastes a little more rich and earthy while almond has a milder, more subtle flavor. Please let me know if you try either version! :)

  3. I love making all of your recipes as they always turn out so amazingly yummy. I just finished putting it together using almond flour (couldn’t find hazlenut) and it is in the oven right now. My problem was I found the 1 tblsp of butter that I separated out at the beginning once I had already put the cake into the oven. What have I done wrong? I browned 8 tblsp of butter and reserved 1 tblsp for drizzling on the apples (which I did). Was I supposed to brown all 9 tblsp? Will it still turn out ok?

    1. Ack, thank you for catching my typo! I’ve updated the instructions to say to brown all of the butter and reserve 1 tablespoon of the browned butter for drizzling. That must have been very confusing! What you did was perfect. How did it turn out?

  4. Just in case anyone was wondering, I made this with buttermilk + applesauce to replace the eggs (for my mom, who doesn’t eat eggs) and it turned out great. Maybe a bit more crumbly than it would have been otherwise, but really very good. It was a hit.