Gluten-Free Old-Fashioned Apple Cake

This one-bowl cake belies its simplicity with nicely moist texture and out-of-this-world flavor. Between the mildly spicy cake, chopped fresh apples, and the fudge-like brown sugar frosting on top, it's difficult to say no to a second slice!

We know you’ll love this gluten-free version of our Old-Fashioned Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting recipe, a long-time favorite here on our site. Substituting Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour for the flour in that original yields a super-moist, apple-packed cake that’s sure to be a hit with friends and family following a gluten-free diet. P.S. The brown sugar frosting alone is worth its weight in gold!

20 mins
50 to 55 mins
2 hrs 10 mins
one 9" x 13" cake
Gluten-Free Old-Fashioned Apple Cake


  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan.

  2. To make the cake: Mix all of the ingredients except the apples and nuts in a large bowl. As soon as the mixture comes together and becomes pretty uniformly crumbly, stop mixing; you don't want it to turn into a cohesive mass.

  3. Add the apples and nuts, and mix until the apples release some of their juice and the stiff mixture becomes a thick, creamy batter, somewhere between cookie dough and brownie batter in consistency. Don't worry if the mixture doesn't immediately loosen up; this will take about 3 minutes at low speed in a stand mixer. 

  4. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, smoothing it with your wet fingers.

  5. Bake the cake for 50 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, or with just a few wet crumbs clinging to it. The temperature at the center of the cake will be about 205°F.

  6. Remove the cake from the oven and place it on a rack to cool a bit while you make the frosting.  

  7. To make the frosting: Sift the confectioners' sugar into a bowl or onto a piece of parchment or wax paper; set it aside.

  8. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar and salt and cook, stirring, until the sugar starts to melt and the mixture becomes fairly smooth. While you may still notice a bit of grittiness, you shouldn't see any melted butter pooled atop the sugar. Add the milk, and bring to a boil.

  9. Remove the syrup from the heat and pour it into a medium-sized mixing bowl (large enough to accommodate the confectioners' sugar). Let the syrup cool in the bowl for 10 minutes. 

  10. Pour the confectioners' sugar into the warm syrup in the bowl, then add the vanilla extract or flavor. Whisk until everything is thoroughly combined. You need to work fast here; the frosting stiffens up quickly as it cools.

  11. Pour the warm frosting onto the cake, spreading it over the entire surface.  

  12. Cut the cake — either warm or at room temperature — into squares to serve. Store the cake, covered, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.

Tips from our Bakers

  • To toast nuts, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 350°F oven for 8 to 10 minutes, just until you can start to smell them; let cool before using.
  • Want a cake with more body? Leave the peels on the apples, and chop them coarsely rather than finely.

  • For added flavor in both cake and frosting, add 2 tablespoons (43g) boiled cider to the cake batter along with the apples. When making the frosting, replace 2 tablespoons of the milk with 2 tablespoons boiled cider; or a tablespoon each boiled cider and bourbon.

  • Want to bake a couple of round cakes rather than a sheet cake? Divide the batter between two lightly greased 8" round cake pans. Bake as directed, starting to check the cakes at around 38 minutes.

  • To guarantee lump-free frosting, be sure to sift the confectioners' sugar before adding it to the butter mixture. Any lumps from unsifted sugar may disappear as you whisk the frosting; but to guarantee no lumps at all, sift the sugar first.

  • Some readers have remarked that the frosting is quite sweet. For a less-sweet experience overall, reduce the amount of frosting by using 1 1/2 cups (171g) to 1 3/4 cups (200g) confectioners' sugar and 2 tablespoons milk. You'll still have enough frosting to cover the cake in a thin layer.