Serious Eats: Recipes

Gluten-Free Nubby Apple Cake

[Photographs: Elizabeth Barbone]

The other day I stumbled upon my mother's collection of old recipes. I sat for a long time looking at recipe after recipe scribbled on thin pieces of paper or, in fancier cases, stiff recipe cards.

Swallowing around the lump in my throat, I read recipes written in my grandmother's hand and others from the women in the neighborhood where I grew up. These pre-food-blog recipes captured the voices of these women better than any audio recording ever could have. The tone and instruction varied from writer to writer.

Some were encouraging. "This is so good, I usually double the recipe. You should do the same!" Others were almost terse. "Mix ingredients. Bake until done." Apparently the writer didn't think things like pan size or oven temperature were worth including.

Of course, I want to try all of the recipes right now. But since that isn't practical, I started with a seasonal recipe that grabbed my attention: Nabby Apple Cake. Nabby? Oh! I bet the writer meant nubby! The idea of a cake studded with apple pieces sounded good to me. And if my mom kept the recipe, it must be worth making. (My mom saves nothing extra. Clutter and my mom have never been in the same room.)

The original recipe looked pretty sweet to me. Almost too sweet—it had equal parts flour to sugar. The idea of two cups of sugar combined with apples sent my teeth chattering. So I did what I usually never do: I modified the recipe before making it for the first time. Usually when I convert a recipe to gluten-free, I prepare it as written, only swapping the wheat flour for gluten-free ingredients. Not this time! I reduced the granulated sugar from two cups to one and half.

While mixing the batter, I began to doubt the recipe a little. The batter, prior to the addition of apples, was thick. It resembled a loose sugar cookie dough more than a cake batter. I worried. Then I added the apples. Magic!

The moisture from the apples transformed the batter from cookie dough-like into a moist cake batter. It perfectly clung to the apples, coating each apple nicely but didn't enrobe them so completely that they were lost.

The final cake was indeed nubby. The surface and interior are liberally dotted with soft apple chunks held together with a sweet and spicy cake.

I'm thankful I reduced the amount of sugar originally called for in the recipe. One and half cups was more than enough. In fact, you can even reduce the amount to 1 1/4 cups if you prefer a less sweet dessert (but amounts less than that don't work as well). And thanks to the wet apples, I would not use a liquid sweetener (like maple or golden syrup) in this recipe. Even my attempt at using brown sugar produced a cake that was too wet, almost gooey, for my liking.

About the author: Elizabeth Barbone of joins us every Tuesday with a new gluten-free recipe. Elizabeth is an alumna of the Culinary Institute of America and Mount Mary College. With her solid professional baking background, Elizabeth is known for creating gluten-free recipes that taste just like their wheat counterparts. She is the author of Easy Gluten-Free Baking.

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