This gluten-free apple upside-down cake is the perfect dessert for fall. Cinnamon-kissed caramelized apples rest over a tender spiced teff flour cake. This no-frosting-required cake is just the thing to make for your holiday dessert table.
Flipping an upside-down cake is my baking equivalent to opening a gift on Christmas morning. A soft spiced teff flour cake turns over to unveil a beautiful topping of melt-in-your-mouth cinnamon-kissed caramel apples. It's simultaneously a centerpiece showstopper on the dessert table, while also super simple to make - no frosting required! This gluten-free apple upside-down cake is the perfect fall treat.
What is an upside-down cake?
An upside-down cake is baked upside-down in the pan and then turned out while warm to reveal a beautiful topping. The presentation is half the fun, but the taste and texture are also what makes an upside-down cake stellar. A layer of fruit and sugar is arranged on the bottom with cake batter spread over top. While the cake bakes, the sugars and fruit caramelize on the bottom. While warm, the cake is flipped right-side-up to unveil the fruit sitting right on top, while the juices and caramelized sugars ever-so-slowly seep into the perfectly-baked cake below.
Unlike a cake baked with the fruit on top of the batter, an upside-down cake does not run the risk of the fruit sinking into the cake or the juicy fruit causing an underbaked or too moist cake.
Flours for Gluten-Free Apple Upside-Down Cake
When making gluten-free cake, I prefer using a homemade blend of flours to enhance the flavors of the cake I'm making. This gluten-free apple upside-down cake uses a blend of oat flour, sweet rice flour, tapioca flour, and teff flour.
If you're apprehensive about buying four different flours, I understand. Here are four fall-forward recipes you can make using oat, teff, and sweet rice flour and about a billion more that use oat, tapioca, and sweet rice flour. With these four flours, you can make countless cakes and cookies this season! Additionally, each of these flours freeze well for up to 6 months. Or, find my recommendations below for substitutions if you can't find or don't have that particular flour.
Alternatively, if you'd prefer to use a pre-made blend, you can sub out all the flours by weight (239g) along with the xanthan gum with Bob's Red Mill 1-to-1 all-purpose gluten-free flour blend.
Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free oat flour: Oat flour adds lightness and structure to the fluffy crumb. It keeps the cake super moist, but not overly dense. If you don't have oat flour, you can make your own by grinding gluten-free rolled oats in a blender or food processor until fine, then sifting out any larger pieces.
- Substitution: Sub in by weight with gluten-free sorghum flour or Bob's Red Mill 1-to-1 all-purpose gluten-free flour blend. I've made the cake with sorghum flour rather than oat flour and it's equally as delicious!
Sweet rice flour: Sweet rice flour is necessary for the chewy texture of this cake. Also called "Mochiko, sweet rice flour is distinctly different from white rice or brown rice flour. Rather it is the same flour used to make mochi, and as such, its stickiness helps to bind the cake together, creating chewiness like a classic cake recipe. It’s gluten-free baking’s secret weapon.
- Substitution: I do not recommend substituting the sweet rice flour in this recipe. While I haven't tested it, you could *try* subbing the sweet rice flour for additional tapioca flour, but your results will vary and I can't promise it will turn out as delicious.
Bob’s Red Mill tapioca flour: Tapioca flour adds chewiness and helps mimic the fluffiness of a classic cake. It adds just a bit more softness and loftiness to the crumb.
- Substitution: Sub in by weight arrowroot starch, potato starch, Bob's Red Mill 1-to-1 all-purpose gluten-free flour blend, or using equal parts more oat flour and sweet rice flour, by weight.
Bob’s Red Mill teff flour: Teff flour is such a warm flavorful flour that's the perfect pairing for a spiced cake. In this cake, teff flour is the flavor driver. You don't need a lot to get the flavor benefits. As a powdery fine flour, it bakes up soft and fluffy with rich toffee notes that accentuate the caramelized apple topping.
- Sub in by weight: You can sub in 15g more each of sorghum flour, sweet rice flour, and tapioca flour, but your cake will turn out lighter in color and less flavorful. You could also sub in chestnut flour, millet flour, or Bob's Red Mill all-purpose gluten-free flour.
Xanthan gum: Without xanthan gum, the batter is thin and seeps up under the apples and the cake bakes up dense.
Ingredients for gluten-free apple upside-down cake
For the caramel apple topping:
- Light brown sugar
- Unsalted butter
- Vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- Ground cinnamon & salt
- Granny Smith apples (or other comparable baking apple)
For Gluten-Free Spiced Cake:
- Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free oat flour
- Sweet rice flour: Bob's Red Mill or Koda Farms Mochiko
- Bob’s Red Mill tapioca flour
- Bob’s Red Mill teff flour
- Xanthan gum
- Spices & leaveners: ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt
- Unsalted butter, room temperature
- Granulated sugar
- Large eggs
- Vanilla extract
- Whole milk
- Sour cream: you can substitute whole milk greek yogurt
What kind of apples for baking
The best apples for cakes are crisp apples that hold up against the heat of baking. My top choices are Granny Smith and Honeycrisp.
Granny Smith apples have a natural tartness that balances dessert nicely, while Honeycrisp apples are crisp and firm with a nice combination of sweet and tart.
How to make a gluten-free caramel apple upside-down cake
Without the need to make frosting, gluten-free upside-down cakes are super easy to make! Here are the steps:
- Melt the butter and sugar: Add vanilla and salt, then spread it into a parchment-lined cake pan.
- Arrange thinly sliced apples on top.
- Sift dry ingredients.
- Cream butter and sugar, then add egg and vanilla.
- Slowly add dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with milk and sour cream.
- Pour over apples and bake.
- Cool & flip: Let cool 5-10 minutes, then flip out of the pan onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Tips for apple upside-down cake
Use a cake pan with high sides
For this cake, you need a cake pan with at least 2-inch high sides. With a layer of apples underneath, this cake is quite tall. As the cake batter has its initial rise, it will fill the entire 2-inch pan. As the apples cook down, they will create space so it won't overflow.
Line the bottom with parchment paper
To ensure your sticky caramelized apples don't stick to the pan and get left behind when you turn out the cake, line your cake pan with a round of parchment paper. Once flipped, you can carefully peel off the parchment paper to reveal the warm tender apples.
Flip shortly after baking
If you wait too long to flip the cake, the caramelized sugars and fruit will begin to set up and harden, causing them to stick to the pan. Instead, let the cake cool only 5-10 minutes before flipping.
Serve warm or at room temperature
This cake is delicious served warm or after it has cooled completely. To serve warm, let it cool 30 minutes before slicing so the crumb sets up. Alternatively, you can heat fully cooled slices for 10 seconds in the microwave and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
How to flip an upside-down cake
While upside-down cakes are simple to bake, paying close attention to the timing of flipping the cake is crucial. Cool the cake just 5-10 minutes after it comes out of the oven before flipping. Cooling any longer than 10 minutes will result in the caramelized sugars and fruit firming up and the fruit will stick to the bottom.
To flip, start by running a thin knife around the outside of the cake. Place a wire rack over the top of the cake pan and have a plate or baking sheet nearby to catch drips. Using oven mitts to hold the cake pan and the wire rack tightly together, flip the cake over and set the wire rack onto the plate/baking sheet. Carefully and slowly lift the cake pan to release the cake. Peel off the parchment paper.
Spoon any remaining caramel from the pan over the top, and if any apple pieces are stuck to the pan, carefully arrange them back on the cake. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving.
How to store upside-down apple cake
Store leftover apple upside-down cake covered at room temperature for 24 hours or in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. If chilled, cool to room temperature or microwave for 15-20 seconds before serving.
To freeze, let the cake cool completely first, then store the whole cake or individual slices wrapped tightly in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost to room temperature before serving.
Caramelized Apple Topping
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- ½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch kosher salt
- 2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cut off the core, and cut into ⅛ to ¼-inch thick slices
Gluten-Free Spiced Cake
- 67g (½ cup + 2 tablespoons) Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free oat flour (or sub with 72g sorghum flour)
- 70g (¼ cup + 3 tablespoons) Sweet rice flour (also called Mochiko, it is different from "white rice flour" or "brown rice flour")
- 56g (½ cup) Bob’s Red Mill tapioca flour
- 46g (¼ cup + 1 tablespoon) Bob’s Red Mill teff flour
- ¾ teaspoon xanthan gum
- 1¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ cup + 2 tablespoon (85g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 220g (1 cup + 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ⅔ cup (160g) whole milk, room temperature
- ⅓ cup (80g) sour cream, room temperature
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9-inch round aluminum cake pan with 2-inch sides with vegetable oil and line it with a round of parchment paper. Set aside. See note for other sizes of pans.
- Combine the brown sugar and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring until the butter and sugar are just melted, about 1-2 minutes. Mix in the vanilla bean paste and salt. Pour the caramel into the prepared cake pan and spread it into an even layer.
- Arrange the apple slices in concentric overlapping circles on top of the caramel, squeezing in as many as will fit (see picture above).
- Sift together the oat flour, sweet rice flour, tapioca flour, teff flour, xanthan gum, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar over medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition and scraping down the sides as needed. Add the vanilla extract.
- With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk and sour cream, scraping down the sides as needed. Mix until just combined.
- Pour the cake batter over the apples, smoothing out the top.
- Bake for 52-57 minutes, until the center springs back when gently touched and a toothpick comes out clean or with just a few crumbs.
- Let cool In the pan for 5-10 minutes (but no longer or the caramel will firm up and stick to the pan!). Set a plate or baking sheet nearby for catching drips. Run a knife around the outside edge, place a wire rack over the top and, holding the wire rack and cake pan together with oven mitts, carefully flip the cake right-side up, setting it over a plate or baking sheet to catch any caramel spills. Remove the parchment paper. Spoon any caramel left in the pan over the top, and if any apple pieces remain stuck to the top, carefully put them back on the cake. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving.
Alternative Pan Sizes: A 8x8 square cake pan or 10-inch round cake pan will work too, as will a 9-inch cast iron skillet or springform pan. If using a springform pan, place a baking sheet underneath to catch any leaks. If using a 10-inch round baking pan or a cast-iron skillet, your bake time will be less. For a 10-inch round, start checking for doneness at 40 minutes. For a cast iron skillet, check for doneness at 45 minutes. I do not recommend using a glass cake pan as it heats up faster and is more likely to overcook the outside of the cake before the center is fully baked.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 10 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 322Total Fat: 10gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 58mgSodium: 232mgCarbohydrates: 50gFiber: 4gSugar: 14gProtein: 7g
This nutritional information has been automatically calculated, and as such, may be incomplete or inaccurate. Please reference the specific ingredients you use for the most accurate nutritional information.