a new friend

I stood in Anna’s kitchen, mixing almond flour and cornmeal with my hands. Out in the living room, Lu and Alice came down the stairs in frilly dresses with bows and silly scarves around their necks. Michael put on Bollywood music. There was much giggly dancing. Danny and Michael talked in quiet voices, watching their daughters and feeling at ease. Little Elliot pulled muffin tins and silpats out of the cupboards as we moved around her to the KitchenAid. Butter and sugar spun together, growing fluffy before our eyes. Anna and I both peered at it, curious. We were making an apple cake together.

And I could feel it happening. I was making a new friend, someone I wanted to stick around in my life.

You have too many friends. That’s what my head has been trying to tell my heart lately. It’s hard to keep up in this world. Every time I sit down at the computer, I can “talk” with hundreds of people, read newspaper articles from around the world, wish happy birthday to people whom I have not seen since high school, and look at the daily photographs of thousands of people I don’t know. It’s alluring, and wonderful, and sometimes confusing — this new definition of connected.

However, sometimes I feel much more connected with the world when I’m walking in the woods, on the same path I walk every day, alone, my feet moving, my mind calm. Or when I’m having tea with a friend whom I see every week. Much of the time, I kind of wish I knew only a handful of people really well.

I wonder what Jane Austen would make of Twitter.

And so, now that we’re home more, I’ve been slowing down. Seeing fewer people. Spending less time on social media and more time cleaning the house and talking with friends on my couch. It feels good. A couple of months ago, I said to myself, “No more new friends. You have plenty. Focus on what you have.”

Silly me. Whenever I say that, someone wonderful walks in.

When it’s someone like Anna — warm-hearted and fast-talking; open to the world and wary at the same time; in love with sugar and butter, as well as crisp apples — and she brings this apple cake with her, there really is no choice.

This apple cake is not for the faint-hearted. It’s full of butter, sugar, and eggs. A pound of butter. A pound of sugar. Eight large eggs. This cake means business.

Anna graciously fed us rice and beans, goat sausages from the market, and a fennel-apple-radish salad I have to make again this week. It was delightful, sitting with all the girls perched on wooden chairs, sharing their dinner together. It was good food with good people. However, Danny and I both wondered, separately, if the meal wasn’t a little light. And then Anna brought out generous slices of the cake we made together and we understood. Dinner was merely a little appetizer. We needed room for this cake.

This cake is lit from within by sweet tartness, a little graininess of texture, a sweetness less blaring than most commercial cakes have. This cake doesn’t have the va-voom of birthday cakes decorated with a flourish. It looks plain, underspoken. And then you take a bite and wow. Pow! This cake is like someone with plain lips who ends up being a great kisser. When you come up for air, you realize how silly mere looks are. And then you go back for more.

I had brought a couple of jars of flours with me — oat, buckwheat, and teff — to stir in with the cornmeal and almond meal. Anna and I were both interested in how the cake would be different gluten-free. Anna’s a pastry chef, formerly at a great place in Brooklyn before she and her family moved here to Seattle. She and I stood in front of her bookshelf, looking at some of her favorite baking books, some of them so beaten with use they were barely a book anymore. We were both sort of flapping our hands, talking about grams and recipes that work. I wanted her opinion. She’s made this cake before, quite a few times. And she said, after we took our first bites, “Except for the top being a little darker, because the whole-grain flours are darker, I cannot tell a difference. This is the same cake.”

That made my day. And then I had another bite of cake.

So yes, this is a whole-grain cake. Does that make it healthy? Well, not with a pound of butter, sugar, and eggs. (And ahem, speaking of health, it looks like I’m not allergic to eggs after all. More on this later.) But I’d like to call for a new definition of healthy. Being with lovely people, eating a homemade meal with our kids, laughing and talking, then having a slice of this cake? That feels like health to me.

Sure, you don’t want a slice of this cake every day. But once in awhile, on special occasion? Oh yeah. It’s really delicious. And in my mind, that’s one big part of healthy.

As we sat around the table, trying to describe the joy that is this simple apple cake, Michael put it best: “I hoped that when I’d move to Seattle, and it would be autumn, there would be time to sit in front of an open window, listen to the rain, and read a book. And now, I know, I want a piece of this cake there too.”

Yep. I knew it. These folks are friends.

Whole-Grain Apple Butter Cake, adapted from Luisa, who adapted it from Huckleberry’s

This is a cake that’s meant to be shared. It’s a big, bold cake. There’s nothing paltry here.

The flavors of the whole-grain flours complement the apples and the butter. The original recipe called for whole-wheat flour for a reason: all-purpose flour here would just disappear. The whole grain flours make this cake a little more complex than most, with a taste that’s even better the second day. (Danny says it makes a tremendous breakfast.)

Anna gave me a new baking tip. I noticed that she didn’t put a toothpick in the center of the cake to test for doneness. Instead, she lay one fingertip in the center, testing. When I asked her what she was doing, she said she learned early in her career to go by touch. “Someone gave me a great way to say it. Look for an athletic jiggle.” Not too loose, a little firm, but not so firm that there is no movement. An athletic jiggle. I’m looking for that in every cake now.

The moistness of this cake makes you want to gather all the crumbs on your plate between your thumb and finger and eat them too. Go ahead. You won’t want to miss a bite.

For the apples

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds of apples that are equal parts sweet and tart, peeled and cut into large, even chunks
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Set a large skillet over medium heat and add the butter. Melt the butter. Stir in the apples, the sugar, and the salt, moving around the apples to coat them completely. Cook, stirring frequently, until the apples start to soften, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat. Spread out the apples on a baking sheet and set them aside to cool.

For the cake batter

8 ounces whole-grain flour mix (we used equal parts of teff, gluten-free oat, and buckwheat flours)
7 ounces almond meal
2.5 ounces cornmeal
2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 pound unsalted butter, softened but not soft
1 pound sugar
8 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Preparing to bake. Heat the oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 10-inch springform pan.

Combining the dry ingredients. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the whole-grain flour, almond meal, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Run the mixer until the flours are combined well but you can still see the different textures. Set aside in another bowl.

Creaming the butter and sugar. Put the softened butter into the bowl of the stand mixer. Beat the butter until it is completely soft. With the mixer still running, pour in the sugar slowly. Cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is entirely light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add one egg at a time, mixing until each egg is fully incorporated, until you have added all eggs. Pour in the vanilla and mix.

Finishing the cake batter. With the mixer running, add in the dry ingredients, about ¼ cup at a time, until the flours have disappeared and you have a fluffy cake batter.

Fold in the cooked apples with a rubber spatula.

Baking the cake. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the top with the rubber spatula. Bake until the cake has risen, has turned a dark golden brown on top, and the center has an athletic jiggle when you touch it lightly, about 90 minutes. (Check the cake after 1 hour. The top might be browning quickly, due to the dark colors of the whole-grain flours. Tent the top with a piece of aluminum foil, if that is true.)

Remove the cake and set it on a cooling rack. Let it sit at least 15 minutes before removing the cake from the pan. Serve warm.

Feeds 10, if you are giving generous portions, or 15 with smaller pieces

65 comments on “a new friend

  1. Misty

    I related with your explanation of your slowing down and reconnecting with your “real world” rather than spending so much time connecting through social media. It is an overwhelming load of information that can make me feel distracted throughout my daily tasks. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. gluten free gift

    Shauna – I’m so happy for you about the EGGS!!! As usual, I looked at the pics, then the recipe… leading me to read your message about your lovely new friend Anna – all the while looking for some sign as to how you were eating a cake with EIGHT eggs in it! Yay!! When you first announced that you had to quit eggs, I was planning to give it a try too. I lasted two whole days. Auguri!

  3. Tina

    Something in the way I’m made up never allows for more than one or two really close friends… that’s what really troubles me about this new, technological age. We’re supposed to be “friends” with people we’ve never met, probably never will, and don’t really share in our lives personally. The’re just out there- on the internet.

    Kudos for you for slowing down and spending time with the people closest to you- the people who really matter! This is why I STILL don’t have a face book, LOL! What’s the use of having a friend whose voice you’ll never hear, whose personality you’ll never really get to dive into, or who’s kitchen you’ll never get to cook beautiful things in like apple butter cake?

    1. Molly

      Me too! I don’t have a Facebook either!! The internet is a deep place, and sometimes it’s good to take a peak at the world around you, the real one of course 😉

      Oh and congrats on the egg combat! You can eat eggs now! Yay! Hard boiled and all, cheers! 😀

  4. Jen

    Shauna – Would it be possible to leave out the almond flour? I am allergic to almonds, but this cake sounds wonderful. Just wondering if you could be so kind to advise? Thanks!

    1. shauna

      Can you have any other nuts? If so, then I would sub in hazelnut flour. If not, then just use more of the whole-grain flours. It won’t have the same texture but you will be able to eat it!

      1. Jen

        No, I am allergic to all nuts (boo hoo), so i will take your suggestion and use more whole-grain flours. Also, I want to thank you … I make your gluten-free pumpkin pie for T-giving and it was a big hit. Plus we had fun making it. Thanks again!

  5. sara

    I am looking forward to hearing more about you and eggs because I too seem to not be tolerating them well!!!

  6. Kate

    This looks amazing and I can’t wait to bake one! Friends, butter, wine, sugar, chocolate, it seems like most things are sweeter when appreciated in moderation! Everything except love and kisses, of course <3

  7. patricia

    So sounds like from what you said, this one will no work with egg replacer……. I AM allergic to eggs. Is there someway around that do you think ??

    1. shauna

      I think this one is so entirely reliant on eggs that I can’t imagine it would work, sadly. But! That doesn’t mean you should not try. I’d try a combination of egg replacer, applesauce, and chia seeds to add up to the 8 eggs. What’s the worst that could happen?

  8. Betty


    This sounds like my kind of cake.
    You made a “funny.” “Sure, you don’t want a slice of this cake everyday.” LOL!
    Of course I do! ;D LOL Or, at least good cake everyday! 🙂 That is my kind of healthy.

    To all the health extremist, I understand your OCD, seriously, I do. But, trust me,
    we all need some cake. 🙂

  9. Kristine

    Hi Shauna,

    This cake looks absolutely amazing! I’m going to try to make it during my break from school over the holidays. However, I can’t eat refined sugar. Do you think that swapping out the sugar for honey or maple syrup would work (along with increasing the amount of dry ingredients)? Thanks!

  10. ElseB

    I’m intrigued by the combo of almond flour and cornmeal, but alas, I can’t tolerate apples. I’m thinking pears or peaches instead????

  11. Nina

    I just made this tonight… I used teff, millet flour and sorghum flour for the mix, and all of the other ingredients are the same. I don’t have a stand mixer, though, so I had to do a combo of using my Cuisinart, my whisk and a spatula… what a workout!

    Unfortunately I think my oven runs cool… after 90 minutes at 350ºf, it still wasn’t done… I’m pushing two hours now. Maybe I need to push the oven temp? I’ve got it tented… but the middle is still runny. I hope this last round in the oven does the trick. It’s just been one of those days all around… keeping my fingers crossed that it will still be edible.

    1. shauna

      It will still be edible, my friend! You might want to check the oven with a thermometer. It must be running cool. Just keep baking it until it’s done. Nothing’s going to suffer!

      1. Nina

        I kept going- made one mistake- I turned on the convection switch which made the edges burn a little, but Booth says he likes the “caramelization.” I think the oven is off by 25º – but the apple cake is yummy and incredibly dense.

        1. shauna

          Ooh, I bet it would be great with the edges a little “caramelized.” And yes, dense. That’s what I love about this cake. No namby-pampy light-as-air cake at all.

  12. Megan

    When I saw that it had 8 eggs, I wondered if you were back on eggs again. Yay – that’s news that would justify sticking some candles in that cake to celebrate!

    Do you think there’s a substitute for the butter in the cake? I usually just swap it out for coconut oil, but a pound is a lot to substitute. I know that Lu and Danny are a bit dairy intolerant, so thought you might have some experience experimenting with the dairy ingredient.

    And, thank you for your gentle words on friendship and media. There’s a lot to think about there.

  13. Kate Lam Sam

    I honestly yearn to make this cake, just the way you have. Darn stupid Oceans keeping all the amazing flour varieties away from little NZ.

    However, there are worse things in life than not having Teff or Oat flour though….goodness, for an example, imagine not having chocolate! … so i’ll give it a shot with what I have, and it will probably be fine. 😀

    1. Kate

      I’ve recently discovered a couple of Australian websites that sell a range of Bob’s Red Mill products (including wheat-free oats and teff flour). Both companies ship internationally (as does Bob’s Red Mill but the postage from the US to remote northern Western Australia is a bit pricey!). Anyways, check out bioliving.com.au and glutenfreeshop.com.au Happy baking! Kate

  14. Mel in Mo

    I am SO relieved that you aren’t allergic to eggs! Everytime I ate one, I was sad for you!
    Merry Christmas!
    Mel in Mo

  15. Catherine

    I’m very happy for you not being allergic to eggs! It’s ok to use butter and all that once in a while. For Thanksgiving I made a corn pudding that had 10 eggs and a quart of heavy cream in it!! It was great and fed 15 people with leftovers to feed at least 5 more.

  16. Heidi

    Wow. that batter was divine. I don’t usually lick the spatula, but for this…yum! The cake is delicious, though mine is very ugly! The recipe was perfect…I just put it in my 9inch pan by mistake, so it oozed over the top. Lesson learned!

  17. Autumn Hoverter

    Yes! Happiness is my definition of health too! I spend my days helping people understand good nutrition has more to do with how you eat rather than the specifics of what you eat and you said it so eloquently in just a few words. Thank you for sharing your amazing, inspiring stories and wonderful recipes.

  18. Pamela

    First of all, I am very happy about the eggs!

    Secondly, this looks fantastic. I used to be one of those no-fat, no-sugar types, but since I started eating gluten-free, I tell myself: you cannot have gluten. Eat some butter. Yum. And I am so much happier for it. And healthier, too!

    I have a bunch of apples kicking around–this may be my project for this rainy afternoon.

  19. Vickie

    You describe it so well, I can taste it. And your picture taking skills have been quite excellent.

  20. Rebecca

    What a beautiful post in so many ways. Love the recipe but I am also touched by the intersection of cooking food you truly enjoy+quality connections+intentions = true health. I appreciate the freedom you speak of enjoying food and not labeling food as good or bad but allowing all foods (that your body can tolerate) with balance. Refreshing and appreciated!

  21. Ilke

    Oh now you made me want to stop and read a book, unplug. I am spending way too much time on computer as well, and books are piling up, waiting to be read.
    But again it was nice to chat with you for several minutes 🙂
    Hope you have a great time with your new friend and wish you many cakes together 🙂 Happy holidays.

  22. Jen

    Hi Shauna, first time commenter, but this cake looks absolutely amazing!

    I’d love to see more videos from you and the Chef. Call me voyeuristic, but your life seems fascinating, and I’d be delighted to see more of what it is like living Gluten -free with a full time job and toddler.

    Thanks for writing your beautiful blog! You are such an inspiration.

  23. Mirna

    Thank you for writing such beautiful, truth-filled posts. You are an amazing woman, writer, mother, human being and baker too! Your cake looks delicious. I tend to not like overly sweet cakes so this sounds perfect. Happy Baking, Happy Friend-Making.

  24. Joanna

    We made this cake last night for a special Sunday night dinner and it was delicious. We halved the recipe and covered the pan in tin foil the whole time it bake, then monitored it closely to make sure it didn’t over bake (55ish minutes did the trick). The adults really loved it! (The kids wanted some frosting…go figure!)

  25. Beverly

    I am so glad i found you, i am just now starting out gf and need all the help i can get haha. New friends are def amazing. There is nothing like being able to connect in the kitchen and chatting over such a great meal. That connection is far better than a internet one. Thanks so much for sharing.

  26. Maria Speck


    A beautiful post, and your creative flour mixture is to die for. I already considered Luisa’s recipe addictive — Germans LOVE real butter — now I must try yours. Teff flour has a mesmerizing quality, and combining it with oat and buckwheat flour is genius! I can taste is as I type.

    Thank you!

  27. TeenyLittleSuperChef

    It’s hard to resist new friends when they serve you delicious things like this. If you don’t want her, I’ll gladly add her to my list of friends. Who cares that there’s a whole pound of butter in the recipe. Sometimes it’s more important to just sit down and actually enjoy a good piece of cake then torture yourself with something more healthy and tasteless. Life’s too short to eat crappy cake 🙂

  28. Melissa

    Apple cake. You’re speaking my language.
    (every time I’ve been in a place where I feel like I need to batten down the hatches on welcoming new people in my life, I realize quite quickly that those feelings fly in the face of my desire to say yes as much as possible. I’ve almost never been sorry when I’ve gone with the latter.)

  29. Sara

    I remember reading about this last year and while I haven’t made it…yet…I do think about it. I need a real occasion to make a cake with a full pound of butter!

  30. Ulla

    I have been thinking the same exact thing lately: focusing on my family and friends and letting the online world consume me less. Funny, how real and virtual world’s can be so important to one. Your post so perfectly explained the complex feelings I have been having. Thank you for sharing.

  31. Brittany

    So just to check…no starch in this recipe? Just the whole grain flours? Could we use a whole-grain blend like the one you recommended earlier (70%WG/30%Starch)?

  32. Anna

    I made your cake tonite. Used almond, cornmeal and oat flour. It spilled over the sides of the springform pan quite a bit. Looks and smells great. Just wondering if you think it was wtter or looser b/c I used mostly oat flour? Thanks!

  33. Kate

    I’ve been making this cake on a monthly basis for my coworkers – they love it. I just reread the recipe again and can’t help but laugh at the phrase “athletic jiggle”. It does wonders to describe not only the cake but the person who is baking it – me!

  34. Miriam

    Hi! I know this blog post is from a little while ago but I was just wondering, if anyone sees this comment would you know what more common flours I could substitute for the teff flour & gf oat flour? I’m in Ireland so there isn’t as much available. I’m hoping to make this recipe later today & heading out soon to see if any local shops stock these flours but I think its unlikely. Never tried gf baking before so I would love some advice! Thanks!

  35. Kate @ eatrecyclerepeat

    this is my go to cake for bringing to special events. Everyone loves it, and no one else gluten-free! I just made a version with nectarines that smells absolutely incredible. It is hot and bubbling and cooling (just a bit) as we speak. My students are going to be crazy about it! Thanks for yet another “go-to” recipe.

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