gluten-free apricot-strawberry cake

When my dear friend Tita met Danny for the first time, she knew he was the right man for me. She said she could tell by my joyful ease as I sat next to him, across from her and John at their picnic table. But it was more than that.

“Don’t you realize? You had never brought a man to meet us before,” she said.

It’s true. Even though I had dated a few men in earnest (and oh, was I earnest before I met Danny), I had never brought them home. I don’t mean bringing a man home to my parents. I only wanted to introduce a man to my parents after I was engaged to him, a big step in a relationship I already knew would last. (Danny actually proposed to me the night before he was going to meet my parents for the first time.) . But John and Tita? They are my dearest friends on Vashon. My touchstones. (John has always known how to cut me down to size, playfully.)  Simply, they are the wisest people I know.

Tita loved Danny from the first 5 minutes she met him. Six years ago, he was much more shy than he is now, although he’s still a shy kid at heart. I had been a little worried they wouldn’t see the man I loved in that first meeting. But they did.

“Do you know why I already know I like Danny?” Tita asked me. I listened, interested. “Because it’s clear that he is so much more than he seems at first. My favorite people in the world are the ones who don’t announce themselves, loudly, when you first meet them. They’re the ones that you know, slowly, quietly, over years of friendship. My favorite people are the ones who are far more complex than they seem.”

I had never put it that way before, in my mind. Or maybe I had never been as wise as Tita, so I didn’t know what she said. For years, I had fallen for the loud ones: the dark and stormy Slovenian poet, the Swiss mime who lived in Paris, the impetuous romantic I met on a surprise flight to Las Vegas. They each gave me fits of passion and terrible pain. But Danny? He was so easy to love, right from the beginning. The longer we know each other, the more we know each other. And the less we have to prove.

I feel that way about food now too.

watermelon feta

When I first started cooking in earnest after finding out I had to be gluten-free, I wanted to celebrate every dish. Looking back now, I was a little loud, with a lot to prove. Look at this food! It’s gluten-free! But it’s delicious! See? Celiac isn’t so bad! I don’t blame myself. Everything was new. I wrote for myself and a few friends on this site, then people started coming in droves. Maybe I was self-conscious. Maybe I had to go through the equivalent of the Slovenian poet before I could calm down a bit and enjoy quieter meals.

It was in this period that I first encountered Nigel Slater. Friends I trusted raved about his book, The Kitchen Diaries. I looked through it, a bit confused. Certain pages made me hungry but the book was just what it said: a diary of meals. Where were the fabulous recipes that tested my culinary knowledge? Where were the crazy flavor combinations that would demonstrate my newfound skills? I was dating a chef, we were eating meals at midnight, and I wanted to learn every technique and pan sauce I could devour. I returned the book to my friend and forgot about it.

Nigel Slater, I’m sorry I underestimated you.

These days, I always have one of Nigel Slater’s books near me while I write. He’s my reminder to reign in my tomfoolery and just tell a story. His quiet cooking looks deeply satisfying without it being about him. It’s about the food. He’s a home cook — even if a masterfully talented one — who is determined to not be a chef. He picks food from his garden, brings it in the kitchen, cooks up something delicious, and shares it with whoever is there for him to feed.

“There is something quietly civilizing about sharing a meal with other people. The simple act of making someone something to eat, even a bowl of soup or a loaf of bread, has a many-layered meaning. It suggests an act of protection and caring, of generosity and intimacy. It is in itself a sign of respect.”

A meal as a sign of respect. I like that.

Nigel Slater’s food is a pan full of ripe apricots, poached in sugar and lemon verbena tea, with a star anise thrown in. Those apricots are lush and fall apart at the touch. The syrup, when reduced and drizzled on a plate of those apricots, makes something wonderful to share with a friend on a summer evening. This is the only kind of dessert I want right now.

Slater’s on Twitter now (@realnigelslater), where he answers specific questions about dishes and writes simple recipes for what he is cooking that moment. One day, he wrote that in the heat of the day, the only lunch he wanted was watermelon, feta cheese, briny black olives, and a splash of olive oil. Danny, Lucy, and I ate some the next day, outside on our deck, on the first warm day of the summer. Nigel Slater was right. It was just the right lunch.

I wish I could share a meal with this man.

Cooking has become so much more than it used to be for me. The words about the cooking have become quieter. Honestly, sometimes I think if I didn’t write this site, I think I might enjoy my meals more. There’s this unbending pressure on all the places around blogs (Twitter, Facebook, Stumbleupon, Instagram, Reddit, etc.) to shout our BEST! and PERFECT! and YOU MUST MAKE THIS! I feel sometimes like I’m standing in the middle of a big market, listening to jewelry sellers hawking their wares. And I feel the pressure to hold out my jewels too.

But my favorite moments of food are hardly worth mentioning.

We’re in Tucson right now, staying for a few days with Danny’s parents. We have spent most of our time here in the house, gathered around the kitchen table drinking coffee and reading the newspaper, or sitting together at the dining room table, joining hands in a sweet Amen before we dig into the food. Lu doesn’t need much more than being with them, plus time to play in the garage. We can’t go far. Danny’s dad has slowed down dramatically in the last few years. He’s aching with arthritis, unable to sleep much for the pain in his shoulder, and hampered by exhaustion. He’s napping a couple of times a day, more than Lu. His entire world has dwindled down to his bed, the kitchen table, the dining table, and the chair in front of the television.

Every night, Danny’s dad has a glass of chocolate milk to take the dozen or so pills he must swallow before bed. Danny’s mom had bought a half gallon of whole milk for Lu. The first night we were here she mixed up some chocolate syrup in the whole milk instead of the skim milk he has been drinking. The next day, he told us, with joy in his eyes, about the surprise of that glass of chocolate milk. “It was so rich it was like drinking a milkshake. I’d never had a glass of chocolate milk like that before.” He told us about it again, later that evening, just before he had another glass.

We’ve eaten some wonderful meals while we have been here. But what I will remember best is Danny’s dad’s memory of that glass of chocolate milk.

And my favorite moments of the days before we left for this trip was standing in dappled sunlight in our kitchen, cutting up apricots for this Nigel Slater cake.

As always, Tita was right. She knew this truth long before I did: the best food (and people and writing and moments) is the kind that may seem pretty simple at first. The best food isn’t shouted but shared quietly instead.

APRICOT AND STRAWBERRY CAKE, adapted from Nigel Slater’s Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard

This cake is far more than it seems. It’s a homey, even homely cake: it’s dimpled with almond bits and cracked in places on the top. It barely stands three inches high. This is not the cake you make when you want to impress people with your baking abilities. Fondant would be absurd.

However, put it on the table and watch friends take small slivers, then take more. It’s dense with ripe fruit, whole-grain flours, raw sugar, eggs, and not much more. It doesn’t even have baking powder in it. This is a snacking cake, meant to be shared with the love of your life long after you stopped dating and started being yourselves.

200 grams (4 or 5 large) ripe apricots
170 grams (about 1 cup) ripe strawberries, tops removed, quartered
3 tablespoons honey
100 grams slivered almonds
175 grams gluten-free all-purpose flour mix
6 ounces (1 1/2 US sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
175 grams (1 cup minus 2 tablespoons) demarara sugar (also known as raw sugar)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons whole milk

Preparing to bake. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with a round of parchment paper. Grease and flour the parchment paper and sides of the pan.

Preparing the fruit. Cut the apricots in half. Remove the pits. Chop the apricots coarsely. Combine with the strawberries in a large bowl. Drizzle the fruit with honey and let them mingle while you prepare the rest of the cake.

Combining the dry ingredients. Put the slivered almonds into the bowl of a food processor. Run the processor until the almonds are ground to the size of breadcrumbs but stopping before they become almond butter. Add the flour and mix them together. Set aside.

Creaming the butter and sugar. Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Start spinning the paddle attachment to whip the butter a bit, then add the demerara sugar. Cream the butter and sugar until they are pale and fluffy. Turn off the stand mixer.

Building the cake batter. Whisk the eggs until they are beaten together. With the stand mixer running, dribble in the egg mixture a tablespoon at a time, letting the mixer run after each addition. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally to ensure that everything is well combined. (Slater says here — if there is any sign of curdling, add a tablespoon or so of flour to the mix. I haven’t seen any curdling here yet.)

Finishing the batter. Pour in 1/3 of the almond-flour combination, running the mixer at low speed until the flour has disappeared entirely into the batter. Repeat this with another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, and then again. Dribble in the milk until it is fully incorporated. Add the apricots and strawberries. When everything is combined, turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Baking the cake. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake until the top is browned and the center has an athletic spring to it when you touch it with your finger. (You can also put a toothpick in the center to see if it comes out clean. This should take about 80 to 90 minutes.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen any sticky bits. Turn the cake onto a cooling rack, then flip it again. Eat when the cake is cooled to room temperature.

Feeds 8 to 12.

Feel like playing? I can already tell that I’ll be making this cake throughout the summer, but with whatever fruit is ripe that week. I can’t wait until blackberry season.

In the photograph of the cake in Slater’s book — and yes, I deliberately modeled mine after his — powdered sugar has been sifted on top. That works for me too, although I don’t think this cake needs anything more than itself.




42 comments on “gluten-free apricot-strawberry cake

  1. Sami

    Beautiful writing Shauna. I will certainly be trying out this cake, will just have to wait for strawberry season to start in September (in Australia).

  2. Jane

    Cooking terrifies me. It always has. The only cook whose books don’t scare me is Nigel Slater. My husband still does the majority of the cooking, but if it’s my turn, I know I can get one of his books off the shelf and there will be something we can both eat when I’ve finished. Hurrah for Nigel.

    NB. I haven’t bought your book yet (sorry – I will!), hence the current brevity of my non-scary cookbooks list!

  3. Chelsea


    What keeps me coming back to your site are – far more than the food – your stories and the living, breathing quality of your writing. It leaks with joy and feeling. I’m not gluten-free. There are dozen – probably hundreds – of blogs that I would cook from more than yours. But I don’t follow them, I follow you. I don’t care about the BEST recipe, the PERFECT concoction. I care about the confidence and care that allows you to let us readers into your life and marvel in your quiet triumphs. Thank you for sharing. That, at least to me, is what’s really perfect about what you do.

  4. Michelle Wolff

    Been reading you for a few years and I love your writing – then and now! I do see the change, your “voice” is mellow and radiates peace over the excitement of the new but I like them both. I expect a few years from now you’ll have another “voice” and I bet I like that one, too. Keep writing, you make a difference in my day every time I get a new blog notice!

  5. Laura

    This is a beautiful post that speaks directly to where I am in my life right now. It is so hard sometimes to step away from the fanfare and the boasting and the need for adulation… and adoration. But when I come back to what is simple, what feels nourishing and not like something that must be conquered, then I find peace… and I find myself. I mean this in regards to food, to life, to love, to my work…. to everything.

    I’m putting Nigel Slater’s book on my wish list. His quote hit home so well. In fact, as I write this, I have pie dough (your recipe) in my refrigerator waiting to be rolled out for a dinner of chicken tinga, quesadillas, and pie that my friend and I are sharing with two Iraqi families who have each invited us to their homes to share in piles of biryani, roasted chicken with lemon and ginger, mounds of dolmas… Sharing food in one’s home, cooking for other people — this is love at its simplest and purest.

  6. Laura Revillee

    Hi Shauna,

    Thank you for the recipe. Thinking about subbing raspberries instead of the strawberries. My strawberries went bust this year but the raspberries are coming in gangbusters. Do you think that would work? TIA for advice!

  7. Laura Revillee

    Ah, OK! Thanks for the info! I love the tartness of raspberries against the sweetness of the rest of the dish. Thanks!

  8. BonTemps

    Shauna, so excited to read recently (either here on on Twitter, don’t recall) that you guys started a garden. No idea what gardening in Seattle entails–only familiar with Louisiana where things grow if you toss them over your shoulder. I’d love to read a garden update. What are you guys growing? How is the season, given the wild weather much of the country has been experiencing? Anyways, if you have a minute for a garden update, would be very interested. Thank you dear! <3

  9. Nia Sayers

    It’s settled — I’m making this to take to dinner with friends on Wednesday. This will be the 4th or so time we’ve eaten together, and my I’m-going-to-try-to-impress-these-uber-cool-people-with-my-awesome-kitchen-skills flew out the window after the first dinner together. Hopefully we can linger over this cake and watch the sun set from their stellar view of Bellingham Bay.

  10. Kristina

    I loved reading your post. So calm and perfect.
    Do to severe allergies we are also nut free at our house. Can you recommend a substitute that will bring out the same texture? I can always leave out the nuts.

    Thank you!

    1. shauna

      Hm. This one’s hard. The almonds really give a definitely texture here. But…I’m sure it would be good with an equal weight of flour. The cake will be lighter but it will still be good!

        1. Sat Kaur

          Kristina, you could try sunflower seeds. In other recipes I have used them to substitute for nuts. I am not sure it would work, but might be worth a try.

  11. Christine

    This post (and Nigel Slater) really resonates with where I am in my own cooking/eating evolution. When I first encountered The Kitchen Diaries, it spoke to me. I know have his twosome, Tender and Ripe. Like you, I keep all his books close at hand. They inspire me.

    I used to do the more elaborate meals, the complicated dishes. I wanted to impress. Now, I find it isn’t necessary. Simplicity rules.

  12. Angie W

    I have to say that I found your site several years ago when I learned I had Celiac, but stopped reading it soon after. It was your voice, you see. Exactly what you just said– everything was loud and exciting and the best. I wasn’t looking for that, I was looking for comfort. I needed someone who could calmly get me through those early days, not make me feel as if I was a failure when I chose to buy a pre-made gluten free flour instead of experimenting and finding a magical mix of a seemingly endless number of individual flours.

    Time prevailed and I eventually saw your cookbook in a bookstore. Your first book held no interest for me (that voice was persistent), but this book had a love story that revolved around food and I couldn’t help myself. I’ve read it several times and only cooked one recipe from it. You’ve given me the most incredible short ribs, and a recipe that became entwined with my own love story. Boozy roasted meat served by candlelight can make the manliest of men swoon.

    I decided to take a peek at your site recently to see if I could enjoy it, and was thrilled to find that you’ve mellowed. You’re quieter. You’re less pretentious. And don’t take that badly, please. I tend to think that there are more than a few pretentious food bloggers out there. I don’t mean to offend or imply that who you were before wasn’t great, it just wasn’t great for me and my specific needs. I’m loving your new voice. I never would have mentioned anything, but since you brought it up, I wanted to affirm. Your quiet, your calm, and your joy in the ordinary are welcome reads for me lately. Thank you for celebrating everyday life.

  13. sara

    “the best food (and people and writing and moments) is the kind that may seem pretty simple at first. The best food isn’t shouted but shared quietly instead.” Amen, and amen.

  14. Eimear

    Ha-ha! Ah, yes… I too had never introduced a boyfriend to my parents until (at the age of 30 I might add) I met my current partner. And I can completely identify with the list of dark, stormy, exciting, obscure, ‘sophisticated’ exes! I also vividly remember that slight initial anxiety about whether my friends and family would see past my boyf’s shyness and ‘innocence’ to the person I had fallen in love with… Thank you for making me smile, and also feel slightly less nuts:-)

  15. Ann

    Just like I wish I could eat with you Shauna – you are eating with Nigel Slater everytime you cook with one of his recipes, or pause to think, How would Nigel treat this?

    I am going to eat with you both when I make that lovely apricot strawberry cake, except I am going to eat up the raspberries in my freezer first, and then wait for next season’s apricots – my two favourite fruits – apricots and raspberries.

    Whether it’s the old ‘loud’ Shauna, or the newer Shauna, doesn’t matter. It’s you, and you’re part of my life, cooking and experiencing – thanks.

  16. Nina

    In the early days of Nigel Slater’s cookery column in the Guardian (or Observer?) magazine, I loved the photographs but not so much his writing – a friend accused me of prudishness over this but I did find it all a bit too sexy! Anyway, either I’ve grown up a bit or he has, because now he’s one of my very favourites. I hardly ever follow recipes for savoury dishes, but ‘Real Fast Food’ is a book that I think should be in every kitchen; in fact, if that was the only recipe book you had, you’d probably be OK!

  17. Chris Howard

    I’m so sorry to hear about Danny’s Dad. My own dear mother suffers from arthritis in her back, and like Danny’s Dad, her world has dwindled. Her pain has caused me to take a long look at my life and I am determined to try and take the best possible care that I can of myself- a large part of that is the food I eat. I am fortunate that I do not suffer from Celiac’s, but I enjoy reading your blog because it’s just plain good food. I think good food goes a long way to improving the quality of your life, don’t you?

    I hope that Danny’s Dad’s Doctors (that’s a mouthful!) find a way for him to get some peace and rest. I wish peace and rest for you and your family as well.

    1. shauna

      Chris, thank you. It’s part of life, isn’t it? It’s amazing how many people don’t want to look at the frailty that can happen as we age. But we all need to see it. Like you, this makes me want to do everything I can to be healthy as long as I can.

  18. Jen

    Beautiful post, Shauna. I’m sorry to hear that you and Danny are also watching a beloved father struggle with arthritis. My dad, a life-long athlete, now struggles simply to rise from chairs and is in agony by the end of his work shifts due to severe osteoarthritis in one hip. Car trips to visit relatives and his beloved golf games are out of the question. We are all so grateful that he is scheduled for hip replacement surgery later this summer, but that carries its own risks. It is so difficult to watch our parents age, isn’t it?

    I think I will be making this cake for Dad (and Mom) soon, and again while he is in recovery. I can’t do a lot to help out, as my job won’t allow me to take off weeks to help with recovery, but I can cook for him. I love the idea of cooking for someone as a sign of respect. What a beautiful thought. I love to cook (and to eat), but it’s easy to fall into a rut and see cooking as one more chore on the list. Thank you for the reminder that it means something important when we cook. Even if we only cook for ourselves, it is an act of self-caring and self-respect. If we cook for others, no matter how simple, it is a gift.

  19. Dana

    There is a sleeping baby on my lap and I’m typing with my left hand, so this will be brief, but I’ve been following your lovely blog since my four year old was diagnosed with celiac last year, and this particular post resonated with me. I love the beautiful writing, the pitch perfect imagery, the sweetness of the summertime fruit coming through your gorgeous yet subtle photos and words. As a writer in hibernation (aka a mom of a preschooler and a baby) this post inspired me, and reminds me why I love to write. Thank you.

  20. Shutterspeed Girl

    Your friend Tita is truly a wise woman. Her words resonated with me so much I had to read them again and again to myself.
    And I had tears in my eyes when I read the story about Danny’s father and the glass of chocolate milk.
    Thank you for your beautiful writing. It reminds me of sunshine.

  21. Dana

    I just made this cake in a lovely leisurely way, while my baby napped, my older daughter helped me weigh and pour, then after hiding in her room with the cuisinart (didn’t want to wake the baby, small NYC apt) I poured the batter into the pan and fed the baby while my daughter played with her sitter. Then we all enjoyed a slice. It was subtly sweet and satisfying! Thank you Shauna, a great first use if your AP flour blend.

  22. Sat Kaur

    I made this last night for friends using sweet cherries and dark plums. It was wonderful. I love rustic desserts. Thanks for sharing the recipe, Shauna.

  23. Tara Kaye

    First off, I am so thankful to have found your blog! You truly have such a uniquely genuine voice that is so articulate!

    My husband has several food allergies, hates chocolate and isn’t a big sweets person. I am. Needless to say, I have an ongoing hunt for a dessert that he will eat WITH me. 😉 I can’t wait to try this one. Several quick questions: (1) for all purpose gluten free flour, we normally have to add in Xantham Gum, but you don’t have it stated above – does it not need it? (2) have you tried it replacing eggs for egg substitute & almond milk instead of whole milk? I imagine that I might need a little less sugar, but wanted your thoughts on texture.

    Thanks so much!

  24. Nancy

    Have a beautiful day with a great post! perfect day for me this is my favorite apricot strawberry cake gluten-free wow delicious! sounds very healthy.

    I am going to make now and invite my friends to eat my amazing strawberry cake with my favorite fruit apricot. Very fantastic post ever. Thanks for the info!

    Gluten-Free Apricot Strawberry Cake

  25. Olga

    Hi Shawn,

    First – thank you for this lovely post and for your thoughts, sharing your life.

    Second — FYI, for your and your readers here, I just made it last night for the first time and added 2/3 Tablespoon pure lavender extract. (I warmed the honey very slightly and added the extract to the warm honey. Drizzled this on the cut fruit.) The result was *delicious*. Aromatic, fruity, but not excessively so. This cake is a keeper. 🙂

  26. Kavi

    I just made this recipe for my sister, and she loved it! The smile on her face was worth all the work 🙂 I doubled the recipe and made a bundt cake and muffins.

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