Easy gluten-free apple cake

Health Agenda

Easy gluten-free apple cake

Published March 2024 | 4 min read
Expert contributors Novelitha Tio, dietician and HCF health coach; Giovanna Torrico, chef and author
Words by Beth Wallace

Craving a sweet treat? Try this delicious and healthy German apple cake, plus learn from a dietitian how to replace refined sugar with natural sweeteners.

Most of us are probably aware of the impact that too much sugar can have on our physical and mental health. From weight gain to high blood pressure and depression, excessive sugar consumption has been linked to a wide range of chronic health conditions.

Research suggests the average Australian adult consumes about 70g (or 16 teaspoons) of sugar per day. This exceeds the World Health Organization’s recommended maximum sugar intake of 10% of total daily kilojoules, or about 12 teaspoons of sugar per day for an adult with a healthy body mass index.

We can all enjoy a sweet treat every now and then, but swapping refined sugar for a natural sweetener could be beneficial for those looking to cut back on their sugar intake says dietitian and HCF health coach, Novelitha Tio.

"Some studies suggest that consuming foods and drinks made with natural sweeteners can help weight loss by reducing energy – kilojoule or calorie – intake," she says. "This is because some natural sweeteners are sweeter than sugar, requiring less quantity for the same level of sweetness, which can contribute to lower calorie intake."

What is a natural sweetener?

Natural sweeteners typically get their sweet flavour from plants and other natural sources and can be used as an alternative to sugar. Common natural sweeteners include:

  • fruit
  • stevia
  • raw honey
  • maple syrup
  • monk fruit extract
  • agave nectar
  • date sugar
  • coconut sugar.

Natural versus artificial sweeteners: What’s the difference?

Switching to natural sweeteners can help to reduce your sugar intake because you don't need to use as much to achieve the sweet flavour, but not all sweeteners are created equal.

Artificial sweeteners such as saccharin and aspartame are chemically synthesised compounds created to mimic the sweetness of sugar. They're manufactured through chemical processes and are highly refined. "They have no or very few calories because they are much sweeter than sugar, so only small amounts are needed for the same sweetness," Novelitha says.

Natural sweeteners, on the other hand, require minimal processing, and are less refined than artificial sweeteners. They may also contain other nutritional benefits – for example, blueberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, fibre and antioxidants, while stevia can help to regulate blood glucose levels, making it a good alternative for people with diabetes.

Yet even with natural sweeteners, it's important to be mindful of which ones – and how much – you're consuming. "Natural sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit can be helpful alternatives due to their minimal calories and glycaemic impact," Novelitha says. "Others like agave nectar, date sugar and coconut sugar still contain sugars and calories. Especially when trying to reduce overall sugar intake, paying close attention to portion sizes of these sweeteners is crucial."

Tips for using natural sweeteners in your diet 

  • Balance is key: In addition to keeping an eye on portion control, Novelitha says it's important that your diet is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. Only add sweeteners to enhance taste when needed.
  • Keep dietaries top of mind: Before introducing sweeteners to your diet, consider any dietary restrictions or health conditions you have. If you experience any adverse reactions or allergies, consult with a healthcare professional.
  • Check food labels: Novelitha also recommends checking food labels for added sugars (often listed under different names, such as dextrose, glucose or sucrose).
  • Don't forget to brush: Sugar substitutes can still put your teeth at risk of decay, so make sure you’re maintaining good oral hygiene.

Have your cake (and eat it, too)

Keen to discover just how effective (and tasty) natural sweeteners can be? This German apple cake recipe uses the natural sweetness of in-season apples, honey and coconut sugar to create a sweetly satisfying dessert that’s also gluten free. Enjoy!

German apple cake

Serves 10


  • ½ cup (113g) butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • ¾ cup (150g) coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1⅔ cups (250g) rice flour
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ⅔ cup (150ml) milk
  • 3 apples, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

Whipped coconut cream

  • 1 x 400ml can coconut milk, refrigerated overnight
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp honey


Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 20cm springform cake pan with baking paper. Whisk the egg yolks, butter, sugar and vanilla extract together. Add the rice flour, lemon zest, baking powder and milk and whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks and then gently fold into the batter.

Pour the batter into the pan. Arrange the apple slices on top. Bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. Brush with honey and dust with cinnamon.

To make the whipped coconut cream, remove the coconut milk from the fridge and scrape off the solid coconut fat. Place coconut milk in a food processor or blender with the remaining ingredients. Whisk for 3 to 5 minutes until light and fluffy, then use immediately.

Brush the cake with honey and dust with cinnamon. Serve with a dollop of the whipped coconut cream, if desired.

The cake will keep for two to four days in the refrigerator, stored in an airtight container. Allow to come up to room temperature before serving. Whipped coconut cream can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for five days.

This is an edited extract from Natural Cakes by Giovanna Torrico published by Hardie Grant Books.

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