Gluten Free Butternut Apple Thyme Cake

I need your suggestions to design this French Cake in honour of Béné and her sister!

One website I love to read and find so spiritually edifying is Bea’s La Tartine Gourmande. I have been reading her site for years and years, off and on. More on than off. She is a very poetic, quiet, understated aesthetic writer with bold ideas and a very strong design sense. We have read her through the birth of her first child and watched her grow through toddlerhood. Many times Bea’s images take my breath away. Not just her ability to take a great photograph, but her ability to make the photograph work in a strong design sense, and then her ability to layout her page so artistically that I truly feel deeply gratified after stopping by.

Last August, I cam home from my trip to Europe with Vanja and was catching up on my readings when I came across this post by Bea. It was apple season here, too, and I was going to make that cake. But where ever did she get that stunning whimsical French scrolled cake pan? I asked her. In Paris at 13 à Table. I had just returned from Paris! (and with a very full bag of my own goodies, I might add!!). Oh, how could I get this cake pan?

There was no website. There was a telephone number and an e-mail address. I e-mailed them with the photo of Bea’s cake. No response. I e-mailed again. No response. Hmmm. It just so happened I was meeting with Bénéto discuss the possibility of her teaching a French Macaron making class at the end of August. I shared my angst with her and asked her if she could e-mail them in French. She offered to call them on my behalf, instead! (I was getting that tingly “something-exciting-is-going-to-happen” feeling!)

They were not very nice. “We do not ship. We are not interested in shipping. We will not make any exceptions. Thank you. Good-bye.”

And, bless Béné’s kind and tender heart (which you have probably heard me celebrating often on my site (most recently through her French Tart pastry) as she is “the same Béné” who held my hand through my initial macaron making with her kind tutelage) as she talked to her sister about this dire need of mine, sent her the photograph, and her sister traipsed across Paris to get me this pan.

LOOK at it! Oh, how I do so much appreciate it. I cannot say that it was worth the inconvenience, but I can say that I so dearly and deeply appreciate it and never expected such kindness and such an effort on my behalf.

So, I have decided to create a cake in honour of Béné and her sister. This is only the beginning. Only the beginning because I am really happy with how it looks and how nutritious it is. The mouth feel and the moisture is perfect. But, it is just not tasty enough. It is not the unique celebratory cake with the perfect combination of sweet and savoury that I was working toward. It is good. But, definitely, not good enough. So, you will be hearing a lot more about the French Cake in honour of Béné and her sister – over time. Yes, time.

For today, I am really happy with my beginning. I got the idea of apples and thyme from Bea. And decided instead of lemon thyme, to use ginger and plain thyme: lots of thyme with a whisper of ginger. Just enough. And butternut squash with apple. Not just any apple: MacIntosh Apples. They are very tasty and cook into mush. I wanted moist applesauce. With butternut squash and thyme and ginger. Just smelling the scent of the thyme with the ginger let me know I was really on the right track. At least, for a vegetable mash! Honey and apples would add the sweetness. And almond powder would be the flour. Almond powder is what brought Bénéand I together. It has to be almond powder.

It looked really lovely and scented the air with an exotic mix of sweet and savoury just as I had hoped. The eggs beat beautifully with the gently warmed honey and the olive oil increased the volume ever so slightly.

Then, in went the apple ginger and squash mixture with the almond powder and thyme mixture. The batter was lovely. Perfect thickness. Not too sweet. Loose. Not thick. Not thin. Four eggs would really help with the structure of this cake. I loved the colour. Don’t you love the colour? But, it did not taste of the characteristic carrot or zucchini cakes. Not at all. Nor was the texture similar. It was so moist. Not light. Not heavy. Moist. Filling. Subtly sweet. I could no longer taste any apple or butternut. I could not even taste the thyme. Maybe a whisper of it. And, there was the scent of ginger from the juice in the glaze. Just a whisper. This is a lovely very quiet cake.

Quiet is fine. Quiet is good. Sometimes, quiet is exactly perfect. But, not this time! This cake needs to be a celebration. Not a big party. Not a huge Ka-pow! But, a brave and bold burst of flavour to express my thanks and to honour this effort and demonstrate my sincere appreciation.

So, I need help. Yes, your help.

Please take a look at the recipe. I thought about increasing the thyme by – oh- a cup. That will not work. I could and will definitely try to steep some and condense it into thyme syrup for the glaze. I may use dried thyme inside of the cake instead of fresh.

Tell me more. Spill out your ideas. Help me. I need suggestions! I promised to consistently work on this cake until I have one that really says what I want it to say. So, there will be one a week… if you will help me with ideas, until I get it right. And then, that one will go to Béné!

Isn’t this just the most beautiful pan you ever did see? I LOVE it!


Gluten Free Butternut Apple Thyme Custard Cake Recipe (aka French Honour Cake)

  • 1 heaping cup roasted butternut squash purée (instructions below)
  • I tablespoon fresh ginger, grated (divided into 3 portions)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and grated (or a heaping cup)
  • 1 vanilla bean, split open and seeds scraped out
  • 4 large eggs, free range or organic
  • 1/2 cup honey (heated a little for easier pouring)
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 200g almond meal
  • 1 tablespoon thyme, finely chopped
  • 1 scant tablespoon baking powder


  1. Preheat oven to 400° F
  2. Cut a butternut squash in half, remove seeds, and roast, face down in oven, on parchment covered cookie sheet for one hour; cool and scoop out flesh measuring one cup for this recipe and puree; reserve the remainder for other use
  3. Grate 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger squeezing out juice to reserve; set aside
  4. In a frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat; when warm, add the grated apples and the vanilla bean and seeds and cook for 5 minutes, or until the apples are softened
  5. Discard the vanilla bean; add the squash and the ginger to the apple mixture, fry a little longer until mixture is drier and well blended (about 1-2 minutes); set aside
  6. Preheat the oven to 350° F; butter a 10-inch mold and set aside
  7. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and thyme
  8. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, then add the honey and a pinch of salt; continue beating
  9. Add the olive oil, beat to combine
  10. Add the apple squash mixture with the second teaspoon of freshly grated ginger; beat until well blended
  11. Add the flour into the egg mixture; mix to incorporate
  12. Transfer the batter to the mold and bake the cake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a sharp knife inserted in the middle comes out dry
  13. Let the cake cool for 5 minutes before unmolding
  14. Glaze the cake while still warm

Glaze Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger juice (measure the juice acquired in the above recipe and grate and squeeze more ginger, as necessary, to get 2 tablespoons of ginger juice)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger (the last one from the cake recipe) added to the juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped; added to the ginger juice to infuse
  • 1 tablespoon boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons  icing sugar

Glaze Instructions:

  1. Add the thyme and the ginger to the ginger juice; add the sugar and mix into a paste
  2. Add boiling water; mix well to combine into a glaze
  3. Drizzle over cake while the glaze and the cake are still warm for best effect


  1. says

    Oh what a beautiful cake…and what a beautiful story to go along with it! I love how they tracked down this pan for you…and how you want to bless them in return. This is what blogging should be about! I’m going to think on this recipe. It already sounds so good but I know you are looking for that extra something. I’ll be brainstorming!

  2. says

    The first thing I thought when I opened this post was, what a beautiful cake/tart! How sweet and kind of Bene to try to get this for you through the phone, and yet upon being rudely spoken to and let down, she still persued on. Now that is true friendship and dedication. I’m so glad Bene’s sister was able to find this for you. They are both so wonderful to do this. Although I’d have to say, you’re the type of person who carries around good karma with you wherever you go ;-). I’m sorry I won’t be of much help to you here on perfecting your cake. Good luck! I know you will have lots of fun with this as with everything you do.

  3. says

    Oooh there is magic on this page for sure… and more to come! A magical pan, a magical cook, a magic set of ingredients just waiting for a little more magic dust from your lovely contributing readers. I can’t wait to see where this goes. Wow Valerie!

  4. says

    Valerie, you always amaze me with your writing, creativity, and the sheer joy that comes through your posts. But this one just takes my breath away. Oh, and THAT PAN and the effort you and your kind friends went through to get it. Gorgeous!

    I was particularly struck here by the process you went through and described to get the flavor and texture of this cake just right. And it looks like you nailed it to me, in spite of your request for ideas. A splash of calvados? Perhaps adding a bit more apple and cooking down the applesauce more to intensify its flavor?

      • Valerie says

        Brilliant ideas, Barbara – and the ones in the e-mail were really solid as well. I think that is where I will start. A little more of the almond flour – some quinoa flour … I was thinking of yogurt – but this cake needs no more wet ingredients. It is very filling, actually. I am surprised how nourishing it feels, instead of how most cakes feel (wickedly indulgent).
        Thank you SO SO much for taking the time to help me!!!!

  5. says

    What a sweet story of how you got this beautiful pan! I can see why you were so obsessed with it — it’s gorgeous! The apple cake you made sounds delicious and there are so many other possibilities too…it looks like wrought iron so it might be fun to make a vanilla cake and paint the scrollwork with dark chocolate…pretty and delicious!

  6. says

    My head is telling me: white chocolate. Here’s the hypothesis daaahling: A white chocolate cream (maybe with infused thyme), that gets poured into the indentation part of the design and sets. It would make the design stand out even further, and definitely more celebratory.
    The cake pan is spectacular. I am sure whenever you use it you will have wonderful memories of lovely friend.
    *kisses* HH

    • Valerie says

      Isn’t that so true? I will never use the pan without remembering the friendship. I like the idea of a cream brulee type recipe in the mold – but have no such recipe or idea of where to get a white chocolate cream recipe… (do you have one?) but, you did give me an idea for the future… to use two different batters: one for the indented top – and then more of that at the bottom of the cake. That would be a very special look…. and coupled with Faith’s idea of painting the scrolls, it might be wild!

  7. says

    Great post! And what a fabulous-looking pan!

    Your recipe sounds like perfection to me, don’t know why you need more ideas…but, how about some finely chopped almonds in the batter?

  8. says

    “œWe do not ship. We are not interested in shipping. We will not make any exceptions. Thank you. Good-bye.” Can’t believe what I read….ughr..
    The cake is already perfect. Really…I just love how it looks..and the…that’s super moist and soft.

  9. says

    I’m really glad the pan made that imprint on your delicious gluten-free cake, otherwise, I would have commenced with complete and utter *envy*! I still have envy over this cake though;-) Oh, and what a sweet friend, Valerie. That’s too cool…

    • Valerie says

      Stella! Of all people, I expected you to have a brilliant solution to this cake! You are always concocting the most delectable goodies from scratch!

  10. says

    That cake looks sensational. I would love a cake pan like that — but clearly they’re not shipping! Maybe the next time I’m in Paris….

  11. says

    What a beautiful array of flavors. Apples and thyme is a wonderful flavor combination. The cake is stunning.

    Cheers to Bene! Aren’t foodie friends wonderful? They truly understand the feeling ” I need that pan!”


    P.S. Your page is slow to load but, its loading and I can comment. Woo-hoo!

    • Valerie says

      I am glad you are back! Yes, she did understand, and I have to admit – I was SO surprised she did not get one for herself. That tells you how egocentric that desire was!

  12. says

    Great story Valerie! You do this to people, they accomplish all kinds of feats for your sake! I am so familiar with the French way of doing business; remember one time they turned off the lights in the store while I was changing in the dressing room (it was time for “le déjeuner”).
    Anyway, this cake is so glorious, to me it evokes medieval queens and kings; I can see it for a “pain de gênes” a rich pound cake, maybe scented with freshly dried lavender.

    • Valerie says

      I never thought of that: they accomplish all kinds of feats for your sake! , but I think you are right. I have had more than my share of extraordinary experiences. I like to think I would and have done the same… but, not to the same people. I know I do “pay it forward”. But, you are right. I am extremely blessed. And, I guess this cake pan is a metaphor for a hedonistic desire that has brought about the purest and most basic expression of genuine gratefulness with the most heartfelt thanks. From that grew the motivation to express that inside of the cake pan in the form of this regal cake.
      I love your idea of lavender… for the summer version. There have been so many great ideas! Yes, that is so funny. Lights off. Lunch time. He he.

  13. says

    I have serious cake pan envy right now and wish I knew someone traveling to Paris! It’s a beautiful cake and what a lovely gesture to honor Bene and her sister since they enable that pan to get to you. I wonder how some cheese would taste in this, such as mascarpone?

    • Valerie says

      Thank you, Susan!
      Great idea, but Bene is not a cheese girl. She cannot eat it at all. She just does not care for it. I was thinking of a creme fraiche or yogurt accompaniment, and then recalled she likes neither of those, as well. A day later the cake was FAR too moist, so I definitely have to adjust the flour… and the recipe only filled about half of the pan, so once I get the flavour and texture, I can almost double it for this pan. We shall see!

  14. says

    Oh how very sweet Bene and her sister are! That cake pan is fabulous! A marvel to look at.

    As for the cake. What kind of apples did you use? i would make up the apples to 3 and make sure you use granny smith apples because they have a sharper flavor that won’t get diluted by the other ingredients. And maybe used canned pumpkin instead of butternut squash, this way it’s not quite so wet? It is definitely a beautiful concept!

  15. says

    What a gorgeous looking cake! I love that cake pan. and am already wondering who I can get to traipse around Paris for me to get one! The flavours sound wonderful, but I wonder if you’ll be able to get a distinct flavour of both the apples and the squash. What about cooking the applesauce down into apple butter for a more concentrated apple taste? I always cube my butternut squash when roasting it, to get more of the delicious browned edges, more taste and less moisture. Looking at your recipe, it looks more like a flan or clafoutis recipe. You definitely need more dry ingredients. Flour would be best, as the gluten would give you more structure, but maybe one of those gluten-free blends? I love the sound of the lemon thyme syrup–how about using reduced apple cider to make it? Have fun with this!

    • Valerie says

      A BIG BIG BIG hug to you for your specific and thoughtful response. What great ideas. Why didn’t I think of the cube roasting? I do it in savoury dishes! And the apple butter is also brilliant.

  16. says

    This is the cutest cake pan I’ve ever seen, so lovely! Your recipe sounds just fine to me. To give an idea, I would add some sesame seeds inside to give it a nice texture and some lemon zest to go with the flavor of ginger.

  17. says

    Oh how terribly French the French are at times! Beautiful story to this cake pan & cake Val, just gorgeous. I’d be so tempted to highlight the lattice work look with chocolate, the combination of orange & chocolate latticework icing looks amazing. If you wanted to get really creative, check out some of Deeba’s latticework ‘art’ cakes…, I am in awe of her cake baking…, not sure if you’ve come across her, but check her cakework out….,
    But the cake itself sounds yummy considering its GF texture ‘n all. Maybe a little lemon juice to highlight the apple!

    • Valerie says

      I do not follow Deeba as she hasn’t yet put up a plug in to enable me to get her posts into my mail box. I have asked her to a few times. But, I am definitely aware of her macaron work. I did stop over after your prompting and WOW. Intimidating and GORGEOUS work over at Deeba’s site. I have once again asked her to help me out so I can be a “regular”. I just don’t get to my readers or feeds – ever – so truly appreciate the many sites I read enabling this option for me. Thank you for the referral! Her site definitely ROCKS!

  18. says

    I like Bea’s blog as well, Valerie. Her recipes are wonderful and her photos are light and airy…almost other-worldly.

    What a lovely story about this amazing French cake pan! It’s no wonder you wanted it so badly and thanks to Bene and her sister you have one. The French can be so very French, can’t they? More so in Paris than the countryside.

    As far as the recipe is concerned, I do like your idea of the glaze as it makes the beautiful scroll work more pronounced than Bea’s cake did. But I am not gluten-free knowledgeable so I can’t be of help…sorry!

    • Valerie says

      I, too, am a novice at gluten free. It doesn’t have to be gluten free, but I thought it would also me a great learning curve for me and probably appreciated by Béné!

  19. says

    I’m always in wonderment when I’m still reminded that with all the unsavoury people out there…we actually do have kind hearts that are willing to go that extra mile for something like that stunning decorative pan…so Victorian…love it!

    Ideas for your cake…would be maybe the addition of pure almond paste and I don’t mean marzipan. I can actually envision the look and taste of soaked dried raisins in dark Rum or just add a little Frangelico liquor for a hazelnut essence.
    Also, instead of putting almond meal…I would have lightly pre-roasted the almonds and crushed them afterwards into meal.

    Alright then Valerie…that was probably more than the 2 cents you were looking for ;o)
    I still believe, your cake is very tasty and more acceptable than you want us to believe ;o)LOL

    Ciao for now and flavourful wishes,

    • Valerie says

      I cannot tell you how appreciative I am about your thoughtfulness. I got way more than 2 cents worth and just making the effort to brainstorm with me is a gift to me. Many of your ideas have sparked some innovative ideas!

  20. says

    Brown butter. It adds so much flavour. Also, if you wanted to keep this more flan-like, you could line the bottom with caramel, as in a creme caramel. I wonder what that would look like with the beautiful pattern.
    Anyway, I was looking for your whole citrus fruit cake on here and couldn’t find it. Not that I’ve got a Thermomix, but I’m curious. There is something about using the rind and all that gives it great flavour. I find my cake is getting sharper rather than mellowing, which I like. It means I can eat it with a bit of cream.

  21. says

    Oh, oh, oh – thank you for helping me write places on my must-visit list when I go to Paris! It looks gorgeous and I’m sorry it wasn’t the stunner you planned. At least you know what to tweak next time. Great looking cake though

    • Valerie says

      Before you do go to Paris next time, let me know. I am not an expert, but I have been there about 8 times and have gathered quite a little list of places I have found simply delightful as a lover of all things food!

  22. says

    Oh Valerie, a great friend indeed, the pan is stunning I adore it!! I love the ideas of adding something to the scroll, painting the edges with edible dust since it is a celebration, the flavors are amazing, maybe a nut addition, I like foodessa’s suggestion. if I think of something, I will re visit..I think best before I fall asleep, lol


    • Valerie says

      I am lucky on all fronts, aren’t i? Thanks for helping to solve my flavour profile. I am quite stressed about this now and thinking…. I wished Bene liked chocolate.

  23. says

    What a story! I can’t believe how rude they were on the phone to your friend – geez! Your friend and her sister sound so wonderful, your friend calling the store and her sister walking all over Paris to get you this beautiful pan! And, it is a gorgeous pan, with that intricate scrollwork. I see so many possibilities here!

    I’m sorry I won’t be much help with your recipe. I think it sounds wonderful already. Perhaps you could try reducing apple cider to a syrup to intensify the apple flavor and add more almond flour to compensate. Or *gasp* add cinnamon or other type of typical apple dessert seasoning, just a little. Ok, now I feel ashamed of myself … :O

    Good luck, Valerie!

  24. Béné says

    Hi Valerie

    I have been meaning to post a comment for a few days now and all I have to say is WOW !:-) I am really glad I was able to help you get the pan!

    Your cake looks amazing. I can’t wait to read about your next experiments and utltimately taste your creation.

    Talk to you soon!

    PS – In one of your comments, you say “I wish Bene loved chocolate”. You might be referring to another Bene (who knows!) but if it’s me, you should know I loooove chocolate :-)

    • Valerie says

      YOU do? When you tasted the Valrhona Manjari callet the last time you were here, you took such a tiny bite, I thought you did not like chocolate, either! Well, that is WONDERFUL. Then, I think I may have the perfect recipe for this cake… and I may paint the scrolls… Now I am going a whole other direction… but that is fine by me!

  25. says

    What a story, and so glad it ended with you getting this wonderful pan. The cake is stunning, so elegant and the ingredients sound so intriguing! I love the idea of putting thyme with a sweet dessert, I’ve never had it in that way before but thinking about it it would be pretty tasty!

  26. Vivian says

    Surely this pan must be available somewhere in North America?!! Has no one thought to import them? Has no company thought to make them? Its ridiculous to have to put up with snooty, uncooperative Parisian shops!!

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      I was so lucky to get this pan! I love it! And was so fortunate to have such a generous French fried here who made this happen for me!

  27. Sharon says

    So, have you ‘perfected’ this recipe to your liking yet? I would be interested to see what changes you have made. thank you for your interesting post.

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      No, Sharon, I have not!
      Shame on me, too!
      I will get back to this one this summer. It is something I really want to do.
      ANy ideas?

  28. Ester says

    I am wondering about using a bit of orange rind & roasted & ground fennel seed to compliment the thyme & ginger as they may go well with the squash. I was thinking about how Chinese 5 spice is a blend which includes fennel that I use in a yam soup which is a sweet vegetable too. I am just learning about gluten free baking and it is very thought provoking around how to include structure & lightness to baked goods. I will await your final recipe and will try it in the fall when squash is in season again.

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