Recipe Corner: two gluten-free cakes.

by Harry on November 15, 2010

Don’t be put off by the title. I’ve been entertaining students this week — members of my current freshman seminar on Monday, who watched an episode of Freaks and Geeks on campus for which I bought healthy food (after assuring the one who was made nervous by my reference to “healthy” that it would indeed be filling), and 12 members of my 2007 seminar on Friday at my home. One of the 2007 class is now working as a teacher critic/peer mentor in the current class, so she was at both events, and suspects that she has an allergy to gluten. (I hired her to tell me what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong as a teacher, which she is even better at than I imagined, and has time left over to get to know the freshmen, participate in class discussions, etc). I planned to bake one cake for the current class, and two for the 2007 class: and thought I’d just try to do it gluten free.

Working on the principal that of the four main grains corn and rice are far inferior to wheat, it occurred to me that, since oats are superior to wheat, maybe that was the way to go. So I’d try making my cakes with oat flour. My daughter observed that without gluten the rising process might be inhibited, and suggested adding an extra egg or two, and some chemical leavening (no idea whether she’s right about the chemistry, but I thought it worth a try). So I did. Both cakes turned out absolutely delicious — definitely no less good than when made with regular flour. Honestly, if you have a gluten-allergic guest or someone gluten-allergic in the house, these are cakes you’ll be happy to serve to everyone (I was also rather surprised how good the quinoa pasta tasted — as long as you have it pretty al dente, its good). Anyway, here they are:

My mother’s light fruit cake:

Preheat the oven to 325.

Cream 8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter with 1 cup of bakers sugar (or granulated is fine).
Add in 4 large eggs (my mum’s recipe calls for 2, but 4 is what I used in Friday’s cake)
Add the rind of 1 lemon, and gradually beat in 3 cups of oat flour, with 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder, and 1 teaspoon of salt mixed in.
Add 2/3rds cup of zante currants.
Add 1 cup of other dried fruit. (I’ve used raisins and tart dried cherries. When I have glace cherries I put them in, but whenever I’ve bought them in america they’ve tasted of plastic, so I only use english glace cherries, which is ridiculous).
Now slowly stir in 1/2 pint of milk or cream or a mixture of the two. Then stir in the juice of one lemon. I added half a cup of brandy as well, but it didn’t make much difference

Put in a well-greased and deep cake tin, and bake at 325 for 1 1/2 hours. Check with a fork before removing from oven. I have generally made little fork pricks all over and poured the juice of a second lemon over it, and scattered a handful of sugar in the raw/demerara sugar, immediately after it comes out of the oven.

My guess is that this cake could bear a bit more liquid than I added this time.

Chocolate Cake with Oat Flour

This one collapsed on Friday, because I took it out of the oven too early, because I had to run off to meet a student about a paper, but it was pretty good anyway.

1 1/4 cups oat flour
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups bakers sugar (or granulated is fine)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 eggs (my recipe says 2, but I used 4. My guess is that the excess of eggs contributed to the collapse)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (this is a key ingredient, the better its quality the better the cake)
8-12 oz of melted bittersweet chocolate (again, quality affects quality of cake)
1 cup of milk

preheat oven to 350.

If you want a layer cake grease TWO 8 inch pans. If you want just one cake, grease ONE deep 9 inch pan.

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs one by one. Add baking powder and baking soda and cocoa to the flour, then gradually mix to the batter alternating with the melted chocolate and the milk.

Add batter to well-greased pan or pans.

For the layer cake (2 pans) bake for between 25-30 minutes. For the non-layer cake, bake for 35-45 minutes (sorry I can’t be more precise).

Frosting/icing: To be honest, I don’t have a recipe for the frosting. I melt 8-16 oz of chocolate, and a half to a full stick of butter, and mix with a cup or two of powdered sugar. If you melt the chocolate and butter, and then just add powdered sugar till you get the consistency you want, that should do.



bobG 11.15.10 at 4:55 am

This sounds pretty promising. How is the lemon rind cut?


rdb 11.15.10 at 5:11 am


chris y 11.15.10 at 8:48 am

rdb go there first. I often cook for a friend with coeliac and tbh, I wouldn’t dream of offering her oats. She’d be in agony. I recognise there are different levels of allergy – some people are fine with all grains except wheat – but you need to err on the side of caution. On the upside, the commercial gluten free flour mixes are getting a lot better these days.

Both those cakes look ace, btw.


Alex 11.15.10 at 11:10 am

Working on the principal that of the four main grains corn and rice are far inferior to wheat, it occurred to me that, since oats are superior to wheat, maybe that was the way to go.

It’s the Great Chain of Being, but with cakes!


ajay 11.15.10 at 11:54 am

From Nature’s Cake whichever grain you strike
Tenth or ten thousandth, bakes the cake alike.


Randy Paul 11.15.10 at 11:57 am

My German ex-sister-in-law had a recipe for a hazelnut cake in which you grind 1 1/2 lbs. of hazelnutes into a powder, use 10 eggs separated, two cups of sugar, glazing with melted chocolate and somehow it worked. Tasty, but rich beyond belief.


Ellen @ I Am Gluten Free 11.15.10 at 2:08 pm

I applaud your efforts to provide cake for your gluten intolerant friend/student. I wish more people would follow your lead. Please permit to make just a few small tweak. If she has Celiac, she might not be able to tolerate oats at all. Or if she can eat oats, make sure they are confirmed gluten free oats. Also, it is vitally important that you avoid all cross contamination. This would mean baking the cake in a new pan (or use a foil disposable pan) and using spoons that don’t have the potential for gluten lurking in scratched surfaces. Best to use stainless steel utensils when coming into contact with the ingredients during mixing and pouring into the bowl, as well as cutting the cake when finished baking. Keep up the good work, though, and thank you, from one Celiac who appreciates your efforts!


David 11.15.10 at 2:22 pm

“Working on the principal”? I hope he didn’t mind.


Barry 11.15.10 at 2:30 pm

Harry, I’ve e-mailed you two documents I prepared on gluten-free baking; there’s enough good stuff there to fill a table.


Harry 11.15.10 at 2:42 pm

Thanks for all the warnings, which I’ve followed up and sent relevant information to said student, and thanks Barry for the recipes, and thanks Ellen — your blog will be a great resource for her. “Principal”. I spend way too much time thinking and writing about schools and their management or lack of it, that’s all I can say. Its a bit annoying that one side of my work fundamentally concerns principles and the other side concerns principals.


Harry 11.15.10 at 2:44 pm

PS — my guess is that just about any flour will be fine in the chocolate cake, given that it doesn’t have much flour anyway, and that the chocolate flavour is so overwhelming. Is that right?


David 11.15.10 at 4:07 pm

Mnemonic: the collective noun for heademasters is a lack of principals.


Red 11.15.10 at 4:09 pm

For all those how “suffer” from “gluten allergies”, there’s just one remedy: twinkies.


chris y 11.15.10 at 4:13 pm

my guess is that just about any flour will be fine in the chocolate cake, given that it doesn’t have much flour anyway

Wrong. For some people trace quantities can set off a reaction, e.g. a sauce stirred with a spoon that’s had flour on it. You have to ask your individual with coeliac, but err on the side of caution.


Amy 11.15.10 at 4:25 pm

I would suggest using the brandy in addition to the lemon as the substance that you pour over the cake as it comes out of the oven, not mixing it in to the batter. You may find the flavor more pronounced that way.


ben w 11.15.10 at 4:42 pm

My German ex-sister-in-law had a recipe for a hazelnut cake in which you grind 1 1/2 lbs. of hazelnutes into a powder, use 10 eggs separated, two cups of sugar, glazing with melted chocolate and somehow it worked.

Passover cakes operate (unsurprisingly) similarly.


Harry 11.15.10 at 5:00 pm

Sorry, chris y, what I meant was any flour that does not contain gluten. But yes, I see that about traces, and I’ll talk to her about it. She still hasn’t actually been diagnosed (takes a long time to get to a doctor).


Barry 11.15.10 at 6:04 pm

Harry 11.15.10 at 2:44 pm

“PS —my guess is that just about any flour will be fine in the chocolate cake, given that it doesn’t have much flour anyway, and that the chocolate flavour is so overwhelming. Is that right?”

Pretty much – chocolate will hide a lot of flavors. For example, straight soybean flour will have a slight aftertaste, if not combined with some other flavors (and when you mix it up, from the smell you’d swear that you’re mashing a bowl of lima beans).

If you check at your local grocery, you’ll probably find several gluten-free cake mixes.


John Costello 11.15.10 at 6:15 pm

I realize that there is fun in figuring it out yourself, but if you ever need to bake gluten-free cake and don’t have time to do it from scratch, Pamela’s Chocolate Cake Mix is excellent. It’s actually a really great cake not just a really great gluten-free cake. Maybe the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had from a mix, and better than many I’ve had made from scratch.


Mise 11.15.10 at 6:43 pm

how exciting. It’s incredible the chemistry you learn through baking. Rye on the other hand is a definite no-no with yeast because its compounds are more resistant to being broken down than wheat (do i sound authoritative?!) BUT it rises really well with baking soda and buttermilk, and so makes a great soda bread

(and is, I’m pretty sure, gluten free…)


Colin Danby 11.15.10 at 10:31 pm

FWIW gluten matters to breads but generally not cakes. In fact you typically try to *avoid* gluten development in cakes, which is why cake flour is low in gluten and you stir as little as possible. Tortes typically substitute ground nuts for half the flour, and I’ve seen recipes using potato starch instead of flour.


MikeM 11.15.10 at 11:43 pm

I second John @ 19. And Pamela’s pancake mix is hands-down better than any of the other mixes.


Bex 11.16.10 at 7:45 am

“and is, I’m pretty sure, gluten free…” Just a heads up, as is the case with oats, rye flour does contain gluten.


Barry 11.16.10 at 11:13 am

Mise @20: Rye is definitely not gluten free.


Bill Gleason 11.16.10 at 3:27 pm

Can’t help it:

oats: ‘a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.’

Samuel Johnson’s dictionary


ajay 11.16.10 at 4:59 pm

26: Boswell: “…which is why England produces such fine horses and Scotland such fine people”.


Salient 11.16.10 at 5:05 pm

Seconding the recommendation for Pamela’s products. I’ve at least kinda-liked everything I’ve tried.

Barry, any chance those GF baking documents of yours could appear on the Internets somewhere where I could find ’em? I’ve mostly given up baking after a few mediocre-to-semidisastrous escapades with rice flour, and don’t make much other than cornbreads nowadays. :)


Barry 11.16.10 at 6:23 pm

Harry, could you put those where they are temporarily available on the blog?



Harry 11.16.10 at 9:34 pm

Barry, I printed out and then stored them on my work computer, so if you could send again I’ll get them on tomorrow morning, otherwise it’ll wait quite a while.


Zora 11.17.10 at 5:06 am

It’s even MORE fun if you have to provide a dessert for a group that includes vegans, the lactose-intolerant, and the gluten-intolerant. My solution has been to make coconut mochi.

You can leave out the red food coloring. If you put the mochi squares on a plate, be sure not to push them together; they’ll flow together again. If you have to transport them, you must dredge them in katakuriko (potato starch) and then wrap them in squares of waxed paper.


njorl 11.17.10 at 9:30 pm

I made a no-flour cake once. The base was mostly egg-white, with additional whole eggs. It was the most delicious cake I ever tasted, but it fell apart if you spoke too loudly near it. I couldn’t frost it, or even cut it really. Eventually, we just picked up chunks of it and ate them. It was so moist and rich, that it was just fine that way.


sarahk 11.18.10 at 2:01 am

I have a friend who recommends using gluten-free pancake mix as flour (in case you want to make a cake that is not available already as a gluten-free mix).


Barry 11.18.10 at 12:54 pm

Sarahk, at this point it’d be hard to find such a cake; there is a variety of GF mixes.

Harry, I e-mailed the recipe files to you.

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