Gluten-free cake goodness

The other day, I felt like eating cake. It was also high time for a blog post. And I recently met a friend who’s eating mostly gluten-free. So I thought, “Why, I’ll develop a gluten-free cake recipe for the blog, and all will be right with the world.” And so, here is the delicious, moist and surprisingly well-structured result. It’s a very funky mash-up of one of my favourite poppy seed cake recipes and a recent promising-sounding gluten-free muffin recipe that I wanted to try. I love the idea of a fruit compote centre, especially in a gluten-free cake, which in my experience tend to be on the drier, crumbly side.

I also thought it might be time to tip-toe into nutrition-land on the blog, so here goes a little foray into the madness. Google has a pretty cool search feature where if you type “compare milk and poppy seeds” it shows a nutritional value comparison of ingredients from sources such as the USDA. You can select the exact product (e.g. whole, light or non-fat milk here) and the amount you want to compare. I did this with the amount of poppy seeds in this recipe (100g) with the amount of whole milk you might typically use in a cake recipe (1 cup or 244g). Check out the Google result for the full info, but here are some highlights from the % daily values that I found interesting:

100g poppy seeds 244g whole milk
Fat 64% 12%
Cholesterol 0% 8%
Protein 36% 16%
Carbohydrate 9% 4%
Potassium 20% 8%
Calcium 143% 27%
Iron 54% 0%
Magnesium 86% 6%
Vitamin A 0% 7%
Vitamin B-6 10% 5%

I chose to highlight these two particular ingredients because I think the comparison illustrates how complex and controversial the whole nutritional question is. My mom worries that as a vegan, I’m not getting enough protein and calcium (and implicitly other vitamins and minerals) because traditional and common knowledge states that milk is a good source of these nutrients (strong bones campaign and all that). You can see, however, that poppy seeds beat out milk on nearly all levels, but have much more fat (and calories). Let’s focus on calcium for a second: if you want to get your daily dose, you’d need to eat roughly 70g poppy seeds or drink 13 times more milk (900g or so), at which point they about level out on the fat content. So which one is “healthier”? Both have nutritional advantages but the choices we make about what to include in our diet is further influenced by a complex web of culture, tradition, marketing, morals and ethics… Luckily, our bodies are awesome, resilient machines that can function on a wide variety of sustenance. We can make diet choices that respect these considerations and as long as we maintain a decent variety (daily stuffing your face full of poppy seeds is probably not optimal, calcium-rich though they are) and keep in mind some simple guidelines, we’ll probably be fine. My personal choice is a plant-based diet including a lot of fruits and vegetables, different legumes (beans, lentils, etc), some soy, quinoa, hemp or other complete protein sources, whole grains and small quantities of seeds. I’ve happily been feeding myself in this manner going on five years now, and it’s supporting my mildly active lifestyle just fine.

A very important aspect of how you choose to nourish yourself is learning to listen to your own body: food is an integral part of our physical and emotional well-being (you’ve got a second brain down there, friends) and it’s worth paying attention to its effects. And if you thus notice that cutting out gluten, for example, makes you feel a lot healthier and happier, then I’m all for it. That’s why, although not following a gluten-free diet myself, I enjoy playing around with alternatives. Raw food is another sphere that I like to dabble in.

And finally, a couple of notes on the recipe which, although slightly more involved than a regular cake, is worth it, I promise. The notes contain some simplification and substitution suggestions because everyone should go make this cake even if they don’t have lupin laying around.

P1050676P1050681Flours: I don’t typically have ready-made gluten-free flours on hand, but I make my own by blending groats/flakes in my blender on high speed until a flour-like consistency is reached. This is what I did here with buckwheat, rolled oat flakes and some coarse-ground lupin “cous-cous”. If you don’t have lupin, I imagine some dry white beans would also work. Or almond flour. Or just grab a gluten-free flour mix from the store if you don’t have time or a blender. If you’re not inclined to embark on the gluten-free route, I’m sure regular white flour would be alright, but with my love of alternative, whole grains I can’t not recommend trying a whole spelt and buckwheat mix instead. The buckwheat and pear flavour combo just works, so if you can sneak it in there at all, do.

Sweetener: I prefer to use apple or pear syrup (Birnen-Dicksaft in German) instead of maple or agave as the liquid sweetener or honey substitute when baking. They’re local, seasonal, cheap and readily available here in Germany and over in Switzerland. I do love the taste of maple, but try to save it for special occasions where it’s exceptional flavour can really shine. That said, feel free to use the liquid sweetener of your choice here.

Pear sauce/compote: I’m including the recipe for home-made pear compote because it is one of the easiest kitchen endeavours you’ll come across. You can also make an apple version the same way. But if you’re short on time or motivation, by all means grab a jar at the store.

Format: I made a loaf pan version, but muffins would also work well. A round pan would be slightly less cool, I think, because the cake is less high and the liquid centre won’t be quite as pocket-y, but if that’s all you have, round it up.

Music: listen to The Devil Makes Three while preparing, waiting to bake, devouring or any time you feel like good ol’ Americana.

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Pear poppy-seed marzipan cake

See notes on flours, sweetener and format above

Makes one loaf pan or 12 size-able muffins

Dry ingredients
100g buckwheat flour
100g oat flour (use gluten-free if intolerant)
75g lupin flour
30g arrowroot, corn or potato starch
15g baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger or 10g fresh, peeled and grated (then mix with wet ingredients)
½ tsp sea salt

Wet ingredients
120g unsweetened soy yoghurt
180g sunflower oil (or rapseed, coconut, olive)
200g pear syrup (or maple syrup or agave syrup)
150g pear compote (see recipe below or use store-bought pear or apple sauce)
3 tbsp chia seeds mixed with 9 tbsp water and left for 5 minutes until a gel forms
1 large pear (~200g), grated

Mixins and toppings
100g poppy seeds, coarsely ground in a blender, coffee grinder or mortar and pestle
100g marzipan mashed with 2 tbsp plant-based milk or water
1 small pear (~100g), sliced

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius and line a standard 26cm loaf pan with baking paper. If you are grinding the flours in your blender, start with that then combine with the rest of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In another large bowl, whisk 80g of the pear compote with the rest of the wet ingredients except the grated pear and then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir to combine, then fold in the grated pear. Transfer half the dough back to the empty wet ingredients bowl and stir in the poppy seeds. In the other half, stir in the mashed marzipan. Pour the poppy seed dough in the prepared pan, followed by the last 60g of pear compote down the middle. Pour in the marzipan dough on top, then arrange the sliced pears on top and finish with a cinnamon sprinkle. Bake for 40-50 mins until the cake develops a deeply golden crust and springs back lightly when pressed. Let cool in the pan for at least 10 mins before carefully lifting out and setting on a cooling rack.

Pear-Ginger compote
Makes ~200g

400-500g pears, cored and cut into cubes
15g ginger, peeled and grated
½ tsp vanilla powder
50g pear syrup or water

Combine everything in a saucepan over medium heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the pears are soft. Take off the heat, let cool slightly then puree with a hand mixer.

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