Old reliable chocolate cake

It’s been over a year now since I switched this column over to the all gluten-free network of foodnerdery, and look, you hardly even noticed. Same tasty treats, same snarky remarks… nothing’s changed, right?

Well, maybe not at your house, but it has at mine. Just to recap, in case you’ve forgotten, about 14 months ago I put my daughter, who was in kindergarten at the time, on a no-gluten diet to deal with some health issues she was having. Which meant that we had to re-think, in a pretty serious way, everything we eat. Gluten (just to refresh you) is a protein found in many grains, primarily wheat, spelt, kamut, rye, barley, and (through processing), oats. It’s not, you know, evil, but for people with sensitivities to it, the effects can be anywhere from mildly irritating (congestion, bloating) to debilitating (malnutrition, depression, reproductive disorders, you name it).

Some people with gluten issues can pick the cheese off the top of a piece of pizza and eat it without any ill effects; others, especially people whose systems have been damaged by Celiac disease, can have their symptoms triggered if their food is so much as prepared with a wooden spoon that had been used to stir a pot of beef and barley soup last week. Those little gluten molecules are sneaky shaggers.

Changing your diet, and especially changing your child’s diet, is difficult. As is always the case in my life, when faced with difficulties, I deal in one way: I bake. I bake cookies, I bake cakes, I bake squares and cinnamon buns and scones. It’s my coping mechanism. I drown my troubles in butter. I am lucky to have very few troubles to drown, else my butter intake would far exceed the recommended amount for any human. Who am I kidding? I’m sure it already does.

When you have to put your kid on a special diet, you worry about them being labeled “weird.” Suddenly, you desperately want them to be able to eat all the cookies at the school Valentine’s party. Which is funny, because under normal circumstances, you would be begging them not to eat all the cookies at the school Valentine’s party. But there you have it. Parenting makes you do irrational things. So, when there’s a party, I send cupcakes to share with the class, so my youngster isn’t the only one with a non-matching cupcake. When she gets together with friends, I usually send along cookies to share, partly because that’s just nice, and partly because I don’t want her friends’ parents to be standing there, looking through their cupboards, reading every ingredient and getting all stressed out about it. If I can whip up some cookies in half an hour and save someone else an afternoon of freaking out about what’s going to happen if my kid gets into the multigrain tortilla chips, it seems like a batch of cookies is the way to go.


Cupcakes decorated by someone I know.

I won’t go into the crazy science of gluten-free baking right now, because, frankly, it’s a book-length discussion of wacky flours (quinoa? sorghum? millet?) and starches and xanthan gum. Not to scare you if you’re considering going gluten-free: it’s a little complicated, but once you get the hang of what does what, you’re fine. Better than fine, sometimes, like in the case of the chocolate cake recipe below.

I know that this is the third chocolate cake recipe I’ve run during the life of this column – the fourth, if you’ve ever baked the Fudgy, Sludgy Brownies in a cake pan and called it a cake – but all those other ones had vegetables in them, so they hardly count. Besides, it’s February, the Season of the Cake. If you pick this up early enough, you can make one for Valentine’s Day. If you don’t, well, what odds? I’ve never felt that chocolate cake was something that required excuses.

•••

Old Reliable Chocolate Cake

You can bake this in two 8” round pans and make a layer cake, or you can pour it into a Bundt pan for a ring cake, or you can always go with cupcakes. Most recently, I used this recipe to make a dozen mini-cupcakes for my daughter and her friend, and there was enough batter left over to make a small loaf cake for the grown-ups.

A note on flour: if gluten is not a concern for you, just use all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached. I developed the recipe using El Peto brand gluten-free flour mix, so that’s what I’ve listed, but I’ve also used Glutino brand, and it’s fine. If you don’t want to use a flour mix, I would suggest ¾ cup sorghum flour, ¼ cup sweet rice flour, ¼ cup tapioca starch, and ½ teaspoon xanthan gum, whisked together.

1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/3 applesauce
2 eggs
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups El Peto gluten-free all-purpose flour (or other flour: see note above)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter pan(s) and dust with flour or with cocoa powder, or, if you are making cupcakes, line a 12-cup muffin tin with papers.

2. Cream together butter and sugar (about 5 minutes). Add applesauce and blend well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions.

3. In a small bowl, dissolve cocoa in boiling water. Stir in buttermilk. Set side.

4. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to sugar-butter mixture, beating well.

5. Beat cocoa mixture into the batter.

6. Pour batter into prepared pans. Baking time will depend on the size of pan(s) used. Check cupcakes after about 15 minutes, 8” pans after about 25 minutes, and Bundt-style pans after about 40 minutes. Cake is done when a tester comes out clean, or when surface springs back slightly when touched.

7. Allow cakes to sit in pans 5 minutes before turning onto wire racks to cool completely. Top with your favourite frosting (I, sadly, never measure when I make frosting, so I have no recipe to give you). If you have made cupcakes or a Bundt cake, you may want to top them with:

Coconut Ganache
2/3 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup coconut milk

Melt together in a double boiler. Stir until smooth. Cool slightly before spreading. Will harden to a truffle-like consistency overnight. Be warned: if you use this right away, they will be messy. Deliciously messy.

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