Sunday, 16 January 2011

How to make your friends happy without flour

We had decided to throw a surprise birthday party for one of our colleagues, a morning surprise party. You see, when I grew up I always got served birthday cake in bed. The idea of waiting a whole day for your cake was really too absurd. So we liasoned with her husband who agreed to have tea and coffee ready, we would bring flowers and cake. It was a simple plan, except for one minor detail. The birthday girl was allergic to flour, which meant I had to bake her a gluten-free cake. 

I started to look up some recipes, and they all required alien sounding ingredients like sorghum flour, tapioca starch and xanthan gum. This is not exactly staple food, where on earth would I find this stuff? To my great relief our local health food store carried everything I needed, and more. I discovered a whole world of gluten-free baking mixes and wheat substitutes. I guess we all want cake and bread, allergies or not.

I proudly arranged all the alternative wheat-substitute products on my kitchen counter and put on my apron (white nurse-apron that used to belong to my grandmother’s sister). I almost felt euphoric embarking on this new task ahead of me. Maybe I could open a gluten-free bakery? Everyone with allergies would “oh” and “ah” as they took their first bite of a wheat free strudel or a cookie made with rice flour.   

I followed this new recipe very carefully and put the cake in the oven. When the baking time was up, the cake looked totally normal. Success!  However, it felt alarmingly heavy and dense. Upon tasting all my bakery dreams died immediately. The cake not only had a led-like quality, it was tasteless and horrible. My taste-buds were rebelling. This was not a cake, this was pure punishment.

Never mind. I got on the computer in the search for a better recipe. Finally I found one that recommended putting apple sauce in the batter to make the cake more moist and tender. The cake looked pretty too, all delicious and inviting.  When my cake was done baking, it had an uneven beige colouring, it was dense, and with the added unattractive dip in the middle. By now I was getting a bit frustrated. I looked up further recipes, but it seamed like substituting wheat always were followed by “exclude sugar, egg and chocolate.” Instead I was encouraged to use tofu, honey and carob. No, no, no!. All I wanted was to make a chocolate cake that didn’t cause the birthday child to have an allergic reaction. I was not in search of a hearty hemp-cake dusted with bee-pollen.

Deflated I picked up my favorite cake recipe book. To my great delight, not to mention surprise, I discovered more than one flourless chocolate cake. That’s right, f l o u r l e s s cakes, not cakes made with flour substitute. I gave one of the recipes a try, and this time the cake turned out beautifully. This was a decadent, rich, almost mousse-like cake, worthy of both making and eating. I has finally found my perfect wheat free cake.    

I do remain open to the idea that I one day will come across a fabulous chocolate cake made with sorghum or rice flour, but in the meantime I’ll stick to the flourless options.

Gina, this one is for you.

 Chocolate Marquise Cake

300 gram chocolate-cut into bits
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
115g butter-cut into small pieces
4 large eggs, separated
1/8 cream of tartar
2 tablespoon sugar

This cake is really easy to make, but you need a standing mixer and a bottomless cake form. You must also know how to fold egg whites. If you don’t, take a quick look at this link: . Unfortunately there is a consistent, weird, breathing sound in the background, but at leas it shows you the art of folding.  

1. Line the bottom of a 9 inch cake pan with parchment baker. Melt 30g of chocolate over very low heat. Then scrape the chocolate on to the bottom of the cake pan and spread it thin and evenly. (This little trick will prevent the cake from sticking to the paper). Put the pan in the refrigerator.

2. Melt butter and chocolate together over very low heat, stir from time to time. When melted and smooth, whisk in the egg yolks. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. Put the egg whites and cream of tartar in a mixing bowl and beat at medium speed until soft peaks start to form. I know, cream of tartar is a really weird name. It even has its own formula: KC4H5O6 . This Russian sounding powder helps stabilize the egg-whites and increases their heat tolerance and volume. \Just what we want! When our peaks start to appear (with the help of Mr. Tartar) gradually sprinkle in sugar and increase the beating speed to high. Beat until the egg whites are stiff, but not dry. Dry whites will curdle, stiff whites look smooth.

4. Gently stir one fourth of egg whites into chocolate mixture to lighten it. Then scrape the remaining egg whites on top of the chocolate mixture and fold together until completely incorporated. The reason why we fold, and not stir or whisk, is to preserve the volume of the egg whites. Volume equals tall cake. Scrape this heavenly mixture into the prepared pan and refrigerate the cake. It can be prepared up to 2 days in advance, but can be served after only 4 hours.  

5. When ready to be served,  remove cake from fridge and dust the top with the cocoa powder through a fine strainer. A tea strainer is a brilliant tool for this purpose. Then heat the sides of the form with a hot, wet towel. This makes it easy to slip off the form without making a mess. Once the side is off, turn the cake upside down on a serving plate and remove the bottom of the pan and peel off the paper. Serve cold, perhaps with some fresh fruit or berries on the side.

Afterword: You will discover that the un-molding part of the process might require some patience, so don't rush it.  In general, never be in a hurry when you bake. Put on some good music, sip your favourite tea and fully enjoy your baking experience. And remember, there's nothing better than a good friend, except a good friend with chocolate.  


  1. Inger, this is wonderful. I predict your own cooking show on BBC!

  2. Looks divine! I demand it for my birthday too. Delivered by moped. Preferably by a Lord.
    (And if you want another flourless recipe, ask my dad. His Gustav-cake is famous. Made with ground nuts instead of flour. (So not for the nut allergic....)