Gluten/dairy/sugar-free Chocolate Cake

This is basically Nigella Lawson’s recipe, but with notes and options from my ‘researches’ (in the name of science, obviously). If you go with organic ingredients and use the non-sugar options, this is pretty much a health food.

I’m posting this in part because I’m a decent cook but a useless baker — yet this one works for me. The olive oil thing might seem weird if you’ve never tried it, but it works beautifully and it’s what makes the recipe very forgiving. This is baking for non-bakers. It’s very quick and easy to do, and it seems to work no matter how much you play with the recipe. I keep meaning to try it with a decaf ground coffee instead of the cocoa (probably use less). I suspect it would work.

This is also an ME/CFS-friendly recipe, requiring very little preparation time and not much exertion. A food mixer with a whisk attachment, or an electric hand whisk, makes life easier, but I’ve made it without, just using a hand whisk. The good news: it doesn’t seem to matter if you only do the briefest of whisks. You’ll get a lighter result with more whisking, but this cake is meant to have an almost tart-like consistency, so it just doesn’t matter. Do what you can. It’ll work.

The original recipe uses bicarbonate of soda and the result is quite a low-rise cake, almost like a crustless flan. I’ve also used baking powder and it produces a lighter, higher rise — more regular cakey. We’ve had lengthy discussions in our house over which is better (really, they’re both great).

Using a high quality cocoa powder — organic if at all possible — is the key to this recipe. If you’re using that, the rest hardly seems to matter.

Serve warm or cold — or first warm, then cold ;-)
If you can tolerate dairy, this cake is stupendous with cream, clotted or double. But yoghurt or kefir (cow’s milk or whatever you can handle) is as good, maybe even better. Just slide 2 elegant quenelles* of your chosen white stuff onto the plate and dress with a few fresh raspberries … seriously, you’ve got to have raspberries with this. Unless you’re fructose-free, in which case imagine you have raspberries.
A little chilled almond milk poured over would work great, too. As would ice cream, frozen yoghurt …


olive oil (good quality regular) - 150ml
cocoa powder (pref. organic - I get mine from a farm shop) - 50g

ground almonds / almond flour (again, pref. organic) - 130g
general purpose gluten-free flour - 20g
note: You can use all ground almonds. I haven’t tried it with only flour, but it should work (likely to be smoother in texture, even more tart-like).

eggs - 3 large free range organic OR egg substitute (I haven’t tried this, but I'm certain it would work fine)

bicarbonate of soda - 1/2 teaspoon OR baking powder - 1 teaspoon
water, boiling - 125ml
vanilla extract (or banana etc), optional
salt - pinch, optional. If you need extra salt in your diet, this recipe will definitely work with it. Just chuck more in.

Sweet stuff - several options
1. sugar. The original recipe calls for 200g caster sugar (superfine in the USA). This seemed an awful lot to me, and I was trying to cut right down on added sugars. The first few times I made this I used organic brown sugar. I started with 80g and found it too sweet. I tried dropping the sugar content each time. No one seemed to notice! 50g works just fine. I haven’t tried less than that.
2. stevia: 20g
3. xylitol: 50g

The flavour is that little bit better with brown sugar. I’ve tried blending the above — eg. 40g xylitol + 10g brown sugar. I’ve also tried using honey + 10g stevia. All work fine. This is a very forgiving recipe.

Making it:
Pre-heat oven to 170C/gas mark 3/325F

You need a springform baking tin. I’ve used a larger one (maybe 9-inch), which gives a single flatter, lower cake. And I’ve used 2 small ones (5-inch), which makes 2 super-risen cakes.

Grease the tin with some olive oil. Pop a circle of baking parchment in the bottom (you can buy packs of these, ready-cut, or do your own).

Put the measured cocoa powder in a heat-proof bowl or large mug. Boil some water, and measure 125ml and stir it into the cocoa powder. Mix throughly into a paste then set aside to cool a bit.

In a smallish bowl mix up the non-sweet dry ingredients: ground almonds, bicarbonate of soda and salt. (flour, baking powder, if using)

Put the sweet stuff (sugar or alternatives), the eggs and the olive oil in a large bowl for beating. If you have a freestanding mixer, use that bowl. Beat/whisk for a few minutes, or as much of that as you can if hand-whisking. Just get the stuff mixed together and whisked a little bit — that’ll work.

Pour the cocoa mixture into the main oil/sugar/egg mixture, mixing or whisking as you pour. Just get them combined — that’s enough.

Pour in the almond (or flour) mixture. Beat or just stir until evenly combined. Only takes a few good stirs.

Pour the mixture into the baking tin(s) and place tin(s) in centre of oven.

Bake about 40/45 minutes or until a cocktail stick (toothpick) or sharp knife comes out more or less clean.

Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack (if you have one) or just on the stove top.

After the 10 minutes, slide a butter knife or similar around between the edge of the cake and the tin, then release the springform and remove. Let it cool some more before digging in.


My dad's visiting on Sunday and I'm going to make this for him. He's not generally keen on cake but loves this one. If it works out, I'll add a picture to the blog (I say 'if' because this is the first time I've posted a recipe online and wouldn't it just be sod's law if this was the first time it failed on me!)
It sounds wonderful! I get a dessert from a health food store around here that is kamut flour and sweetened with agave nectar and uses good quality cocoa powder. Organic cocoa powder really does taste different, less bitter. I would love to try this recipe sometime!
I'm the same way as your dad, I don't generally like cakes as they are too sweet and fluffy and 'cakey'. The gluten free flour actually makes it more solid and flavourful. Not very sweet coffee cake is great too.
@JamieS - please do. So many of us have dietary issues. We ought to share what we know, and blog pages seem like a good place to do it. Would love to see what you've got!
@L'engles - definitely, re the organic cocoa powder. Major difference to everything. I started looking for a recipe after someone gave me a ready-made GF chocolate cake last year (from Marks and Spencer). it was nice for a few bites, then got really sickly. When I looked at the label, I nearly fell over. It was nearly all sugar, and a ton of other junk. I can never understand why they do that.
btw, I made this one yesterday and took some photos, then realised later that the autofocus was switched off on my camera. By the time I realised, my visiting family had demolished the cake! Next time ...
@JaimeS - I meant to add, it's not just special dietary needs. It's also the "ME-friendly" bit, isn't it. Cooking can be really hard work, so any recipes people have which are both easy and healthy I think we definitely ought to share.
More than ok, Jaime. Great idea. I made something else the other day that I thought I should post here but right now I can't remember what it was! Curse that brain fog

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