The Buddhists and Hindus teach that earthly existence is a continual wheel of circular motion, fueled by desires that entrap us within that motion, like a potter’s wheel or a water mill–or, to be more modern, a clothes dryer or the food processor. And as the famous actress Betty Davis once said “Life–it’s not for sissies.” So I’m going to give it to you straight.
This recipe is a cake with flour and sugar in it. Yes, it’s gluten-free flour. And yes, there’s only a half cup of sugar. But flour is flour and sugar is sugar. Period.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always loved to bake. The girl scout badge that required me to make a layer cake and frost it was one of my most treasured. In fact, for a time, what I wanted to be when I grew up was a baker. It’s in my blood. My maternal grandmother’s brothers ran a bakery. My grandmother taught me their tricks about not burning pie crust in the oven and how to cool a cake. I still have a pastry cloth my grandmother gave me that harkens back to these times.
But I don’t make pie crust anymore. (I do make dog biscuits for Romeo, though, so I still use my rolling pin now and then.) And I don’t usually make cakes. So I will blame this cake on the internet, and an image somewhere on Pinterest of a chocolate sweet potato cake. It looked nothing like this one, but it got my “wheel” turning. Not so much to taste the cake, but to create one that would be in the ball park of healthy, for a special holiday treat. And to see if I could do it after all this time.
The first two years I ate plant-based, I baked every week. I was so thrilled to be feeling better and so thrilled I COULD bake again, just fat free at first, and then gluten free, too, once my “science experiment” to test whether wheat would be okay for me to eat without all the fat showed me that no, that had not changed. I am forever indebted to two amazing women for all I learned about baking in this new way: Susan Voisin of Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, and Karina Allrich at Gluten Free Goddess. If you need to learn how to do both of these things, besides the meager advice I offer here, I highly recommend you hop back and forth between the recipes on their two blogs to figure out how to do both in your own individual way. Your education will be invaluable.
Gluten free and fat free baking is a lot like setting the kid in me who wants to play with a chemistry set free in the kitchen. It’s not a streamlined process and it can get very messy. Like life, it’s not for sissies. It’s best not to expect the texture and heft of gluten free baked goods to resemble the ones made with gluten and loads of fat and sugar; it’s like pressing ” quick spin” on that wheel the Buddhists call Samsara. But if you have a sense of adventure, and want a gluten free fat free treat that’s delicious in its own right, and healthier than most conventional cake, then tie on your apron and follow me into my laboratory:
I made this cake twice. The first time I used Susan’s Applesauce Ginger Cake as a template. I had made it before (for company) as the applesauce cake it is meant to be, only gluten free, and it had come out fine. This sweet potato version came out good, but I thought it was a bit too heavy, and maybe a tad too dry. Since mashed sweet potato is more dense than applesauce, I went back to Karina’s Pumpkin Bundt Cake recipe to check her proportions of leavening and liquid. I kind of hopped back and forth between the two recipes to decide on my own measurements.
The inspiration for the carob apricot filling also came from two divergent places: wanting to come up with a tasty, creative riff on the chocolate sweet potato cakes I saw out there, and wanting to avoid the disappointment of putting a glaze on the outside of the cake, only to have it soak all the way in. This is a recurring problem I’ve had with icings and glazes on gluten free baked goods. So I got the inspiration to beat that chemistry to the punch by putting a gooey, luscious fat free filling on the inside of the cake.
Gluten Free Sweet Potato Spice Cake with Apricot Carob Filling
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup quinoa flour
1/4 cup potato starch
1/4 cup arrow root starch
1 tbs chickpea flour (optional)
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 cup brown sugar
(for questions about flours and starches, see notes)
3/4 cup baked mashed yam or orange sweet potato
1 1/4 cup pear or apple sauce (I used pear sauce because I have a pear tree and that’s what I make–you could probably also used crushed pineapple whirred up in the food processor)
1/4-1/2 cup almond milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbs lemon juice
Ener G Egg replacer for two eggs (1 tbs of egg replacer mixed with 2 tbs of liquid–you can use water–I used almond milk)
2 tbs of Apricot Fruit Spread (I used Simply Fruit)
2 tbs of carob powder
2 tbs of cream sherry (or you can use orange juice instead)
1 tsp of ground golden flax seed (optional, but it helps the glaze stay thick)
1 tsp of grated ginger
a little grated orange zest (these last two things are optional, but very good)
Preheat oven to 350.
Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. (I use a fork or a whisk to do this.) In a smaller bowl mash together and combine all the wet ingredients with a fork, except the egg replacer, using the lower amount of almond milk. Mix the egg replacer with the 2 tbs of liquid separately in a small cup or bowl. Now make the filling so it’s ready: in another small bowl, whisk all the filling ingredients together until well combined (a fork is great for this).
When you’re ready to assemble, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, along with the egg replacer. Mix gently with a wooden spoon or spatula until it’s all combined. It will be a thick batter with small orange specks of sweet potato in it.
If it seems too stiff, add the rest of the almond milk. I found that gave the batter the right consistency–my climate is dry and so is my wood heated house. But it may be different at your place. Chances are you’ll need it though.
Carefully spoon half the filling into a bundt pan. (You can if you want to, but I did not grease or oil the pan and the cake came out fine. Old trick to follow in notes.) (If you don’t have a bundt pan, I think you could do this in a square 8 x8 baking pan too.) Carefully spoon most of the filling down the center of the batter, leaving back a little to decorate the top of the cake if you wish.
Bake at 350 for about 40-45 minutes. Longer than that would have dried it out in my oven. But keep an eye on it. When it seems firm, it’s done. You can test it with a toothpick as well if you like, but that’s a little tricky with the filling in the middle.
Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes before inverting it onto a plate. Now here’s the trick from my grandmother and her baker brothers: for that 10 minutes, set the warm cake pan on a wet wash cloth on a metal surface. Here’s my cake cooling on my grandmother’s old kitchen table:
And here it is inverted onto the plate before the rest of the glaze went on top:
After it cools completely (and I mean completely) you can use any leftover filling as a glaze.
Notes: Flours and Starches: I learned from Karina at Gluten Free Goddess how to make my own mixes. The general proportions are something like 2/3 flours to 1/3 starches for a good mix. If you want to bypass all that chemistry experimentation, you can buy a gluten free baking mix. I can’t recommend one, though, because I’ve never used one before. Just be sure it’s vegan. Some are, some aren’t.
If you don’t need to be gluten free and you would like to try this cake, just use two cups of something like whole wheat pastry flour, and instead of 1 tsp of baking soda and 2 tsp of baking powder, leave out the baking powder and use 2 tsp of baking soda. You may only need the lesser amount of almond milk. And you may not need the egg replacer. You can follow Susan’s directions for her Applesauce Ginger Cake and see how it goes.
The other nice thing about gluten free baked goods is that they take to freezing. In fact they often deepen in flavor after having been frozen. So if you have extra cake (like I did) you can slice it up and freeze it. Here is my second cake all sliced up and ready to go to Poetry Night:
For someone who is a veteran at eating low fat and plant-based like I now am, this cake is a once-in-a-great-while special occasion treat. For the folks at Poetry Night, it’s a foray into the strange unknown. Poetry Night was originally called Chocolate, Wine and Poetry Night for good reason. I didn’t say anything at all about the cake, just put it on the table with the dark chocolate cupcakes and the pumpkin cream custards. A couple of people besides me had a slice. One thought to tell me it was good. As I was leaving, juggling putting my coat on and holding the dog leash and the cake plate, the hostess offered to help. “Is this gluten-free? she asked, and said she was “trying to do that.” She took a piece, and then a bite. Her face changed. “This is GOOD,” she said. “I could do this.” And then again. “This is REALLY GOOD.”
So if you have a sense of adventure like my hostess did, or want to unleash your mad scientist in the kitchen, try this cake out as a holiday treat. Or if you are a died-in-the-not-wool traditionalist, try out my Pumpkin Pie in the Free World.
And that’s how the Samsara dessert wheel turns. Gluten or no gluten in the flour, a little sugar or a lot, it’s not for sissies. I am grateful the small amounts of this cake I did eat produced no fibromyalgia flares. I bravely took the rest home. Gave some to my neighbor. Put the rest in the freezer–until company comes, and it’s time to spin the wheel again.
With wishes for a happy and healthy Thanksgiving,