gluten-free cauliflower cake

cauliflower cake I

At breakfast the other day, Lucy put down her fork to make a declaration. “Here are the foods I don’t like, right now,” she said, starting to count on her fingers. Danny and I looked at each other across the table and smiled at each other’s eyes.

“Okay,” I said, putting down my fork. “I’d love to hear.”

“I don’t like mustard.” We knew that. She’s a mayonnaise girl. Mustard is too tangy for her taste. It puckers at the lips and makes you sit up straight. Mayonnaise is smooth, sliding in without much need for attention. We haven’t given her mustard in awhile. Next?

She leaned in toward us, picking up speed now. “I don’t like cabbage.”

For months, we were all eating our tacos on fresh cabbage leaves instead of tortillas. As much as I love a warm corn tortilla, there’s something enticing about a crisp cold cabbage leaf curled around a tangle of hot slow-braised pork with melted cheese and guacamole. (In fact, I’m hungry for one right now.) We started eating our tacos this way last year, when a friend of ours from Mexico told us her family always eats cabbage tacos. The first time we tried them, Lucy looked at me and shouted, “I love cabbage! This is my favorite food.” But her interest in those tacos has been dwindling.

She is six.

“Okay, Lu. No cabbage.” Desmond banged on the white plane of his highchair with a spoon, picking up on her eagerness and wanting to share too.

“Also,” Lu continued. “I don’t like broccoli or chard or cauliflower or kale.” She sat back in her chair with a big exhale, clearly done orating for a bit.

Danny and I looked at each other and shrugged. “You got it, kiddo,” he said. “We’ll keep those off your plate for now.”

cauliflower cake II

I have to admit this: I really don’t get why some parents insist on kids eating certain vegetables.

Don’t get me wrong. We eat a lot of vegetables around here. Every meal has arugula salads or homemade tomato sauce or spiralized zucchini or roasted potatoes with crackling skins. Asparagus looks beautiful to me this time of the year. After a couple of years of playing with my diet, eliminating certain foods and leaning a bit toward dogmatic systems then veering away, I’ve relaxed into a lovely place. I eat when I’m hungry. I appreciate everything on my plate. I eat mostly what’s in season. I eat together with people I like, laughing. And I eat a lot of vegetables.

I flip through the pages of Yotam Ottelenghi’s Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghiwith a hunger that’s more than an empty stomach. I dream of all those roasts and braises and flavor combinations that make me tilt my head when I look at the page. “Huh. I never thought of making eggplant with black garlic and dill,” and then I’m up from the chair and off to the kitchen to rummage in the refrigerator.

We’re big geeky fans of vegetables here.

However, I certainly wasn’t a vegetable fan when I was a kid.

cauliflower cake IV

I didn’t like tomatoes until the year we lived in England when I was 16. This cracks me up now. I wanted nothing to do with the ripe-at-the-bursting-red tomatoes in our Southern California home. In England that winter, the pale, out-of-season tomatoes mushed against the fork. But I looked down at my white plate in a little tea shop in Sussex, and the muted red slices looked far more enticing than the cucumber sandwiches and dainty scones. My brain switched onto tomatoes without any coaxing.

When I look at what I hope are the long lives of my kids, I’m assuming at some point I won’t have to help them clean their rooms. And they’re going to eat mushrooms without being asked. So why ask now? Danny and I don’t want the feeling of control associated with food at our table. I certainly wouldn’t want Danny telling me I have to eat up all my broccoli.

So we offer. We don’t make separate meals for the kids. We share red lentil daal or meatloaf or quinoa salad with pea shoots and roasted asparagus at our table. Whatever Lucy and Desmond want to eat is their choice. We still expect Lucy to try new things. (She briefly watched Daniel Tiger, a lovely little show based on Mister Rogers Neighborhood, for a few months before she outgrew it. Still, every day, we sing a little ditty from it: “You’ve got to try new things ’cause they might taste good!”) And then we stop talking about the food and eat together.

cauliflower cake V

Lu used to raise her fist in the air when I put a plate of sautéed chard down in front of her, then yell, “Chard!” That was before she was 3, when she ate everything. (Desmond is there now.) When she became herself more fully, and her tastebuds developed, she started becoming specific in every way. Vegetables, too.

I read somewhere recently that small children may have a natural dislike of cruciferous vegetables because they are so full of fiber. All that broccoli, kale, chard, and cabbage can be hard on a digestive system that’s still developing. As Lucy described it, “I don’t like all those green vegetables that need a lot of chewing.”

Us old farts? We need our fiber. Kids? Not as much. Maybe most kids don’t like broccoli because their bodies don’t like broccoli. And their parents keep insisting, “Eat your broccoli! “

Sometimes Lu drives us crazy with how little she’s eating because she needs to get up to dance. Sometimes she eats two full plates of food. Sometimes she eats seven bites and she is done, then hungry 90 minutes later. We ask her to sit with us until we’re done, then we all clean up afterwards. (Desmond is watching, absorbing all of this.)

Our kids eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. We’re laughing at the table.

More vegetables can come later.

cauliflower cake III

gluten-free cauliflower cake, adapted from Yotam Ottelenghi’s Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi

It may seem a little funny to offer a cauliflower cake recipe after talking about how Lucy doesn’t like cauliflower. But that’s the thing — we keep offering. We made this savory cake, full of surprises, unlike anything we had eaten before, at our studio for our Monday meeting with the team of people we work with now. (The lunches are the best benefit we can offer at the moment.) The adults loved it. We had a few slices leftover, so we took them home and put them on the dinner table, along with the rest of what we planned. Maybe it’s because I referenced cauliflower cheese, which is mentioned sometimes in Angelina Ballerina? Or maybe it’s because the cauliflower here tasted like potatoes after being blanched and baked? Whatever it was, Lucy ate two slices of this. 

Yotam Ottelenghi understands vegetables. He treats them with great respect. At the same time, he’s always playing. This cauliflower cake perplexes at first: who makes cake with cauliflower? It’s a little like a frittata with all the eggs but it has the soft fine crumb of a cake. The oil and Parmesan lend the cake an unctuousness that means it’s not dry, not one bit. And that topping of concentric slices of red onion, which shift into a muted dark purple upon baking, remind you that you’re not eating dessert. As one of our friends said, “I’ve certainly never eaten anything like this before. I’ll certainly be making it at home.” 

1 medium red onion, peeled
1 medium-sized cauliflower, outer leaves removed, broken into florets (about 4 cups)
kosher salt
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
7 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup chopped basil leaves
140 grams (1 cup) gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
cracked black pepper

Prepare to bake. Heat the oven to 400°. Line the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan with parchment paper. (We put two on top of each other, crosswise, to make sure every surface was covered.) Brush the parchment with melted butter or oil, if you prefer. Cut 4 slices (about 1/4-inch thick) from the red onion. Each slice will have several rings inside. Separate them and set aside.

Blanch the cauliflower. Set a large saucepan on medium-high heat. Put the cauliflower florets into the pan, along with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Cover the cauliflower with water. Blanch the cauliflower until they are soft enough to cut with a fork, about 15 minutes. Drain the cauliflower and set it aside.

Cook the aromatics. Chop the remaining red onion. Set a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour in the olive oil, then add the onion. Cook and stir until the onion is soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the rosemary and cook for 1 minute more. Turn off the heat. Allow the onion to cool.

Make the batter. Put the cooked onions in a large bowl. Add the eggs and chopped basil and whisk them together. Add the gluten-free flour, baking powder, turmeric, Parmesan, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk everything together. Add the blanched cauliflower. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan. Nestle the red onion slices onto the top of the batter.

Bake the cake. Put the cauliflower cake into the oven and bake until it is golden brown along the edges and the top is firm, 45 to 60 minutes. (You can also use the knife-inserted-into-the-center-of-the-cake trick.) Let the cake cook on the counter for 20 minutes, then remove the sides of the springform pan and let cool for another 10 minutes before slicing the cake.

Serve warm. Or, save the cake for the next day, when it’s even better, at room temperature.

Feeds 6.

Feel like playing?  We’d love to play with the tastes of this cake by using Pecorino or even a sharp feta instead of the Parmesan. I’d like dill or marjoram instead of the basil. And if you want, you could try par-boiled potato pieces instead of the cauliflower here.


26 comments on “gluten-free cauliflower cake

  1. DamselflyDiary

    I am desperately trying to get more vegetables into me which is hard because I have terrible TMJ problems. I can’t eat salads. Veggies have to be in small bites and soft, or blended up in my daily green smoothie.

    This looks like a wonderful option for me! I am not a cauliflower fan but have been trying to find ways to eat it. My most recent favorite is to shred it like you would cheese to make “rice” and then roast it in the oven with a little garlic salt. It surprisingly tastes like Thanksgiving dressing.

    Anyway, I now have another cauliflower option that is a meal and is SOFT. Thank you!

      1. DamselflyDiary

        I made this on Monday. It was good. It was easy to eat. It will make for great leftovers tonight. Thank you.

  2. Amélie

    I made that cake recently and loved it! So did my kid (although, granted, he seems to usually like cauliflower and I’m the one who usually doesn’t).

    I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who’s not forcing my child to eat. My philosophy is that I’m in charge of offering nutritious foods at reasonable times, and he’s in charge of deciding what and how much to eat. If he doesn’t want to eat the broccoli this time, maybe he’ll change his mind next time. 🙂

  3. crystal b

    Thank you for having such a sane approach about food. We dont force our kiddo to eat and my MIL is always harping on us about it. We feel that intuitive eating is so much vetter than cleaning your plate. And much of our heaviness (mine and my husbands) might be because we were never allowed to trust when we were full. Hopefully by allowing our kiddo to choose foods, within reason, he wont face the same issues we do.

    1. shauna

      Yes! I’ve thought the same things many time. Letting kids understand for themselves when they are hungry and when they are satisfied? That’s a lifelong gift.

  4. Nina

    Reminds me of the cauliflower pizza recipe I received a while back. Yummy and no one really notices it’s cauliflower.

  5. Anna

    My almost two year old hasn’t reached much of a picky stage yet. He eats what we eat which means lots of vegetables. We’ll have to try this cake.

  6. Sara

    I can’t wait to try this cauliflower recipe. And I love your stories and writings about your kids even more than I like your recipes and food sharing. I have two kids, 7 and 5 and we struggle with meals, as our 5-year-old boy is the pickiest eater on the planet, but we also really have fun eating together. Thanks so much for sharing!!!

  7. Jennifer

    How funny! Our four year old loves all the things that are on Lucy’s dislike list. And probably dislikes all the vegetables on her like list. She amazed a friend at the farmer’s market when she started ripping the leaves off a head of cabbage and eating them right there. But she is always in need of more fiber, so maybe that’s her body’s way of trying to help itself.

    1. shauna

      And it’s funny how it changes. Those all used to be Lu’s favorite foods. They will be again, I’m sure. Six is remarkably definitive about food, it seems.

  8. Chris

    As a recovering veggie hater, I am super grateful to my parents for not forcing me to eat foods that I didn’t like. I’m quite sure I would just have ended up hating vegetables more and resenting my parents for pushing something I didn’t enjoy on me. Also, family dinner time was a fun time for us and I don’t think that would be the memory if there was a great green bean battle every night.

    Your note about cruciferous veggies is really interesting to me. That was the veggie family that it took me longest to start enjoying. And, as a gluten intolerant adult, I find it interesting that I really, really hated bread as a kid. Can only speculate, but it’s interesting.

  9. molly

    I can’t tell you how much I adore hearing how the family dinner table is evolving at your home. There is so much smug around which kids eat what, but having fed three, through nearly fifteen years, the only universal I’ve found is this: each kid has their own tastes, and appetites, as truly as they own their own personalities. There is room for growing palates and exposure and the absolute value of trying new things. And room for honoring the individual they are. (Far easier to type than to practice, I must add. ) It has taken me too many years to come around to my fundamental feelings about feeding a family: that joy and comfort and together are more important than anything on the plate. (A tough line to tow when one single 1/2″ of chive leads to an omelette being rejected entirely. Sigh. My last night. Still.)

    Keep up the excellent, honest, transparent, ups-and-downs truth-telling, my friend. Like water in a desert, these pieces.


  10. Karen L

    can not wait to make this – and i have that Plenty More cookbook but have yet to get to it. i just realized i haven’t seen you on my feed in some time – i’ve missed you.

  11. marcella

    I hope you start a trend! We never did the clean your plate or the try a bite thing. Our plan was that dinner was a time to be together while we enjoyed a meal – the only meal we all always had together. Our only rule was “no whining” because we wanted it to be pleasant. It was and my sons friends loved to be invited for a meal. We were lucky to have an adventurous eating son and I wonder if it’s in part because there was not risk to trying things – if he didn’t like something he wasn’t forced to finish it all. He could try, discard and was free to try again later which he did.

  12. Sharon D.

    Should this be refrigerated and then brought to room temp. the next day for serving? Thanks!!

  13. Mari

    There are foods I don’t like, and there are foods my kids didn’t like when they were young. No one at our house ever has to eat what they don’t like even now. Meals are times we share with each other and enjoy being together, not times to fight wars over what someone is or isn’t eating. I always thought we should discuss important things, not things as meaningless as food is, in the grand scheme of things. My kids are adults now, and for the most part they enjoy things they didn’t enjoy years ago. Two out of three are excellent cooks and bakers. When I was young, I hated beans and cheese. The only cheese I could stand was Velveeta which drove my uncle crazy. He threw up his hands and told me it wasn’t cheese! Now I love cheese but I can’t eat much of it because of allergies. As for beans, there are some I can eat and others I can’t stand. Maybe I never will like them, but it is what it is.

  14. Barrie

    I remember reading in Dr. Spock about a study where they allowed babies to choose which pureed foods they wanted to eat. If the baby dipped its fist in something and indicated it wanted more, the researcher could then feed some of it to the baby. It turned out that, overall, the babies picked very nutritious diets for themselves. The impulse is there and I think it’s wise to let it develop on its own.

  15. Terry Covington

    Hooray! I have 3 daughters, two of whom were the pickiest eaters when they were little, one of whom tried smoked oysters at the age of 3 and loved them. Sometimes they all seemed to live on air; sometimes, like your Lu, they ate several helpings of something. They are all grown up now, quite sane, and adventurous cooks and eaters. And were not made to eat all their vegetables when they were young, but love vegetables now. So it works!

  16. Tekla Bach

    Cauliflower is so underrated, it is a shame that it is usually served just boiled in salted water. Because if you prepare it in other ways it tastes much different. In 1 cm slices, put in an ovenproof dish with onion slices, a little garlic, salt and pepper, covered with cream and baked til it is tender, it tatses amazing 🙂

  17. Clare

    Oh my goodness, you weren’t kidding, this is amazing. I made it with reduced quantities (2 eggs), standard self-raising flour (don’t have a problem with gluten), leeks instead of onions, dried herbs instead of rosemary and it was still fantastic. A real find – thank you. (And Mr Ottolenghi.)

  18. Erin in CA

    We got a head of cauliflower in our farm box this week and so I made this — OMG my kids could NOT stop raving. They are 8 and 11, and generally good eaters, but this dish blew them away. And it was easy to put together, too. Thank you!!

  19. Cathy Lake

    Having 6 cauliflower ready in the garden at the same time, I needed something that would use lots! And when you said is is even better at room temp, I instantly thought ‘lunchboxes’. My 10 and 12 year olds loved it warm, and the 12 year old thought it was great for lunch the next day. Thanks for sharing.

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