This gluten-free honey buckwheat cake is also free of dairy and refined sugar.
Right after a rainy baseball game, we all returned home with mud on our shoes and grins on our faces. In one of the later innings, Lucy had hit the ball hard and run to first base. Her teammates, enlivened by the hit and the rain, kept hitting. Eventually, she crossed home plate, triumphant, scoring the first run of the season. (Of course, she pretty much missed touching second base, but no one seemed to mind that time. And in the telling after, she seemed proudest of the fact that she remembered to pick up the bat and bring it into the dugout.) Saturday mornings are for baseball games now. It’s a good spring.
Later that evening we were headed to a birthday party for our dear friend, Adrienne. She’s gluten-free too, so she had requested a gluten-free potluck. Easy-peasy here. Just as we were trying to figure out what to make that afternoon, Adrienne called. Since she can’t eat sugar or dairy right now, she was going to skip dessert. “But I need something to put candles in. I’ve never skipped a year of blowing out candles on the cake.” She asked if I could make her a gluten-free, dairy-free, refined-sugar cookie.
Luckily, here? That’s no big deal. You bet.
When I was first diagnosed with celiac — 11 years ago now! — I thought that merely cutting out gluten was enough. It was, for a bit. Kale, sweet potatoes, salmon — they were plenty to sustain me. However, as soon as I realized I missed baking, i went back to it, with gusto. Within the year, I realized that I wanted to open my life to even more choices. A cake needs flour, a fat, eggs (or a similar protein), and a sweetener. Why limit myself to white sugar and butter when there were so many more options? Now, the same old recipe with a gluten-free flour doesn’t feel like a challenge. And I like a challenge.
I’ve mostly given up sugar these days. There’s no militancy to it. If the situation arises and we’re in town on a hot evening, and Lucy asks for a root beer float from our friend Sam’s creamery, with her homemade coconut milk ice cream? I’m having one. That’s rare these days, however. I’m much more interested in fruits and vegetables as the basis of my diet. Cut sugar and most treats taste cloying. If I’m going to bake, I like playing with honey and maple syrup. They’re more of a conundrum, something to figure out.
Long ago, i realized that gluten-free cakes made with oil instead of butter are silkier, far more tender. I haven’t made a gluten-free cake with butter in years. So a little melted coconut oil goes a long way to make a cake feel rich without the butter.
The secret here is to cream the eggs and honey, the way you might cream butter and sugar. When they are fluffy and increased in volume, slowly slowly drizzle in the oil on the side of the bowl. This will keep the volume and make the structure for the cake. I love buckwheat flour for baking. You could easily make this cake using only our all-purpose flour. it might even be a tiny bit lighter, since buckwheat tends to cling to everything it touches. But I love the warm nutty flavor of light buckwheat flour. Notice I wrote light buckwheat flour. NOT the buckwheat you typically find in grocery stores. The dark buckwheat has been toasted before being ground. I find the taste too assertive, almost bitter, like over-roasted coffee. (And the buckwheat flour made by Bob’s Red Mill is made in the non-gluten-free facility, so there’s plenty of risk for cross-contamination.) Light buckwheat flour is far more neutral in taste and sort of similar to wheat, in some ways. Do yourself a favor and buy a 3 pound bag of Bouchard Family Farms’ light buckwheat flour from Amazon today. We always have some in the house.
What to do about frosting? How do you make frosting without powdered sugar and butter? You let go of your notions of proper frosting and make something good.
I keep a couple of cans of coconut milk in the refrigerator for when we need coconut cream. Cold coconut milk separates into cream and water naturally. You scoop the heavy cream into the bowl of a stand mixer and let it run for a few moments. You have coconut whipped cream. Drizzle in a little honey and vanilla extract and you have a soft frosting, like whipped cream, for a gluten-free, dairy-free, and refined-sugar-free cake for a dear friend.
We topped this with strawberries and drove to our friends’ home, filled with friends. Everyone in the house oohed and aaahed at the sight of the cake. Later in the evening, after a feast of homemade sushi, smoked sausages, kale and cauliflower salad, cocktail weenies with spicy sauce, and ribs, we gathered around Adrienne to sing to her. Michael lit the tall candles and I came bearing this toward her. She puffed up her cheeks and blew away another year and welcomed in the next trip around the sun.
(Okay, Lucy and one other kid actually blew out the candles first. I think she was still excited about that run she scored.)
Everyone liked the cake.
That’s why I love gluten-free baking. You can make people happy and loved, so easily. All it takes is a little cake.
gluten-free buckwheat cake
This isn’t anything like the cake you made from a box before you had to stop eating gluten. Instead, it is its own thing: lightly sweet, a little dense so the fork has something to do, tender and full of spices that play nicely with the nutty flavor of buckwheat.
Remember, you want light buckwheat, NOT the dark buckwheat you commonly see in grocery stores. You can make your own buckwheat flour by grinding buckwheat groats. Or, you could do what we commonly do: buy yourself a 3 pound bag of Bouchard Family Farms’ light buckwheat flour and keep it in the house for baking. We always have it in our pantry.
Prepare to bake. Heat the oven to 350°. Grease 2 8-inch cake pans with a neutral oil of your choice.
Beat the egg whites. Put the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer. Turn the mixer on high and beat the eggs to stiff peaks, about 7 minutes. If they are taking too much time to come to stiff peaks, add a pinch of cream of tartar to them. Use a rubber spatula to gently move the egg whites to a small bowl. Wipe out the bowl of the stand mixer.
Combine the dry ingredients. Whisk together the light buckwheat flour, the all-purpose flour, the baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves in a large bowl. Set aside.
Cream the honey and eggs. Add the honey and egg yolks to the bowl of the stand mixer. MIx them on medium heat until they have become a creamy coherent liquid. Slowly, with the mixer running on low, drizzle in the coconut oil, along the side of the bowl, very slowly. Continue mixing until everything is well combined.
Finish the batter. With the mixer running on low, add ⅓ of the dry ingredients. Turn off the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl to move all the flour into the batter. Turn on the batter and pour in ½ of the cashew milk. Alternate dry ingredients and cashew milk until both are gone.
Gently, fold the egg whites into the batter. Swirl the egg whites in slowly until they are fully incorporated into the batter.
Bake the cake. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake until the edges of the cake are starting to pull away from the edges of the pan, the top has a definite spring, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
Take the cakes out of the oven. Prick holes in the top of the cake and drizzle a little honey over the top. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove from the pans. Cool completely.
coconut honey frosting
How do you make a frosting without powdered sugar and butter? You throw away the concept of a stiff sweet frosting and make this instead. The only hard part is planning ahead: put a couple of cans of coconut milk into the refrigerator the night before you intend to make the frosting. (Or, just keep a couple of cans in there at all times, in case.) Cold coconut milk separates into cream and water. Scoop out that cream and you have something akin to whipped cream soon.
Add a little honey and vanilla and you have a mildly sweet frosting the consistency of whipped cream. Of course, the flavors you use are up to you.
Refrigerate the coconut milk. At least 2 hours before you intend to make the frosting (and preferably overnight) put the cans of coconut milk into the refrigerator.
Scoop out the coconut milk. Open the coconut milk. After being refrigerated, the coconut cream will have risen to the top of the can, leaving thin water on the bottom. Carefully scoop out only the cream and put it into the bowl of a stand mixer. (Save the coconut water for smoothies.) Mix the coconut cream on medium-high speed until it thickens like whipped cream, about 3 minutes. With the mixer running on low, add the vanilla extract and honey. Mix until thoroughly combined.
For best results, refrigerate the frosting for 1 hour before using. If you’re in a pinch, frost that cake right away.