Devil’s Food Cake: moist, delicious, and gluten & dairy free

by Donna Hann on 03/03/2013

Is there any American food more iconic to celebrations than cake?  Some make cakes from scratch, others use boxed mixes, while others order them from their local grocery or favorite bakery.  All to celebrate those we love on their special day.  There is something very exciting about being presented with a cake, all moist and fluffy and topped with rich and luscious frosting that melts on your tongue.  The excitement doubles when the cake is topped with lit candles and your loved ones start to sing “happy birthday to you…”.  Where did that crazy tradition of lighting a candle for each year come from?

If you haven’t learned by now, I love to bake.  As the owner of a boutique catering business in Cleveland for over 15 years, I began to get requests for cakes and other confectionary.  I had always loved taking a client’s idea or theme for a party and bringing it to life with the menu, the table linen selection, and floral and prop design, but taking that theme into the dessert was even more fun.  I enjoyed making my children’s birthday cakes, but getting requests for business pushed me to learn how to work with fondant, gum paste, and how to make tiered cakes.  I was in love with this new hobby.  These are some photos of some of the orders I completed for friends and clientele before going gluten free.

Looking at these photographs brings a smile to my heart.  Each photo is a memory of an individual celebrating a very special moment.  A moment to be remembered and cherished.  Someone who loved them cared enough to design a cake for them and I was fortunate enough to be a part of the celebration.  Creating these cakes is a very intimate experience for me.  There is something about creaming sugar and butter together until they become one, adding eggs and vanilla, perhaps chocolate, and some flour to result in a most fabulously sweet and satisfying experience.  That pleasure, the one I derived from baking, seemed to come to a screeching halt for nearly half a year, when I heard that gluten and dairy were the cause of many of my health problems.  I felt lost in the kitchen.  Baking is what I turned to when I needed to reconnect with myself, reduce my stress, or work out a disagreement with my husband.  Tying on my apron and whipping up a cake or cookies did wonders for my soul.  How would I ever find that again?

After months of experimenting in my kitchen with gluten & dairy free alternatives, reading cookbooks on the topic, attending a few Gluten & Allergen Free Expos I found my groove again, and a darn good reincarnation of my old favorite devil’s food cake.  A recipe I had made a zillion times before that I have altered to fit our diets and made successful with the use of my flour blend.

Pre-gluten free I was uber-possessive of my recipes.  I never shared them.  They were what made me unique in the food world.  I thought if I shared them, then any other chef or home baker could do what I did.  Silly, I know.  I’ve come to believe that sharing our wisdom, mistakes, recipes, is what helps us all through this journey of life.  This journey of health.  So, without further ado…I share with you a glimpse into a circus themed birthday party I created for my daughter.  Complete with a devil’s food circus cake.  And the recipe to make it yourself.

Circus Tent Cake


Devil’s Food Cake
  • 1½ cups The Culinary Artist gluten free flour blend
  • ½ teaspoon xanthan gum (if your blend does not contain any)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1¼ cup boiling water or hot strong brewed coffee
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • ½ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (omit if using strong brewed coffee above)
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons palm fruit shortening
  • 1½ cups packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • ½ cup plain or vanilla yogurt (almond or coconut) or coconut milk beverage
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Lightly coat 3-8" cake pans with vegetable oil spray. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and adjust oven racks to the upper and lower middle positions.
  2. Whisk flour, xanthan gum, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the boiling water (or hot brewed coffee) chocolate, cocoa, and instant espresso (if using) until smooth.
  4. Beat palm fruit shortening and brown sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at at time, scraping down the bowl and the beaters as needed. Beat in the yogurt and vanilla.
  5. On low speed, gradually begin to incorporate half of the flour mixture. Beat in half of the chocolate mixture. Repeat with remaining flour mixture, followed by the chocolate mixture.
  6. Give the batter a final stir with a rubber spatula to make sure the batter is thoroughly combined.
  7. Divide the batter evenly between the three pans, smoothing the tops with an offset spatula.
  8. Bake until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out with a few crumbs attached, 15-20 minutes, rotating and switching pans halfway through baking.
  9. Let the cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes before flipping them out of the pan and onto racks. Peel the parchment paper off the bottom, and flip the cakes right side up, letting them cool completely before frosting with your favorite recipe.

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