Gluten-Free Baking for Joy

Yesterday I went to a baby shower.  So of course, I offered to bring food.  The mother to be has celiac disease, and therefore can’t have gluten, and she’s also in the 50% of celiacs who can’t have dairy, either, due to an allergy to casein, which makes up 80% of the proteins in milk.

I could have brought a plate of fresh fruit, which is always nice, but I thought that the guest of honor deserved a cake, and one that she could eat!

That said, I’m a newbie at gluten-free and dairy-free cooking, particularly baking, where there’s lots of important chemistry going on.  The one vegan cookbook I have wasn’t much help, because while it is dairy-free, it doesn’t deal with the gluten issues.  There are lots of flourless chocolate cake recipes out there for the gluten-free set, but not the half that are allergic to casein.   I can only imagine what a transition this has been for my friend, since having this kind of diet really requires research, careful shopping, and mostly cooking at home.

I found a great cake recipe to start with on the Gluten-Free Goddess’s site, along with some good general information about gluten-free cooking and baking.  I went shopping.  Then I ran into the minefield that celiacs deal with daily, searching for the ingredients.  I began to price the items that were in the recipe, which are probably staples in an average celiac’s pantry, but not items I had purchased before.  I was floored at how expensive xanthan gum is – it’s only available in 1 lb. packages here in town- a package is $12, and I only need a teaspoon?  I did eventually find sorghum flour at our local HyVee, but didn’t on the first try.

It was back home to do more research.  Thank goodness for the internet, blogs, and message boards.  I found out that people often substitute guar gum for xanthan gum, and I was able to buy a couple of ounces of this in the bulk section of  a food co-op in the next large town.  $0.85 is a big switch from $12.  So, I guess substitutions will be OK ?!?!?!?!?

I was a bit hesitant (ok, VERY hesitant) with substitutions from my experience in baking, but Karina, the gluten-free goddess, suggests that substitutions are OK for like materials (say, brown rice flour instead of sorghum flour), and that you just need to get comfortable that sometimes the chemistry may not work out, and you’ll get a doorstop or hockey puck.  As she says,  a sense of humor is required.

I like to think I have a sense of humor, and I embraced substitutions.  I bought rice flour instead of sorghum and buckwheat flour, and got tapioca starch.  I used pears instead of apples, and hemp milk instead of rice milk.  The cake did rise, and was tasty, though it needed to bake a bit longer, at a slightly higher temperature, than the original cake recipe.  There were only 2 slices left over at the party, so I have to think it worked out OK.  And the mother to be is suitably gifted and showered.  I can’t wait to meet her cute baby!

Pear Cake with Dried Cranberries

more than slightly modified from Karina’s Apple Cake with Cranberries


  • two mixing bowls
  • dry measuring cups
  • measuring spoons
  • liquid measuring cup
  • whisk or mixing fork
  • rubber or silicon spatula
  • 1 9″ round cake pan
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • parchment paper or wax paper


  • 1.5 cups of rice flour  (or 1 cup sorghum flour, 0.5 cup rice flour)
  • 0.25 cup tapioca starch or potato starch
  • 1 teaspoon (tsp.) guar gum
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1.5 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 0.25 tsp. nutmeg
  • 0.25 tsp. allspice
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs (or egg replacer + 0.25 cup water to make this vegan)
  • 0.5 cup vegetable oil
  • 0.5 cup applesauce
  • 0.5 cup hemp milk or rice milk, mixed with 0.25 tsp. cider vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons (Tbs.) honey  (maple syrup is good here, too!)
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 rounded cups chopped pears or apples (2-3 pears, depending on size)
  • 0.5 cup dried cranberries (aka craisins)


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Line the bottom of the cake pan with parchment or wax paper, and grease the pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Peel and chop pears.  Set aside.
  3. In one of the mixing bowls whisk together the dry ingredients: rice flour, tapioca starch, guar gum, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and sugar.  Set this bowl aside.
  4. In the other mixing bowl, measure the wet ingredients together:  hemp or rice milk with vinegar, eggs, oil, applesauce, honey, and vanilla.
  5. Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and stir together into a smooth batter.  Add half the pears to the batter, and then turn the batter into the prepared cake pan, evening out the batter in the pan.  Add the rest of the pears, and press them into the batter.  Sprinkle the dried cranberries on top.
  6. Bake in the center of the oven for 40-60 minutes until golden brown on the edges and firm in the center.  The time could vary greatly depending on the moisture in the apples, size of apple pieces, etc.    If the edges start to get too brown, cover them with foil.
  7. Cool on a wire rack.  It is great slightly warm from the oven, and would also be a great breakfast or brunch food.
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