Grain-free chocolate cake with strawberry cream frosting

A few days back Miguel wrote to me about grain intolerance, and how it makes simple meals a difficulty. God, I thought, that must be so tough, right? But Miguel is probably doing the thing that is best for all of us. He eliminates most of the acidic foods right there, that is of course, if his diet is coupled with being vegan. Vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods are mostly acidic in nature.

Not very long ago – a couple of years ago – I used to have three full meals a day, each with the inclusion of some grain. Breakfast was made up of dalia (broken wheat), oats, parathas or roti with vegetables on the side. Lunch consisted of rice, a gravy and a dry vegetable side. Dinner was mostly the same as lunch with an occasional salad thrown in for a change. I am not at all a salad person. I assumed I was being healthy despite the salad being less – that I knew. During that time my health quest was in full force and I was reading up a lot.  Sharan, Dr. Nandita Shah’s initiative to promote vegan lifestyle, runs a library in Mumbai at Fort. The library has a small but very impressive collection of books by note-worthy authors on health and aspects surrounding the vegan lifestyle. It was here that I came across books on alkaline Vs. acidic food that made me curious to read more, learn more on this subject.  Pleasantly for me, the topic was discussed by Dr.Vijaya Venkat when I started attending her ‘health re-education program‘.  She and Dr.Anju Venkat make ‘Science of foods’ a very interesting subject and breakdown the scientific terms into simple everyday words that makes these fundas easy for all to understand.

It is now common knowledge that the ‘ph level’ of our stomach in its natural state is alkaline. Obviously this is the state the body tries to achieve all day, and it works round the clock – non-stop – towards this goal. Have you ever thought about this? Are we taking our bodies for granted? Is it not ours to be taken care of? Then, why do we stuff it with loads of acid? Grains, pulses, milk and meat are all acidic in nature, each more acidic than the previous. I am not saying that we eliminate all these from our diets completely. Great, if we can, but at least we can gradually eliminate and eat right, helping our bodies conserve energy, work less, work more comfortably, channelise that energy towards attaining a calmer state of mind. It is not difficult. I suggest you note down your daily eating habits, making an honest list of your breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Try and reduce the acidic portion in each meal by substituting it with raw salads. Try to have only fruits till your lunch time, and allow your body to effectively cleanse your system each morning.

This is getting long, right? I guess I will leave you with a beautiful grain-free, gluten-free, decadent chocolate cake for today. The next time we meet, I will let you on to more of the secrets I learnt. Sharing is caring, after all!

Would you like to hear more? Tell me. Whenever I meet people like Nandita Shah, and the Venkats, I only think of how beautiful it would be if I could get them over here for you readers, to listen to them, speak, through the written words. I want you to have those joys I derived by listening, understanding, and applying them to my life. Would you like to? I will have to ask them and hopefully they might agree. I will try, if you let me know for sure.

I am not big on any of the ‘Days’. V-day, birthday, festivals are all just another day for me. Of course, I expect the better half to profess his love for me, but not just on one of those designated days.  I do love it when there is a gift that professes the love! This time P brought me two wooden planks. I need to stain them, colour and prepare them for background but it was the ideal gift for V-day! I made these chocolate cupcakes in appreciation – today. I do not usually frost cakes. I am not good at frosting. I am naturally a little clumsy and sloppy by nature, but I tried my best. On the other hand, I don’t need frostings. My cake base is very good. 🙂 Kidding! Not about the cake, but about those excuses. I can’t ice. Period.

Miguel, I hope you like this. Soon enough, I will surely post grain-free meal ideas as well. But I like to start things on a sweet note, and so it had to begin with a cake! And this one is very delicious. Its a bit dense because of the bean flour and the hazelnuts but it makes up in flavour and in a way it is a boon, because it is so easy to layer. I used a thread to cut and it was quick.

dipytych 2

Notes to be read before trying the recipe:

The one thing I did not like about this cake was that it cracked a lot. I had to trim half an inch off the cake to level it for the icing. The cupcakes were no problem, as the cracked portion settled down as the cake cooled. But with the large, round cake I had no such luck. I ground the portion that I had trimmed and saved that for making left-over cake truffles or cake pops, as some call them.  I will have to do this till I find a way to minimise the cracks.

I used bean flour, made by grinding whole black-eyed peas. Black-eyed peas are also known as chowli, lobia or payaru. I got mine from THAC, run by Dr.Vijaya Venkat.

Potato starch used in this recipe can be substituted by equal quanity of arrowroot, cornflour or tapioca starch.

Coconut milk is what I prefer as my daughter is allergic to almonds and cashew. Both these nut milks can be substituted in same quantity. If you have vegan buttermilk use that instead of milk and vinegar. In fact I did not have non-nut buttermilk and so I added vinegar to coconut milk and let it stand before using.

I used more sugar than I would normally as I used dark cocoa powder to make this cake. If you are using plain cocoa powder you may want to reduce the sugar by a quarter cup.

Olive oil can be substituted with any other neutral oil in the same quantity.

Corn syrup can be left out if you do not have it readily. I feel it lends softness to vegan cakes but its absence does not have any marked effect.

Measure hazelnuts and grind to a powder before adding the dry ingredients to it.

You can use synthetic vinegar instead of rice vinegar. I just make sure its gluten free.

You can use almonds/walnuts/macadamia nuts instead of hazelnuts. I used hazelnuts as my daughter is allergic to most other nuts.

My children like bits of molten chocolate in their cupcakes, so I inserted dark chocolate pieces after half-filling the cup cake moulds and then pour a tbsp of batter to cover it.

For beginner bakers – I received a few mails asking me to clarify these aspects, hence this note:

Always bake cakes in the center rack of the oven.

Your oven will have three or four indicators against the knob for setting the oven-heat. The one that shows dots on both sides of a horizontal line indicates that the heating rods on the top and bottom of the oven are lighted. This is your normal cake mode. The one that shows dots on top of the horizontal line indicates that the top rod alone is heated. Use this for your grill mode. Similarly the one that shows dots below the horizontal line indicates that only the bottom rod is heated. You can use this for toasting.


Recipe: Grain-free, gluten-free, chocolate cake with strawberry-cream frosting
Adapted from my recipe for perfect vegan sponge cake
Yield: 3 cupcakes and one 6″ round cake

Bean flour – 1 + 2/3 cups [200g]
Potato starch – 2 tbsp. [22g]
Baking powder – 1.5 tsp. [9g]
Baking soda – 1/4 tsp. [2g]
Raw sugar – 3/4 cup [106g]
Hazelnuts – 1/4 cup [32g]
Dark cocoa powder – 1/4 cup [20g]
Vanilla pod, scraped – 1

Instant coffee powder – 1 tbsp. [4g]
Water – 1/4 cup [55g]
[Boil the water, remove from heat, add coffee powder, mix well and set aside till needed in the recipe]

Thick coconut milk – 1 cup [194g]
Corn syrup – 1 tsp. [10g]
Rice vinegar – 1 tbsp. [9g]
Olive oil – 1/2 cup [80g]

Oven temperature : 160 degree Celsius
Line a loose bottomed six inch round cake pan with parchment paper on the base and the sides. I used the rest of the batter to make three cupcakes.


Grind hazelnuts to powder them. Do this in spurts so that it does not clump into an oily mass. You can also prevent clumping by adding some of the bean flour to the hazelnuts while grinding.

Add the rest of the dry ingredients to the hazelnut powder and grind to get a uniform blend.

At this stage, set the oven for pre-heating at 160 degree Celsius.

Set aside the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Add all the wet ingredients to the mixer and blend to form a liquid emulsion. Add the dry ingredients back to this and blend to form a thick, pourable batter. It should be like a custard – not too thick or thin.

Pour into the prepared pan till two-thirds full and the rest of the batter into prepared cup cake moulds.

Bake the cup cakes for twenty minutes or till a tooth-pick comes out clean. The larger cake needs about 30minutes to bake.

The cakes will rise high, crack well. Do not panic. Its normal. Once the baking is done and the cake is brought out, allow it to cool for ten minutes in the moulds. The crack actually reduces as the initial rise reduces. No, it will not sink!

This cake is naturally dense as compared to a cake made with grain-flour. It does have a beany flavour but no one knows it until you tell them. I found.

The cake is also firm and easy to handle. I am not goot at layering and yet I was able to cut it into thin layers! That speaks for the firmness.

Do not eliminate the nut-flour. They reduce the beany flavour and add texture.

You can serve the cakes as is, or cut them into layers, frost them in any way you please.

I beat soy cream, added pureed strawberries as these are in season, made a nice thick buttercream and used that for frosting.

The less I speak of my frosting skills, the better it is! Need I say that? Also please let the cakes cool in the refrigerator if you are frosting. The photographs comes out beautiful after the creams sets.
I clearly am not patient!


I made a similar cake with carob powder and millet flour recently! Recipe to come soon.


On a different note, Mocomi, a childrens’ site thought I was a professional photographer and wanted to interview me to showcase a ‘cool’ profession.  I told them this was a hobby, a passion, and I work 9-5 for a living.  They somehow found my profession ‘cooler’.  You can read more about me in the interview on their site here.

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Have your say

  1. I would have never believed this could be possible, if not for your recipe. A lot of people still opine eggless cakes cannot be done 🙂 and here you are! Bravo!

  2. Wow I love the texture of the cake..looks moist 🙂 Bookmarking it !!!Beautifully captured.

  3. That was quick, Archana. Thank you. We got to prove that it tastes great. My neighbour loved it. 🙂

  4. Thank you, Pavithra!

  5. I have not dared to bake grain free yet. This looks really beautiful and I do love love love all the diff. styling you did for this post. I find it extremely difficult to photograph small brown single layered cakes like this.

  6. Yahoo! Soma, love you! So glad you feel that way. I was wondering how to style. 🙂

  7. harini, u are a real innovator dear, could never imagine a cake with different flours in it. One day i will come to mumbai for sure and invite myself to your house btw the pics are so good , u are truly a inspiration ( I cant stop telling u this) 😀

  8. Pinky, you just have to tell me when you are coming and I will definitely have you over, and you can choose from the blog whatever you like. 🙂

  9. am in love with the food you cook and the pictures you take… droolworthy!

  10. This is absolutely delightful..a cake with bean flour! Left to myself I would just keep munching on my plate of salad…good for the PH of my stomach and for the rest of my body too (less cooking 😉 )…but then old habits die hard. What we Indians (non salad eaters) believe that a wholewheat chappati and a bowl of rice and dal is what keep us going. Hope we can change this mind set and start nibbling on our veggies and fruits more. Thanks for bringing this wonderful article, Harini.

  11. Thank you, Arundati! Delighted. 🙂

  12. Sanjeeta, thanks. That is something I too love about salads. There are some I love like the ones that have lots of leaves and cucumbers and fruits but not sprouts. I need to get over that one. I have so many preferences in that area! And like you said, habits are difficult to kick.

  13. Loved this post Harini! I ma also generally not much into salads but from past couple of weeks I ate a lot of salads to kind of get rid of those extra pounds I piled on during the holiday season. I could clearly tell my body felt a lot lighter and better with more raw food. My skin felt great and I never felt lazy/tired too! But like Sanjeeta mentioned when I see a bowl of hot rice with rasam I just have to indulge!
    This cake looks absolutely amazing! I have to try baking with bean flour!! Thanks for he inspiration 🙂

  14. When i saw the link on facebook i came to check which bean flour you used.. coz most gf flour mixes here use garbanzo bean flour which tastes absolutely horrible in sweet baked goods. 🙂
    How does the black eyed pea one taste? maybe i will have to try it to find out.
    i love the styling too. love the strawberries with it.. I also am really bad with frosting. I feel scared that the cake will look messy if i even try:))
    This is a great post about find a good balance for your stomach and body. There are days when we eat grains from morning to night. I seem to get Wheat withdrawals if i dont eat rotis:) or so i think they are.

  15. Those ingredients sounds interesting to me. Nice recipe. Perfect clicks YUM!

  16. Chinmayie, thanks! Iunderstand that craving. Rice and rasam tempts me too, anytime! But like you said the benefits of gorging on fruits and raw smoothies is so good, that I don’t mind changing myself. 🙂

  17. Richa, that’s so true! I tried a couple of years ago with besan and chickpea flour and the cakes tasted horrible! This has a mild flavour but whoever other than me ate did not realize it. I think I knew the ingredients and so realized the difference. Glad to know I have company with the frosting thing. 😀

  18. great Harini…just what I need.
    i have just started baking…I had a lot of apprehensions at first… I now realize its not that difficult at all. I am really charged about baking my own cookies, and biscuits and more cakes like the one you have posted.
    Want your advice on this:- what kind of oven should I buy. I have a very basic one now that I got at a sale , but want to upgrade

  19. So glad you have started baking your own goodies. You will be making healthy eats that way. As for oven, I recommend Optima. I found that the body is light, the distribution of heat is uniform and the after sales service is very good too.

  20. Beautiful pictures, Harini! Very interesting topic that you have mentioned here. I always thought that the stomach is acidic, that’s what we learned in school! I guess, another myth created by ‘meat eaters’ as meat is protein rich.
    The cracks reminded me of my gluten free days. One thing which occured to me was if guar gum or carob might help reduce the cracks. Basically the cake is not that elastic like with gluten and do you think baking it for shorter time or at a loer temp. might help?

  21. oh yes! come and visit me and you will start loving salads in every way 😉 As they are my speciality the rest I just keep trying to learnh 😀

  22. Thanks PG. Could that thought have followed from the fact that the stomach uses mild hydrochloric acid for breakdown? We don’t get guar gum commercially in India. I will try with carob. Usually the gluten free cakes made with water chestnut flour does not crack. I think I have to work up a different proportion with bean flour. Also felt that the batter was thin as compared to my other cake batters. Will have to try some variations with your suggestions in mind.

  23. Ha ha! I am sure you are being modest. I will definitely not miss that opportunity. 🙂

  24. You have made a cake that is guilt free! How cool is that!
    I never would have known bean flour had it not been for this post. who would have thunk?
    The pictures are gorgeous, as always.
    I have been trying to reduce grain, well at least as much as I can, but find it very difficult 🙁
    Living healthy after being the opposite for so long is difficult, but try we must.

  25. Thanks Manasi. Ask me how difficult it is! I was a huge junk food eater, but long back and I don’t miss that phase at all! 🙂

  26. Thanks a ton Harini…will check out Optima….am surprised that guar gum is not available in India… cause i read somewhere that guar gum comes from India… or was that acacia gum

  27. Welcome, Bharathi. Yes, guar gum is made in India but it is mainly for import and you do not get less than a kg if you source it from factories. Similarly foodgrade potato and tapioca flours/starch are also available but only for industrial use. I called at many places and am asked to buy the smallest unit which is 50kgs. 🙁 Acacia gum is freely available but does not serve the same purpose as guar gum. I use it and find it quite alright, except for breads.

  28. This looks sensational!! I’ve seen many vegan and grain free cakes and most look incredibly heavy, but the texture of your cake looks fabulous. I’ve still not attempted a grain free cake, but I am sure I will soon.

    Absolutely stunning photos and it’s not a wonder Mocomi wanted to feature you. You are very talented.

  29. 50 kgs gosh! next time i come to mumbai i will get u loads of potato starch and tapioca flour. They are readily available here in spore and not expensive

  30. Dear Harini,

    Thanks again for the grain recepie. When I had started to eat these foods, it was much to the amusement of my colleagues. But I kept on…they seem to revitalize the body, making them less sluggish, and thus eliminate the use of the daily ‘pegs’ of tea and coffee 🙂

    Ofcourse you cannot completely eliminate grains, but refined version can thankfully be banished 🙂

  31. Thanks, Jennifer. What you say is true. Grain-free and gluten-free, vegan cakes are more dense than usual cakes, but for me the flavour makes up for the lack of lightness. I do make an effort to keep them light. Thank you for your kind compliments. 🙂

  32. Thank you, Bharathi! Generosity seems to be your middle name. 🙂

  33. You nailed the reasons, Ashwini! Exactly why I find myself wanting to embrace more raw and light foods. They really nourish without any of the extra baggage that one needs to work out to get rid off!

  34. Loved your interview, am sure many kids will find you inspiring!

  35. Thanks, Anjali!

  36. Hi Harini, I want to try this recipe, but i also want to make it nut and sugar free. Any suggestions?

  37. Nuts stop the cake from just turning into a chunk. Probably you could try using roasted seeds instead. I am not sure whether it will work. I haven’t tried but I can imagine using date syrup or any other plant based sweetening syrup – maple syrup maybe.

  38. Can I avoid corn syrup and replace rice vinegar with regular venegar?
    Also can I replace hazelnut with walnut or something?

  39. Corn syrup makes it soft, but avoidable. I use rice vinegar for most things as I always have it at home and because its gluten free. Synthetic vinegar can be used instead. Sure, hazelnut can be replaced by any other nut. Again, I used it only because my daughter is allergic to most nuts except hazelnuts, macadamia nuts and pecans.

  40. hey i just realized all my questions are answered in your post itself. Sorry to bother 🙂

  41. 🙂

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