Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Coeliac Awareness Week & A Special Chocolate Cake (gluten free)

My last post featured a gluten free chocolate-ginger cake which was as simple as they get for ingredients and cheapness........ This cake is somewhat more decadent!

For the last 3 years, I have had the privilege of being asked to make a gluten free chocolate birthday cake for a close friend of my daughter. Her Mum is totally understanding and positive about the dietary needs of my daughter and always makes a special (but non-complaining) effort to make sure she is safely catered for at teas, sleep-overs and parties. Whilst I am always more than happy to send my daughter to parties with a packed party tea, the fact that this Mum does it for me makes a huge difference to my daughter feeling the same as all her friends!

So I am also more than willing to bake the cake and make it special for her daughter........... And I love that it is not only delicious but also gluten free.......... showing the sceptical that gluten free can also be decadent and beautiful and each time, helping (hopefully) someone else to be aware of Coeliac Disease. I always work on the basis that if you give someone delicious cake and then tell them it is gluten free, their natural amazement (because they expect something less) promotes a discussion about why it is gluten free and what that means in reality.

This week (12th to 18th May 2014) is Coeliac Awareness Week in the UK. Organised each year by Coeliac UK, the week is designated to raise the profile of the disease amongst the public, professionals and with businesses and to campaign for both greater understanding and facilities for its sufferers.

This year, the focus is on getting supermarkets to serve customers requiring gluten free produce better, by encouraging them to sign up to the 'Gluten Free Guarantee' and to make sure that a basic range of gluten free staples (breads, flour, cereals, crackers, pasta and cereal bars) are always in stock and available.

Many people think that eating gluten free is a choice if you are coeliac or that Coeliac Disease is an allergy to gluten. Nothing could be further from the truth. Coeliac Disease is a life-long auto-immune condition. For sufferers, eating gluten causes the production of an unwanted antibody which attacks the lining of the gut so that it can no longer absorb the nutrients needed by the body to grow, develop, repair and function. Although it is well-controlled by avoiding all gluten in the diet, it is essential that this abstention is total. Any gluten, however small the amount, can lead to a significant reaction within hours (bloating, tiredness, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, sickness and headaches (to name a few)). In the long term, a diet which does not remain strictly gluten free can result in serious health problems (including osteoporosis, infertility and even cancer).

I recently made a single, very guilty mistake with my daughter when we visited Sainsbury at Easter to buy chocolate eggs. In the entrance, they had set up a promotional pile of eggs and a smiley assistant was generously offering small pots of sample sweets to eager young customers. My daughter made a beeline for them and I (responsibly) asked 'are they gluten free?' The assistant wasn't sure, but willingly handed me a box to check. 'No gluten here' I thought. Wrong!

There were in fact three or four different eggs and the samples were a mix of all of them. I had checked just one (non-glutenous) box, but there in the pot was a single offending 'Jazzie'. Jazzies are chocolate coated in hundreds and thousands, most of which contain wheat and I knew that, but my brain didn't connect in time to realise that Jazzies were not in the contents of the box I'd checked. I watched as my daughter consumed the offending sweet. Just the one! The result was three days of diarrhoea............. lesson learnt......... cock-ups are not allowed.

I digress.............. The focus of this year's campaign for Coeliac Awareness Week is absolutely to be welcomed. Frankly, I get totally hacked off when I go shopping and find the gluten free shelves are empty, or worse still, the store doesn't even stock gluten free. Traipsing from one supermarket to the next is tedious, time-consuming and expensive. You generally know who stocks what on a reasonable basis in your home area, but if you go away you can be hard-pressed to find what you need. Which means suitcases packed with the staples because you can guarantee you will need them. When we stay in hotels, we go armed with a stash of bread and toaster bags (to avoid cross-contamination) and feel conspicuous as we carry them into the dining room for breakfast.

To be fair, the range of gluten free produce has increased massively in the last three years or so. It is truly a growth industry (I have even toyed myself with the option of entering the fray and setting up a business). But Coeliacs still don't have reliable access and anything Coeliac UK can do to make things better and ensure we are able to find what we need, when we need it and anywhere we may be has got to be a step in the right direction. Fingers crossed the supermarkets take note and not just for the short term!

On the gluten free home-baking front - this is a chocolate cake to be highly recommended. It is a very trusty recipe to which I turn again and again, because it is rich, dark, very moist and perfectly textured to hold up to a good dose of decoration. To make it extra special, I have decorated this one with some pretty butter-icing (frosting) roses, the pink ones of which I flavoured with some strawberry essence. The young recipient was thrilled (although I was a little concerned that it ended up looking like a wedding cake). To get a better sense of the chocolate sponge for this cake (I did not get to take a photo of it sliced), the same sponge is used here.

Because it is so very spring-like, I have decided to offer it as an entry to this month's Love Cake challenge being hosted by Ness at Jibber Jabber. May's theme is Flowers, so this fits the bill for decoration at least. I will be honest, it was not quite planned to be my entry, but May is fast disappearing and as I am running out of time, I didn't want to miss my opportunity to support this very worthy, monthly cake-fest! Well........... let's face it........ anything involving cake has to be priority!

Chocolate Cake with Butter-Icing Roses

Chocolate Sponge - batch of chocolate sponge as from the recipe in this post.

Butter Icing (Frosting) (enough to pipe roses)   

200g unsalted butter - room temperature
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
Approx 700g icing sugar (sifted)
Almond or rice milk (approximately 5 tablespoons) - or cows milk
2 to 3 drops strawberry flavouring (optional)
red food colouring
Sprinkles (optional)

To make the icing and decorate :
  1. Beat the butter until smooth.
  2. Gradually add and beat in the icing sugar and vanilla extract until light and fluffy. Alternate with adding a little milk at a time and adjust the levels of icing sugar as necessary until you have achieved the desired spreading/piping consistency. 
  3. Sandwich the cake together with vanilla butter icing (before adding any other colour or flavour).
  4. Completely cover the cake with a layer of vanilla icing.
  5. Split the remaining icing in half and add a couple of drops of flavouring and colouring to tint one half to the desired flavour and shade.
  6. Using an appropriate flower nozzle (I used 2x Wilton 2D so that I could work 2 colours at once), split your mixture into separate piping bags and starting from the centre of the cake, pipe icing roses working your way out to the edge of the cake and beyond (as far as you wish to go either randomly or with the design you choose). To pipe roses, start from the centre of the rose and swirl in circles outwards. A really straight forward tutorial can be found here.
  7. Finish off your decoration with a few sprinkles (optional)
Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-14 unless otherwise indicated


  1. What a beautiful cake and I think your rose piping is perfect. I have a friend with Coeliac disease and you have to be so careful with what you eat even unsuspecting items such as sweets like jazzies.

    1. Thank you Ros. I think your piping is much better, but I'll get there! I was definitely caught out by that evil Jazzie.

  2. I find it so frustrating and in your daughter's case dangerous that supermarkets and producers aren't more open about their ingredients. I've spent ages checking whether something is gluten free, vegetarian or vegan. I don't know how you cope on a daily basis! Thank you for making so much effort to link up with this month's Love Cake once again.

    1. You're welcome.... I didn't want to miss it! I always find it is the hidden ingredients which catch you out! Labelling is much better than it used to be, but a supermarket shop still has to allow for label-checking time....


I always LOVE to hear from you, so please leave a comment, share your thoughts and stay in touch.

By leaving a comment, you consent to any personal information you choose to share being collected by Gluten Free Alchemist for statistical and monitoring purposes and you enter into a public conversation linked to the post. You may choose to make your comment anonymous by ticking the relevant check-box. For full details of the GFA Privacy Policy, please click on the signposted label at the top of the page.