Lisa’s Letters Home: Coconut Flour Chocolate Cake

Lisa’s Letters Home: Coconut Flour Chocolate Cake

Back in the olden days, our mothers would haul us to the doctor’s every time we had a sniffle and the doctor would promptly prescribe some sort of antibiotic. When I was little, I used to have an upset stomach quite a lot, which meant a lot of trips to the doctor’s and a lot of antibiotics. After numerous bottles of pills (and the discovery that I’m allergic to penicillin), at age 5 an allergy specialist determined that I had several food intolerances: fish, dairy, citric acid, corn, and chocolate. Chocolate. For Easter, I used to get jellybeans and underwear. The horrors I endured.

Not a lot was known about intolerance in the 70s and in fact, mine were called “allergies.” I was told to avoid all foods containing the things I was “allergic” to and I began receiving weekly allergy shots/jabs AKA immunotherapy. The idea is to inject patients with a little bit of the allergen to help build up a tolerance over a long period of time. So not only was I the only kid who had to get spaghetti every time one of my friends had a birthday party at Mother’s Pizza, I got a needle in the arm every week. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

I have no idea if the shots worked or if I just outgrew my intolerances but by age 11, chocolate milk was back on the menu. And there was much rejoicing. We didn’t really have substitutions back then; if you couldn’t eat something, that was tough tomatoes for you. Oh, except for carob, but let’s not discuss that. Thank the heavens and the stars that we now have an abundance of alternatives to things like dairy and wheat, but intolerances can still be tough to accommodate.

Jamie and Paul Roberts’ 3-year-old son Zach is allergic to dairy, eggs, wheat, and peanuts. When he was diagnosed at 4 months old after suffering from severe eczema, Jamie herself gave up the foods Zach’s allergic to while she was breastfeeding. Over the next couple of years, they would discover that the practicalities of finding something he could (and wanted to) eat would prove difficult.

Jamie says, “Most restaurants have nutritional information and allergy information available, but many places have very few items we can order for Zach. We usually get him grilled chicken, some kind of potato or rice side, and other sides like applesauce or grapes. Many times we bring our own food from home and give him that instead, especially if it’s a place where he can literally have nothing on the menu, such as Italian restaurants.”

Although we assume that kids with intolerances feel deprived, Jamie told me: “I realize that because he’s never had a cookie, he doesn’t care that he’s ‘missing out’ on eating them. The same goes for cake. We’ve made him special birthday cakes several times now and he ends up taking one tiny bite. These types of foods are completely foreign to him.” Jamie’s still determined to find that elusive baked treat for Zach. “Right now it’s my goal to bake him some type of sweet treat that he will actually love and want to eat.“

I’ve talked about coconut flour on here before (for this coconut flour pancake recipe), but I haven’t played around with it very much. I’ve mentioned before, it doesn’t taste of coconut but it does have a bit of a unique texture. As with most non-grain substitutes like ground almonds, the end result will be a little bit coarser than when you use other flours. I wanted to try making a cake with coconut flour as a little treat I could enjoy on my grain-free diet. I came across this recipe for chocolate cake, and the photo at the top of the page sold me on it: It looked easy and it looked like real cake, and the comments below the post were mostly positive.

I followed the recipe exactly as written and ended up with a very flat, but very tasty cake. I tested the baking powder to make sure it was still active (add some warm water to 1tsp of baking powder and if it fizzes up and bubbles happily away for a minute or two, you’re good to go) so I wasn’t too sure what went wrong. I found the cinnamon overpowering for such a small cake, but the kids gobbled it up with a big scoop of ice cream on top.

For my second attempt, I decided to double the recipe. Thinking back to the coconut flour pancake recipe, I separated the eggs and whisked the whites until firm before adding them to the batter, and sifted all the dry ingredients to try to get as much air in the batter as possible. I also added a shot of espresso because I find that coffee really brings out the flavour of chocolate (thank you Ina Garten for introducing me to that tip) and omitted the cinnamon. After 40 minutes in the oven, I got a big, fat, fluffy, chocolate cake.

To be fair to Chocolate Cake v. 1, it did improve a lot with age. The cinnamon flavour mellowed quite a bit and the texture of the cake was less grainy. I think you could use the original recipe to make a small pan of brownies with added extras like chocolate chips or nuts. Chocolate Cake v. 2 was much more like traditional cake, but not nearly as sweet. If you leave off the frosting, it would be a good cake to have in the afternoon with a big cup of tea. For a dessert or party, the icing would make this more like a conventional cake. If you want to keep this low sugar, you could top it with whipped cream or yoghurt, a little vanilla, and whatever sweetener you normally use.

You can make this dairy-free by using coconut oil or vegetable oil instead of butter. Coconut flour needs moisture, so if you’re going to substitute liquid sugars for anything dry, make sure you add the same amount of liquid (water would be fine for this recipe.)

So sorry Zach, I’m not sure how to make this egg-free for you, but hopefully this cake will help another little boy or girl out there – and I hope your mommy finds that perfect Zach cake just for you.

Lisa’s Letters Home: Coconut Flour Chocolate Cake


  • 1/2 cup (60g) cocoa powder (I used Green and Black’s)
  • 1/2 cup (70g) coconut flour
  • 2 tsp gluten-free baking powder (I used double acting)
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 8 eggs, separated and at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp very strong coffee or espresso, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (6 tbsp) honey, maple syrup, sugar, or other sweetener
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable oil, melted coconut oil, or melted butter


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F  (160C fan assist) and line an 8” round tin with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift all the dry ingredients together.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff.

To the dry ingredients, add the egg yolks, coffee, sweetener/sugar, vanilla, and oil.

Mix until well combined.

Carefully fold in the egg whites, but don’t get too stressed about it.

You can give it a pretty good mix without losing much air.

Make sure you don’t have any streaks of white in the batter then add it to the prepared cake tin.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Leave the cake to cool in the tin for about 10-15 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Leave it plain, cover in icing, or dust with a little icing sugar.

Keep the cake in an airtight container on the counter for around 3-4 days maximum.



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1 Comment

  1. Betty
    August 06, 15:34 Reply

    substitute agar agar gelatin or xanthan gum for the eggs. prepare the gelatin mix, and then fold it in as you would the eggs. egg wash is only to hold it together.

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