Genius Recipes

This Super-Fudgy Flourless Chocolate Cake Has a Genius Star Ingredient

March 14, 2018

Flourless chocolate cakes take all kinds of many-splendored forms—but until now, landing on a fudgy-yet-light, classic birthday cake-like crumb wasn’t one of their strong suits.

Moussey? Why yes. Souffle-ish? Sure! Molten? You bet your Jean-Georges Vongerichten they can do molten.

But this thoroughly modern flourless chocolate cake, from Paula Shoyer’s newest cookbook The Healthy Jewish Kitchen, nails that fudge cake texture—and it doesn’t take some sort of DIY gluten-free flour blend or delicate balancing act of starches to do so.

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It simply takes quinoa. Not quinoa flour, but straight-up cooked quinoa—the Peruvian staple pseudo-grain that you can now find in any grocery store in America, and as a regular fixture in weeknight meal-dom.

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Top Comment:
“This recipe looks delicious, but I live in a place in Italy were I cannot find coconut oil, so if you can please let me know what other oil could be substituted. We can finally get quinoa, and I can good vanilla extract in the UK! Grazie mille! ”
— Olga

In this cake, cooked quinoa gives the cake substance and holds the thing together mightily, without any assistance from other starches or flours—and without tasting strongly of quinoa.

Depending on how powerful your food processor or blender is and how long you let it rip, the only trace of quinoa you may detect is a bit of a nubbly texture, which I happen to love. And, unlike flour, it does all of this while leaving a lot of available moisture to keep the cake deliciously chocolatey and squidgy, as Nigella would say.

Quinoa-based cakes like this one swept through the blogosphere over the past few years, most of them directly or indirectly descended from one published in the cookbook Quinoa365 by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming.

When Shoyer heard rumors of such cakes, she set off to research a bunch of different versions (there are, oh, about 12.5 million online now), then went her own way. She needed to make her cake not just gluten-free but dairy-free to keep kosher with meat-based meals, plus she already had a star chocolate cake in mind as a model from her first cookbook, called “Everyone’s Favorite Chocolate Cake.”

So she stitched all of these threads together, adding the fresh orange juice and dark cocoa powder from the earlier cake, swapping in coconut oil, then upping the vanilla to calm the coconut flavor. From another popular recipe of hers, Triple-Chocolate Biscotti, she added some melted chocolate at the end, too, to make this cake even more rich and chocolatey. “You know, I had that kind of brownie thinking in my head,” she told me. When she drove a piece across town to a friend with celiac disease, she heard back, “My girls want a glaze!” And so, a gooey chocolate glaze was born.

Since the book (and the cake) made its debut, Shoyer has tasted the recipe all over the country, baked by different hands. The texture comes out a little differently here and there, depending on the machines people use to blend it—but it’s always a hit.

From all the times we’ve tested and set this recipe out at Food52 HQ—from airier cakes made in our most rickety food processor to perfectly smooth blender versions, I can confirm the same.

Shoyer subscribes to the French philosophy of dessert, that, as she says, “It should be so delicious and gooey and satisfying, you should eat one piece and not need any more.” What I cannot confirm is that nobody will take seconds.

Photos by Julia Gartland

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to Leah Koenig, the author of the Little Book of Jewish Appetizers, among others, for this one!

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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


beth March 24, 2021
Has anyone tried this with Monk Fruit or Stevia or Erythritol? That's a lot of sugar.
LL March 30, 2023
How much Stevia or Erythritol can be substituted for sugar
Alexandra M. October 3, 2018
I have flagged this article and am considering making but before I do -- has anyone tried to make this as cupcakes instead of a cake?
Diane G. September 25, 2018
I have made this twice. The flavor and texture are great but the cake does not rise very much. Your photos only show it from the top so I wonder if this is a given about the cake? So it’s not much of a showpiece cake. I plate it for guests in the kitchen and that’s all I let them see. Plus, the glaze becomes dull looking quickly. Anyhow - will still keep making it! 👏
Rosalind P. March 24, 2021
Flourless chocolate cakes don't rise. They are more like a dense cake-like puddin.
FrugalCat April 4, 2018
I used red quinoa (that's what is in my kitchen at the moment.) and dark rum instead of the orange juice. Super moist and tasty.
Marilyn March 31, 2018
Cake stuck to the pan and it was ruined.
Kristen M. April 2, 2018
Marilyn, I'm so sorry to hear this—I hope you were able to at least enjoy the broken pieces. Can I ask what you used to grease and dust the pan?
Marilyn April 4, 2018
Canola oil and flour
kc March 25, 2018
Can I bake this today freeze it and glaze it next Saturday (the 31st) after thawing?
Kristen M. March 26, 2018
I'm sorry to keep you waiting, kc—I haven't tried freezing this cake, but I do think it would work. And glazing it the day-of, after thawing, is exactly what I'd do.
Twinsx2mom March 18, 2018
Has anyone tried this with quinoa flour? Pereg makes quinoa flour that is kosher for Passover.
Michelle March 16, 2018
Is there a cocoa that's kosher for Passover?
Kristen M. March 16, 2018
Michelle, I believe Paula said that she uses Hershey's, and some googling tells me that their unsweetened natural cocoa is considered kosher for Passover.
Bob B. March 31, 2018
Hershey is a company that uses child labor and is not a responsable company. Equal Exchange chocolate is fair trade but not sure it is kosher for Passover.
pottsy.1990 March 15, 2018
Looking forward to trying this one! Flourless chocolate cakes are almost always my favourite desserts and this one looks quite different.
Netta E. March 14, 2018
For someone who doesn't like the combination of orange and chocolate, what can I use in place of the orange juice?
Kristen M. March 14, 2018
The orange flavor isn't really detectable—I'd stick with it!
Willa March 14, 2018
What about coffee?
Kristen M. March 16, 2018
Also a great idea.
garlic&lemon March 14, 2018
As the designated dessert maker for our multi-family Seder, I'm pretty sure baking power is off limits for Passover. She's suggested other substitutions for Passover, but ignored the leavening. Oops! Does anyone have a suggestion for this?
Willa March 14, 2018
Gefen makes a baking powder that is kosher for Passover.
Bob B. March 31, 2018
I beat egg whites and folded them in.
Julie March 14, 2018
I'm wondering about ghee instead of coconut oil?
Kristen M. March 14, 2018
I think that would work great.
Sally March 14, 2018
Has anyone tried this with vegan egg substitutes?
Kristen M. March 14, 2018
I haven't, but a commenter below mentioned the classic flax eggs or mashed banana as possibilities. Applesauce could be another.
Olga March 14, 2018
Grazie Deepa, I had thought that olive oil could work!!
Olga March 14, 2018
This recipe looks delicious, but I live in a place in Italy were I cannot find coconut oil, so if you can please let me know what other oil could be substituted. We can finally get quinoa, and I can good vanilla extract in the UK! Grazie mille!
Deepa March 14, 2018
I use olive oil or butter when I don’t have coconut oil. They both work well.
Rosalind P. March 24, 2021
A light canola or grapeseed oil works.
CC March 14, 2018
Can I substitute the sugar for honey or agave? If so, how much would you recommend? Thanks!
Kristen M. March 14, 2018
I haven't tried it myself, but here's a great article from Joanne Chang about the things to keep in mind when subbing honey for sugar:
CC March 14, 2018
Thanks for the article. If I understand Joanne Chang's article, if the recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of sugar, that means I should use 1 1/5 cups (80%) or 1 1/8 cups (75%) of honey, correct? Also, since honey is a liquid, do I need decrease the other liquids called for in the recipe?
Kristen M. March 16, 2018
Yes, the King Arthur team recommends decreasing by 3 to 4 tablespoons liquid for every 1 cup of honey. If you try it out, please report back! If you follow these guidelines, I think the cake will be pretty forgiving.
Rosalind P. March 24, 2021
I am really confused about how many people phrase "substitute for". The standard use of "substitute" used to be : If I wanted to use say butter, instead of oil, I would say I substituted the butter for the oil. Nowadays, people seem to use it in exactly the opposite way. The question here seems to be asking asks if the writer can use honey or agave syrup instead of sugar, but phrases it just the opposite: it says substitute sugar for honey or agave. This seems to be how people say it these days. Not being critical. English is very fluid and changes all the time, and something can go from "wrong" to "right" in a flash. So, now: if I want to use brown sugar instead of white sugar, would I say I was substituting brown sugar for white? Or the opposite. Don't laugh. I can see where this would be critical in giving directions.
Willa March 14, 2018
Can this be made without Coconut oil? I have concerns about the saturated fat content of the oil.
Kristen M. March 14, 2018
Yes, any other oil you like to bake with (neutral vegetable oils, nut oils, even not-too-strong-tasting olive oils) should work.
Willa March 14, 2018
Thanks so much, looking forward to trying this cake.