The Insane (Grain-Free!) Chocolate Cake That Literally Changed Everything

April 20, 2018

We try to stay away from hyperbolic headlines, but this one comes with a good reason: It's the cake that actually laid the groundwork for Sweet Laurel Bakery, cofounded by Claire Thomas and Laurel Gallucci, whose diagnosis with Hashimoto's disease initially set the wheels of this recipe in motion.

If you've ever been curious about grain-free, sugar-free baking, let this be your entrée into the delicious world of possibility. After this gorgeous chocolate caramel cake with fudge frosting emerged from our test kitchen, the forks were OUT and grain-free skeptics were quickly converted.

More of the cake's inspiring origin story below from Gallucci, who includes many more grain-free treats in her new cookbook, Sweet Laurel: Recipes for Whole Food, Grain-Free Desserts.

This was the cake that changed everything. Our whole company, and point of view, is founded on this cake. Decadent, rich, beautiful, and intensely chocolaty, it flies in the face of people who don’t think you can have your cake and be grain-free, too. This cake is a showstopper, so get ready—people will freak out over it.

A cake worthy of any celebration. Or just because. Photo by Rocky Luten

Baking creates memories. My love of baking started when I was 4 or 5 years old. I remember making banana bread with my mom, getting to taste the batter, and instantly being hooked. My nanny let me help her make homemade snacks, and I made stacks of pancakes with my grandfather that were so tall, I couldn’t see over them. Baking became my hobby, and soon I was old enough to gain freedom in the kitchen.

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Ten years later, I had shelves of cookbooks and stacks of culinary magazines, the covers threadbare from flipping pages thousands of times. But my love of baking came to a dramatic halt when my life was rocked by the derailing diagnosis of an autoimmune condition and digestive disorder, Hashimoto’s disease. The doctor told me I would never eat chocolate cake again. But my desire to bake remained, so I refused to accept that answer. How could I enjoy the life ahead without gluten, dairy, and refined sugar? After all, nearly all my homemade recipes contained at least one of these now-forbidden ingredients.

My distress did not last long. Soon I learned the beauty of whole food ingredients: almonds, coconut, cacao, organic eggs, dates... and many more I had never imagined could play a role in my baking. I began making treats with the foods that nourished me, and I kept the recipes simple. I found that when working with nutrient-dense foods, the need for fillers, thickeners, and other undesirable additions was eliminated. With just seven to 10 staple ingredients, I created recipes that brought back memories of my childhood baking, but they were so much more nourishing.

The doctor told me I would never eat chocolate cake again. But my desire to bake remained, so I refused to accept that answer.

A few months later, I shared a grain-free, refined sugar–free, dairy-free chocolate caramel cake with my friend Claire Thomas. I was an educator and home baker, and Claire was a food blogger, so the two of us had connected over a love of cooking and emotional eating. Claire has no food allergies or sensitivities, and when I offered her the slice of cake, I didn’t provide any context. While Claire was licking her fork, I smiled and asked, “So, you liked it?”

Then I dropped the bomb. This delicious chocolate caramel cake with fudge frosting was completely devoid of what Claire thought were her favorite ingredients. It was wholesome, nutritious, and autoimmune-friendly. Claire was floored—she had been constantly disappointed by gluten-free or vegan baked options, and was a self-described carb snob. The textures and flavors always seemed a bit off, like a photocopy of a photocopy of the thing they claimed to be. That was the moment when we knew we had to do more with that chocolate cake.

With our mouths full and plates clean, we decided to start a bakery together: Sweet Laurel.

Sweet Laurel's sweet co-founders, Claire Thomas (left) and Laurel Gallucci (right).

The next few months were spent baking, tasting, and then baking some more. Inspired by the simple recipes I had developed, Claire began decorating the cakes with small bouquets of edible flowers. Anything too fussy or polished just didn’t feel right. My naked cakes, with luscious frosting, fresh jam, or gooey caramel dripping down the sides, were topped with a few organic roses, blossoming herbs, or whatever we could find at the farmer’s market. The "Sweet Look"—simple, feminine, and a bit romantic—was set.

Have you ever tried your hand at grain-free baking? Let us know below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Frederique Matteau L.
    Frederique Matteau L.
  • Sandra M Shaner
    Sandra M Shaner
  • Kathy Pyne
    Kathy Pyne
  • anna
  • Rita Carey
    Rita Carey


Frederique M. February 1, 2019
So glad I saw this! I have been off all grains (so hard when you can't even have corn or rice!) for a month now due to inflammation. I have also been told to stop refined sugar. My daughter is autistic and we have been told to avoid dairy for now and eventually gluten as well. Making food that combines no grains and no dairy and no sugar and pleases my perfectly normal eating spouse is tough! If i can find recipes for birthday cakes that EVERYONE can eat, it's definitely a life saver so THANK YOU!
Sandra M. December 23, 2018
Have you made the cake in a 9x13 pan? Any changes in baking time or temp needed? In my house that would store better and could be carefully covered to avoid taunting my BIG dogs from the counter. Thanks!
Kathy P. June 17, 2018
Hi, Do you think that I can make the cake ahead of time and freeze until the day I am ready to add the fillings and toppings?
Laurel G. June 17, 2018
100%. Cake freezes great in a freezer bag. Enjoy!!! Xo
anna June 2, 2018
The recipe calls for 1 cup of Vegan Caramel, but the recipe for the caramel says it makes only half a cup. Am I missing something? Should I double the caramel recipe instructions? (SO GLAD to have found you!)
Laurel G. June 3, 2018
Hey Anna! I would double the vegan caramel so you have plenty left over. The more the merrier. Left over caramel can be eaten by the spoonful or dipped in apples, banana and my fave- chocolate!!! xoxoxo Enjoy.
Rita C. May 14, 2018
Hashimoto disease is a thyroid disorder. What does that have to do with chocolate cake? I’ve had it for 25 years and can eat anything I want! I don’t understand...
Luciana May 29, 2018
You might want to research that persepctive little more. Gluten, sugar and processed foods, among other things, impact your well-being when managing Hashimoto's disease. Diet is one of the primary ways to help address it naturally.
Laurel G. June 3, 2018
Hi Rita! Hashimoto's disease rocked my world when I was diagnosed, and left me without energy, and with a digestive system that did not work. I also had severe inflammation and had secondary amenorrhea for over 4 years! When I removed gluten, grains, dairy and refined sugar from my diet, I saw a dramatic decrease in the antibodies to my thyroid. So much so, my Hashimoto's disease is now in remission. I began my bakery, Sweet Laurel, after seeing a dramatic shift in how I felt without gluten, grains, refined sugar and dairy. This recipe, and the recipes in my cookbook, are a result of some the beautiful things I can eat!
Rita C. June 3, 2018
I’m glad it worked for you. I just take a thyroid supplement and I’m fine, too. And I can eat what I want, including chocolate cake, ice cream, and the breads I love.
susan April 29, 2018
I don't use coconut fat (oil) because it's so very heart unhealthy, despite all the hype. What would you suggest as a substitute? I would even prefer butter.
Laurel G. June 3, 2018
avocado oil!
Casey F. August 2, 2018
Coconut oil is not at all heart unhealthy! It's a great oil to use! Read Nora Gedgaudas' books on being a Primal Fat Burner, or Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint. Also here Avocado Oil is awesome too!
alexia S. April 20, 2018
I haven't read a phrase that spoke to my situation and felt a kindred spirit in a long, long time: "But my love of baking came to a dramatic halt when my life was rocked by the derailing diagnosis of an autoimmune condition and digestive disorder, Hashimoto’s disease. The doctor told me I would never eat chocolate cake again. "
Laurel G. June 3, 2018
Alexia, so happy you have found Sweet Laurel through this recipe!