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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- For the Chocolate Cake:
- Coconut oil, for greasing the pans
- 2 1/2 cups almond flour
- 1/4 cup 100% unsweetened cacao powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup Dark Chocolate Fudge Frosting (see below)
- 1 cup Vegan Caramel (see below)
- For the Dark Chocolate Fudge Frosting:
- Makes 1 cup:
- 4 ounces 100% cacao unsweetened baking chocolate, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup coconut oil, solid
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 cup almond butter, store-bought or homemade
- 1/4 cup almond milk or full-fat coconut milk, or as needed
- For the Vegan Caramel:
- Makes 1/2 cup:
- 1/4 cup almond or cashew butter or puree, store-bought or homemade
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
- 1 or 2 fresh dates, pitted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch Himalayan pink salt
Have you ever tried your hand at grain-free baking? Let us know below!