One Gluten-Free Cake Mix, 100 Possibilities

A staple to keep in your pantry for anytime baking.

January 14, 2019
Photo by Ken Carlson

Cake Magic! is a simple cookbook I wrote in 2016, one that's resonated with many hesitant bakers out there, and a project I'm really proud of. It's part fantasy—as any great book about cakes should be, with ethereal pictures that show perfect confections ready for the celebrations that await them—and part artist’s palette. It offers simple, staple recipes and techniques that can be mixed around according to the baker’s whim to create something entirely new, even if that baker has only baked from box mixes before. From one simple mix of flours and sugar stored in the pantry spans over 100 totally different cakes.

I had no idea when I wrote it that it would eventually feel like it belonged to someone else. That an idea that strong could break under the weight of life and somehow become shameful.

Two years after the book came out, I was diagnosed with brain cancer and immediately and totally shifted my diet to exclude all of the ingredients held within Cake Magic!. I was struggling to survive and focused on my family, so it didn’t matter much to me at first. Then the scans kept coming back clean. I was told I was cancer-free, a statistic anomaly, and hope began to build for the first time since my diagnosis. As my timeline reaches forward and I look ahead to celebrations—birthdays, both mine and those of my two little sons—I yearn to bake to celebrate earning them. Give me wrinkles, give me cakes. It feels selfish to ask for decades of watching my boys grow older and hug me from giant bodies when I was only given a year to live, when I’ve seen cancer as closely as I have. But I’m asking. And hoping, even though it’s scary to and I know I shouldn’t. I’m fighting for more of everything.

I made a cake recipe for the year anniversary of my diagnosis and wrote about it a few months ago. It felt important to face my community and share the changes to my diet when I had been feeling that my career, as I had imagined it, was over. The airing out of these fears, shattering the glass box I was trying to store it in, was a repeat of the lessons I had learned over and over during my most dimly lit days of treatment. It may sound like a platitude, but the simplest truths are really the most profound from the hopeless place of terminal cancer: Anything is possible.

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Having one cake recipe felt good, empowering. But as I baked more and more with grain-free flours and alternative, unrefined sugars, a symphony of ideas came together in my head. Its momentum felt unstoppable. What if I could make a grain-free and refined sugar–free cake mix?

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Top Comment:
“I’m feeling a bit better about my wrinkles today 😉) I’ve signed up for your monthly emails and I’m looking forward to reading more about your food choices. Take care and God Bless! ”
— Jackiew0617

Yes, I thought to myself as I imagined the over 100 cakes multiplying from that one mix, populating like a cartoon of mating rabbits. I started from a hunch, which is where I start most of my baking endeavors, combined with the helpful anchor of the original Cake Magic! ratios. I mixed around some of the flours I had come to know through my own play—the rich almond and coconut flours, the versatile arrowroot and tapioca. I tried them in a few different proportions, found a balance, then added xanthan gum for stability. I tried each date and coconut sugar, and preferred coconut. I could tell by the smell I had gotten close, then took a peek in the oven to see that it was rising and browning perfectly. The crumb of the cake was a facsimile of the original: (alternative) baking success!

I wanted more.

Photo by Workman Publishing

I brought the idea to my editor, and we determined it could be treated as an official addendum. And just like that, Cake Magic! was mine again.

The warm scent wafting from the oven reminded me of that hot Dallas summer when I was developing the recipes and systematically baked all the cakes in the book. My house smelled so much of cake (then and now) that when the fragrance spilled out from the front door, I believed for a moment that the outside world smelled of cake, too.

Working on Cake Magic! felt different this time, changed, because I was not only figuring out a recipe to serve the idea I’d created, but because I was also serving myself. I'm on both sides of the project now, deeply grateful for the versatility of the mix and the variety promised within that, but also that the book belonged to me again somehow. I could use it again and not just sign it when asked. The variations of this single recipe represent years and years of birthdays and celebrations—my life, and my future, in cake.

How It Works

This official addendum is intended to be printed, folded up, and sandwiched into your copy of Cake Magic!. It includes the mix itself as well as instructions on how to translate the book's recipes in grain- and refined sugar–free ways, so everyone can enjoy them.

If you'd like to test-drive it, here are a few of the original cake recipes. Just keep in mind that the simple vanilla cake can transform into a chocolate cake (or peanut butter, coconut, lemon, among others) as easily with very simple variations outlined in the book.

Are you a gluten-free (or paleo) baker? Tell us about your latest creations in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jackiew0617
  • Angela
  • Deborah Ahn
    Deborah Ahn
  • Laurie Kramer
    Laurie Kramer
  • Molly Franks
    Molly Franks
Before her diagnosis, Caroline wrote a book on cakes called Cake Magic!. She started developing a birthday cake using her gluten-free mix found in that book. Check out other recipes she’s developing for her new life—and the stories behind them—on her blog, The Wright Recipes. Her next book, Soup Club, is a collection of recipes she made for her underground soup club of vegan and grain-free soups she delivers every week to friends throughout Seattle's rainy winter.


Jackiew0617 March 4, 2020
You are an excellent writer and your story really touched me! My husband has Celiac and my daughter has many food intolerances so I totally get that “food is medicine”. That’s probably the reason this article came up as suggested reading on my phone. Life is precious and growing old is a gift and this article made me realize that even more. (I’m feeling a bit better about my wrinkles today 😉) I’ve signed up for your monthly emails and I’m looking forward to reading more about your food choices. Take care and God Bless!
Angela April 9, 2019
Went to addendum and the site was identified as suspicious.
Deborah A. January 18, 2019
was so disappointed to see this cake recipe contains xanthan gum.
Caroline W. January 18, 2019
I desperately tried to avoid it but it made the whole thing work much better. I know it's a controversial ingredient, but I felt it was unavoidable. Sorry you're disappointed!
Laurie K. January 18, 2019
PLEASE don't post a malted milk frosting recipe with a GF cake recipe. As delicious as this combo is, malted milk powder contains gluten and is not safe for celiacs or the gluten intolerant.
Caroline W. January 18, 2019
I have a note saying just that. Thanks for reiterating! CW
Caroline W. January 18, 2019
(In the addendum.) The original book, which was not alternative in any way, featured malted frostings as their standard. The addendum walks the reader through how to translate ::every:: recipe to be gluten and refined sugar free, including that one (by omitting the malted milk powder, really). These recipes on Food52 feature the original cake recipes, for which you would need to reference the addendum to modify. Sorry for the confusion!
Molly F. January 17, 2019
I'm happy you can look forward to cake again. All the best.
Caroline W. January 18, 2019
Thanks, Molly! :)
ALLY January 17, 2019
Hi Caroline, I am allergic to nuts, any alternatives to almonds in your recipes? Thank you.
Caroline W. January 17, 2019
Hey Ally! Yes! Give cassava flour (not "starch") a try as a swap-- I haven't done it, but I have a strong feeling it will work well. My favorite brand is Otto's.
Katherine M. January 15, 2019
Any plans to add gram measurements? I've found my GF/ Paleo baking turns out better by weight. Thanks
Caroline W. January 17, 2019
I totally agree-- but I stuck with the style of the original recipe as per my publisher's preference. What I like to do with baking recipes I use a lot is spoon-and-level a few cups of whatever flour it is a few times, write down the result and then come up with some sort of average between 3 or so measurements. That way, when I pull out the recipe again, I don't have to fiddle with cups, but it also feels accurate to the recipe.
Katherine M. January 18, 2019
Thanks for the tip! I will definitely try that method.
Heather M. January 15, 2019
Can you make this more low-carb by using a different sweetener?...coconut sugar has too many carbs for keto. Thank you.
Caroline W. January 17, 2019
Hey Heather! The only other sweetener I've used is date sugar in the mix, but I have a strong feeling that monk fruit sweetener (like the mix by Lakanto) would work great. Let me know what you come up with!
Cheryl January 14, 2019
Part of recipe is missing. Can you send the rest of it to me? How to bake etc..
Eric K. January 14, 2019
By "here," I meant:
Jo January 15, 2019
Cheryl, click on the “view recipe” button above the list of ingredients, that will take you to the full recipe with all the details on how to bake