Big Little Recipes

This 3-Ingredient Flourless Cake Is Totally Nuts

Get it? That was a pecan joke.

April 23, 2019
Photo by Julia Gartland

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re making a cake that’s totally nuts. No, seriously.

If I say flourless cake, you probably think of something rich and dense and chocolatey. This is no surprise, since without starchy, gluten-y wheat flour, a chocolate cake turns out moister and fudgier and better.

This flourless cake is just as repeat-worthy, though there’s not a speck of chocolate involved. Instead, there are pecans. Lots and lots of pecans.

Photo by Julia Gartland

I had never thought to make another type of flourless cake until a few months ago: It was late morning at the Food52 office. I was hungry. There was a lonely cake in the team kitchen, left over from a photoshoot. It smiled at me. I smiled back. Two slices later and I was smitten. It was the nuttiest cake I had ever tried (or the cakiest nut?) and I couldn’t get enough.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“My favorite flourless cake is the garbanzo bean chocolate cake. It’s fabulous, gluten free, easy peesy 2cans chic peas,4eggs,1 1/2 c semi sweet choc chips,1/2 tsp BP,3/4 c sugar.whir drained beans in food processor,melt choc, add with vanilla& bp,sugar.blend till smooth. Pour into greased 9” pan(I coat “flour”w cocoa sometimes)350’ 40 minutes (or till tooth pick tests done) yum ”
— Anne

Lucky for me, the recipe was already on our site, and had been for years. It was the Calabrian Walnut Cake, and our contributor Emiko Davies described it as such:

As walnut cakes go, this must be the simplest and most essential of them all. The cake itself is made of just three ingredients—walnuts, eggs, and sugar. A little lemon zest adds a delicate, fresh aroma and powdered sugar makes it pretty. It's a traditional cake from Calabria in southern Italy, the sort of cake that nonna would make.

Emiko got the recipe from a 1960 edition of Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni. In the book, Boni recommends horizontally halving the cake into two layers and frosting it with lemon buttercream. But, to me, it was perfect plain.

And it got me thinking, if ground walnuts can create something this wonderful, what other nuts are waiting to be cake-ified? My mind quickly went to pecans. And as soon as I thought of pecans, I thought of brown sugar. And as soon as I thought of brown sugar, I thought of salt. Because if sugar is one of the main components in any recipe, there needs to be some balance.

Of course, this means I changed all but one ingredient (eggs) in the original Calabrian recipe. But the ratios are the same. And the result is just as love-at-first-bite—dense, toasty, fudgy, and extremely nutty—like a pecan sandy shape-shifted into something flour-free, special enough for a holiday, and habit-forming enough for late-morning snacks all year round.

Bonus Big Little Recipe

If you’re a Big Little fan, maybe you’re wondering: Where’s this week’s video? We’re taking a quick hiatus—yep, just like a TV show—to cook up the next season of episodes, premiering May 28. They’re gonna be bigger (and littler) and better than ever. Stay tuned! What's your go-to flourless dessert recipe? Share in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Karen H. February 7, 2020
I can’t have gluten or sugar. Is there a sugar substitute you can recommend? How will the finished cake be affected by the substitution? Thank you
Justine S. June 19, 2019
Oh my goodness! Years ago I had the most amazing cake in Berlin. It was made of tiny bits of hazelnuts and it was light and fluffy and simply delicious and I had no idea how to replicate it. I think this might be the way! I'm so excited :)
mercedes May 15, 2019
Just making certain, is it really a whole teaspoon of kosher salt?
Emma L. May 15, 2019
Yes! Though you can adjust this to taste if you'd like.
Vi A. May 10, 2019
Not being a big fan of chocolate, this flourless treat sounds excellent! Must try.
Holly W. May 10, 2019
Wondering if you could use coconut sugar to replace the light brown sugar?
Emma L. May 14, 2019
Hi Holly—I'm not sure! If you give it a try, though, please report back!
Claudia R. May 10, 2019
Would toasting the pecans prior to grinding them up be a good thing?
Emma L. May 14, 2019
Hi Claudia! I decided not to toast the pecans here for a couple reasons: This cake is based on a walnut cake I love and, in that recipe, the walnuts are raw. Because there's no flour here (just ground nuts), the nuts on the outside get pretty toasted by the end; I worry that if they start out toasted to begin with, the crust might taste burnt by the time the cake is done baking.
Robert K. May 10, 2019
If almond flour counts as “flour-less”, then Nigella Lawson’s clementine cake is my go to. Amazes everyone who eats it.
blackpanthershay May 10, 2019
I'll have to look that up!
amhendricks April 29, 2019
Wait, walnuts or pecans? Your prose says walnuts, the recipe says pecans.
Emma L. April 29, 2019
Hi! I developed a pecan cake recipe, inspired by a walnut cake recipe :)
Sandra April 28, 2019
I'm diabetic. Can a sugar substitute be used in your Flourless Cake?
Anne April 28, 2019
Sugar I think becomes a liquid I ingredient in baking, so I would think you need to research what substitute you make. I’m thinking the eggs are the component that is important for the cakelike texture...not sure.
Anne April 28, 2019
I’m going to try it substituting erythritol for sugar as it is used in sugarless meringues quite successful”y.
Anne April 28, 2019
Lease give us an update❣️
Anne April 25, 2019
My favorite flourless cake is the garbanzo bean chocolate cake. It’s fabulous, gluten free, easy peesy
2cans chic peas,4eggs,1 1/2 c semi sweet choc chips,1/2 tsp BP,3/4 c sugar.whir drained beans in food processor,melt choc, add with vanilla& bp,sugar.blend till smooth. Pour into greased 9” pan(I coat “flour”w cocoa sometimes)350’ 40 minutes (or till tooth pick tests done) yum
Helen H. April 28, 2019
I’m going to try this. It sounds great
Muriel J. May 7, 2019
What is BP?
Anne May 7, 2019
Baking powder (sorry, I thought everyone knew that🙄,my bad)
Beverly May 10, 2019
Thanks so much for sharing this recipe and I can't wait to try it. I'm gluten sensitive and lactose intolerant and this sounds great!!!
Anne May 10, 2019
My sister has celiac disease and she made this for my birthday cake so we could both enjoy together. It’s now one of my favorites! Enjoy btw use good chocolate.
Peter J. May 10, 2019
What do you do with the eggs?
Judi N. May 10, 2019
BP=? Black pepper?
Anne May 10, 2019
I answered this above, it is baking powder. Not sure how black pepper would even come into a recipe for a chocolate cake, but no, BP is the abbreviation for baking powder.
Anne May 10, 2019
blend in with the chick peas. It’s basically dump all in together (but u do melt the chocolate before adding)
Gilly May 13, 2019
Baking powder
Emma L. May 14, 2019
Hi Peter! The full recipe and instructions are at this link: