Flourless Quinoa Chocolate Cake & Cupcakes

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If you love or once loved chocolate cake and you eat a wheat-free or gluten-free diet or you follow a primal diet that occasionally includes quinoa, I have a great recipe for you! I’ve made it a handful of times and it’s been a hit in cooking classes and with my neighbors who don’t eat gluten-free or focus on natural foods. Not only is this cake gluten-free, it’s also flourless. The recipe relies on cooked whole quinoa, an ancient South American seed cultivated 4000 to 8000 years ago in the highlands of the Andean region of South America.

Seed or grain?
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is often referred to as a grain although other sources classify it as a seed. Botanically it is the fruit of a broadleaf plant in the same family as spinach and beets.

6a00e552ad01da88340153915660f8970b-320wiAre grains paleo or primal?
You’ll find different interpretations of paleo and primal diets in books and ver the internet. Most exclude grains, beans, and legumes. Although I normally avoid these foods, I do include them occasionally as treats. (Mark Sisson’s books and blogs talk about the 80:20 rule of strictness, which is similar to the practice that Paleo Diet author Loren Cordain encourages of having one or two treat meals per week that include foods you might enjoy but otherwise exclude from your daily diet.)

Some of my cooking students, clients, and friends follow strict paleo or primal diets, but most do not. Many simple eat gluten-free or simply focus on eating more fresh, real, whole and minimally processed foods, eating produce-dominated diets, and eating healthy, complete (animal source) protein and good fats in their meals.

What’s great about quinoa?
Quinoa is rich in potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and contains more iron than any other grain. It contains 50% more protein than other grains. (As a percentage of total calories, 12% to 18% of the calories in quinoa come from protein.) Unlike corn, wheat, and most other grains, which are missing the amino acid lysine, making their protein incomplete, quinoa is considered a complete protein because it contains all eight essential amino acids. The World Health Organization rates quinoa’s protein quality on a par with that of milk.

6a00e552ad01da883401543529d52e970c-320wiWashing for success
Before cooking, quinoa seeds should be rinsed to remove the saponin, a bitter resin-like coating that helps discourage birds and insects from eating it. Saponins can irritate the lining of your intestines and leave a bitter aftertaste if not removed. Quinoa is often rinsed before it is packaged and sold; still, I suggest a thorough rinse at home. The presence of saponin is obvious by the production of soapy looking “suds” you will see when you swish the quinoa seeds in water before pouring them through a fine mesh strainer and rinsing until the water runs clear.

Soaking for success
Although most recipes fail to include this step, if you’re going to use whole grains, it’s best to soak them all day or overnight before cooking. This helps to break down the phytates contained in the fiber complex of whole grains. Phytates can bind with minerals and prevent their absorption. When soaking, always measure the quinoa dry (before washing) and add the amount of cooking liquid called for in the recipe. Soak the grain uncovered or covered with a bamboo sushi mat at room temperature. If you leave it for more than 8 hours, particularly in hot weather, the water may look bubbly or smell fermenty. If so, drain the quinoa over a bowl, then measure out the amount of water that comes off and add back ONLY that amount as fresh water.

Quinoa in cake?
It sounds strange but it works. For this recipe, cooked quinoa is pureed with the fat or oil, sweetener, and eggs in the recipe to make a smooth batter. You shouldn’t see any trace of the quinoa seed in the final batter. For this you will need a blender, Vita-Mix, or food processor.

Flourless Quinoa Chocolate Cake & Cupcakes

Prep: 30 minutes      Cooking: 22 to 45 minutes    Yield: 2 (9-inch) rounds or 18 to 20 cupcakes

This recipe for Moist Chocolate Cake comes from the book Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming (Whitecap Press, 2010). I converted the sugar in the original recipe to palm sugar. I added the variation for using honey as well as for other fat and oil sources and the soaking option. I also added the frosting, which I think makes the cake. It makes great cupcakes! My 9 year old and 2 year old neighbors and cooking students love these.

Note: The recipe I found on line called for cooking 2/3 cup quinoa in 2 cups of water. The original recipe in the quinoa cookbook called for 1 1/3 cups water, which I only recently discovered. If you opt to cook the quinoa in the smaller amount of water, reduce the cooking time to 10 minutes.

FYI: It looks like a lot of steps (below), but the recipe is actually easy to assemble. My rinsing and soaking suggestions add a couple of steps but I think they are worth doing.

2/3 cup uncooked white or golden quinoa, uncooked
2 cups water

1/3 cup milk or unsweetened nut milk; omit if using honey
4 large eggs or 6 small to medium-size eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled or substitute non-hydrogenated palm shortening or avocado oil
1 1/2 cups coconut palm sugar or see honey variation below (my alternations of her recipe)
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoon non-aluminum baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon finely ground unrefined sea salt (Redmond Real Salt or Celtic Sea Salt)

  • Place the quinoa in a bowl. Add water to cover it then swish it around and pick up a handful of grain at a time, rubbing it between your palms. Repeat several times, then pour the quinoa through a fine mesh strainer and rinse it until the water runs clear.
  • Combine the quinoa with 2 cups of water (for cooking). If possible, leave the quinoa to soak, uncovered, at room temperature for 2 to 8 hours or overnight.
  • To cook, bring the soaked or unsoaked quinoa and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes (reduce to 10 minutes if using 2/3 cup quinoa and 1 1/3 cups water above). Turn off the heat and leave the covered saucepan on the burner for another 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and allow the quinoa to cool.
  • Melt the butter (or other fat or oil) and allow to cool unless you’ve had it sitting at room temp for several hours and it feels soft.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease two 8-inch round or square cake pans (see variations below for cupcakes). Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper and grease again.
  • Combine the milk, eggs and vanilla in a blender or food processor. Add 2 cups of cooked quinoa and the butter (or other fat or oil) and continue to blend until smooth and creamy, like pudding, with no discernable grains of quinoa. You’ll need to stop the blender and scrape the sides several times. If using honey in place of sugar, add it to the blender or food processor now and blend again.
  • Combine the sugar (if using), cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Add the contents of the blender or food processor and mix well, stopping to scrape the sides with a spatula.
  • Divide the batter between the two prepared pans and bake on the center rack of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes (until a knife or skewer inserted comes out clean).  Remove cakes from oven and cool completely in the pans before removing and serving.  You could make a two layer cake with frosting or just serve each cake as is.


  • To use honey in place of sugar: Omit the sugar. Add 3/4 cup honey + 1/2 teaspoon pure stevia extract powder or clear stevia extract liquid and omit the milk, and then reduce the baking powder to 1 teaspoon, and increase the baking soda to 1 teaspoon.
  • Flourless Quinoa Chocolate Cupcakes: Pour batter into 18 to 20 well oiled or paper-lined muffin tins and bake for approximately 20 to 24 minutes or until cupcakes test done with a toothpick.

Recipe modified from the book Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming (Whitecap Press, 2010).

Healthy Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Prep: 15 to 20 minutes    Yield: enough to frost two 8- to 9-inch layer cakes

This is a variation on a recipe Lauren Benning posted on her blog, HealthyIndulgences. I changed the sweetener and the milk.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened or 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons non-hydrogenated palm shortening (I use Spectrum or Tropical Traditions palm shortening)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons palm sugar, or slightly more as/if needed
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 cup unsweetened plain or vanilla almond milk or unsweetened canned or aseptic coconut milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon finely ground, unrefined sea salt (I use Redmond Real Salt or Celtic Sea Salt)
1/4 teaspoon pure stevia extract liquid (plain or vanilla flavored); double if desired

  • Cream the butter or palm shortening in a small bowl until fluffy.
  • Powder the palm sugar in a coffee grinder or Magic Bullet for a minute or two, until extremely fine in texture (reminiscent of powdered sugar). Let sweetener settle in grinder before opening the top, then pour out and measure what you need.
  • Stir powdered sweetener into butter/shortening with a spatula, then beat until smooth.
  • Slowly blend in the cocoa powder (unless you want to redecorate your kitchen), vanilla, and sea salt. Beat in the milk. Add stevia, starting with 1/8 teaspoon. You’ll probably use less than 1/2 teaspoon. Just keep tasting and adjusting the sweetness to your liking.
  • Frost cake and serve or cover. Refrigerate any unused frosting and allow it to come to room temperature and soften before using.
  • Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 1 month.


  • Adrienne @ Whole New Mom
    September 21, 2017 at 19:21

    This looks great. But I am wondering what the asterisks are for throughout your recipe. Can you tell me please? Thanks!

  • Mary
    September 24, 2017 at 16:53

    Looks great- will definitely try this!

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