Gluten-free dessert is fruity-sweet treat

Courtesy photo by Mark MathewsonPlum rhubarb upside-down cake is a sweet way to enjoy dessert while sticking to a gluten-free diet.

Courtesy photo by Mark MathewsonPlum rhubarb upside-down cake is a sweet way to enjoy dessert while sticking to a gluten-free diet.

A diagnosis of celiac disease can turn your life upside down, at least for a while. Following a gluten-free diet is far from easy, so I offer this recipe, which I think goes a long way to making life right side up again.

My perception is that no one really wants to know whether they have celiac disease. However, if one ends up in the hospital over and over again, or if a child fails to thrive, reality comes to bear. A diagnosis can be made with a simple blood test, but in this country few doctors are knowledgeable about the condition. It pays to be persistent if you suspect celiac disease.

It is especially difficult to accept that a small child has celiac disease. The responsibility for helping them to understand the ramifications, and to afford them a truly gluten-free diet, is monumental. Unless your family grows its own food and lives in isolation, how can you know that children won't be exposed to contaminated foods?

Some research holds that a person with celiac disease is 10-times more likely to die in any decade of his/her life than others in the same age group. Since the immune system is compromised, any ailment is more dangerous for those with celiac disease.

So, given that alarm, and looking at the ailments associated with celiac disease shown in the sidebar, I prefer to focus on what a person with celiac disease can eat, rather than what one can't. Let us eat cake!

Just smelling this cake baking creates a feeling of well-being. It is adapted from a recipe by Julia Child, who never made a culinary misstep as far as I can tell. The gluten-free flours and Xanthan gum are available at DuBois health foods in Carson City, or at Whole Foods in Reno.

Plum Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Serves 12

3⁄4 cup brown rice flour

2⁄3 cup potato starch

1⁄3 cup tapioca flour

1⁄2 teaspoon Xanthan gum

11⁄2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt

1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup creme fraiche, or sour cream, or almond milk with 1⁄2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

11⁄2 sticks unsalted butter or canola-based margarine at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs at room temperature

1 cup tart plum jam

1⁄4 cup agave nectar

2 Tbsp. creme de cassis

2 cups rhubarb, cut in 1⁄4" slices

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. You can use a cast-iron skillet for baking, or a greased and rice-floured 10-inch cake pan.

In a large bowl, sift together the flours, Xanthan gum, salt and baking powder. In a medium bowl, mix the creme fraiche, baking soda, and vanilla, OR if you are using the almond milk, mix that together with the apple cider vinegar, vanilla and baking soda. Set aside.

In a skillet - the cast-iron one, if you are using it for baking the cake - melt 1⁄2 stick butter (or 1⁄4 cup of margarine), add the plum jam and agave nectar and cook over medium heat until well mixed. Stir in creme de cassis and turn off the heat. If you are using a baking pan, pour the heated mixture into the pan and spread it evenly over the bottom. If you are baking the cake in the cast iron skillet, leave the caramel in it. Arrange the sliced rhubarb on the caramel.

Place the remaining stick of butter (or 1⁄2 cup of margarine) in a large mixer bowl with the granulated sugar and mix together for 3-4 minutes (6-8 minutes if using a handheld mixer). Mix the eggs in one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with the liquid ingredients. The batter will be fairly thick. Spoon the batter over the fruit and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, testing on the early side for doneness. This cake smells heavenly when it's baking!

When the cake is done (when a toothpick inserted comes out clean), let it cool for about 10 minutes and then turn it out onto a plate or platter. This is good served warm or cold, and a little whipped cream or lemon sorbet with it is nice, too.

Bon appetit!

• Susan Hart has been cooking gluten-free for 15 years. She teaches continuing education classes in gluten-free baking at Truckee Meadows Community College and can be reached at She also hosts a gluten-free discussion group in Carson City that meets the second Monday of each month at St. Peter's Episcopal Church at 7:30 p.m. Please contact me if you're interested.


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