One of our regular customers (let’s call him C) has a hard time when he visits the café because he loves cake but has multiple food sensitivities which prevent him from enjoying our baking as it should be enjoyed. He stands and looks at the counter with a slightly folorn expression and then, reluctantly, buys a flapjack. Not, I hasten to add, that there is anything wrong with our flapjacks but when you really fancy a big slice of carrot cake or a lemon layer cake it is just not the same.
A few weeks back, C’s wife brought in a loooong list of all the things C can’t eat and asked us if we could come up with a birthday cake idea for him. At first the list didn’t make sense – it seemed so extensive but the items seemed unrelated – wheat, onions, asparagus, milk… and so it went on. Then I realised that C was on a low FODMAP diet.
FODMAP? What on earth is FODMAP? I hear you ask. Well, that was my response when I first heard of it. I groaned inwardly at the idea of yet another faddy diet but actually that couldn’t be further from the truth. This diet is NOT about weight loss, it is about helping to alleviate the debilitating symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other, functional bowel conditions.
FODMAP is an acronym for “Fermentable Oligo-, Di- and Mono-saccharides, and Polyols”. Phew! You can understand why they abbreviated it! Essentially this is a group of carbohydrates which are poorly absorbed by the small intestine; resulting in fermentation and a build up of gasses. In some people this becomes extreme, leading to IBS.
Now, we run a café; this is not the place to have an in-depth conversation with a customer about his bowels! But we did want to make him a good cake so I started to do some research. Basically I needed a recipe which was gluten, wheat and dairy free. Then I hit my first barrier – if I was making a gluten free cake the first thing I would normally do is to try a cake using ground almonds or polenta instead of flour – but they are both also on the FODMAP hit list. Back to the drawing board…
I looked next on some dedicated FODMAP sites on-line, they have clearly done the research for us so I took a chocolate cake recipe from one of these sites and made it. It was a big old cake – a 9” sandwich – and it used a proprietary gluten-free flour with the addition of Xanthan Gum to help bind it. I made it and it was awful. No, I mean truly, terribly awful. The cake had the texture of sawdust, was completely lacking in flavour and disintegrated when I took it out of the tin, I couldn’t even stick it back together with the non-dairy “butter” cream. Basically, the problem was that I had to leave out all the things that make cake taste good!
I subsequently tried 3 other recipes, none of which were as bad as the first but none of which were good enough. To my mind it is bad enough having digestive difficulties without having to eat second rate cakes too. At this point I gave up on the gluten free flour and looked at flourless cake recipes which didn’t use ground nuts as a substitute.
Finally, yesterday, the day before Cs birthday, I made a cake which was low-FODMAP and which tasted great. It’s not a deep rise cake, in fact it is quite flat, but it is rich and chocolaty and indulgent; in other words, it is worthy of a birthday celebration.
Before I give you the recipe I just want to make a small note about butter. Most dairy products are off-limits if you are following a low-FODMAP diet because of sensitivity to Lactose (a di-saccharide apparently). However, butter is a low-FODMAP food because it is low in lactose. So, many people who are lactose intolerant can manage butter but some cannot. C finds that he can manage butter if it has been cooked (which is why he can eat our flapjacks). For that reason I made this cake using half butter and half Pure sunflower spread. If you find butter is ok try using all butter. If you are sensitive to butter try using all Pure sunflower (or similar) – it should work equally well.
I haven’t heard back from C yet but I hope he liked it as much as we did. Let me know how you get on with it too.
120g Dark Chocolate (75% Cocoa Solids or higher).
120g/4oz Butter / Pure Sunflower Spread or a mixture of the two
150g/5oz Golden Caster Sugar
50g/2oz Cocoa Powder
3 Eggs, beaten
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Preheat the oven to 150°C / 300°F / Gas Mark2. Grease and base line a 20cm round cake tin and dust the sides with cocoa powder.
Break up the chocolate and put it in a heatproof bowl with the butter /Pure sunflower spread. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (make sure the bowl does not touch the water) until the chocolate and butter/spread are melted.
Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Sift in the cocoa powder and stir. Finally stir in the beaten eggs and vanilla until well combined.
Pour into the prepared cake tin.
Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. The cake is done when there is no discernible wobble and a skewer comes out clean.
Leave to cool in the tin.