Could I bring the quinoa chocolate cake for dessert to a summer family dinner? It was already shaping up to be a busy weekend. My first thought was when am I going to possibly have time to do this?
But when I thought about it a little more, it made sense to make time for it. It is my favorite chocolate cake, after all.
And it gave me an opportunity to be more observant about what I do when I make it. Some recent feedback (I’m talking to you, Daphne) was that the cake didn’t turn out: The quinoa grains were lumpy and the cake didn’t rise very well. What?? Oh no!
I can’t let my favorite chocolate cake be a letdown to bakers out there. To me it’s practically perfect, with a moist texture, rich chocolate flavor but not overly sweet. Plus it’s gluten free, a bonus with our growing number of gluten-intolerant family members.
I’ve had such good success with this recipe, and I want it to become your favorite chocolate cake too. So on Sunday morning I was extra careful to note what I did. I zeroed in on three keys to success:
One: The quinoa needs to be dry.
If you use the absorption method, use a ratio of 1:1.5 quinoa to water when you’re cooking it (1 part quinoa to 1.5 parts water). Many recipes call for a 1:2 ratio (1 part quinoa to 2 parts water) but this will make the quinoa too wet. Wet quinoa will weigh the batter down and make it difficult to rise.
Two: Have the quinoa at room temperature, or slightly cooler.
If the quinoa is too warm it will tend to gum up into clumps, making it difficult for the food processor (or blender) to break down the grains evenly. If you’ve just made the quinoa and it’s steaming hot, spread it out on a sheet pan or two to cool it down before you start.
Three: Beat the eggs one at a time into the quinoa. And then beat them some more before you add the other ingredients.
Beating eggs in one at a time, for about two minutes each, accomplishes a couple things. It helps to break down the quinoa grains gradually and evenly, making it less likely that larger clumps of quinoa will make it to the final batter. The four photos below show what the batter looks like after each egg was beaten in.
Also, more beating helps incorporate more air into the batter, which helps the cake rise when it’s in the oven. Beating eggs enough is absolutely essential to provide structure to baked goods, especially with gluten- or grain-free recipes. So whirl those eggs and quinoa around for several minutes before you start adding the other ingredients.
The finished batter (see photo below) should be smooth. It will still have little quinoa grains that you can see, but the grains should be small and uniform in size, so that no one would know it’s actually quinoa and not flour.
It was good seeing everyone on Sunday. A summer dinner that was initially intended to be small ended up with 14 of us sipping bubbly, chatting and laughing on the patio.
It’s funny how we’ll plan a date to get the family together for a celebratory dinner and have to reschedule at least once or twice. But an impromptu invitation rolls around at the end of July and hey…just like magic, we all can make it.
The cake was a hit. I think I heard it called ‘outstanding’ at one point. Thanks, Kevin. I couldn’t agree more.
This recipe is based on one in Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood by Patricia Green and Caroline Hemming. It's moist, rich and chocolatey, and I hope it becomes your favorite chocolate cake too. Buttercream, specifically Swiss meringue buttercream, has been my go-to frosting for cakes and cupcakes for decades. It has a rich, buttery taste and a silky smooth texture, and is endlessly versatile. It is a little involved, but don't be afraid to try it. There are great step-by-step instructions (with photos!) out there, like on Sweetapolita.
- 2/3 cup uncooked quinoa (*see cooking instructions below) OR 2 cups + 4 teaspoons (9.3 ounces) cooked quinoa
- 4 large eggs
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup (6 ounces) butter, melted and cooled
- 1-1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup cocoa powder
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Coconut Buttercream Frosting
- 4 egg whites
- 1 cup sugar
- pinch of kosher salt
- 12 ounces (1-1/2 cups) butter, in cubes and softened slightly
- 3 tablespoons coconut cream
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1-1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
- Rinse 2/3 cup quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and drain. Place in a medium saucepan with 1 cup water and bring to a boil on medium-high heat.
- When the quinoa boils, cover the saucepan and reduce heat to low. Cook for 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat, leave the saucepan lid ajar and let stand for 10-15 minutes.
- Spread the quinoa on a baking sheet and cool completely, about 10 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350F. Grease two 8-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl, sift together cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.
- Place quinoa in a food processor and add 1 egg. Blend for 2 minutes, then scrape down the sides of the processor.
- Repeat this step another 3 times, blending in each egg for 2 minutes and scraping down the sides of the processor before you add the next egg. When all eggs are incorporated, blend for 1-2 minutes more.
- Add milk, vanilla and melted butter and blend until incorporated.
- Next up, the dry ingredients: Add sugar and blend until incorporated. Add the sifted cocoa mixture and blend until incorporated.
- Pour batter evenly between the two cake pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Remove cakes from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto a cake rack, remove the parchment, and let cool completely before frosting.
- Fill a medium saucepan ⅓ full with water and bring to a simmer. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the egg whites, sugar and salt. Place the mixing bowl on top of the simmering water and whisk constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the temperature reaches 160F. (If you don’t have a candy thermometer, whisk until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg white-sugar mixture is warm to the touch.)
- Remove the mixing bowl from the heat and move it to your stand mixer. With the whisk attachment, whisk on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 4-5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl continue to whisk until the mixture is glossy and cool, another 4 minutes or so.
- Now you're ready to add the butter: Change to the paddle attachment. With the mixer on medium speed, add the add the softened butter one piece at a time. Mix well after each piece of butter added. Occasionally stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl. (If the butter is too soft, the buttercream may be too runny. An easy fix is to place the whole bowl in the fridge for 10-15 minutes to let the butter firm up a bit before you continue mixing.)
- After all the butter is incorporated and the buttercream is silky smooth, add the coconut cream and extracts and mix until incorporated. Makes enough to frost an 8-inch layer cake.