Gluten free, sugar free but still delicious

I have been challenged by BluTurtle to bake a cake that is both gluten and sugar free. Oh and crucially, delicious. Now I’m not one to shy away from a challenge so I duly accepted. I then I thought ‘Ah, tricky’. I have made gluten free cakes before using gluten free flour from Doves which can be used in exactly the same way as traditional flour but never sugar free. The thing that i have always found with using gluten free flour is that you don’t get the same ‘rise’ (owing to the absence of gluten) and the texture of the cake is different; it tends to be a denser, more crumbly cake without the spring that you usually associate with a sponge. In general I find that a polenta cake tends to have a more cake-like texture.

In my attempt to meet this challenge head on, I first attempted some internet research into the subject of natural sugar substitutes. There seems to be quite a lot of information about sugar alternatives but there doesn’t appear to be a definitive formula for substituting the sugar found in a traditional cake recipe with an alternative. Changing the sugar used will affect the consistency of your cake so in addition to judging how much of the sugar product you need to use, you will need to consider the liquid ingredients that go into your cake as you may need to reduce this to ensure that your mix is not too slack.

Anyway, my research led me to the conclusion that removing the sugar was going to be tricky. I was weighing up the option of using agave nectar (a bottle of which now sits in my kitchen cupboards for experimentation at a later date) and using fruit which is packed with naturally occurring sugars. I decided to go with the later after stumbling across a recipe on the BBC Good Food website that is gluten free, sugar free and pretty much fat free.

I won’t lie, I read the ingredients through several times to make sure that I hadn’t made a mistake, and felt skeptical the whole time that I was making the cake, but I have to admit that I am pleased, and surprised, by the results.

I personally think that removing the sugar from a cake is a bigger challenge than removing the gluten. I think that in general, at present, the world is much aware of gluten free diets than they are of reduced or no sugar diets. You can see this from the number of gluten free options that are now appearing on menus in restaurants and from the ever-growing ‘Free From’ section in the supermarket, which largely means gluten free products.

Recipe (courtesy of BBC Good Food with my additional notes)



250g pitted dates

1 large banana

100g pecans (85g finely chopped)

200g raisins

200g sultanas

100g fine polenta

2 eggs whites

2 tsp gluten free baking powder

2 tsp mixed spice

Banana chips (optional)


  1. Heat the oven to 160C and line a loaf tin with a loaf tin liner (available from Lakeland) or with baking paper.
  2. Put the dates into a small pan with 200ml of boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. While the dates are simmering away, mix the crushed pecans, dried polenta, mixed spice and baking powder in a bowl.
  4. Drain the liquid into a jug and put the dates into a processor. Whizz until smooth before adding the banana and 100ml of the date liquid (I found that this was all of the liquid) and blitz again until it is smooth. It will look like pureed baby food.
  5. Add the puree to the dry mix and mix until everything is combined. The mixture will be quite stiff at this point but don’t panic.
  6. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks and then add to the rest of the mix. The egg whites will help to slacken the mix as well as acting as rising agent.
  7. Spoon the mix in the loaf tin, it will still be quite a stiff mix and won’t really resemble your typical cake batter but everything is going to plan. Decorate the top of your cake with the left over whole pecans and some banana chips if you want to and bake in the oven for 45minutes to an hour. You will know that the cake is ready when a skewer comes out clean. If the cake starts to catch, cover the top of the cake with tin foil.
  8. Leave to cool in the tin and then slice and serve.

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