Let them (all) Eat Cake: Variations on a Vegan & Gluten-free Lemon Drizzle

I recently made a cake for someone who can’t eat egg, gluten, dairy or potato starch. They were finding a few outlets who would make them a vegan and gluten-free cake, but none that would do a one-off without using a starchy flour blend.

In parallel, I launched a low sugar range and have had quite a few conversations with customers about the differences between sugar-free, low sugar and no refined sugar.  There are as many attitudes and thoughts around this subject as there are people, it seems.

All of which has got me thinking about the challenge of making “free from” cake and the absurdity of the notion that you can make one cake to cater to everyone’s needs.

It has tested the people pleasing part of me to understand that everything I make may not be for everyone. But the penny has only just dropped that there is a corollary to this: People’s individual needs – choices, taste, allergies, intolerances, medical conditions – CAN be met deliciously and with flair.  And this particular challenge floats my baking boat.

In this spirit, this recipe is a template with some suggested variations. I will, of course, not have covered off every possible permutation. I hope there are enough versions here to allow people to make substitutions where required. You may also send me a comment and I will see if I can help.

 Basic 1 bowl “Free From” Lemon Drizzle Cake (Gluten-free & Vegan)

Rub a little olive oil (about a teaspoon) on the bottom and sides of a 23cm springform tin and line the bottom with baking paper.


250 grams golden caster sugar (coconut sugar also works)

250 ml unsweetened almond milk

275 grams ground almonds

275 grams self-raising gluten-free flour blend (I use Dove’s Farm)

150 ml extra virgin olive oil

50 grams milled flaxseeds

1 ½ teaspoons gluten-free baking powder

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Zest of 6 lemons

Syrup: 100 grams golden caster sugar and juice of 2 lemons

Glaze: 300 grams icing sugar and juice of 2 lemons


Combine all of the cake ingredients in a mixing bowl either by hand or with an electric mixer. Don’t overmix. Just make sure it is well blended and that the zest hasn’t stuck to the paddle or spoon or whisk.   Place in the prepared tin and bake in a pre-heated 160 degree c fan assisted oven (or 180 degrees if not fan assisted) for 45 – 50 minutes. Ovens vary, check to see if a toothpick comes out clean at 45 minutes.

While the cake is baking, make the syrup by heating the caster sugar and lemon juice until is thickened but not too dark.  It will thicken more when it cools a little.  You can do this either in a saucepan on the hob or in the microwave but if you use the microwave just start with a couple of minutes then check, another 30 seconds then check etc.  It’s easy to burn; don’t leave unattended on the hob either.

Remove the cake from the tin and place on a wire rack.  Paint the cake with the syrup using a pastry brush while the cake is still warm.

When the cake has cooled, make a thick glaze with the icing sugar and remaining lemon juice and pour over the cake.   You can delete this and just dust with icing sugar for less sweetness.

HyperFocal: 0

Low Sugar version (free from refined sugar, with only 3 grams sugars per 100 grams)

Substitute xylitol for sugar in both the cake mixture and the syrup. Delete the glaze. The syrup made with xylitol will crystalise a little giving a sweet crunchiness on top. Xylitol is natural and doesn’t have the after-taste of some sweeteners. It does leave a sort of icy tingle in the mouth. Apparently it is good for your teeth; I’m a baker and not a dentist so I can’t vouch for that! It does bake very well if you are moving away from sugar or need very low GI.  I add calendula petals to give it a nice finish.

 Superfood enriched version

The basic version of this cake is already full of wholesome ingredients, but I recently used a milled flaxseed and goji berry blend (it was the only thing in the house) and added 2 tablespoons of poppy seeds, and the result was beautifully textured, a little fruity and scrumptious.

No starch version

To eliminate starches, substitute the self-raising flour blend with pure rice flour or millet and add 1 teaspoon each of bicarbonate of soda and xanthum gum.

Paleo version

Coconut flour works well with the ground almonds for a paleo version so replace the self-raising flour blend and add 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda and 1 teaspoon xanthum gum.

Nut-free version

Substitute the ground almonds with polenta or millet and use coconut milk instead of almond milk.

You can of course mix and match some of these substitutions, ie coconut milk instead of almond milk if it is what you have in the house. Sunflower oil also works well if you do not have olive oil in the cupboard.  I am going to try an avocado oil version soon.