Gluten-Free Desserts That Won't Make You Sad

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For those of us who cannot eat gluten, the choice is clear: Eat familiar foods with gluten and say no to our health, or learn to love the foods that feed us and say yes to our lives. Life changes when we learn to say yes.

Related: 35 Pantry Staples for Healthy Eating

Gluten-Free Chocolate Layer Cake

The gluten-free flours used in this recipe, available at Bob’s Red Mill and natural-foods stores, yield delicate results. The cake is best eaten right after it’s decorated. To ensure that the layers rise properly (and don’t sink), avoid opening the oven door as they bake. We’ve tinted the finished frosting pink by adding red gel-paste food coloring drop by drop. Feel free to leave it white, or tint it with any favorite color.

For The Cake Layers

Vegetable oil cooking spray
11/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup brown-rice flour (see the Guide)
1/2 cup almond flour (see the Guide)
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 cup quinoa flour (see the Guide)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup low-fat (1 percent) buttermilk
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For The Seven-Minute Frosting

1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon corn syrup
5 large egg whites
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

1. Make the cake layers: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat two 8-inch cake pans with cooking spray. Line bottoms with parchment; spray parchment.

2. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients, and mix until smooth, about 3 minutes. Divide batter between pans.

3. Bake cakes until they pull away from sides of pans, about 1 hour. Let cool in pans on wire racks. Cakes will keep, covered, for up to 1 day.

4. Make the frosting: Place sugar, water, corn syrup, and whites in a heatproof mixer bowl over a pot of simmering water. Cook, whisking occasionally, until sugar dissolves and mixture registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer.

5. Attach bowl to mixer. Whisk hot sugar mixture on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 7 minutes. Whisk in vanilla and salt.

6. Assemble the cake: Place a cake layer on a plate. Spread 2 cups frosting on top. Place remaining cake layer on top of frosting. Frost top and sides with remaining frosting. Cake is best eaten within 1 hour of frosting.

Related: 25 New Ways to Eat Avocados

Hazelnut-Vanilla Shortbread

Although made with a nontraditional flour, these gluten-free hazelnut shortbread bars are comfortingly familiar and crumbly.

3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped, pod reserved for another use
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup brown-rice flour
3 ounces blanched hazelnuts, finely ground (1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 sides.

2. Cream butter, vanilla seeds, and sugar with a mixer until fluffy. Reduce speed to low; add flour, hazelnuts, and salt. Press into pan; freeze until firm, about 30 minutes. Score shortbread into 18 pieces; bake until gold, 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes; unmold using overhang. Let cool on a wire rack. Cut into pieces. Shortbread will keep, covered, for up to 3 days.

Polenta “French Toast”

Fried wedges of polenta get their nuanced sweetness and spice from orange zest, cinnamon, raisins, and pure maple syrup. Corn and products derived from corn, such as popcorn, corn flour, and cornstarch, are gluten-free by nature.

For the “French Toast”

Vegetable oil, cooking spray
1/4 cup corn flour (see the Guide)
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup raspberries

For the Polenta

6 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 cups cornmeal (not quick-cooking)
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup raisins
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup low-fat (2 percent) milk

1. Make the polenta: Bring water and salt to a boil in a 2-quart pot. Add cornmeal in a slow, steady stream, stirring constantly. Cook, stirring often, until mixture begins to thicken, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring often, for 1 hour.

2. Stir in syrup, raisins, cinnamon, zest, nutmeg, and milk. Cook for 30 minutes. Spread polenta onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet, and let cool. Cover, and refrigerate overnight.

3. Make the “French toast”: Cut cold polenta into 4-inch squares; cut each square into 2 triangles. Heat a large nonstick pan over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Toss polenta triangles with corn flour, dusting off excess. Add to pan; cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Serve with maple syrup and raspberries.

Cook’s Note
This sweetened polenta can also be served soft, like oatmeal. Instead of spreading the polenta on a sheet in step 2, spoon it into a bowl and serve hot. Find corn flour at natural-foods stores, or use superfine cornmeal to dust the triangles.

Like me, one out of every 133 Americans suffers from celiac disease, or celiac sprue, an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to perceive gluten — the elastic protein in wheat, rye, barley, triticale, spelt, kamut, and farro — as a toxin. Any gluten that reaches the small intestine damages the lining, causing inflammation. Ultimately, the body isn’t able to absorb nutrients properly, which can lead to a host of physical ailments, including anemia and osteoporosis. Those with gluten sensitivity, a separate condition, also experience digestive problems.

But for all of us, the secret to healing is simply eating well. Just think about the many wonderful foods that are naturally gluten-free (if you’re stuck, see the list on page below for inspiration): summer berries, grass-fed beef, zucchini from the garden. And nothing tastes sweeter than treats baked from scratch, which can include sumptuous gluten-free versions of French toast and chocolate cake.

Saying yes to what my body needs has led me to discover foods in season, strike up conversations with farmers, and even meet the chef who became my husband. The sense of curiosity I have developed will keep me creating and tasting for the rest of my life.

Whether you’re following a special diet or cooking for someone who is, you have more choices than you might imagine. Many foods are gluten-free in their natural state. Here are some of my favorite dishes.

Vegetables and Fruits

Arugula salad with pears and black pepper
Corn on the cob (try it with chili butter)
Roasted potatoes with rosemary
Grilled peaches with creme fraiche
Rhubarb compote with vanilla ice cream

Meat and Seafood

Country ham with maple glaze
Thick porterhouse steak, cooked rare
Roast-chicken salad
Sauteed branzino with slivered almonds
Shrimp with homemade cocktail sauce


Dark chocolate
Raspberry-lime sorbet
Ripe strawberries

More from Martha Stewart:
Quick, One-Pot Meal Ideas To Feed the Whole Family
20 Classic Comfort Food Recipes from Martha Stewart
36 Dinners You Can Make in Just 15 Minutes!
42 Slow-Cooker Recipes Worth the Wait

Do you have room for one more gluten-free treat?