Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Coffee Cake- and a love story

Snow in New Mexico
Winter in Northern New Mexico- my view.

First, the love part.

It's been snowy, windy, cold- you name it. From all the tweets I've been reading over on Twitter lately, I'm not alone. Far from it. This has been one crazy snowy month. So what does a gluten-free goddess do when she gets stuck in the middle of the desert with no buckwheat flour, no sorghum, and no four-wheel drive? (Note to self- if you're going to live in rural Northern New Mexico, Darling, a cute and thrifty little Honda Fit won't cut it.)

Snowed in and hungry she does the only sensible thing.

She scans the pantry and pulls out a Whole Foods gluten-free cake mix and starts stirring things up. She starts imagining dirt bombs. And bakes up a coffee cake worthy of the winter holidays.

The love part of the story?

When Steve and I first started dating- back in those golden carefree pre-celiac days- we would do what any couple falling in love does. We would find any excuse to meet up for coffee and dirt bombs (you know, those hefty crumb-topped bakery muffins conjured from who knows how many sticks of creamy butter and mounds of sugar and crowned with sweet and bumpy cinnamon topping). We'd use painting plein air as our excuse for this caffeine-and-sugar fortification.

After packing up our paints and brushes, a stack of toned 9x12-inch panels, and two beat up, spattered French easels, off to The Cottage Street Bakery we would motor, Crowded House on the cassette deck, early morning sea breeze in our faces, lust in our hearts. I mean, love in our hearts.

True love, Gentle Reader. Big love. The kind of love you hope through your bad marriage for, sneaking any extra cash you make designing greeting cards and t-shirts into the grubby old pair of boots in the back of the closet just in case you need a lawyer for. 

That kind of love.

Because if you know it exists- and it does, my Sweet, it does- that kind of patient, informed waiting can save your life. That blood throbbing belief in a kindred heart- out there, somewhere. Looking up at the same moon. Same star. Same midnight. It can get you through. It can give you courage.

It can fuel your maternal instinct when a father snarls the words stupid and retarded and every hair on the back of your neck stands up as you turn to look at your beautiful son tugging off his Little League cap in a sunlit frustration so clean and pure you can taste it, and even though you have, maybe, only four hundred dollars stuffed away in that boot, you know the time is now.

You know you have to dig deep and bury the fear of poverty and failure and familial disapproval, and you growl from your gut that this matrimonial death is a choice for life. Three lives, in fact.

Because once the dream of a love that is true takes hold, you understand that its impostor will never be more than less.

Now- the recipe.

Sweet potato coffee cake
Sweet potato coffee cake with crumb topping.

So Easy Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Coffee Cake Recipe

Posted December 2008.

After remembering the cinnamon-sugar dirt bombs of our courtship I had a craving for a coffee cake with similar attributes. But I had no gluten-free flours on hand. What I did have is a cake mix. A Whole Foods Gluten-Free White Cake Mix. So I slipped into the role of Cake Doctor and whipped up a coffee cake that was tantalizingly different. You know, not your usual boring coffee cake. It pays to keep a few mixes on hand. Just in case.


1 box Gluten-Free White Cake Mix* 14 oz. box makes one 8 or 9-inch cake
1/2 cup pureed sweet potato
4 tablespoons light olive oil or coconut oil
1 tablespoon Ener-G Egg Replacer (made with 1/4 cup warm water)
1/2 cup vanilla hemp milk- or non-dairy milk or orange juice
1 teaspoon mild vinegar or lemon juice
2 teaspoons bourbon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger, or 2 teaspoons fresh grated, if you prefer

For the "dirt bomb" topping:

2 tablespoons Organic Spectrum Shortening or coconut oil
1/2 cup organic brown sugar
1 tablespoon gluten-free flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon


Mix the topping ingredients together in a small bowl; rub and crumble it between palms to create a sandy texture.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9-inch cake pan with shortening and dust lightly with gluten-free flour.

Pour the cake mix into a mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients- sweet potato through ginger. Beat until a smooth batter forms; beat an additional minute.

Pour into the prepared cake pan; shake a bit to distribute the batter evenly. Crumble the topping all over the cake batter.

Bake in the center of a preheated oven until firm and tender- about 30 minutes or so. I bake at high altitude, so your mileage may vary.

Cool on a wire rack.

Place a large plate on the cake pan; quickly turn over and release the cake; repeat onto a clean cake plate.

Makes 8 to 10 slices.


This cake is lovely a little bit warm, but also delicious slightly chilled from the freezer (I wrap separate pieces in foil, then freeze for quick on-the-go treats).

I imagine any favorite gluten-free vanilla cake mix will work. Just make sure it's for a 9-inch pan; and the wet to dry ratio called for is the same.

I made this vegan and egg-free, however, if you prefer using eggs, use 2 large happy organic eggs, beaten till fluffy.

I made this cake nut-free but adding some chopped walnuts or pecans to the topping would also be yummy.

This Whole Foods gluten-free cake mix was purchased by me unbeknownst to Whole Foods; it was not given to me in exchange for reviewing the product.

Gluten-Free Pantry Vanilla Cake Mix will also work.

And speaking of Whole Foods check out this fabulous Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Recipe list over at the Whole Foods Market Holiday Guide 2008.

Recipe Source:

All images & content are copyright protected, all rights reserved. Please do not use our images or content without prior permission. Thank you. 

xox Karina


Angela said...

Karina, I'm definitely going to opt for this instead of the butter cookies I was going to make. This looks divine!!! Such a sweet story :)

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Wow, Karina! This is post is just like a good marriage -- honest, intimate, creative, and sexy. And that cake recipe is getting printed right now. :)

Lauren Denneson said...

Oh my! I agree this love does exist and I'm beyond-words glad your story ends the way it does. I am also 'iced/snowed in' in Portland, Oregon, of all places, and I too am in need of more flours... I feel for ya.

Ann from Montana said...

Oh, Perfect for Christmas morning!!!

It is 14 (above) here but that feels warm compared to the -teens of the last week. It is snowing to beat the band but I love winter - hence the MT address - however prefer 20's to -teens...

The point, though, the coffee cake recipe is JUST what I was looking for, for a Christmas morning treat. Thank you!

Burkulater said...

Could you just come over and cook for me? Looks amazing!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Great use of your pantry -- I always have a couple of cake mixes hiding in mine, too.

Alisa said...

Both the view and the cake are gorgeous! I am not a big cake fan, but your dirt bomb topping is sucking me in ... I may just have to try it.

Believe it or not, it is snowing in Las Vegas right now! We have several inches on the ground in the valley, and I can't even see the mountains yet. I posted up some pics from earlier today on my personal blog Crazy!

Shirley said...

I am glad you found that love, Karina, dirt bombs and all. ;-) Seriously, your personal story moved me. I am so sorry you had to go through it, but grateful for the life you found after it.

The coffee cake is another award winner, I am sure of that ... just from the photo.

Lauren said...

Karina, thanks for sharing bits and pieces of your life with us in such an eloquent, touching way.

The cake looks great, too!

Sarah said...

This would be super yummy with Namaste Spice cake mix, too...ahem, I just happen to have that on hand. Fate!

Vanessa said...

Love your blog, and moved by your personal story! Major brownie points on the crowded house bit too :-)

Travis Ingersoll said...

I hear you, sometimes you have to do what's right no matter the cost. Especially when you, and your kid's happiness is at stake.

Coming up in Syracuse, NY, snow was simply a familiar friend for nearly half the year. Now that I live in Philadelphia I hardly ever see snow. In the last two years, I've only been able to go snow-tubing twice! However, I do enjoy hiking, biking and skateboarding all year long now:)

This sweet potato coffee cake looks awesome! I'm a big fan of the yam, so will definitely be giving this one a try!

Kelly said...

You must have the coolest silverware collection I've ever seen!

Anonymous said...

Hey Karina,

What is the size of the cake mix you use? I only use Namaste Vanilla and I want to make sure I make the right amount! Thanks!

Alanna said...

"Give that girl a hug, Steve."

shen said...

Thanks so much, Karina!
We're not gluten-free and I LOVE your blog and use your recipes, anyway!
I'll be making this cake avec the gluten and it does sound yum.
we miss New Mexico - bless the sunshine (!) (we're from Taos) and here in the Bay Area we've come upon "rainy season" - so grey!

annie said...

Hi Karina, love your recipes, and this one seems so easy. I guess it's true what they have to kiss lots of frogs before you find your prince, I'm glad you found yours. I'm from Canada,and right now we're getting lots of snow and cold weather...BRRRR.I need some hot chocolate and a slice of this cake. Happy holidays.

VeggieGirl said...

Aww, cute story!! Oh and sweet potatoes = my true love :-D

askthesky said...

And, I'm crying.

Wow. I really needed to hear that love story today, Karina, and every time I read your blog, I feel more like a kindred spirit.

And I also drive a Fit!

Thanks so much for this blog- I couldn't love it any more.

Karina Allrich said...

Angela- Thank you- and I hope you enjoy the cake. It's very different. The sweet potato gives it great flavor.

Susan- Thanks for your kind words. Have a lovely holiday!

Lauren- Real love *is* out there. It just takes some of us longer to find it. ;)

Ann- I was hoping folks might like a different kind of treat for Christmas breakfast. Yay.

Burkulater- What's the going rate? ;)

Lydia- Exactly. I always keep a few assorted baking mixes on hand- just in case.

Alisa- Wow- I heard about snow in Vegas. Crazy!

Shirley- Thanks so much. I appreciate your words.

Lauren- Aw. Muchas gracias, Babycakes.

Sarah- I love when that happens! Let us know how it works out with the Namaste mix. Does the mix contain sugar? If not, you'll need to add sweetener. And notice- I subbed the liquid called for with sweet potato and hemp milk.

Vanessa- Thank you- and yay on Crowded House! I got to see Neil Finn play in Denver a few years ago. Fab.

Travis- Yes, it's true. Though it's tough. Cutting your losses can be the right thing to do. For everyone.

Kelly- I pick up odds and ends on sale when I'm out and about- flatware, dishes. I love to mix + match. ;)

Anon- Excellent question. I added the info into the recipe. It's a 14 oz. box of mix (includes sugar) for an 8 to 9-inch cake pan. I used less liquid (slightly) than it called for, subbing the liquid with the sweet potato and hemp milk. The batter was slightly thicker than some cake batters.

Alanna- Hugs = good. xox

Shen- Believe it or not, it's been a very gray December. And today it is pouring rain!

Have a safe and healthy week, everyone! xox


Cape Cod Kitty said...

That post was so beautiful and I send you my deep understanding, love and pride in the fact that you chose what was best for you. I am so happy for you.
As for those dirt bombs at Cottage St Bakery, many of them reside on my hips! Worth every inch!! They no longer have copies of their cookbook but I do have the recipe, too. YUM!
We are bracing for big snow tomorrow and Sun.
Merry Christmas and the most wonderful 2009 to you and Steve.
Love, M

Betsy said...

WOW. I'm sure the coffee cake will be great, but you hit home with your description of true love. I never would have believed it 5 years ago, but I have found the love I "waited through my bad marriage for" and it is so worth it. Your words brought tears to my eyes -- that kind of love does exist and I thank God every day that she brought MY Steve into my life. Thank you, Karina, for all that you do and are.

Seattle D said...

Karina, I knew we had more than a love of cooking in common. While I don't have celiac, (my son does) I did take my two babies and run from a bad marriage. Have not yet found the good love you have. But your story brought tears to my eyes and hope to my heart. Thank you for sharing.

Oh yes, and the cake looks divine!

Devorah said...

I made this yesterday with pumpkin instead of sweet potato and it was delish. I was wondering: every time I make a crumb topping, it sinks into the cake. At first I thought it was an inevitable drawback of gluten-free baking-- no gluten to keep the structure of the cake and prevent the topping from falling in, but your toppings seem to sit so nicely on top of your cakes. How do you do it?

Mama Kat said...

What a gorgeous view!! Perfect for that yummy gluten free treat! I wish...

Karina Allrich said...

Dear M- It's wonderful to hear from you. And validating. Because, well. You *know*. Sending you lots of warm hugs for a healthy, bright holiday (congrats on the baby!) and wonderful New Year for you and your family.

Betsy- Thank you for your kind words, and for sharing. Sending warmth and light for the holidays and New Year to you!

Seattle D- Thank you, too. These kinds of responses mean so much to me. I wish you true love- you have to believe you *deserve it* before it finds you, that I believe.

Devorah- Hmmm. Interesting. I wonder if your batters are thinner than mine? Gluten-free batters are generally thicker than wheat batters. I imagine this helps keep the crumb topping from melting in. Also- are you using butter or oil? I do think the Spectrum shortening helps gluten-free cookies and toppings keep their shape.

Mama Cat- Thank you- and have a lovely holiday.



Tamara said...

I was wondering if you could recommend the GF flour mix to use instead of the WholeFoods mix. The closest Whole Foods in over a hour from our house. I'd really love to make this for a brunch tomorrow (Christmas Eve)

Karina Allrich said...

Hi Tamara- What vanilla cake mixes can you use? I've only used the Whole Foods mix in this recipe; but in theory any gluten-free vanilla cake mix for a single 8 or 9-inch pan ought to work. The mix should contain sugar; if not you'll also have to add sugar.


Tamara said...

I am just a few months into the GF/Allergy diet. Namaste spice is the only cake mix that I have tried. Our local stores havent even carried the Vanilla mix. It looks like this time round I'll need to make one of your others, such as the pumpkin chai with cranberry or apple with cranberry. Thanks for your work!

Mom said...

Happy Hanukkah, Karina!
This coffee cake came out superb! Truly a REAL cake...appearance & taste worthy of any bakery! I used GF Pantry's cookie & cake mix
(looks like a yellow mix on the box)since there were no vanilla cake mixes to be found anywhere.

Next up the Nirvana Bars! We are all big fans of coconut/chocolate goodies! Didn't have enough coconut milk on hand to attempt the condensed milk, so I made a pie crust (ground almonds, fine organic coconut, a bit of sugar, and Spectrum shortening), then tried an organic chocolate pudding mix using coconut milk. When it didn't set overnight I froze it, thinking that was a better option than having to serve it in soup bowls! Thawed it a bit just before serving & it was suprisingly good!

Thank you a million times over for your great recipes...still feel like I am learning to cook for the third time...had a frustrating bout making some "highly recommended" GF gingersnaps - resulting in the epitome of the GF aftertaste. :( Is that from white rice flour or the xanthum gum? YUKK!!

Love the printer friendly format!
Happy New Year!

Karina Allrich said...

Hi Sue- Thanks for your kind words. I'm glad the cake turned out with the GF Pantry mix.

As for funny aftertaste in some GF recipes- the worst is soy or bean flours, or chick pea flour. They taste very metallic to me (never mind how difficult ground raw beans are to digest!).

I'm not a huge fan of rice flour in baking, either.

Some people say arrowroot has a bitter taste. And too much baking powder/egg replacer can taste funny as well.

Any of these ingredients ring a bell?

Xanthan gum is tasteless. I don't think that's the culprit.


Erin said...

I love your love story, it's beautiful, brave and visceral.

It's funny that chickpea flour tastes metallic to you, I wonder if it's your body's way of warning you of an allergy. I love it, especially in cookies. I didn't know it is hard to digest, though. I will have to look into that.

Can I ask what drove you to get allergy testing done? I just had some blood testing done, still waiting the results and I'm a little nervous. The good doc ordered a celiac panel too but I doubt anything will show up since I've been gluten free for 3 months.

Anyhoo, love the recipes. Thanks.

allergy mama said...

I was inspired by how tasty this recipe was to try it with a few changes. I used a jar of organic raspberry baby food in lieu of the sweet potato puree, half hemp and half coconut milk, raspberry vinegar in place of regular, added 1/2 tsp raspberry extract, omitted the other spices and whipped up the mix. I sprinkled about 1/2 bag of frozen raspberries in the bottom of the pan and covered them with a generous handful of brown sugar, added the now raspberry cake batter and baked. It took a bit longer, but was SOOO yummy. Thanks for giving me such a great base recipe to play with! Now I have two ways to make a great cake!

Kristin said...

This was SOOOO GOOD! Karina, I baked this yesterday and my family of three ate it within 2 hours. I did use two eggs for the recipe, but the rest was all that you listed. Oh and I used the orange juice since I can't drink milk, and it was wonderful! Thank you so much for this. You made a family in upstate NY very, very happy during dessert on Sunday!

Kathy said...

I am obsessed with sweet this makes me so hungry for some coffee cake! Great crumbly top.

ps I linked to your site today (the gluten-free starbucks news) in a post. Your site is amazing!


Anonymous said...

This recipe looks amazing Karina, but I am wondering if I could substitute the store bought flour mixture with my own? Do you have any suggestions? I'm still new at mixing my own gluten free flours, I don't know what would be good for a coffee cake...

Karina Allrich said...

I used a basic cake mix, but the issue would be- matching the exact amount of the cake mic I used. If you use a cake mix that contains more dry ingredients, my ratio of wet ingredients won't work for you.

Apparently, Gluten-Free Pantry brand is similar/same mix; but I would double check.


Anonymous said...

This recipe has been so great. I have had many requests from non-GFCF friends. Unfortunately it seems that Whole Foods has discontinued this cake mix I have checked about 6 stores in 3 states. I just made two to take to a school bake sale using Pamela's GF vanilla cake mix and couldn't take them. I realized after I had added all the ingredients that the Pamela's mix was 21 oz, though it says it makes one 9 in round. The mix was way too dry so I added a little rice milk. The coffeecakes looked great but when I tried to cut them they were raw in the middle. I am so bummed because this is a great recipe. Please Karina can you give us a from scratch recipe that works as well as Whole Foods Mix?

Karina Allrich said...

I heard that too- that Whole Foods has discontinued it. But here's the good news- I also heard that it was made by/based on Gluten-Free Pantry's cake mix- so look for the GF Pantry Cake and Cookie Mix- it says 15 oz. on the box, but I expect it will work. xox Karina PS: And yes, when I have some time I will make a scratch recipe version. Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

Coffee cake and a reason to believe. Exactly what I needed to read, at the exact right time. Funny, almost two years to the day you posted.

Anonymous said...

I love everything in this blog.

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