February 29, 2024 | Rome, Italy

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By |2018-03-21T18:58:31+01:00December 22nd, 2013|"In Provincia"|
Gluten-free lemon cake: Be sure to maintain the flour-to-starch ratios. Photos by Letizia Mattiacci.

et. No, I’m not talking about Umbria’s dreadful and snowy December weather. And no, no, no — don’t start getting strange ideas. This is not a porn column.

This is about gluten-free (GF) baking.

I know, I’ve recently complained about special diets. But even though I make my living as the country queen of homemade ravioli, I’m wheat intolerant. I do eat gluten-free. Reluctantly. Every day. Or my tummy gives me hell.

Those of you who have made a serious attempt at gluten-free cake baking probably know all about wetness.

You take a GF recipe, follow it to the dot, measure all those complicated and exotic ingredients, and bake your cake carefully, as if you were preparing the last one on Earth. You don’t want it ending up in the bin, again. GF recipes are notoriously prone to yielding inedible results.

When it’s finally cool enough, you slice your cake of good hope it with anticipation, thinking, “I can finally have some normal looking food.”

But once you get down to it, your knife opens the door to a wet, gloppy, shiny, and sad creation, one that will probably annoy your stomach as much as its gluten-chock brother.

Years of this have taught me some tricks. I now have a (relatively) foolproof version of simple gluten-free cake.

It cooks and tastes like “normal” cake. You can flavor it through frosting or by topping it off with nuts, chocolate, coconut, spices or a small amount of fresh fruit. If you decide to eat it over several days, as I do, it’ll keep for a week at room temperature in a plastic bag. It doesn’t fall apart, dry up, or mold.

It’s cake, normal cake. Be sure to maintain the flour-to-starch ratios and always use lemon peel or vanilla to get rid of the soapy aftertaste of the starch.

Letizia’s GF Lemon Cake


  • 160 gr (5.5. oz) very fine rice flour.

  • 80 gr (3 oz) potato starch.

  • 50 gr (1.7) cornstarch.

  • 130 gr (4.5 oz) butter, cubed and fridge-cold.

  • 100 gr (3.5) organic light brown sugar.

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder.

  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom.

  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder.

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or grated zest of 1 lemon.

  • Juice from 1/2 lemon.

  • A handful of chopped candied citrus peel (optional).

  • 3 eggs.

  • Approx. 100 ml (scant 1/2 cup) yogurt or milk.


— Pre-heat oven at 160C (320F). Gluten-free dough cooks better at low temperature. Generously butter a 1/2-liter (9×5 inch) loaf pan.

— Add all dry ingredients and the butter, process briefly with the metal blade at high-speed until the butter is cut in minute crumbs. Add eggs and lemon juice and incorporate until the mixture turns golden yellow. Add milk until the mixture is spreadable but firm (you might not need all the yogurt).

— Transfer to the buttered pan. Bake until set and golden, about 45 minutes to an hour. Test for doneness with a skewer. Let it cool completely before slicing.

At this point, you’re entitled to relief. Have some coffee or even sip on a small glass of limoncello — particularly if you need comfort on a chilly night.

About the Author:

Letizia Mattiacci wrote the "In Provincia" column from 2011 through 2019.