I will use this wonderfully juicy and tasty chocolate cake as an opportunity to write a short story about modern wheat, and to explain why I do not use it in my diet.
In this cake I used whole grain spelt flour. I had avoided to post recipes including spelt on my blog for some time because I still believe that grains are not a perfect food for humans. However, I concluded that it would be useful to show people that there are healthy alternatives to wheat products, as today’s wheat can be really bad for human health.
But what is wrong with wheat?
Wheat itself is not necessarily bad or harmful, it was just (un)lucky to be one of the plants that were cultivated and hybridized until universe couldn’t take it anymore in order to maximize the yields and “feed the world” by any means.
Let us not fool ourselves that it wasn’t the same case with most of the food that we eat today – all the plants that we use today are cultivars, but the difference is that most of those plants can still be called food without being too cautious about it.
On the other hand, the wheat that we are using today is a relatively new hybrid that was introduced around 1960, in a movement called Green Revolution (the irony of the whole thing is obvious, but I am trying to keep it short now) and is widely grown around the world because of its desirable characteristics such as good yield and resistance to pathogens.
It is possible to produce much more of this new wheat for less money and on a smaller piece of land than before, but it also has less nutrients and more gluten that the older wheat cultivars.
Is gluten the only problem?
This new gluten seems to cause major health problems to many people today, and together with a poor nutrient content makes this wheat everything but a good food for a human body. Another problem with wheat is the way it is processed.
Before the invention of modern steel rolling mills, it was milled in a stone mill and the product was simple and nutritious whole-grain flour. In the second half of 19th century, after the invention of modern mills, there was more and more white flour on the shelves, as its production became a lot cheaper.
It was a “fancy” food that suddenly became available to everyone. But the real reason why white flour became one or the most widely available foodstuff is its long shelf life and easy storage and transport. It is lacking all its natural micronutrients, so not even rats or insects want to eat it. Even the “whole-grain” wheat flour from such mills usually lacks most of its nutrition due to the nature of the processing.
Spelt as the best solution
Spelt belongs to the same genus as wheat, but it was not hybridized so much and it has less gluten with a different chemical composition that is not so harmful for human health. I would dare to say that it is not necessarily harmful at all (except maybe for people with coeliac desease), and I know that there are “gluten-intolerant” people who can eat spelt and have no problems at all.
Gluten itself doesn’t have to be a problem; the problem is in modern wheat. Spelt is also a very nutritious grain that has lots of minerals, vitamins and proteins, and although I am not really a big supporter of a diet rich in grains, I believe that it is not all black and white and that human body can get lots of nutrients from the grains as well.
Another good thing about spelt is that (well, at least here in Croatia) it is pretty easy to find whole-grain spelt flour that was milled in a stone mill, which usually means that it is not heavily processed. You can also buy whole grains of spelt and grind them yourself. I buy mine at the farmers’ market or in small healthy food stores.
So, if you are used to eating wheat products regularly, you can easily replace them with spelt and give your body a proper nutrition. Bread, pancakes, tortillas, buns, cakes… you can make all of that with spelt flour instead of wheat. The texture will be similar, it won’t fall apart, and the taste is going to be even better.
Finally, the cake!
Some will say that you cannot make this type of cake without oil, eggs and milk, but this simple plant-based cake proves the opposite. It is really delicious and juicy, super easy to make, and the ingredient list is surprisingly short.
Also, this cake can be made without any added sweetener – with all the sweetness coming from the apples (if that’s something you like; if not, feel free to sweeten it up!).
When I created this recipe, our house was loaded with homegrown apples and not all of them were really good (some would fall off the tree too soon, others would just stay there for too long because we wouldn’t get to eat them), so I used them to make applesauce, which can be a perfect ingredient for a cake.
Other than that, you will need whole grain spelt flour, cacao powder, baking soda (bicarbonate of soda), apple cider vinegar and some salt. I also used some oat bran to make it even juicier, but you can skip it and get an equally good result.
I didn’t put any extra sweetener to the cake batter, but I did add some molasses when I was making applesauce. Some other sweeteners that I don’t mind adding are coconut blossom sugar, maple syrup and barley malt syrup.
If your apples are already really sweet, you can avoid adding any sweetener altogether. It won’t affect the final consistency of the cake that much, so the amount of added sweetness is up to you and your personal taste.
- 1 cup applesauce, or 1 kg of apples
- 1 cup whole-grain spelt flour
- 2 tbsp oat bran (optional)
- 5 tbsp cacao powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 - 1/3 cup maple or date syrup, or other non-refined sweetener (optional)
- a pinch of salt
- To make the applesauce, blend the apples (I used a bit more than a kilo) into a smooth purée in a blender, or grate them and then use a stick mixer to make it smooth.
- Put them in a pot and turn the heat on; when they start to boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for 3-5 minutes while stirring.
- Add some sweetener of your choice (date syrup, maple syrup, rice or barley malt syrup, molasses, non-refined sugar...) and let it simmer for another few minutes with constant stirring.
- Turn off the heat and let it cool down for 5 minutes before using it in the cake dough.
- To make the cake, mix the spelt flour with cacao, bran, baking soda and salt in a bowl.
- Add the applesauce and vinegar, and mix everything well with a mixer. The dough should not be flowy/runny, but it should not be too thick either, nor should it be kneadable. When you stick a finger in it, a hole should remain. If it seems too soft, add some more spelt flour.
- Let it sit for around 15 minutes and preheat the oven to 175-180 °C. Mix the dough with a spoon and transfer it into a cake mold or a baking dish.
- Bake for about 30 minutes, or until it's as moist/dry as you like it (not much can go wrong). I left it to cool down with a kitchen cloth over it for maximum juiciness.
When making the applesauce, anything up to a half a cup of sweetener will be fine; apples are already sweet, so it might already be enough for someone.