Gluten Free Turtle Cake with Salted Caramel


Turtle CakeThis Decadent Gluten Free Turtle Cake was supposed to posted last week.  But I ran into a problem.  Actually six problems.  Six gluten free chocolate cakes later, here is the recipe.

I have a son who was recently diagnosed as celiac.  Although he lives about 300 miles away, I try to think of things for him.  I was determined to make this chocolate cake gluten free.  I had a recipe in mind but I had to ditch the flour.  Easier said than done for sure!  To make it more of a challenge, I didn’t want to use a gluten free flour substitute. In the end, I used cocoa which gives the cake an edge, but a delicious one.

The first chocolate cake for the Gluten Free Turtle Cake was excellent but too short.  When I doubled it, it was not so excellent.  Some were dry, some were absolutely tough, one had nuts instead of flour but it looked like a crater  when it cooled.  Although Mike isn’t one to question my persistence, I’m sure he wanted to as he watched the cakes, neatly wrapped in foil, stack up on the counter.

I thought of using the Ultimate Chocolate Fudge Cake but in the end decided it would be too rich.  The caramel is so luxurious which means the cake has to be rich and deeply chocolate but not too sweet.  This cake is dense, moist and as chocolate as it gets.

The caramel for this Gluten Free Turtle Cake is the one we made at the bakery. I have used it in several recipes on the blog including the Apple Pie ala Mode with Salted Caramel.  A bit of salt adds just the right nuance to the toasted pecans and chocolate ganache.  The caramel for this Gluten Free Turtle Cake is cooked to a lower temperature so it will flow but not be runny.

I am happy to let you know that each of the components of this Gluten Free Turtle Cake can be made ahead so the final assembly is a snap.  Leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator and initially I thought it had to be served at room temperature but I was wrong.  It is absolutely fantastic cold (actually I couldn’t wait for it to get to room temperature).

Gluten Free Chocolate CakeIngredients for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle Cake8 ounces semisweet chocolate (225 grams)
1 cup butter, softened (225 grams, 8 ounces or 2 sticks)
1 cup sugar (200 grams or 7 ounces)
6 eggs
2 teaspoon instant coffee
2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup dutch process cocoa (90 grams or 3 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9×2 round cake pan with parchment and spray the center only.

Melt the chocolate and butter together over heat or in the microwave. Butter and chocolate for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle CakeWhisk to blend well.Chocolate and butter whisked for Decadent Gluten Free Turtle Cake

Beat the eggs and sugar with the paddle attachment, scraping underneath often.Eggs with sugar for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle Cake

Eggs and sugar mixing for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle CakeDissolve coffee in vanilla.Coffee and vanilla for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle CakeBecause the cocoa has lumps that won’t smooth out with a whisk, it is necessary to sift it.  This is easiest done with a strainer.  Cocoa in strainer for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle Cake

Cocoa lumps for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle CakeUse a spoon to push the big lumps through. Spooning cocoa for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle CakeSifted cocoa for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle Cake Mix the cocoa and baking powder together.Cocoa and baking powder for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle Cake

Cocoa and baking powder mixed for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle CakeAdd the chocolate/butter mixture to the eggs.Chocolate added to the batter for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle Cake

Add the remaining ingredients to the batter and beat on low until completely combined.Last ingredients added for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle Cake

Batter mixing for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle Cake

Pour into the prepared pan.Pouring batter into pan for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle Cake

Bake 25 minutes. Do not overbake.  Having said that I actually overbaked mine and it rose above the top of the pan dramatically and cracked equally dramatically..  As it cooled, it sunk but was still cracked.  It doesn’t matter.Cracked top of the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle Cake

While the cake is baking, place the nuts on a small baking pan and toast for about 7 minutes until fragrant and toasted. Set aside to cool.

1 cup large pieces pecans
Toast in a 350°F oven for about 7 minutes until fragrant. Set aside to cool.

The pecans can be toasted a week ahead.

Salted Caramel – using the ingredients below see caramel for how to pictures
3/4 cup cold water
1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar (225 grams or 8 ounces)
2 tablespoon corn syrup
1/4 cup 40% cream, hot
5 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 5 or 6 pieces (75 grams or 2 2/3 ounces)
2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt (or more to taste)

Place the water, sugar and corn syrup in a 2-quart saucepan. Stir over heat until the sugar is dissolved completely. Bring to a boil; wash sides of pan down with a natural bristle pastry brush dipped in cold water, then boil without stirring until the mixture becomes a medium golden color.

Off heat, immediately add the butter and stir until it is melted. Pour the cream, vanilla and salt in all at once and stir. If some of the cream lumps up don’t worry.   Return to medium high heat and bring to a boil. Boil to 225 degrees on a candy thermometer. Pour into a bowl. Do not stir at this point as it can become granular if you do. Allow to come to room temperature. Refrigerate for longer storage.

The caramel can be made a week or ten days ahead if desired.  Bring to room temperature to use.

Dark Satin Ganache – for how to photos go to Lamington Torte
2 tablespoons 40% cream
1 tablespoons corn syrup (70 grams or 2 1/2 ounces)
2 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate (75 grams)
1 tablespoons butter (15 grams or 1/2  ounces)

In a small saucepan, bring the cream and corn syrup to a boil. Submerge the chocolate and butter and let sit for several minutes until the chocolate and butter melt. Whisk gently to mix completely. Chill while preparing the remaining recipes.

You will not need all of this but it is difficult to cut it down anymore. Refrigerate the remainder and use it for another purpose.  It is also good over ice cream!

This can be made a week ahead if desired.  Microwave briefly so it can be dirzzled.

Assembly of the Gluten Free Turtle Cake
Gluten Free Chocolate Cake
Toasted Pecans
Dark Satin Ganache

Turn the cake out of the pan. Remove the parchment paper. Turn it right side up and place it on a cardboard round.     Place the cake on a large piece of parchment or foil so there is plenty of room all the way around it. (From the photos you can see I didn’t do this and it was a mess to clean up. )A big mess finishing the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle Cake

If the caramel seems a bit stiff, microwave it briefly to loosen it up.  Don’t let it become liquid.  Use as much or little of the caramel a you wish. I used it all and shoved it over the sides with an offset spatula. Some sides got covered and some of the caramel just dripped down. There is no right or wrong.Caramel on cake for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle Cake

Immediately cover it with the toasted pecans so they get stuck in the caramel.Pecans on the caramel for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle Cake

Then drizzle with as much or little of the ganache as you wish. Chocolate drizzled on for the Decadent Gluten Free Turtle CakeAt this point you want to refrigerate it. This will be easiest to do by lifting the parchment or foil with the cake on it and place it on a baking sheet. After the caramel and glaze have set, remove the cake from the parchmment or foil and place the cake on a serving plate.

Yields:  10 to 14 servings

To Make Ahead: This Gluten Free Turtle Cake can be made ahead and held in the cooler for a few days.


Pastry has not only been my profession, but my passion. If there is anything in particular you would like to see or any questions about baking or pastry, please let me know. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss a post!
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13 thoughts on “Gluten Free Turtle Cake with Salted Caramel

  1. Janet

    Good morning and much belated Happy New Year to you.
    You know I only ever bake gluten free…and have done for years now.
    Have plenty of experience…but as I am UK based might not be of real use to you….
    Some recipes can and do work very well as gf….choux buns is one example.

    Depends on the flour and the protein content. Commercial flours vary considerably…and just because one brand works with a does not mean another brand will be successful…

    Anything I can do to help …just let me know.

    Janet (with short furry assistant, Smokie the kitty)

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Thank you so much Janet. I am working on a longer term project that will use gluten free flour. I will be working on developing a gluten free flour substitute as my stores don’t even carry one. Do you make your own flour substitute. Can you email me at I would love to hear what you do and what your experience has been. Give Smokie a hug from me.

  2. Manisha

    Kudos to you Helen! I was imagining the stacked layers of cakes on your counter :) and the Aha moment when this one came out of the oven! I have drastically cut down gluten in my diet in the past couple of years so this is a must try recipe for me.

    Running now to gather all the ingredients. Will share my experience once the cake is baked.


    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Manisha – hope you got a chance to make this. I am working on a future project that will have me making my own gluten free mix. I have used some store bought ones but the products seem to lack the body of a flour cake. I wanted to use oats but then found that people that can’t have gluten sometimes have problems with oats too. Lots to learn.

      1. Manisha

        Hi Helen

        I tried the recipe and we loved it! The cake has a slightly bitter Coco flavour but that could be because I used callebaut coco powder. Sweetness of caramel beautifully offsets it, though. I used the combination of toasted hazelnuts and almonds in place of pecans and that really took the cake to another level. I loved how quick it was to make it even with all the components made on the same day. Thanx again for this fantastic recipe.


  3. Tim Malm

    Helen, I have read that using dutch process cocoa is preferred in baking, because it produces a moister product. Has this been your experience?
    One of the really nice things about this recipe, is that all of the components can be made ahead of time, then assembled in a final flourish; and as you suggest, remember to put out the parchment before the flourishing commences.
    Looking forward to making caramel for the first time, thanks for the inspiration!

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Tim – Interesting about the cocoa. I have not heard this and if you use the correct leavener with each of the cocoas, I haven’t found a difference in moisture. Moisture generally depends upon the balance of the items used. Baking powder is used with dutched cocoa and baking soda is generally used with regular cocoa although baking powder in addition to the soda can be used here. Read the caramel blog before starting if this is the first time you make it. That will help.

  4. karenb

    Isn’t this just a “flourless” Chocolate Cake? Very rich & dense. Love the idea of covering with caramel before the ganache. Used a lot of eggs for a one layer cake.

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Yes it is. But flourless chocolate cakes are inherently gluten free which is the point. However, there are really bad flourless chocolate cakes and really good flourless chocolate cakes. So many flourless chocolate cakes are dry, some are crumbly. Two layer cakes often have 6 eggs, but I would never use this as a two layer cake because it is too dense and designed to be a single layer. My Ultimate Chocolate Fudge Cake uses 6 eggs (another no two layer cake) and more sugar. It also has a much sweeter, richer and a creamier base which is why I chose to change the base for this cake.

      1. Karen McCreary

        Helen, there is a special chocolate throne in heaven just waiting for you . I’ve been baking for 53 yrs. and I could never come up with this cake ! I can’t wait to give it a shot So grateful to have days to gather parts . ((Hugs)) *_* K.

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