What a sense of loss we feel when we can’t have sweet treats that other people indulge in every day and take for granted. These cravings for foods I could no longer eat were the catalyst for my journey that started in 2003 in San Francisco when, after two years of stomach pain, I discovered I was gluten sensitive. I began baking to satisfy my cravings and realized there were others like me who missed artisan, gluten-free baked goods. Hence, Crave, the bakery I founded that year, was born.
Some of the desserts I missed terribly were brownies, gooey chocolate chip cookies, vanilla cake — and chocolate cake. I began to bake all of these in gluten-free versions, and I named the cake after my mom because she was my baking and cooking inspiration during my childhood. I felt that this chocolate cake was up to her standards and worthy of her name, Mama Z.
I originally launched Mama Z’s Chocolate Cake in a four-inch size because many families bought only enough for their gluten-free family member. A year later I had the idea to begin approaching restaurants in San Francisco to explore the foodservice side of the baking business. My two favorite calling cards were Crave’s Dark Chocolate Brownie and Mama Z’s Chocolate Cake. I can’t remember all the restaurants I visited, but I do remember that chefs were very surprised and impressed that the samples I gave them were gluten- and dairy-free.
Around that same time, I discovered in talking with our grocery store customers that even those without food allergies loved Mama Z’s cake simply for taste and quality of the ingredients. Many customers didn’t even notice that our product line was gluten-free and dairy-free. My marketing strategy in the beginning was targeted at those who appreciated an artisan, upscale dessert. The look and feel of the packaging were high quality and the ingredients were 100% natural and mostly organic. Because this was long before gluten-free products were well known, I decided to whisper — not shout — this fact on the packaging. I knew that my customers looking for gluten-free foods were label-readers and would figure it out by looking closely. I also knew I didn’t want to alienate my other customers who simply appreciated a great product. And over time we changed our packaging and labeling to reflect not only the growing awareness of gluten-free foods but also the acceptance of these alternative ingredients.
The recipe for Mama Z’s Chocolate Cake has evolved and improved over the years. The first generation of this cake was made with brown rice flour as the only grain or starch. Now it is made with a combination of tapioca flour, finely-milled sweet rice flour, and potato starch, and that adjustment makes the final result smoother and less grainy than most gluten-free foods. For the best moisture and texture, applesauce is a key addition — not your typical cake ingredient. But it works and brings the whole recipe together.
As for the chocolate glaze, the key is to let it come to room temperature before spreading it on your cake. Doing so allows the melted bittersweet chocolate to firm up enough to let the glaze set on the cake. And because the glaze is so rich, it really melts in your mouth. So, I highly recommend using the best quality bittersweet chocolate you can find. The chocolate you choose for the glaze will be the first flavor you taste when you bite into this cake. I also like using a metal spatula and creating lovely swirly designs on the surface of the cake.
Enjoy this cake on a special occasion or just on a relaxing Saturday night. Either way, it’s perfect for when the chocolate cravings set in.
Click here to order the Crave Bakery Cookbook.
First published February 2014