How to create a gluten-free, extra-moist Devil’s Food Cake

When it comes to marketplace challenges, Palsgaard doesn’t always pick the easy options. So when we were asked if we could develop a deliciously moist Devil’s food cake from a powdered retail mix, we set the bar as high as we could. We resolved not just to deliver a high-quality cake mix, but also to create a gluten-free recipe that could be produced anywhere in the world.

Mixing it up

Since Betty Crocker launched the first popular baking mixes some 70 years ago, the market has grown beyond recognition ― today, the mix business is worth more than $2 billion. Mixes themselves have changed too, with the best products able to deliver a satisfying eating experience and meet the needs of consumers in a largely convenience-driven market.

There is still, however, a noticeable difference between a traditionally baked cake and an alternative produced using a powdered mix. And achieving batch-to-batch stability when producing such cakes has remained an elusive target. For Palsgaard, helping cake mix manufacturers close the gap with the “real thing” has long been something of a holy grail, but it’s one that has recently become more attainable. Having recently delivered high-profile successes such as emulsifier systems for microwave cakes our food scientists were confident they could deliver a traditional-quality Devil’s food cake eating experience with a new mix, and in a gluten-free formulation.

A devil of a cake

Devil’s food cake originated in the US over a century ago and is still a popular choice for consumers seeking indulgence. It’s a moist, fluffy, rich chocolate layer cake often accompanied by a rich chocolate frosting. Although recipes vary considerably, the chief claim to fame of Devil’s food cake is that it contains more chocolate ― and more moisture ― than traditional chocolate cake.

Achieving a top-quality Devil’s food cake is challenging for bakers, and especially so for those outside the US. The chlorinated flour commonly used in the US is not permitted in the EU and many other regions. The qualities of this type of flour are difficult to match, even for heat-treated flour, and gluten-free versions require a blend of different starch types.

American bakers also tend to use a lot of shortening in their powder mix, enabling them to add in emulsifier. However, if you apply fat to powder, you can end up with a mixture that is difficult to dose in packaging and results in lumpy batters or a mix that becomes rancid easily.

In line with Palsgaard’s mission to help manufacturers create healthier, more sustainable products, we also wanted to remove unhealthy, saturated fats from the recipe, making it easier to work with and improving the label. Additionally, we wanted our recipe to require only a single round of scraping down, saving time and energy in the production process. Using shortening-based cake mixes requires several steps, and two or three rounds of scraping.

Palsgaard Baker Making A Gluten Free Devil's Food Cake

Gluten-free grouches

If retail cake mixes have lagged behind traditionally baked cakes for much of their existence, gluten-free cakes have suffered an even worse reputation. Too often they have been anything but indulgent, subjecting consumers to varied and disappointing experiences. But, with the rise of free-from as an industry trend, and the words ‘gluten-free’ resonating with health-conscious consumers around the globe, industrial bakers and cake mix manufacturers are scrambling to meet consumer demand.

In traditional baked goods, of course, only wheat flour ― which contains gluten ― is used. Gluten holds baked goods together, providing structure and bounce. Remove it without doing much else and you’re likely to end up with a dense, gummy result and a cake that will quickly dry out. This last point is particularly worth noting in light of increasing consumer preference for moister cakes.

However, finding good alternatives to gluten is no easy task. Consumers who bake their own gluten-free cakes commonly use unorthodox ingredients, such as mashed potato, in their attempts to replicate traditional recipes. Alternatively they turn to gluten-free baking mixes ― flour blends milled from sources other than wheat, such as rice, sorghum or chickpeas. Unfortunately, cakes made from such mixes are seldom as well-structured as their traditional counterparts and can leave unfamiliar, undesirable aftertastes. Avoiding this was a challenge that would require all of Palsgaard’s experience of carefully balancing ingredients!

A touch of heaven

Our mission, then, was complex: to create a Devil’s food cake of the same quality as those made in the US; to bake a super-moist cake without trans fat, hydrogenated oil or shortening; and to create a recipe which was gluten-free yet delicious. The first challenge was to eliminate the need for shortening. The answer was found in Palsgaard’s Emulpals® 110 emulsifier and our cold dispersible monoglyceride Palsgaard® DMG 5611. Next, we considered how to balance the wheat flour-replacing starches from rice, maize and tapioca, each of which behave differently when baked. Striking the right balance was essential to achieve the right flavor, structure and mouthfeel. And, since we were adding more starch, we realized it would be advisable to add mono-glyceride, which reacts with the starch to counter drying out.

Here’s the resulting recipe:

Gluten-free Devil's food cake for retail premixes

Total 1137 g
Ingredients Weight
Sugar 235 g
Corn starch 110 g
Tapioca starch  40 g
Rice starch 40 g
Cocoa powder (10/12) 50 g
Emulpals® 110  18 g
Glucose syrup solids 25 g
Baking powder  15 g
Modified starch 15 g
Palsgaard® DMG 5611 3 g
Xanthan gum 1 g
Salt 5 g
Premix 557 g
Premix 557 g
Water 240 g
Liquid oil 120 g
Fresh eggs/past. eggs 220 g


  • Method: All – in
  • Stirring conditions:
  • Add all the liquid ingredients into the bowl. The dry ingredients are weighed, sieved and added to the bowl. Stir all ingredients at slow speed for 30sec. Then at medium speed for 2 min.
  • Fill the cake tin to approx. 2/3 level
  • Baking time: Approx. 30-35 minutes at 175 - 185°C (347-365°F), depending on size and weight.

A healthier eating experience?

So, did our recipe achieve the goal of creating a very moist cake?

In internal testing our ‘high-moisture’ test cake, which comprised 21% water and 19% egg, achieved excellent results, and its eating quality lasted for days.

With internal testing completed, we took the recipe to our customers and early reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. One of the most memorable experiences was serving a freshly baked cake to a customer, only revealing at the end of the meeting that it was gluten-free. The pleasantly shocked look on his face is still treasured by the Palsgaard R&D team.

Some of those who have tried the new cake have told us they preferred it to traditional recipes. Why? Because although the product looks attractive and provides a beautifully structured, high-quality mouthfeel, it doesn’t leave the eater feeling that they have over-indulged.

In short, this new formulation may be able to make eating Devil’s food cake feel less devilish!


Arne Pedersen

Arne has been Regional Application Manager for Bakery & Confectionery at Palsgaard’s Danish headquarters since 2005. Originally a certified baker and food technologist he has more than 20 years of experience of product development and product management in the bakery and confectionery industry. His email is [email protected]. 

Leif Jakobsen

Leif is a certified baker and food technologist and has been with Palsgaard since 2004. Originally employed in Palsgaard’s R&D department, Nexus, working with emulsions and extrusions, he later transferred to the company’s bakery application lab as an application technologist. He works closely with cake mix customers, developing new sales concepts and products and optimizing existing recipes. His email is [email protected].