Gluten-Free Decadent Desserts


Allergy-friendly special-occasion treats without refined sugar

Perhaps your boss is coming over for dinner. Or your in-laws are visiting. Or you’re entertaining a “special someone” for the first time. Whatever the event, you’d love a show-stopping dessert guaranteed to make your guests swoon. But what if your diet restricts gluten, the top eight allergens—and refined sugar? Luckily, these gluten-free recipes deliciously fit the bill.

Too often, those of us on special diets sit out the dessert course, watching as others at the table indulge in creamy, rich, sweet treats like cheesecake, mousse or frosted cupcakes. Some specialty stores offer options for gluten-free, allergy-friendly sweets—but what about those of us on lower glycemic diets? Whether your special diet is due to allergies, food sensitivities, diabetes or simply the desire to eat less sugar, you can still enjoy these decadent-tasting confections—and serve them to your guests with pride.

Some of these ingredients may be new to bakers who are used to conventional recipes. Don’t let this deter you. These natural foods confer amazing nutritional benefits, along with delicious taste and the ability to mimic the texture and visual appeal of the “real thing.” While they may be a little pricier than standard sugar and white flour, they are nutrient dense, so a little goes a long way.

Here’s a quick primer on how to use these healthful alternatives with confidence. These items are easily available at your local health food store, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods-type markets and in the natural foods sections of many supermarkets.

Liquid Stevia Like its powdered counterpart, liquid stevia is derived from the stevia rebaudiana plant, an herb with a natural sweetness up to 100 times greater than that of white sugar but with zero calories and a “0” score on the glycemic index, so it won’t affect blood sugar levels. Unlike other “zero glycemic” sweeteners, such as aspartame and saccharine, pure stevia (not blends like Purevia or Truvia) is 100 percent natural and can be consumed safely. Because some people find the powder has a slight aftertaste, I always opt for the liquid and use it in combination with another sweetener (in most cases, coconut sugar). This way, the stevia boosts sweetness without making its presence known too assertively.

Coconut Oil Coconut has enjoyed a great revival in recent years, ever since studies have shown that fats in coconut are actually good for you and can help prevent cardiovascular disease. When you buy cold-pressed or unrefined oil from the coconut (that is, coconut oil), you’re purchasing a dairy-free alternative to butter that is actually health-promoting, with no saturated fats. Because coconut oil is solid at room temperature, it makes an ideal dairy-free replacement for butter in recipes. Coconut oil does impart a slight coconut flavor but it’s generally not detectable in these recipes. If you prefer no coconut flavor at all, opt for refined coconut oil.

Coconut Butter Unlike coconut oil, coconut butter is made from whole coconut “meat.” Just as almond butter is made from ground almonds, coconut butter is ground-up shredded coconut. It can be used like other “butters” over toast and muffins. It provides an excellent base for the cheesecake and frosting recipes because of its solid texture at room temperature. (You won’t notice a strong coconut flavor.) You can economically make your own coconut butter by blending raw, unsweetened, shredded coconut in a powerful blender, such as a VitaMix, until it is completely smooth and pourable; store it in a jar at room temperature.

Coconut Milk Because of its mild flavor and extremely creamy texture, coconut milk is a great substitute for full-fat cream in recipes. It adds rich flavor and silky texture to sweet treats. It’s available in cans in either full-fat or “lite” varieties. In these recipes, full-fat is required.

Coconut Sugar Used for centuries as a sweetener in Southeast Asia, this tan-color granulated sweetener is derived from the coconut palm. It is fairly new to the market in North America but its popularity is exploding. Coconut sugar is slightly less sweet than cane sugar with a lovely, light-caramel taste that works perfectly with most baked goods and desserts. When combined with stevia in these desserts, the result is a low-glycemic treat that tastes truly decadent.

Flax Meal and Chia Meal You’ve likely heard about the health benefits of flax seed with its high Omega 3 content and health-promoting properties. Small, round chia seeds are an even more potent superfood with a higher Omega 3 content than flax. When combined with water or other liquids, flax meal and chia seeds work beautifully as thickeners and egg replacers. Adding them to recipes helps bind the ingredients and delivers a texture much like egg-based baked goods.

Millet Although not the most popular gluten-free grain (it used to be reserved for bird seed!), millet is actually one of the healthiest, given its high-protein content and other nutrient-dense attributes. Millet’s neutral, almost undetectable flavor and its light color make it an excellent base for all-purpose flour blends, ideal for cakes, cookies and other baked treats.

So don’t fret about dessert. Break out the good dishes, pass around the party favors and celebrate in style. Your guests will be so busy enjoying these delicious confections, they’ll never suspect the recipes are free of gluten, the top eight food allergens and refined white sugar.




Photo by Ricki Heller

Dairy-Free Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake


So much like the real thing—but there’s no dairy in this cheesecake. The cranberry swirl adds a delicious burst of color, ideal for Valentine’s Day. This dessert will keep, covered in the refrigerator, up to 4 days. Not suitable for freezing.

Cookie Crust

¼ cup agave nectar (light or dark)
15-25 drops plain or vanilla-flavor stevia liquid, to taste
2 teaspoons chia meal
1 tablespoon plain or vanilla rice milk or milk of choice
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup + 2 tablespoons Ricki’s All-Purpose Flour Blend or flour blend of choice
½ teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if already in your flour blend)
¾ teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ cup coconut oil, solid at room temperature*

Cranberry Swirl

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
3 tablespoons coconut sugar
15-25 drops plain or vanilla-flavor liquid stevia, to taste
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
-Zest of ½ lemon
1 tablespoon water

Cheesecake Filling

½ cup whole-grain dry millet
1 cup rice milk or milk of choice
1 (12-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk
⅓ cup light agave nectar
⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure lemon extract
-Zest of 1 medium lemon
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
⅓ cup coconut butter (not coconut oil)

1. Grease an 8- or 8½-inch springform pan or line it with parchment paper.

2. To make Cookie Crust, whisk together agave, stevia, chia meal, milk, lemon extract and vanilla in a small bowl. Set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together flour blend, xanthan gum, baking powder and salt. Drop coconut oil by small spoonfuls over dry ingredients. Using your hands, pinch mixture between your thumb and fingers until it comes together and the oil is completely blended into the flour. Mixture should appear crumbly but hold together when squeezed. (All coconut oil should be blended into the flour.) Add wet mixture to the dry and stir well to create a soft dough. Pat dough evenly over the bottom of the pan. Refrigerate until ready to bake.

3. To make Cranberry Swirl, place ingredients in a small pot and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture bubbles and most of the cranberries have popped. Lower heat. Cover and simmer another 5 to 10 minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and keep covered until ready to use.

4. Preheat oven to 350°F.

5. To make Cheesecake Filling, place millet and rice milk in a medium pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir and then lower heat to simmer. Cover and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the milk is absorbed. Add coconut milk, agave and salt. Return to boil. Then lower heat again and continue to simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, until millet is extremely soft, the grains have begun to fall apart and mixture is very thick. (Stir often to avoid scorching.) Continue to cook until mixture is reduced to 2½ cups. Turn off heat and stir in vanilla, lemon extract, lemon zest and lemon juice (don’t add coconut butter just yet).

6. Transfer mixture to a high-powered blender and blend, scraping down the sides as necessary, until perfectly smooth and silky with no trace of grittiness from the millet. This could take 5 to 8 minutes. (If your blender isn’t high-powered, blend mixture in small batches of ½ cup or so each; transfer to a bowl after each batch.) Once mixture is smooth, transfer to a bowl and stir in coconut butter by hand until perfectly incorporated. Set aside.

7. Place crust in preheated oven and bake 10 to 15 minutes until top is dry and sides are just beginning to brown. Remove crust from oven and pour Cheesecake Filling over it.

8. With a tablespoon, drop spoonfuls (7 to 8 dollops) of Cranberry Filling randomly over the cheesecake. Gently swirl with the tip of a knife, taking care not to cut into the crust.

9. Return to preheated oven and bake an additional 30 minutes, until top is dry and edges are just beginning to brown.

10. Allow to cool to room temperature. Then refrigerate cheesecake at least 8 hours or overnight before serving.

Each serving contains 466 calories, 25g total fat, 20g saturated fat, 0g trans fat,0 mg cholesterol, 140mg sodium, 57g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 5g protein.

*TIP Coconut oil solidifies at 76°F. If your kitchen is warmer than that, refrigerate coconut oil before adding to cookie crust mixture.



Chocolate Orange Silk Tart


The luxurious, satiny filling in this tart imparts a delicious hint of orange, the perfect complement to the shortcake crust. For a spectacular presentation, top with a dollop of dairy-free whipped cream and a sprinkling of orange zest. This tart will keep covered in the refrigerator up to 4 days.

Chocolate Shortcake Crust

⅓ cup coconut sugar
2 tablespoons coconut nectar or pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
⅓ cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup Ricki’s All-Purpose Flour Blend or flour blend of choice
3 tablespoons brown rice flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ teaspoon stevia powder

Orange Chocolate Ganache Filling

5 ounces good-quality unsweetened chocolate, chopped
⅔ cup coconut sugar
1 cup full-fat coconut milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
20*-30 drops plain or vanilla-flavor stevia liquid, to taste
-Pinch fine sea salt

1. Grease an 8-inch tart pan or springform pan or line it with parchment paper. Set aside.

2. To make Crust, place coconut sugar, coconut nectar and vanilla in the bowl of a food processor and process until coconut sugar begins to dissolve, about 30 seconds. Add coconut oil and process to blend. Add remaining ingredients and process just to combine. Dough should form a ball.

3. Pat dough evenly into the bottom and up the sides of prepared 8-inch tart pan or about ¾ inch up the sides of prepared springform pan. (If dough is too soft to stay on the sides of the pan, refrigerate 5 to 10 minutes and then proceed.) Refrigerate crust until completely firm, about 30 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 375°F.

5. Prick crust several times across the bottom with a fork. Place in preheated oven and bake 15 to 20 minutes or until it just begins to brown on the edges and is puffed and dry in the middle. Allow to cool completely before filling.

6. To make Filling, place ingredients in a medium, heavy-bottom pot over lowest possible heat. Stir constantly until chocolate melts and mixture is silky-smooth.

7. Pour mixture over cooled crust and allow to cool to room temperature.

8. Chill at least 6 hours or overnight before serving.

Each serving contains 407 calories, 24g total fat, 18g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 80mg sodium, 51g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 5g protein.

*TIP If you choose to use less stevia, increase coconut sugar to ¾ cup. Filling will be slightly softer but will hold its shape when well chilled.



Banana Cupcakes

Photo by Ricki Heller

Banana Cupcakes with Banana Buttercream and Chocolate Glaze


These single-serving treats are light and moist. They evoke a celebration with their thick swirl of banana frosting and decadent chocolate drizzle. Cupcakes can be frozen.

1 cup banana puree (about 2 medium bananas)
⅔ cup coconut sugar
10 drops plain stevia extract, optional
2 tablespoons flax meal
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup milk of choice
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons sunflower oil or light- tasting oil of choice
1¼ cups Ricki’s All-Purpose Flour Blend or flour blend of choice
⅓ cup sweet rice flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon xanthan gum
⅛ teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 8 muffin cups or line them with paper liners.

2. In a small bowl, mix banana, sugar, stevia, flax meal, vanilla, milk and lemon juice. Whisk in oil.

3. In a large bowl, sift together flour blend, sweet rice flour, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum and salt.

4. Add wet mixture to dry and stir just to combine.

5. Using a large ice cream scoop or 1/3 measuring cup, fill prepared muffin cups two-thirds full.

6. Place cupcakes in preheated oven and bake 25 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Rotate pan halfway through baking.

7. Allow cupcakes to cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Then remove to a rack to cool completely. Frost with Banana Buttercream Frosting and decorate with Chocolate Glaze, if desired.

Banana Buttercream Frosting

This frosting firms up considerably when refrigerated for several hours. It can be frozen; defrost covered in the refrigerator overnight and blend again before using.

1 cup raw coconut butter (not coconut oil), gently melted
1 ripe banana
¼ cup coconut nectar or 3 table- spoons agave nectar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
20-30 drops plain or vanilla stevia extract, to taste
⅛-¼ teaspoon ground turmeric, optional (for color)
-Rice milk or milk of choice, as needed

1. Place ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth and creamy. If necessary, add rice milk, about 1 tablespoon at a time, to achieve desired spreading consistency.

Chocolate Glaze

If desired, replace unsweetened chocolate with 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate and omit the stevia.

2 ounces good-quality unsweet- ened chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon coconut oil or flavor- less vegetable oil of choice
20-40 drops plain or vanilla liquid ste- via, to taste

1. Place chocolate and oil in a small, heavy-bottom pot and melt over lowest heat possible, stirring constantly.

2. Add stevia, stirring to blend, to taste.

3. Drizzle over cupcakes.

Each cupcake contains 226 calories, 13g total fat, 7g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 1mg cholesterol, 118mg sodium, 28g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 3g protein.


Chocolate Cinnamon Heart Cookies


These cookies are a delicious way to say, “I love you.” The dough can be used to make any shape shortbread cookies desired. For sandwich cookies, cut out dough into smaller shapes and reduce baking time accordingly; when cooled, fill cookie pairs with Chocolate “Buttercream” Frosting. Unfilled cookies may be frozen.


⅓ cup coconut sugar
2 tablespoons plain or vanilla-flavor rice milk or milk of choice
40 drops plain or vanilla-flavor liquid stevia
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup melted coconut oil
1 tablespoon flax meal
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ cup Ricki’s All-Purpose Flour Blend  or flour blend of choice (page 65), more for rolling
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt

1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine coconut sugar, milk, stevia, vanilla, coconut oil and flax meal. Process a few seconds to begin dissolving the coconut sugar.

2. Add cocoa powder, flour blend, baking powder, xanthan gum, cinnamon and salt and pulse to incorporate the flour. Then process until mixture comes together to form a soft dough.

3. Turn dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into a disk. Wrap and refrigerate until firm, 30 minutes to an hour.

4. Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper.

5. Dust a clean, flat surface with flour blend. Roll out dough to about ¼-inch thickness. It may crack at first if it’s really firm. Keep working it and it will soften and begin to roll beautifully. Cut into heart shapes or other desired shape.

6. Place cookies on prepared cookie sheet and bake in preheated oven 10 to 12 minutes until dry on top and browned on the edges. Allow to cool 5 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. When cool, spread half the cookies with Buttercream Frosting and top with a cookie of the same size to make cookie sandwiches, if desired.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting


You can use this recipe immediately as a fudgy frosting. For buttercream, refrigerate until firm and then beat with electric beaters until fluffy and lighter in color. Either way makes a creamy filler in sandwich cookies. Sweet potato provides substance and a bit of sweetness. Extra frosting can be frozen. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight; then bring to room temperature and beat with electric beaters before using.

½ cup + 2 tablespoons sweet potato purée*
⅔ cup coconut sugar
20-35 drops plain or vanilla-flavor stevia liquid, to taste
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
-Pinch fine sea salt
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2½ ounces good-quality unsweetened chocolate, chopped
¼ cup smooth natural sunflower seed butter or sesame tahini
2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter

1. Place sweet potato, coconut sugar, stevia, vanilla and salt in food processor and process to blend. Add cocoa powder and process until combined. Set aside.

2. In a small, heavy-bottom pot, melt chocolate, sunflower seed butter and coconut oil over lowest possible heat, stirring constantly until chocolate melts. Remove from heat.

3. Add melted chocolate mixture to processed mixture in food processor and blend until smooth and creamy, scraping down sides as necessary. If coconut oil begins to separate (mixture will appear oily and a bit curdled) or if frosting is too thick, add more sweet potato purée or rice milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, blending after each addition until frosting is silky and spreadable.

Each large cookie without filling contains 360 calories, 20g total fat, 12g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 81mg sodium, 48g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 5g protein.

*TIP Homemade sweet potato purée is a bit sweeter than the canned variety and adds a lovely caramel flavor to this frosting. To make your own purée, bake a large sweet potato, unpeeled, at 400°F for about 40 minutes, until very soft. Allow to cool completely. Remove skin and purée in a food processor.



Chocolate-Grasshopper Parfaits

Photo by Ricki Heller

Gluten-Free Grasshopper Parfaits


Cool and creamy, this is the classic pairing of chocolate and mint. These parfaits are as pretty as they are tasty. Not suitable for freezing.

Chocolate Mousse
1 (12-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk
1 large ripe avocado, peeled and cut in chunks
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tablespoons coconut sugar
-Pinch fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
40-50 drops plain or vanilla-flavor stevia liquid, to taste
1 teaspoon xanthan gum

Mint Mousse

1 (12-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk
1 large ripe avocado, peeled and cut in chunks
30-40 fresh mint leaves, to taste
-Pinch fine sea salt
¾ teaspoon pure peppermint extract
20-30 drops plain or vanilla-flavor liquid stevia, to taste
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon xanthan gum

1. To make Chocolate Mousse, place coconut milk, avocado, cocoa powder, coconut sugar, salt, vanilla and stevia in the bowl of a blender and process until mixture is perfectly smooth and silky. Sprinkle xanthan gum over mixture and blend to incorporate. Remove to a bowl and refrigerator while you prepare Mint Mousse.

2. Wash and dry the blender.

3. To make Mint Mousse, place coconut milk, avocado, mint leaves, salt, peppermint extract, stevia and vanilla in the bowl of a blender and process until mixture is perfectly smooth and silky. Sprinkle xanthan gum over mixture and blend to incorporate. Use immediately to assemble parfaits.

4. Beginning with mint mousse, alternate layers of mint and chocolate mousse, ending with a layer of chocolate. Be sure to cover mint mousse completely to seal out any air (see TIP).

5. Garnish with cacao nibs or shaved bittersweet chocolate and dairy-free whipped topping, if desired.

Each serving contains 298 calories, 24g total fat, 14g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 61mg sodium, 20g carbohydrate, 6g fiber, 3g protein.

TIP Fresh avocado oxidizes quickly. To avoid discoloration, prepare the chocolate portion of the mousse first. When mint mousse is ready, cover it quickly with the chocolate layer to seal out any air, thereby preserving its lovely lime hue.


Ricki’s All-Purpose Flour Blend


Use this blend for all your baking needs. To make your own millet flour, process whole-grain dry millet into a powder in a blender or coffee grinder.

2 cups millet flour
⅔ cup garfava bean flour
⅔ cup potato starch (not potato flour)
⅔ cup arrowroot starch/powder or tapioca starch/flour or cornstarch

1. Blend ingredients together until thoroughly combined. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 6 weeks until used.

Canadian Ricki Heller is a holistic nutritionist and author of Sweet Freedom: Desserts You’ll Love Without Wheat, Eggs, Dairy or Refined Sugar.


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