Sweet potato hazelnut Paleo cake

August 19, 2011 in Recipes | 13 comments

paleocakeI’ve never been a huge fan of cake, even way back in the day when I wasn’t purposefully avoiding food toxins like wheat and excess sugar.

But my wife, Elanne, misses cake every now and then. This was especially true while she was pregnant with Sylvie. So she has experimented with different versions of grain-free cake that weren’t elaborate or time consuming (no time for adventurous culinary exploits, breastfeeding a 4-week old infant) but tasted good.

Yesterday she baked a sweet potato hazelnut cake that fits the bill. Unfortunately she didn’t use exact measurements (we rarely do), but I can give you a general idea of how she did it in case you’d like to give it a shot.

The recipe


  • 2 cups hazelnuts
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 2 tsp. sweetener (coconut sugar, maple syrup, etc. – this is optional)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

Advance preparation

  1. Soak about 2 cups of hazelnuts in water for 12-24 hours (Note: this helps break down the phytic acid in the nuts, which is a potent nutrient inhibitor. You should always soak and dehydrate nuts before eating them if you can.)
  2. Bake a large sweet potato at 375 degrees for about 40-45 minutes until quite soft.

Baking the cake

  1. Drain soaking water and rinse the nuts.
  2. Peel sweet potato.
  3. Add hazelnuts, potato flesh, baking soda, sea salt and sweetener (if desired) to blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.
  4. Pour into baking dish and bake at 375 F for about 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Serving suggestions

The cake is mildly sweet on its own. We like to eat it with some fermented cream (add 1/2 cup of kefir to 2 pints of full-fat cream, and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours until mildly sour and slightly thick) and fresh berries.

If you’re not eating dairy, serve with coconut milk or cream and berries.

It’s not gourmet, but it’s a nice dessert or snack when you want a treat.

See? You can have your Paleo cake – and eat it too!

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

John W August 19, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Apologies if I’ve missed something in the Blog Archive Chris, but how are coconut sugar or maple syrup any different in practice than just plain table sugar/sucrose? If I recall correctly, maple syrup is essentially just sucrose (with its own distinctive flavoring, of course).

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with strictly occasional amounts of sugar, particularly after any metabolic derangement has been brought under control. But I do sense in some folks regarding “paleo”/exotic sweeteners denial that “it’s all just sugar.” What’s your take here?

Likewise, any thoughts on dextrose as a sweetener? This would be qualitatively different than many proposed sugar alternatives since it contains no fructose.


Chris Kresser August 19, 2011 at 5:02 pm

First, each sugar has a different flavor and that’s one of the primary reasons to choose one over the other in baking. Second, when sugar is refined the minerals, fiber and any other nutrients present in the sugar cane or sugar beets are stripped away. When we eat sugar that is void of these co-factors our bodies are required to use stored vitamins and minerals to process the sugar. Calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium are taken from various parts of the body to make use of the sugar.

I think dextrose is a better choice than sucrose for the reason you mention.


steve b August 19, 2011 at 9:52 pm

I did come across this article recently:



Michael August 19, 2011 at 11:36 pm

Surely the minerals in say rapadura sugar are negligible and wouldn’t have a marked effect on digestion? Wouldn’t there be a small difference, but really isn’t this condoning sugar intake? Metabolically they are essentially the same in effect?


Chris Kresser August 20, 2011 at 7:09 am

Yes, it is condoning sugar intake – at 2 tsp. for the entire cake, a piece of cake would be 1/4 tsp. of sugar. For an occasional treat, most people can process that amount without any problem whatsoever.


Michael Cohen August 20, 2011 at 11:53 am

Sweet potatoes can vary tremendously in size.Sucessful Baking is probably the most exact of the culinary arts. Hazelnuts are expensive. Could you give an amount of sweetpotatoes by weight?


Chris Kresser August 20, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Just experiment, Michael. Nothing will break or blow up.


Michael Cohen August 20, 2011 at 11:10 pm

I am an accomplished cook who improvises and experiments much of the time, but in this case I just wanted to avoid experimenting as much as possible because of the costs.


Sharon August 20, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Chris, as basic a question as this is. . . when you say full fat cream, what is that exactly and where to get it? (I don’t have access to a pastured dairy cow nor a farm of any kind, so just mainstream grocery.)


Sharon August 20, 2011 at 12:50 pm

FYI: I noticed just now when posting, the time stamp is one hour ahead. Since you and I both are on Pacific time, what up?


David Wood August 20, 2011 at 3:55 pm

My wife has come up with a Swedish twist on this – add spices to make a Mjuk pepparkaka (soft ginger cake):

2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cardamom

(Roughly – well, nothing blew up :)


Jodi August 20, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Thanks for the recipe idea Chris!


Jana B August 20, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Hi Chris,
I’ve learned so much from reading everything on your site and listening to your podcasts.

Re: soaking nuts to avoid the phytic acid: Would soaking them also eliminate the tyramine that I’ve read is the element in nuts (and cheese and fermented foods) that makes nuts such a primary migraine trigger for me? I’m guessing not (sadly).

You emphasize that it’s important that we apply the paleo “template” based on our individual differences and needs. At first I was trying to follow the gang and eat all the nuts that are in so many Paleo/Primal recipes. And then I wondered why I was waking up with a half migraine nearly every day. Duh! (I call them Half migraines because I have all the symptoms, I feel awful, but I’m able to function, even if it’s only on a half a brain, unlike the full migraine where I spend hours laying in the dark, barfing, and wishing I could cut off my head.

I also have had to remind myself that while some people can manage a bit of natural sweetener or other high glycemic carbs, for me they just bring back the horrible carb cravings had all my life until I found Paleo. Maybe 1/4 teaspoon per serving wouldn’t hurt, but then I’d still have a whole cake in the house…with my history, not a good idea! Recently I’ve experimented with blueberries, cantaloupe, yams, pastured cream and full-fat yogurt and so far they’ve all been OK. So by trial and error, I’m discovering the perfect Paleo-Jana diet.

P.S. Searching your site, I found two mentions of migraines, one in relation to supplementing with Magnesium (which I do daily) and another mention in your “Don’t Eat Toxins” post. I’d love to see a whole post on your recommendations on preventing migraines.



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