Clementine Cake (gluten-free, grain-free, paleo) — and a birthday for momma

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Clementine Cake - gluten-free, grain-free, paleo // the pig & quillDoes it, at this point, go without saying that I’m a momma’s girl? I am, through and through. And a better person for it, I truly believe.

There is so much of my mom in me, much to the chagrin of my teenage self, who took only too much pleasure in referring to my mom as a textbook AAM — Angry Asian Mother. My best friend, Miriam, and I coined this term, feeling then that the angrily exhaled sighs of disappointment, underbreath muttering and weekslong periods of restriction (a more enlightened form of grounding) were undeserved, mean-spirited, or at the very least, annoyingly cliché displays of Classic Chinese Parenting via Passive Aggression.

We, self-absorbed and overconfident in our abilities to deceive, never stopped to consider how our actions may have factored into such parenting. Skipping school and dating older boys behind their backs. Sneaking out of second story windows — only to sit bored at the end of the cul-de-sac, nervously aware of every pair of headlights bouncing over the speed humps at the end of the block. We were pretty bad at being bad, it turns out. But we weren’t that great at being good, either.

For more than 30 years (give or take a few during that tumultuous teenage run), my mom has managed to be both my parent and my truest confidant. I know a lot of people say that, and maybe a lot of people even mean it, but the kinship that we share is unparalleled. She has taught me how to love selflessly and live thoughtfully. How to swear creatively. How to cook. Clementine Cake - gluten-free, grain-free, paleo // the pig & quill Clementine Cake - gluten-free, grain-free, paleo // the pig & quill Because of my mom, I spew hot, indisputable logic when I argue (sorry, Chris…), make quick work of breaking down a pineapple, and can run the math on Macy’s clearance rounders in my head. I can whistle a tune and smartmouth my way around a smarmy conversation. And, yes, I can (and do) exhale the occasional sigh of displeasure. (It’s deeply and disturbingly satisfying.)

My mom is nearly solely responsible for the woman I am today — goofy, courageous, worthy of love, lucky in love, and unfailingly proud of those close to me. (Also: rambling, long-winded, apologetic.) Clementine Cake - gluten-free, grain-free, paleo // the pig & quill So, to celebrate today — her birthday! — I’m sharing a recipe that my incredible momma once shared with me. One that originated with someone nearly as lovely and candid and genuine, Ms. Nigella Lawson. It’s beautifully simple, sophisticated and fun to make.

And, in poetic contrast to last week’s cake (yes, I know — two cakes in two weeks, dear Lord the sky is most definitely falling), this one is relatively sinless. That is, gluten-free, grain-free and paleo(ish?), if you’re into that shit.

Happiest of birthdays, Momma. I love you more than a fat kid loves (this) cake. And maybe even pie, too. 😉
Emi Clementine Cake - gluten-free, grain-free, paleo // the pig & quill Clementine Cake - gluten-free, grain-free, paleo // the pig & quill Clementine Cake - gluten-free, grain-free, paleo // the pig & quillClementine Cake
Adapted from Nigella Lawson
Cook time: 3ish (mostly hands-off) hours | Serves 8-12

Note: I find that this whole cake comes together with less hassle if I cook off the clementines the night before, drain them, and allow them to sit in the fridge overnight. Nigella also recommends enjoying this cake a day after it’s made, and I have to agree. Whether you leave it on the counter or pop it in the fridge, the flavor and even the texture improve markedly after resting for 8 or 12 hours. Following that, a light dusting of confectioners sugar (if you’re feeling a bit naughty) or a tumble of fresh blueberries is an elegant touch before serving.


  • 1 lb clementines (choosing a seedless variety will save you a step)
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup coconut sugar
  • 2 1/3 cups ground almonds (preferred) or almond meal
  • 1 heaping tsp baking powder
  • butter or coconut oil, for greasing
  • confectioners sugar and/or fresh berries for serving


Put the clementines in a pot, cover with cold water and boil for 2 hours. Drain, cool, cut in half and remove seeds, if applicable. Add cooked fruit to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease an 8″ or 9″ springform pan with butter or coconut oil and line it with parchment.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs; then add the coconut sugar, almonds and baking powder. Add the chopped clementines and stir well to combine. Turn the cake batter out into your prepared pan and bake for 40 mins to 1 hour, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. (Note that a 9″ cake will bake more quickly than an 8″ cake. More often than not, I’m using a 9″ pan, and I begin checking at 40 minutes.) If cake begins to brown too deeply, lightly tent it with a piece of foil for the remainder of its time in the oven.

Allow cake to cool completely in its pan on a wire rack before turning it out, removing the parchment and going to town. (Or, per the note, hang on to that baby until the next day and reap the reward of your patience.) Just before serving, dust cake lightly with confectioners sugar or scatter over a topping of berries. Enjoy!


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21 Comments on “Clementine Cake (gluten-free, grain-free, paleo) — and a birthday for momma”

  1. II’d be surprised if your Mom didn’t smile thru her tears upon reading your tribute above! I can testify that you both share an amazingly wonderful & loving bond! And of course, am amazingly share love of food! xoxo k

  2. “If you’re into that shit.” Oh, goodness, I love you. This post is so touching. I bet you made your mama cry her eyes out. Also… what the heck were you doing escaping out of second story windows? That sounds precarious.

    1. Thanks Gina Bear! And it was totally a “what’s she gonna do, shimmy down the drain pipe?” moment. (NAME THAT MOVIE.) Really though, there may have been a child’s roll-down fire escape ladder involved. Not super creative. And even less stealthy when you forget to roll it up back up and the gardener rats you out…sigh.

  3. Yeah, one of your best, Em —- you made me cry, and, I imagine, your Mom also, in a good way. You were spot on with having learned from your Mom the (always) brutally funny retort and how to string together swear words creatively. But, I think most importantly, you’ve learned from your Mom how to be the best and most honest version of yourself and to have your priorities screwed on straight with love, kindness, consideration, support, and thoughtfulness for others.

  4. Your mother raised a beautiful, smart, creative daughter. Please wish your mom a happy birthday for me!
    And… The cake looks delish. I love anything citrus.

    1. I’ve seen it! And when I was watching it, all I could think about was this cake. Then, when I was making this cake, all I could think about was Walter Mitty! And thank so much for the kind words! Back at ya, chica. <3

  5. This looks wonderful for Father’s Day, as my husband eats gluten-free. I have a question about one step. Does one peel the clementines before processing them in the food processor? Or do they go in (seedless) peel and all? Thanks.

  6. I made this same cake around Christmas time (except using regular white sugar) and I took some beautiful photos of it and then never posted about it. I love the blueberries on top on yours!

  7. Dude, my mom SO busted me for that roll up ladder. What an IDIOT move. Seriously, high-schooler-trying-to-be-bad-but-so-bad-at-being-bad… I wish I could go back in time just to bitch slap my self with the glorious looking clementine cake. Maybe I’ll make it instead for guests that we are hosting tomorrow! AAM forevah!

  8. I am doing this cake AGAIN! With pears!!! For the Burke bike barn weekend! I love this recipe to death. Simple. Impressive. Gluten free. Adaptable! I did this cake but with pears two years ago and everyone thought you were a baking genius.

    1. Whoa with pears!!! Did you boil them first?? That is definitely worth a shot. And if only I could take credit. Nigella, baby!

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