Introduction: A Cakesplenation of Coeliac Disease

These two cakes show the villi of the small intestine, one is healthy and finger-like and the other is damaged.

When a person with coeliac disease eats gluten, their immune system reacts by damaging the lining of the small intestine, flattening the villi and disrupting the body's ability to absorb nutrients from food.

Our cake showing the flattened villi of the effects of gluten on a sufferer of coeliac disease has been made gluten free.

Read on for instructions on how to create your own edible learning experience.

Because everything is better with cake.


Step 1: Healthy Villi Lemon Cake

The first stage of this cake is to make a lemon Victoria sponge.


  • Margarine (469g)
  • Caster sugar (469g)
  • Eggs (7 eggs)
  • Self raising flour (469g)
  • Baking powder (1.5 teaspoons)
  • Lemons (zest and juice of two lemons)

To get a great Victoria sponge, weigh the eggs in their shells and then match that weight with each of the other ingredients. This cake was a 7 egg sponge and these weighed 469g. Pre-heat the oven at 180C and line a rectangular tin.

First, cream together the margarine and caster sugar until pale. Slowly add the egg to the mixture. Next add the flour and 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder. Once everything is combined add the zest and juice to the mixture. Put into the tin and smooth out and pop into the oven. This will take about 30-40 minutes. Try and resist the urge to open the oven as this will make the cake collapse. At the end of the time, check the cake is ready, pop a knife in the middle, if it comes out clean then it is done. If not, leave it for another 5 minutes. Leave to cool.

Step 2: Gluten Free Damaged-villi Orange Cake

Now it's time for the gluten free damaged orange cake. This is adapted from a recipe from Nigella Lawson It was increased to being a 4 egg cake.


  • Soft butter (266g)
  • Caster sugar (266g)
  • Ground almonds (250g)
  • Polenta (150g)
  • Baking powder (1.5 teaspoons)
  • Eggs 4
  • Zest of two oranges and the juice of 1

Preheat the oven to 180C and line the tin. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale. Combine the ground almonds, polenta and baking powder together. Add 1/3 to the butter and sugar mixture and then add some of the egg. Alternate the dry goods and the eggs. At the end add the zest and the juice together. Pop this in the tin and then in the oven for 40 minutes. Check that it is done in the same way as before. This cake will not rise as much as the sponge.

Step 3: Carving the Villi

Once the lemon cake is cooled, cut it in half.

Cut one half of the cake into strips length ways approximately 3 cm wide. These will make the beginning of the villi.

Now cut the strips into smaller rectangles and carve off the top of the rectangles to make cylinder shapes.

Step 4: Crumb Coating

An important part of decorative cake making is the crumb coat of icing. This is a thin layer of buttercream icing which catches up all the crumbs of a cake which you have cut. First whip up some buttercream.

Buttercream icing

  • Soft butter (160g)
  • Icing sugar (500g)
  • Vanilla essence (0.5 teaspoons)
  • Splash of milk

Allow the butter to be room temperature, often I will leave it out from when I start the cake making process. Mix the butter with a little bit of the icing sugar. Slowly incorporate the icing sugar and add the vanilla essence. Once all the icing sugar is incorporated, add a dash of milk and mix for at least 5 minutes. This allows the buttercream to become very soft and easy to work with.

To spread it over the cake, take some hot water and place a knife in it. Using a warm knife allows you to spread the icing like butter! Cover both cakes with a thin layer of icing, keep popping the knife into the water to help spread the icing.

Once covered, place the cakes into the fridge for at least 30 minutes to allow the icing to get firm.

Step 5: Attaching the Villi

As with the cakes, now add a crumb coat to each of the healthy villi. To attach these to the cake, place a cocktail stick in the bottom of the villi and then pop on the cake. This will give added security. Place the villi on the cake in a random fashion.

For the damaged villi, these are made out of fondant icing. Roll a palm full of icing into a ball and then flatten to create disks of icing. Now place on the cake in a similar distribution as the healthy villi.

Step 6: Icing Time

This is may favourite part of cake decorating. Making the icing the right colour, it's a bit like playing with playdoh!

I use just off the shelf fondant icing. First, you need to work the fondant. I add a little cornflour to my hands so the fondant doesn't stick to me. Work the fondant for a minute or two until it is soft. For this cake I used 1.5kg of icing. 1/3 of that was used for the darker pink for the sides of the cake and the other 2/3 were to cover the top of the cake. When you are not using the fondant make sure you cover it in cling film so it doesn't dry out.

To colour them I use gel colours, they are a bit more expensive but they last a long time and a little goes a long way. With a cocktail stick, add a little of the colouring to the fondant icing. The covering was a pink colour and the outside used a chestnut colour as this can give a realistic skin colour.

I roll my icing out on a non-stick mat covered in cornflour. If you do not have this I would recommend clingfilm or non-stick baking paper.

Step 7: Covering the Flattened Villi Cake

Roll out the icing for the top of the flattened villi cake first, this is the easier of the two cakes to cover. Try not to roll this too thin otherwise you will not be able to lift it off the rolling mat.

Once it is big enough to cover the cake, place the rolling pin in the middle of the fondant and flip on side of the icing over the pin. This will enable you to then lift the icing up and place it carefully on top of the cake. Slowly rub the icing down over the flattened villi until the icing is draped over the sides.

Now cut the excess icing away. Roll out the darker skin colour and cut to fit the sides. Press this onto the cake and leave for about 10-20 mins so that the icing hardens somewhat and then trim off the bottom excess.

If at any point you get a small split or crack in the icing, a top tip is using Trex (a solid vegetable fat) to smooth things out.

Step 8: Villi Time

For the healthy villi cake, start in the same way as the flattened cake. Roll out the pink icing and place it on top of the cake. Work the icing down the villi, do not worry if the icing rips. This is where the Trex comes into its own. Mix it with some of the coloured icing and you can use it like plaster to cover up the cracks and patch up the cake. Add the sides to the cake.

Step 9: The Final Cakes

Display your proud villi cakes!

Now Enjoy!

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