A Winter Picnic — Pique-nique hivernal

goji berry gluten-free cake

Goji Berry Pecan Cakes

We looked at the weather forecast on line and realized that Saturday was going to be the least cold day of the weekend, even if not the sunniest.

Let’s go and have a picnic at Halibut Point,” P. told his parents. They were visiting us for the weekend. His mother looked back at him, an undecided look on her face. She hesitantly ventured: “It will be cold there, won’t it?

Right, windy! But we will bring a thermos of tea, and warm blankets!

It was probably a crazy idea all things considered, but we were all sold on it. The prospect of being out sounded great.

Fine with me,” I responded. “We can always get some nice sushi at Whole Foods, and I will bake some cakes to nibble on.

Halibut Point State Park

Halibut Point State Park
is another place by the water where we like to go. The state park is located by the ocean in Rockport, only one hour drive North of Boston. There are no beaches, but a vast extension of weather-beaten bluffs, impressive granite rocks with tidal pools, only a few trees — because the place is constantly exposed to winds — short trails and a quarry. During the winter especially, many seabirds can be observed as they feed themselves in the rich offshore waters. We enjoy picnicking in the park, even more so off season, because it is the best time to appreciate the tranquil atmosphere of the place, despite the weather that can be wild.

Brrr, it is really cold,” P.’s mother said when she stepped outside the car, bundled up in the long warm winter jacket she had borrowed from me.

Even with this jacket on?” I asked laughingly.

But tea helped us to warm up, and so did our food. The sushi was excellent.

Next time, I will actually bring soup,” I suggested.

We managed to find a sheltered spot to put our blankets on, and enjoyed lunch with a view. As expected, it was quiet, with only a few people who, like us, had decided to go for a short quick stroll on the rocks. I also noticed a group of photographers, with cameras and tripods, walking back up.

halibut point state park

A few nights before my parents-in-law arrived, I had thought of a new cake recipe I wanted to bake. It included amaranth and brown rice flours (my father-in-law cannot eat gluten), along with goji berries and pecans, two ingredients I gladly eat as a daily snack.

You will see,” I told my mother-in-law when she looked at one of the cakes left on the cake stand in the kitchen, “you will like the berries I am sure, and I think you will love the texture and taste of the cakes too.

Goji Berries

In fact, she liked the berries and cake so much that she asked whether she could bake another batch with me, to make sure that she would be able to bake them again back home. I loved the idea, and we agreed to save time for our baking project. There was, however, one rule: she would bake alone, and I would watch.

Having my mother-in-law bake one of my recipes in my kitchen was an interesting experience. I actually took this as an opportunity to observe, and see whether the recipe worked. Did I explain well what to do? Did I give enough details? Would she follow it word for word?

You are not starting from the beginning,” I told her after a few minutes.

What do you mean?

Do you not prepare your ingredients first, to be sure they are handy when you need them?


That was the first interesting observation. After working as a recipe tester and being asked to follow the recipe to the letter to accomplish the task, I could see, however, that I should not necessarily take this for granted. Every cook has his or her own ways.

All right,” she went on. “Let me follow the recipe as it is written, and we will see what happens.

Off she went to bake, and I to watch.

Look at how nicely they came out,” she exclaimed happily, bringing the baking sheet with the cakes still warm from the oven for us to see. They had risen nicely and had a lovely golden crust.

I think it’s a real success,” I said, quite happy that the recipe had worked.

We have to try one now!

She did not wait for the cakes to cool and took a bite.

They’re even better when they’re warm, straight out of the oven” she added.

The cakes were not too sweet, dense in texture, with a welcoming grittiness because of amaranth flour, providing a healthy gluten free treat that I was sure, my father-in-law would be thrilled with.

I was actually secretly too.

So much so that over the course of the weekend, I got carried away and cooked all sorts of new recipes for them to sample, Thomas Keller inspired appetizers with delicious French and Italian cheese (Chaource), and Serrano ham purchased at Formaggio Kitchen a few days before, a raddichio risotto — my new favorite risotto — custard berry crumbles, vanilla and chocolate petits pots de crème, and yet another cake recipe, with green pistachios and dark chocolate this time.

But I am saving these recipes for another time.

A few words about Goji Berries

Goji berries (also known as wolfberries) are commonly cultivated in China, Mongolia and in the Himalayas of Tibet; they have been used for over 6,000 years for many health benefits, which include boosting the immune system, protecting the liver, helping eyesight, and improving circulation. They are rich in antioxidants. You usually find them dried in the nut section of your supermarket, if they sell them. They are not too sweet but a little sour, delicious added as such to a bowl of cereals, or infused in tea. They also work wonderfully baked. There is no need to soak them, but you can, if you prefer.

Goji Berry Pecan Cakes

(For 5 to 6 mini cakes)

You need:

  • 1/2 cup blond cane sugar
  • 7 Tbsp butter, soft
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup amaranth flour*
  • 1/2 cup brown rice flour*
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2/3 cup pecans
  • 1/4 cup Goji berries

(Note: This is a gluten free recipe
* can be replaced by all-purpose flour)


  • Preheat your oven at 350 F.
  • Grease the muffin molds.
  • Chop the pecans; set aside.
  • Place the flours, salt and baking powder in a bowl; set aside.
  • If you have a stand mixer, place the butter and sugar in the bowl and work into a smooth creamy paste (Or do it by hand)
  • Add the eggs, one by one, waiting that the previous one is well incorporated before adding the next (scrape the sides of the bowl as you go along).
  • Add the dry ingredients slowly while beating. Mix only until everything is well incorporated.
  • Add the pecans and Goji berries.
  • Divide the batter between the molds, about 3/4 full.
  • Bake for about 30 min, or until the blade of a knife comes out dry when inserted.
  • Remove and let rest for a few min before unmolding on a rack.
Le coin français
Petits gâteaux aux baies de Goji et noix de pécan

(Pour 5 à 6 gâteaux individuels)

Ingrédients :

  • 100 g de sucre de canne blond
  • 100 g de beurre, mou
  • 3 oeufs
  • 80 g de farine d’amaranth*
  • 80 g de farine de riz complet*
  • Pincée de sel
  • 1 càc de poudre à lever
  • 60 g de noix de pécan
  • 30 g de baies de Goji

(Remarque : c’est une recette sans gluten
* peuvent être remplacées par de la farine T45)

Étapes :

  • Préchauffez votre four à 180 C.
  • Beurrez des moules à muffin.
  • Hachez les noix de pécan grossièrement et mettez-les de côté.
  • Placez les farines, le sel et la levure dans une jatte et mettez de côté.
  • Si vous avez un mixeur à pied, mettez le beurre et le sucre dans le bol, et travaillez les deux ingrédients en pommade (ou faites-le à la main).
  • Ajoutez les oeufs, un après l’autre, en attendant que le premier soit incorporé avant d’ajouter le suivant (raclez les bords du bol tout en travaillant).
  • Ajoutez les ingrédients secs doucement, tout en continuant de mélanger. Arrêtez une fois que tout est incorproré. Inutile de travailler la pâte plus longtemps.
  • Ajoutez ensuite les noix de pécan et les baies de Goji.
  • Divisez la pâte entre vos moules, en les remplissant aux 3/4.
  • Enfournez pendant environ 30 min, ou jusqu’à ce que la lame d’un couteau insérée dans les gâteaux en ressorte sèche.
  • Sortez du four et laissez reposer quelques minutes avant de démouler sur grille.
Posted in Breakfast, Cakes, Dessert, Food & Travel, Fruit, Gluten Free


  1. These look great. Can I substitute regular all-purpose flour, or whole wheat flour?

  2. Quand je regarde tes photos, je me demande parfois si on vit sur la même planète 🙂 J’ai rarement le temps de commenter mais j’aime toujours autant ce blog.

  3. And so I learned something new today! Goji berries, huh? Thanks for sharing and the enlightening info.

  4. If I can’t find goji berries would you suggest another dried fruit? Maybe cranberries or cherries, since they are sometimes tart?

  5. I haven’t been on a winter picnic since I was a kid and we loaded up the tobaggan and went off for the day!
    I;ve had goji berries onces and loved them.. but have never actually seen them for sale. I’ll keep looking..

  6. Those cakes look beautiful and so delicious! Not sure I can find the Goji Berries around here – I’m very curious now! Do you think I can find them in Paris? Just wondering.

  7. ooh, I have goji berries and pecans, may have to give these a try, thank you for sharing.

  8. Those little cakes make me want to rush out and get all the ingredients and make them immediately! Gorgeous!

  9. Brrrrr, I cannot believe you went to Halibut Point in this cold weather! But how nice that you took these lovely little cakes. I haven’t yet made anything with goji berries, so it’s time I get started.

  10. To those who are wondering about substituting flour: Amaranth and rice flour, as described here, taste much better 🙂

  11. this is interesting, i’ve never thought of using wolfberries in cake! Great post, by the way.. love the pictures!

  12. For those looking for goji berries — you might also want to try scouting out your local Chinese store, especially if they carry a large selection of dried Chinese goods. People who live around areas with Chinatowns or a variety of Asian markets might have more luck. I grew up having goji berries in soup and now I’m a little wary of them but I might be convinced to give it another shot in a different context, like cakes.

  13. Thanks for that wonderful recipe, I have huge bag of goji berries in my pantry – and now I know what to do with them… You’ll most definitely find goji berries in a Chinese store/supermarket. In China these berries are usually added to broths; during the winter people also like to brew and drink a simple goji berry tea…

  14. pas mal les balades du cote de Boston avec porcelaine, petits fours, couverture et superbe vue sur l’ocean… tu les gates tes bo-parents ! 🙂

  15. Un pique-nique avec toi, c’est du tonnerre!! Chaque fois que j’achete des Goji pour des gateaux, je m’apercois qu’on les mange en snack avant qu’elles finissent dans la pate! Merci de ce petit moment d’evasion!

  16. gorgeous! my favorite health food store sells goji berries in their bins of nuts, dried fruit, and grains. i have always wanted to experiment with them in baking, and now i have a recipe!

  17. Hello everyone, a few answers. Like P. suggested, you can substitute these flours for all-purpose, but the taste of course will be different. I like to use these flours because they have more character in taste, and are also full of nutrients. Much better for you than plain all purpose flour.

    Then of course, you can substitute goji berries with any other types of dried berries, like cranberries.

    And thank you for the tip about using them in soup. I am curious about this, so if any of you has a recipe, I would love to give it a try.

    Many thanks again, un grand merci pour vous commentaires, toujours si agréables à lire. Anaik, ahah, une autre planète ? 😉 Mais non, cela dit, ma planète, j’aime l’entourer de notre belle nature. Que veux-tu, je suis une fille de la campagne!

  18. Les rochers ressemblent de loin à des petits monticules de cakes en chocolat…sous la photo en dessous de tes pieds..c’est mignon…avec le sucre glace…Bonne semaine.

  19. Yes, I was thinking cranberries if I couldn’t find these goji berries.
    That is a magical place at any time I would think.
    You are right: if we follow the adage moderation and variety, I really need to bake with the different flours!

  20. Alors toi aussi, tu as craque pour ces famuses baies de Goji?
    N’empeche, entrainer sa belle-mere en pique-nique en plein hiver, meme si c’est super beau, vous etes courageux!

  21. Je prends tout ce qui est sans gluten! Ça fait deux fois que j’entends parler de ces petites baies rouges qui, si on se fie à la publicité, font presque des miracles grâce à leurs propriétés antioxydantes. Mais elles ne sont pas trouvées…

  22. It is absolutely true – I can attest to it – the muffins (or pecan cakes) were delicious. Bea has brought “gluten-free food” to a new level!

    Many thanks!

  23. Thank you for the recipe and the atmosphere. I always enjoy any new “healthy-bites” recipe.

  24. Bea, I just tried this recipe but replaced the amaranth & rice flour with regular flour and grated walnuts. Curious to see the result, it’s in the oven right now.

  25. I know these were made a year ago,but I just found your site & made these muffins.
    They were tasty & quite moist.
    Love your site there’s something different & interesting about it.