From quick breads like pound cake to angel food, three-layer cakes to classics like Boston Cream, old fashion cakes such as Lady Baltimore to coffee cakes, you will learn what makes them all work. In this lesson all about gluten free cakes, learn how to perfect any cake recipe by knowing what ingredients and techniques do to a cake. You’re always striving to make a soft and moist cake no matter the ingredients, recipe, or type of cake. After this lesson, you’ll be baking like a pro.
WHAT DISH OR PAN SHOULD I USE?
Recipes calling for you to use a “dish” means use a glass dish. When a recipe calls for a “pan”, use a metal baking pan.
When a recipe calls for a pan but you only have a glass dish in that size, be sure to reduce the baking temperature by 25°F and check for doneness earlier because glass becomes very hot. However, metal pans are the best to bake cakes because they heat up quickly, creating a high rise early on in the baking process.
In addition, if you choose to bake in a dark metal pan, also decrease the oven’s temperature by 25°F. It may also bake faster; therefore, begin checking for doneness early.
Avoid thick pans, even sheet pans. They usually baking things slower, avoid browning, and because they take longer to heat, they don’t rise a batter as fast as thin metal. However, they do brown less.
PREPARING THE PANS
As you probably already know, you oil or butter a pan to prevent sticking. Which one you use depends upon what you’re making and how you wish it to affect the cake. Butter will brown more than oil but its dairy content creates a softer edge. Oil tends to make things crisp more but dusting the fat (oil or butter) with flour also helps to soften the edges.
When dusting pans with flour use ample flour to evenly distribute over the entire pan. Then, shake it around the bottom of the pan. Then, turn the pan on its side and rotate the pan in order for the flour to coat the sides of the pan. Shake out any excess flour.
When baking chocolate batters, dust the pan with cocoa powder instead of flour so that the white flour does not show up on the final baked cake. If you have a cake pan that tends to stick, use a combination of flour and cocoa powder.
Lining the Pan with Parchment Paper: If your recipe calls for lining the pan with parchment paper, lay your pan over the paper and trace around the bottom of the pan with a pencil. Cut about 1/8-inch smaller than the circle you drew. Doing so ensures a good fit and also removes any pencil markings. It is best to anchor the paper by oiling the bottom of the pan and then adding the paper. Then, be sure to oil the top of the paper as well.
INGREDIENTS THAT CREATE A HIGHER RISEN CAKE
Baking Powder – Leavening agents like baking powder create air bubbles in batters (oxidation) and create lighter and softer baked goods. Double-acting baking powder, which is what most brands of baking powder on the market are today, create some bubbles when it comes in contact with moisture in the batter (just like single-acting baking powder) and again oxidizes (creates air bubbles) when it comes in contact with heat, whether it be oven heat or warm liquid. Baking powder should be your first choice in baking cakes, unless you’re using unsweetened cocoa powder (more on that below).
Baking soda – Using baking soda also creates bubbles in a batter as soon as it comes in contact with moisture, but more bubbles than baking powder. It also creates more in the oven. There are things you must know as a baker about baking soda:
- Baking soda neutralizes acidic ingredients like buttermilk, citrus juices like lemon, lime, and orange, cream of tartar, vinegar, and chocolate such as cocoa powder. These ingredients also tone down the flavor of baking soda which can be bitter and salty without an acidic component.
- When baking with cocoa powder, a good rule of thumb is to add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda for every 6 tablespoons of unsweetened (not Dutch-processed) cocoa powder used in a recipe.
- If you do not neutralize acidic ingredients, your baked good will have an off or bitter flavor.
- Milk has a pH of 6.5 to 6.7, which makes it slightly acidic. Therefore, you should not use milk when baking with chocolate or cocoa (see the Devil’s Food Cake Recipe).
- Buttermilk is not just for use with unsweetened cocoa powder. You can also use it to lift cakes containing alkaline/Dutch-processed cocoa powder.
- If you wish to use unsweetened cocoa powder in place of Dutch-processed cocoa powder, unless the recipe already contains an acidic ingredient like buttermilk or baking soda, you’ll need to replace some of the baking powder with baking soda to neutralize the acid in the cocoa powder.
- When replacing baking powder with baking soda, use only one-third the amount of baking soda. Example: If a recipe calls for 3 teaspoons of baking powder, replace it with 1 teaspoon baking soda and vice versa. When replacing baking soda with baking powder, use 3 times the amount. If a recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, replace it with 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder.
Buttermilk – Using room temperature ingredients, even buttermilk and milk, will help your cake bake and rise higher and faster. Buttermilk contains yeast which also helps in rising your cake batter. In addition, buttermilk activates baking soda making additional air bubbles resulting in a higher rise.
Cream Cheese – Not only does the naturally formed yeast in cream cheese give cakes a boost in rise, but cream cheese always adds moisture and flavorful, but more importantly, structure. In addition to heavy cream, cream cheese often contains gum. Both ingredients provide structure (help hold up all of the other ingredients).
Sour Cream – Sour cream acts much like cream cheese without providing as much structure. You’ll find some sour cream brands that contain gum while others do not. The brands that contain gum provide more structure than those that do not.
Vinegar – Vinegar is slightly acidic and creates additional air holes, creating lighter baked goods. However, be careful not to add too much vinegar to a recipe or there will be too many large air holes, weakening the structure of the cake, which can collapse upon cooling, or worse, while baking. Also, vinegar balances the chemical flavor of artificial food coloring as in Red Velvet Cake.
Citrus juice (orange, lemon, lime) and Pineapple juice (though not citrus)– Adding some citrus or pineapple juice to a batter creates more air bubbles, as well, making it rise more, which results in lighter, softer cakes.
Yeast – When baking a cake with yeast, it is best to use instant yeast to achieve a fast rise and allow the batter to rest at least 20 minutes to give the yeast time to begin its action. Don’t use too much yeast or your cake will turn out with a tough, bread-like texture. If you wish a soft baked good, stick to baking powder and/or baking soda.
Cream Cheese Pound Cake – (Cream Cheese)
Gluten Free Lemon Pound Cake – (Lemon Juice)
Buttermilk and Sour Cream Chocolate Layer Cake – (Buttermilk)
Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins – (Buttermilk)
Lemon Cake – (Lemon Juice)
CAKES WITH A LARGE AMOUNT OF EGGS
As you learned in Lesson 5: Eggs & Gluten Free Baking, eggs may be separated and you can whip the egg whites to fold them into a batter (as the last step). This works in batters from pancakes to cakes.
The following cakes contain a large amount of eggs:
Because cakes like angel food and chiffon are so airy and do not contain much flour, they do not have much structure. Therefore, they are usually cooled upside down. When they are not, they become a bit dense, but still taste great. Be sure to read the following article for details on cooling:
HOW TO BEAT EGGS:
If making a cake that requires you to add whole eggs to the creamed sugar and butter, add one at a time, making sure the egg is thoroughly combined before adding another. This creates a lighter cake. However, do not over-beat the eggs or this will create a tough cake instead of one that is tender.
As you previously learned in the Egg Lesson, beating egg whites or whole eggs until foamy or stiff also creates lighter cakes.
And don’t forget, your eggs should always be at room temperature in order to whip smoothly and become fluffy. Otherwise, you may end up with a curdled-looking batter, like when you use cold butter.
SIFT OR NOT TO SIFT:
Sifting flour creates a lighter cake. The more times you sift the flour, the lighter the cake. Be careful though. Heat penetrates those air holes and bakes the cake faster. You need to check for doneness earlier if you sift more than three times.
Recipe Example: Gluten Free Lemon Pound Cake
MIXING THE WET AND DRY INGREDIENTS:
You always want to combine the wet ingredients such as butter, sugar (is considered wet), eggs, and extracts. Save the milk or water to add later in the process. You also want to combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl rather than adding them into the wet ingredients one at a time. Combining all of the dry ingredients together ensures that leavening agents like baking powder and baking soda are evenly dispersed throughout the batter. Sifting the dry ingredients together will create a lighter cake.
The exception to this rule is when making heavier cakes like pound cake. When you want a denser cake, never cream the butter and sugar together. Instead, combine the dry ingredients and then add the butter or fat. This will cause the flour to coat the fat, creating a smaller crumb without a lot of air pockets. Think cakes like quick breads. In gluten-free baking, if you’re working with a heavy flour, you may choose to cream the butter and sugar to lighten such cakes. It’s really up to you. However, realize that when creaming the butter and sugar together, the cake will rise higher as well.
ADDING IN THE FLOUR:
You’ll often run across a recipe that calls for alternating dry and wet ingredients. This process helps to create the perfect cake. Always start and end with the dry mixture. In traditional cakes as well as gluten free, mixing develops gluten (not the kind to which people are intolerant). The gluten creates structure. This is good when you’re baking bread, but not in cakes. If you mix anything long enough, you will create gluten. If you mix for a super long period, it will break the gluten you created. The length of time varies depending upon the combination of ingredients you use. If you add all of the flour at once to the batter, you most likely will have to mix for a longer period creating a tougher texture. If you add all of the liquid at once, and that liquid was too cold, it may causes the butter or oil to chill and separate from the batter.
BATTERS CONTAINING LUMPS:
If you think you’ll be overmixing the batter if you try to get every lump out, just leave the lumps alone. Instead, allow the batter to rest while you’re preparing the pans.
WHY USE SUPERFINE SUGAR IN ANGEL FOOD AND CHIFFON CAKES:
Superfine sugar, also known as castor sugar and baker’s sugar, consists of smaller sugar crystals. The sugar melts and whips with butter easily. The small crystals create smaller air bubbles when creamed with butter or eggs making a fine crumb in cakes and meringue. Light cakes also do better with a smaller, finer, crumb because large air holes would weaken the structure of the cake. Superfine sugar also creates lighter cakes.
If a recipe calls for superfine sugar, and you don’t have any on hand, you can run granulated sugar through a food processor for a very short time to create smaller granules. Just be careful you don’t process it too much otherwise you’ll end up with powdered sugar.
WHEN IS A CAKE DONE?
My tried and tested method that has never failed me is testing the cake to see if it springs back when lightly touched. (I sometimes use a silicone potholder for this step if the cake is high in fat and I suspect it to be really hot.) Another signal of being done is when the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. The one test that I do not suggest for gluten free baking is the toothpick test. You want the toothpick to come out clean but in gluten free baking, it does not mean the cake is done yet. However, if the toothpick is not clean, it is an indication that the cake is not done. You see, many gluten free flour blends create a clean crumb on a cake but in the very center of the cake in the middle, it is still raw. The cake above may clean off the toothpick and you’ll never know what the inside is really like.
Allowing cakes to cool in their pans allow the fat to cool and set enough so that the cake does not easily break. Hot butter is runny, even in a baked cake. However, as it cools, it becomes more solid. Many oils react similarly. While the cake is in the pan, allow it to cool on a rack. Otherwise, steam will develop at the bottom of the cake and turn soggy. However, if you have overbaked a cake, this steam will soften the crust. Just don’t leave it in there too long or even a crusty cake can become soggy.
Once you’re ready, you’ll want to flip the cake onto your hand or another rack or platter. Then reinvert it onto an oiled rack and allow it to cool completely. Some cakes don’t need an oiled rack. You’ll become a pro after a while and know when you need that oil.
If a layer of cake is slightly domed, face the cake domed side down during the cooling period so that the dome flattens a bit.
Preventing Domes and Dried Edges
Read the article How to Make Better Cakes Without Domes. You will learn how to prevent crispy, dry edges and sides of layer cakes as well how to prevent domed cakes.
When this step still results in a slightly domed top, allow the cake to cool completely, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate to chill. Once cold, unwrap and slice off the dome. A chilled cake layer is much easier to slice without crumbs falling away, also making it easier to frost. Otherwise frosting a sliced cake allows crumbs to get into your frosting, which shows in the frosting of the final frosted cake.
Ratio of Ingredients in Layer Cake
Traditionally, the ratio of flour, sugar, and liquids should be equal in weight (liquids can weigh more). In gluten cakes, that typically means 3 cups of flour for every 2 cups of sugar, and a little less than 1 cup of liquid (exactly .85 cups, about 7/8 cup), but 1 cup will work just fine. When using my gluten free all-purpose flour blend, you would use 2-2/3 cups (3 cups x .89 = 2.67).
The eggs should weigh the same as or more than the fat. Remember in the Egg Lesson that one large egg weighs about 1-2/3 ounce (1 ounce for the white and 2/3 ounce for the yolk). So, if a cake contains 3 eggs that total almost 5 ounces (1.66 x 3 = 4.98). Then, you’ll need 5 ounces of butter (1-1/4 sticks or 10 tablespoons), palm oil, coconut oil (preferably a mixture of coconut oil + full-fat coconut milk), etc.
How to Torte a Cake (Slice a Single Layer Into Multiple Layers)
Always begin with a chilled cake wrapped in plastic wrap. Remove the wrap and slice the cake in the center of each layer, if needed or as needed. You can mark the layers with toothpicks all around the cake or use a cake slicer, adjusting the wires accordingly. Slice using a solid, serrated knife, without any holes in the blade. You can also use waxed dental floss by crisscrossing the floss and pulling one hand left and the other right. I really prefer the knife method or the cake slicing tool.
The Amount of Filling
Layer cakes vary in size and sweetness as do fillings. When using frosting such as buttercream, sweetened whipped cream, or marshmallow fluff, you never want to make your filling more than half the height of its cake layer. Therefore, if your cake layer is 1-inch high, make the frosting filling 1/2-inch high.
When using sweeter or denser fillings such as chocolate ganache and jam, make the filling layer 1/4-inch high. Even marshmallow fluff may be too sweet for a 1/2-inch layer. Use your own judgement.
Keep in mind that a cake layer that is quite thick will need a moist filling such as pastry cream, whipped cream, or soft buttercream.
See the following basic layered cake recipes:
Yellow Layer Cake (Dairy-Free)
OTHER POPULAR AMERICAN CAKE RECIPES:
Black Forest: Chocolate cake with kirsch or Kirschwasser in Germany (a colorless brandy-style liquor distilled from the fermented juice of black morello cherries), cherries, and whipped cream is what makes black forest cake well known. You can use cherry liqueur which is less expensive and makes a sweeter, less high-alcohol-tasting cake. See cherry liqueur recipe.
Blackout: Three layers of Chocolate Cake, filled with chocolate pudding or chocolate pastry cream, with cake crumbs on the sides or top and sides. This cake is also known as Brooklyn Blackout Cake. Bake four layers and use one layer for the crumbs. You can also bake three layers and use one for the crumbs.
German Chocolate: Originally, the chocolate layers in German chocolate cake were made using dark baking chocolate squares. Nowadays, most recipes call for sweetened chocolate such as the bittersweet chocolate that you’ll find in this recipe. Often, the layers are filled and frosted with a mixture of evaporated milk and egg yolks along with coconut and pecans. This version contains butter, sugar, and heavy cream instead of evaporated milk and you have the choice of pecans, walnuts, or additional shredded coconut.
Hummingbird – A layered cake made of banana, pineapple, and pecans (or walnuts if you choose) is frosted and filled with cream cheese frosting. This version, unlike its traditional counterparts, contains less fruit to lighten the cake.
Lady Baltimore: Well known in the Southern United States, this White Cake is filled with chopped nuts and dried fruit filling, usually raisins but may include figs, is frosted in boiled icing. A moist, three-layered white cake with a filling of raisins, nuts and sometimes other fruit such as figs, and traditionally frosted with boiled icing. However, I prefer to use Italian Buttercream.
Snow Ball Cake – a larger version of Hostess Sno Balls, an old American cupcake-like treat filled and covered with spongey yet creamy marshmallow fluff.
Lane Cake: Well known in the Southeastern United States, this butter cake with a bourbon-raisin-coconut-pecan filling and is frosted with Swiss meringue buttercream. If you cannot tolerate bourbon (it’s made from gluten grains but filtered and processed so much that many people can tolerate it), use brandy instead. To make it alcohol-free, use apple cider.
Coconut Cake: Well known in the southern parts of the United States, coconut cake is a yellow layer cake frosted with white buttercream and covered in shredded coconut.
Red Velvet: Traditionally, red velvet cake was made into a reddish-brown cake by using unsweetened non-alkaline cocoa powder, (not Dutch-processed). That alone makes chocolate cake a little red in color, During World War II, bakers would also add beetroot juice to add moisture and more red color.
Red velvet cake was traditionally layered with Ermine Frosting, which you can see its texture in this video. Today, the traditional frosting is cream cheese. Many red velvet cake recipes today contain buttermilk.
Why Is My Chocolate Cake Red?
Speaking of red cakes, baking soda usually makes chocolate cake red even when you use Dutch-processed cocoa powder. Omitting the baking soda and replacing it with plenty of baking powder, in addition to using traditional (natural, unsweetened) cocoa powder and buttermilk eliminates most of that red color. However, the best way to avoid that reddish color in chocolate cake is to use a rich, high-quality Dutch-processed cocoa powder. Cocoa powder is naturally a little acidic. Dutch-processed is processed to make it alkaline to make it smooth and rich instead of acidic. Take a look at the color of this Chocolate Sponge Cake. It’s not red at all. The cocoa used in this recipe is expensive, but the chocolate flavor is intense and the color is pleasing.
Quick breads were named as such because they use quick-rising leavening agents such as baking soda and baking powder instead of yeast or large amounts of egg. They are heavier than traditional cake layers and usually contain fruit like bananas or pumpkin or vegetables such as zucchini. However, quick bread flavors can include anything from chocolate and beer to cheese and more. The category of quick breads actually encompasses brownies, biscuits, scones, and cookies. However, I have not included the latter in my Gluten Free Quick Bread Recipes category. Check out a few examples:
Banana Bread and Chocolate Banana Bread – Dairy-Free
Chocolate Bread – Easter Version
Bundt Cakes – Bundt cakes rise high even though they are thick because the center piece of metal heats up and cooks the cake from the center as well as the outside of the pan. Most bundt cakes are heavy, similar in weight to quick bread.
SPONGE CAKES – Unlike layer cakes, sponge cakes do not contain any added fat other than the fat from egg yolks. No butter or oil is ever added. The eggs are separated and the whites are whipped into a meringue to make the cake light and spongey.
Originally, sponge cakes did not contain quick-rising leavening agents like baking powder or baking soda. Instead, it was the first cake that used eggs to make it rise.
Vertical Layer Sponge Cake – Stealing a couple of tricks from the Hot Milk Cake Recipe (below), the fat (full-fat coconut milk or heavy whipping cream) is heated and baking powder is added. Both are unusual for traditional sponge cakes. However, the texture is heavenly. Another added leavening agent, cream of tartar, is added for its acidic properties. The final results are a moist, tender sponge cake that does not need to rest for a day or two to absorb its filling. Typical sponge cakes are on the dry side. Not this one.
Boston Cream Pie – Boston Cream Pie is actually a cake. It is usually made from two layers of sponge cake and filled with pastry cream, custard, or vanilla pudding. I suggest using the Lump-Free Pastry Cream Recipe. I find that egg white create lumps easily versus the use of egg yolks and starch. Then, the top is covered with chocolate ganache, which drips down the sides of the cake.
DEVIL’S FOOD CAKE
Originally, devil’s food cake was made using unsweetened chocolate baking squares. In modern times, cocoa powder entered the picture making it a much easier process. This gluten free devil’s food cake recipe also calls for unsweetened cocoa powder, which together with complimentary ingredients creates a dark, rich cake. Everyone will enjoy this cake and never know that it’s gluten free. The newly updated chocolate ganache recipe is just perfect as well. This cake gets its dark color from the use of unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed) combined with plenty of baking soda. Baking powder is added to provide additional leavening without the flavor of too much baking soda.
Betty Crocker Copycat Devil’s Food Cake Mix – Heavier than traditional devil’s food cake, this version turns out much like Betty Crocker’s Gluten Free Devil’s Food Cake Mix.
Allergen-Free Devil’s Food Cake – Using applesauce and extra leavening agents to replace eggs, this cake turns out delicious.
OTHER AMERICAN FAVORITES
Funnel Cake – Using choux pastry dough (same dough as cream puffs or similar), but thin enough to pipe into hot oil and fry, you can make funnel cakes. Use water in this recipe for crispy funnel cakes and milk for a cake-like texture. Funnel cakes are usually served with confectioners’ sugar or sometimes with fruit, whipped cream, etc.
Gooey Butter Cake – Well known in St. Louis, Missouri, this cake is about 1-inch high and is dense; served topped with confectioners’ sugar or whipped cream.
Hot Milk Cake – Hot milk cake calls for hot milk and hot butter to substantially activate the baking powder and to soften the flour. As you learned in an earlier lesson, heat activates baking powder in addition to liquid. This cake is traditionally served as a two-layer cake. The original recipe suggested a mocha icing. However, in the Southern United States, hot milk cake is often made in a one layer 9 x 13-inch pan. In this recipe you’ll also have a choice to use a 9 x 9-inch pan for smaller households.
Smith Island Cake – is the official cake of Smith Island, an island in Chesapeake Bay, on the border of Maryland and Virginia, in the United States. Its seven thin layers are frosted in between each layer and on top. While the original cake was layered with fudge because it held up on long ship excursions, nowadays, one can make the cake any flavor and frost as desired.
Mug Cakes – Mug cakes are made in the microwave. You’ll find that using eggs in microwaved cake will make the them taste very eggy. That’s why you will not find eggs in my mug cakes.
Fondant Covered Cakes – Cakes that are to be covered in fondant need to be heavy enough to withstand the weight of the fondant. Be sure to roll your fondant thin enough or use a sturdy cake.
Whoopie Pies – While whoopee pies look like a sandwich cookie, they are actually cakes in the shape of cookies.
Chocolate Molten Lava Cake – Molten Chocolate Cake is actually a French flourless cake known for its runny, chocolatey center, but Americans have adapted it in a number of ways and adopted it as a favorite chocolate cake.
CONVERTING VANILLA CAKES TO CHOCOLATE AND VICE VERSA
You can take a chocolate or white cake and replace 1/4 cup of flour with cocoa powder, but you should replace it with more cocoa powder, say about 1/3 cup because cocoa powder contains more fat and less dry substance. Also, be sure to replace any milk in the recipe with water for the best flavor. Milk can make chocolate bitter-tasting.
If your recipe calls for only baking powder, be sure to use Dutch-processed cocoa so that you don’t have to swap any of the baking powder for baking soda. However, sour cream contains enough milkfat to avoid any bitter chocolate flavor. You’ll still want to use Dutch-processed cocoa powder though even if you are using sour cream. And of course, remember that if your chocolate cake contains buttermilk, you’ll want to use at least some baking soda to neutralize the acidity.
DID YOU KNOW?
STACK CAKE – In Appalachia (a cultural region in the Eastern United States from the Southern Tier of New York State to northern Alabama and Georgia), in days gone by, instead of serving a typical wedding cake, seven or eight specified guests would bring one layer of cake and the host(s) would spread a filling of cooked apple butter or apple jelly with dried apples between each layer. The layers were often compressed, like soft cookies, making them dense in order to withstand the weight of all of the layers. However, stack cake doesn’t have to be for weddings. Nowadays in the Appalachia area, people gather, bringing a layer of cake, visit, and have fun. The cake is flavored with spices complimentary to apples like cinnamon and nutmeg. Want to try making one? Be sure that you’ll have at least five dense or soft-baked cookie-like cake layers. Then, invite others to bring a similar layer.
When to Slice a Cake:
Never slice a cake as soon as it is made, even when the layers are completely cool. Allow the filling and frosting to moisten the layers. Married together, you’ll have a moist and tender cake.
Replace each egg with 1 tablespoon fat such as butter and 2 tablespoons liquid from a can of white beans (my favorite flavor is cannellini/white kidney beans). For dairy-free, substitute 2-1/2 teaspoons refined coconut oil and 1/2 teaspoon water for the 1 tablespoon butter.
You see, butter contains 16% water. Therefore, you always want to replace the water with another form of fat. You do the same thing with dairy-free substitutes.
Replace butter with refined coconut oil. Refined coconut oil does not create any coconut flavor, where as traditional coconut oil does. Manufacturers even make organic refined coconut oil. I use BetterBody Foods (no affiliation). Use 16% water and 84% oil to replace butter. The tops of the cake layers turn out a little firmer but once they cool, you can baste them with simple syrup to soften if your wish.
Make any of the above cakes that will teach you something new. This is your last lesson. So, make it count!
Then, stay tuned in for your final assignment coming up next.
Need a refresher on something?
You can access all lessons via the links on the Syllabus page.