Sunday, April 20, 2008

Making Cake Gluten Free

This is one of the cakes to make my mother famous (at least among her acquaintances). We have one old friend who requests this cake whenever she comes to visit. And this was the groom's cake John chose for our wedding. It also became one of the first recipes to establish me as a great baker. John was sad to think he'd never be able to eat this again, but I was too nervous to modify it, until last year, when I had a somewhat successful attempt. This year, after more cake successes, I tried again, and was very happy with the results. I still have to modify temperature and use regular butter instead of unsalted, but now I can happily add this back to my repertoire.
So, I'm not sure that I'll take the time to post the long, complicated recipe for this particular Lemon Marzipan cake, but will revel in the success of making it gluten free, and discuss the things I have learned about adjusting cake recipes.
1) Choose your recipe wisely. If it's a really light, really fluffy cake whose recipe requires a lot of flour: don't try it. Dense cakes, especially chocolate ones, modify perfectly. Also, the best yellow cake I've modified came from a recipe using cake flour, prized for its lower amount of gluten and therefore easier to modify. Also, cakes that require more eggs (like 3), or that require dividing the egg and folding the whipped whites into the batter hold their shape better, so do well with gluten free flours.
2) Make sure the cake has a great frosting or something to help out the flavor. Somehow, rice flour mixes don't make for the tastiest cakes, but something like this, where the texture of the cake is what is needed with the ultra flavorful lemon buttercream and marzipan, works perfectly. I also find that the yellow cakes I've made taste marvelous with great chocolate frosting.
3) I have found a curious combination of flours that seems to work very well with cakes and sweet breads: 2/3 of the recipe as Featherlight flour, and the remaining 1/3 GF mix. I think I was introduced to this by the Eating Gluten Free girls, but I'm not certain. I've been using it for a little while adjusting recipes, and I've been happy with it every time.
4) If in doubt, add an egg. If the recipe doesn't already call for an insane amount of eggs, I add one. Somehow, it makes things hold together better and come out nicer.
5) Add xanthan gum, about 1/2 teaspoon per cup of flour used, although typically you don't need more than 1 teaspoon per recipe.
6) Cakes need to be cooked thoroughly to hold their shape, which is a problem with gluten-free flours. Holding their shape that is, not being cooked thoroughly. Because of this fact, I sometimes favor a lower temperature for a longer time period so it cooks slowly and evenly. Maybe even try it in a water bath.

For this cake, I added an egg, an extra 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, and an extra egg, using the same amount of flour called for but adjusting the mixes as I described above. It worked really well. I wouldn't necessarily recommend the cake on its own, but the texture was pretty perfect (barring the outside that was overcooked because I cooked it at too high of a temperature for my dark pan) and it's not supposed to stand on its own but meld with the other flavors.

Enough of my idle prattle, these are some of the things I've learned about baking gluten free cakes. The thing that stands out the most for me though is, it's possible. I've made good special occasion cakes gluten free, and that's something I didn't think possible before.


Dean Family said...

These are such great tips!!! I can't wait to become a good cook like you!! Keep up the good work, I appreciate it and need it a lot!

Jazz said...

I have always been wary of GF baking as I cannot have the "gums" that are called for in most recipes. What experience have you had, or advice can you give, about baking without xanthan or guar gums? Thanks so very much!


John, Megan and girls said...

There are certain things that I make where I don't use the gum, usually something calling for more eggs that will act to bind the recipe, because that's what the gums help to do. If you can't have the gums, your cake will not "hold together" as well, and will be more crumbly, but you could try to add another egg, or maybe some egg replacer? It's always worth a try.

bakingbarb said...

Is your recipe posted? I am working on a gluten free wedding cake and while I have mastered many recipes gluten free, cake isn't the easiest.
BTW I use the sorghum flour blend by Carol Fenster from her 1000 gluten free recipes.

Thanks for writing gluten free!

John, Megan and girls said...

I actually never did post this recipe, and was wondering if I still have my notations written down somewhere. I do have two yellow cakes recipes that worked for me posted for the Treasure Chest cake, and the chocolate cake recipe I have is really great. I'll try to get this one up soon.

Tanzania Man said...

I could author this blog except the hubby's name is Kristian (I call him KEM too). Ironically he's also been to Africa-- grew up there actually as a missionary kid. He found it easier to be gf there than here. Thankfully, I love a challenge, and am loving learning to "bake again". Really appreciating your easy manner and expertise. Thanks!