My friend, Stephanie, from ComposedCo called me last week and asked if I could make a gluten-free, dairy-free vanilla birthday cake for her son’s 10th birthday party. Hmm. Before agreeing, I presented the following caveats. First, I don’t generally eat gluten-free so I have no idea what the bar for great tasting gluten-free baked goods is. And second, I’m more of a cook than a baker. But I’m always up for a challenge so I was willing to test a few things out and see if I could make something that didn’t feel like a compromise. Generally speaking, I think it is easier to do gluten-free chocolate cakes than vanilla so that presented its own unique challenges. I also did not want a recipe with wacky ingredients that I hadn’t worked with and couldn’t predict what effect they would have on flavor or texture. I lucked out on the cake with a great recipe from Diane Kittle at Gluten Free & More. It’s moist, flavorful and best of all, you wouldn’t know it was gluten and dairy free unless I told you (or so says my husband and children who can smell whole wheat pasta a mile away and will run in the other direction.)
Next stop was frosting and here the main challenge was finding something without butter. Again, I didn’t want to go the route of too many substitutions. And it dawned on me that an Italian meringue frosting would be perfect. Super decadent with no dairy in sight.
The frosting is not as firm structurally as some I’ve worked with so definitely cut the dome off the bottom layer of the cake creating a totally flat surface for the top layer to sit on.
To cut the sweetness, I added a layer of sliced strawberries and it worked out a dream. In the testing phase, I also did a middle layer with lemon curd for future cakes not restricted to dairy-free and I loved it. So, if you are not dairy free, you can make the cake with butter instead a vegetable shortening and do a lovely layer of curd on top of the meringue in the middle.
To keep the cake stable, I frosted the underside of the top layer before placing it on top of the strawberries.
The meringue is really easy to work with. I am no pro when it comes to giving cakes that fantastic finished look, but meringue is easy to swoop into beautiful ridges and peaks. This will definitely be my go to cake if I ever need to make something special for a gluten-free friend.
Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Vanilla Cake
from Diane Kittle
- 1 cup Spectrum Organic Shortening (or butter if not going dairy free)
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3½ cups gluten-free All-Purpose Flour Blend+ extra for dusting
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1½ cups rice milk, hot (you can use cow's milk if not going dairy free)
- Step 1 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2- 8″ cake pans and dust with gluten free flour.
- Step 2 Add shortening and sugar to your standing mixer. Mix on a low setting until nicely creamed, 4-5 minutes.
- Step 3 Heat milk in a small saucepan until hot.
- Step 4 Add 4 eggs to the mixer while it is running. You may need to scrape the mixer occasionally. Then add vanilla extract to mixer while still running.
- Step 5 Add flour, baking powder, xantham gum, baking soda and salt to a fine mesh sifter. Lay down a sheet of parchment paper. Sift dry ingredients onto the parchment paper.
- Step 6 Alternate adding dry ingredients and milk to the mixer starting with half the dry ingredients, followed by half the milk. Repeat and continue mixing until batter is smooth and silky.
- Step 7 Split the batter evenly between the two cake pans (I used my trusty kitchen scale) and bake for 40 minutes or until the cake springs back nicely when touched and a cake tester comes out clean.
- Step 8 Let cool 10 minutes then pop the layers out of the pan. Let cool completely.
- Step 9 When frosting, cut the dome off of the bottom layer so the second layer lies neatly on top. (see picture above)
Italian Meringue Frosting
- 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 3 large egg whites
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Step 1 Combine 2/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup water, and pinch of salt in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring just until sugar dissolves. Cook, without stirring, until a thermometer registers 235°.
- Step 2 Combine cream of tartar and 3 egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat at high speed until foamy.
- Step 3 Keeping the mixer at high speed, add the 2 tablespoons of sugar one at a time, beating until medium peaks form.
- Step 4 Slowly pour the hot syrup into the egg white mixture, beating first at medium speed and then at high speed until stiff peaks form and it begins to look glossy (see picture above).
- Step 5 Beat in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.
- Step 6 Can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.