Sunday, July 7, 2013

Gluten-Free Chocolate Layer Cake

One of my sisters was visiting this week, just before her birthday, and I was luckily able to make her a birthday cake. I wasn't able to make one when one of my other sisters was here around her birthday (very sorry about that), but maybe we can remedy it with a very belated birthday cake next time you're in town.

Not that everyone is going to want a recipe for a rich chocolate cake in July, but it may come in handy some day.

I knew a great gluten-free chocolate cake to use as my base...

Gluten is a protein found in many grains including barley, wheat, and rye. It's what makes dough elastic and it's what gives bread it's characteristic springy texture.  While it's contained in many grains, it is not in all grains. Rice, millet, and quinoa are all examples of grains without gluten. 

Working with gluten-free flours can be kind of a challenge, but it can also be fun to experiment. And it's certainly an interesting learning experience. Too much of one type may make a finished cake gummy and unappetizing, too much of another could lead to a tough cake, using too much of a third kind may cause things to be too crumbly, another may have too strong a flavor if used alone.
Different flours have different textures, different shades, different properties, different flavors (and that's why it's a good idea to use a combination of flours). For example, coconut flour adds a nice flavor, but if you happen to use it, you'd want to use extra liquid as it absorbs a lot. Almond flour, on the other hand adds protein to baked goods and gives a nice nuttiness as well as moisture to the finished product. Great examples though they may be in my opinion, neither of those are used in this recipe.

In the above photo, the flours used in this particular chocolate cake are pictured.
In order, 1-5, the flours are: glutinous rice, sorghum, millet, tapioca, and cornstarch (with cocoa powder in the center). Without knowing anything else, one only needs a quick to look to see these flours have variations in color and texture.

While it doesn't contain gluten, glutinous (or sticky) rice flour is obviously light and very fine. It adds a light texture to the cake. Sorghum is slightly earthy and adds a little nutty sweetness. Millet, which to me has a scent like a sweet buttermilk pancake mix, helps create a cakey texture along with flavor benefits like those of sorghum (and both of these two add protein and fiber). In a cake, tapioca flour aids in a springy texture and it, along with  cornstarch, acts as a thickener.

Although I certainly don't know everything there is to know about them, I do like to play around with the gluten-free flours- especially if I have a recipe in front of me as a springboard.

A tip: if you want to try using different gluten-free flours, it's best to substitute little by little and see how a recipe changes. 

The cake was a hit, so it's a recipe that can be saved for another celebration, another time. Although for anyone under the age of four present, frosting was probably the only draw (why else does one eat cake?).  I suppose that could be considered an endorsement for the frosting... unless, of course, all sugar is equally good.

This one is a combination of three recipes.
I always like the idea of a little fruit with my chocolate. Raspberry is a wonderful partner for chocolate- it can cut some of the richness quite nicely, but at the same time compliment it so well. And since jam makes such a simple and lovely cement between the  layers of cake, we decided to go with a raspberry jam filling.

As for the frosting I initially just wanted a ganache. But because it's summer I thought maybe I should go with something a little lighter. 
It's a bit ironic that something can be lightened with the addition of butter.

Of course, the complete recipe could be cut down to two if you would like to use store-bought raspberry jam or extra chocolate frosting as the filling between layers (... or go with something completely different).

Gluten Free Chocolate Cake
serves 12 to 16
cake recipe slightly adapted from Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free by Karen Morgan
makes 1, 8 or 9-inch round layer cake (20-23 cm)

1/4 c (28 g) sorghum flour
1/2 c (70 g) cornstarch
1/2 c (65 g) millet flour
1 c (118 g) glutinous rice flour
1/2 c (58 g) tapioca flour
2/3 c (53 g) cocoa powder
1/2 t (2 g) guar gum
2 1/2 t (11 g) baking powder
1/2 t (4 g) kosher salt
1 1/4 c (258 g) sugar
8 oz (226 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 large eggs
1 c (240 ml) whole milk
3 T (45 ml) vanilla extract
1/2 c (120 ml) peanut oil or another vegetable oil

Raspberry jam (recipe follows, or use store-bought)
Chocolate ganache buttercream (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C, with racks placed in the center.
Butter the inside of two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans (somewhere between 20 and 23 cm). Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper. Set the pans aside.
Combine all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low several minutes until well-combined. Cut the butter into 16 pieces and add it to the flour mixture. Beat the mixture on low several minutes, until the butter is incorporated throughout and the mixture resembles wet sand in texture.
Lightly beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Add the milk, vanilla extract, and oil. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and beat on low speed about a minute until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat a few more minutes until the cake batter is smooth.
Divide the batter between the two prepared pans and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean or with a few crumbs clinging to it (25 minutes or so for 9 inch pans, or about 30 minutes with 8 inch pans), rotating the pans about halfway through the cooking time.
Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool 5 minutes. Run a knife along the perimeter of each cake and turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack. Peel the parchment paper from the cakes, flip the cakes top side up and let cool completely. 

Quick Raspberry Jam
makes about 1 1/2 c (360 ml) 

1 lb. (458 g) raspberries, rinsed and drained
1 1/3 c (285 g) sugar
zest of 1/2 lemon, finely grated
1 T (15 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally at first and then more often nearer the end of the cooking time. Remove the jam from the heat and let cool. If not using soon after cooling, place the jam in clean jars and refrigerate.

Chocolate Ganache Buttercream Frosting

1/2 c (120 ml) heavy cream
5 oz (142 g) good quality dark chocolate (chopped if in large pieces)
4 T (56 g) unsalted butter
2 1/2 c (300 g) confectioners sugar
1/2 t (2.5 ml) vanilla extract

Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until just simmering. Add the chocolate, remove the pan from the heat and stir until smooth. Let the ganache cool completely.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment cream the butter until smooth. Add the cooled ganache and stir until incorporated.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the confectioners sugar to the chocolate mixture. Once all the sugar has been added, increase the speed and whip the frosting until smooth.  Scrape down the side of the bowl, add the vanilla extract, and whip the frosting about a minute more. 

When ready to finish the the chocolate layer cake
Cut one of the cakes horizontally through the center. For a more accurate central cut, rotate the the cake while cutting with a large serrated knife- at first with a shallow cut around the outside edge, then cutting deeper with each rotation. It's a little easier if you have a piece of parchment to aid in turning the cake. Carefully separate the top layer from the bottom and place the top side down on a large plate or cake stand. 
If using raspberry jam, spoon about 1/3 c (80 ml) of jam onto the cake. Spread the jam evenly across the cut side of the cake and place the other cut side down on top of the jam layer. 
Spoon another 1/3 c (80 ml) of jam onto the cake and spread evenly. 
Cut the second cake in the same manner and place the flat side (bottom) of the cake on top of the jam. Add a third layer of jam and top with the last piece of cake, top side up. 

Place a few toothpicks in the cake, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes to make sure the layers join together (this can be done a day or two in advance if the cake is wrapped well). 

Remove the cake from the refrigerator, remove the toothpicks from the cake, and frost with the chocolate ganache buttercream frosting.  
Let the cake sit at least an hour so that the frosting sets before serving.
Store any left over cake in a cool place.  


  1. Happy Birthday, MA!
    This cake was very very good, and as good as it was the first day ---it was even better the second day.
    Maybe it really is better, or just that the cake seems to taste better at (before) breakfast time when a girl thinks she is sneaking it.

    BUT,we agree that it tastes SOOO much better on an empty stomach when a person is a little bit hungry w/ a "cup'a".

  2. 5:45 pm here----How I wish I could have a piece of this cake now. Looking at this picture is torture for me.

  3. Your pictures are really looking nice, Natalie! The first one in this post is the best one, yet.

  4. I dont usually post reviews,but this cake just blew my mind and that of my entire family's. I made this cake for my sister's birthday (also allergic to gluten) and it was a total hit! Thank you for this wonderful recipe!

  5. Glad everyone liked it, thanks so much!