I’m a member of a few different cake decorating forums and Facebook groups, and one question I so often see asked is “does anyone have a good gluten free *insert flavour here* cake recipe for decorating?” I sometimes want to pipe up, I do! But often I don’t because I feel like my recipes generally need some extra explaining, rather than just “here is the recipe”. And I don’t want to write a 1000 word essay on gluten free cakes in a Facebook comment or forum post and either bore their pants off or scare the living daylights out of them and send them to the corner crying and clutching a bag of wheat flour to their chest and begging it never to leave them.
But since over the past few years I have adapted and developed some pretty darn good gluten free cakes for decorating, I thought I’d share them all in one place so they’re easy to find, and this here post will serve as a bit of a guide to bakers with the things they need to be aware of before they agree to make someone a gluten free cake.
I’ll add more of my tried and true favourites over the coming weeks, and any more that I develop or adapt in the future.
I want to quickly dispel the two main myths that seem to be floating around about gluten free cakes when it comes to decorating.
“Gluten free cakes are too soft to decorate with fondant, or to use as part of a tiered cake.”
This sure ain’t true! With the right recipe they can be decorated in almost as many ways as other cakes, and if the cake is dowelled properly, it can be used for a tiered cake like almost any other recipe (the dowels do the work, not the cake!)
“The cakes will be too short to look good”
(coming from those decorators such as myself that like tall cake tiers).
Nope again, the recipes I will be sharing will give you a finished cake approximately 4” – 4.5″ tall, when split into 3 or 4 layers and filled with ganache or buttercream. We’ll talk more about cake heights and sizes below.
Baking a gluten free cake is not as hard as you would think (I can do it, after all) and most of my tips are pretty general baking knowledge and common sense, so if you’re here because you’ve been asked to make a gluten free cake and you’re freaking out, don’t worry, I will hold your hand (or not, if you find that creepy…) Let’s get started, shall we?
First off, and this is definitely the most important thing I will say in this post – if you’re a cake decorator who has been asked by a client or friend for a gluten free cake, please, please, pretty please check with them the level of gluten allergy or intolerance the gluten-avoiding person in question has. Unless your kitchen is completely gluten free, you need to make sure the client is aware that there is a risk of cross contamination. For some people this isn’t a huge problem, but for others it is incredibly dangerous. I do not run a business or even pretend to know how all that stuff works, but I imagine you could get yourself in a bit of a pickle if warnings weren’t made. Business or not, it pays to cover your own tooshie and check. I guarantee any gluten intolerant person would rather be asked a million questions about what they can and can’t eat than be made sick! And if at the end you can give them a delicious cake that’s safe for them to eat, then I reckon they’ll be twice as chuffed.
If you are at all uncomfortable or uncertain about being able to bake them a safe cake, it’s best to suggest they try to find a gluten free baker to make their cake.
Secondly, I prefer to mix my own flours rather than use boxed gluten free flour mixes in my baking, as it gives me a much better result and more control over the texture of the cake. In these recipes, along with the total flour amount for the recipe I have given the individual gluten free flours that I have used when developing and testing the recipe. If you decide it’s not practical for you to buy various flours then by all means try a packaged flour mix, but please be aware that your results will almost definitely vary from mine. Many boxed mixes rely heavily on one kind of flour (usually rice flour or cornflour/cornstarch) and in most gluten free baking this isn’t ideal. You will also need to check whether your mix contains a gluten replacer (Xanthan or guar gum). If it does, leave out the gum from the recipe.
You can buy gluten free flours from health food stores and some supermarkets. If the person can handle traces of gluten, then Asian food stores can also be a great place to buy flours. For these recipes I have tried to stick with only 3 or 4 flours (and if you think that’s a lot, just remember that we have up to 10 different gluten free flours in our pantry at any one time, so 3 or 4 is nothing!) Unfortunately there is no such thing as a straight swap gluten free flour for wheat flour, we need to get the balance of flours right to end up with an easy to use, sturdy to decorate, cake.
If you want to mix your own flour but can’t find a particular flour I have used, you can swap it for another flour that you can find. Or if the person is allergic to one of the component flours, then swap it for another. The only thing you need to try and do is make sure you’re swapping it for a similar flour – grain for grain or starch for starch. Most of my flour mixes use a 60:40 ratio of starch (like tapioca starch, potato starch or cornflour/cornstarch) to grain (like brown rice flour or sorghum flour), so you can swap the amount of grain or starch for the same percentage of a similar product. If you’re not big on maths, here is a link to a percentage calculator.
If you’re not familiar with gluten free baking, then if possible I suggest trying out the recipe before the cake is due. This way you can make sure it works with the flours you are using, and you can troubleshoot the recipe if needs be. If you need help with troubleshooting, then feel free to leave a comment on the cake recipe page and I will do my very best to help you out.
Other Ingredients (and Hidden Gluten)
You need to check the packaging of ALL of the packaged foods and ingredients that you plan to use, even things you use regularly and are reasonably sure don’t contain gluten. Gluten is sneaky, it hides in ingredients you would never think of, and it can go by as many aliases as a secret agent.
Here are some danger words to look out for:
Malt (malt extract, malt flavouring, malt syrup, malted milk)
Modified Wheat Starch
Cereal (some cereals are ok, if made from rice or corn, but if it just says ‘cereal’ and doesn’t specify – avoid)
Oats and Oat Flour (oats themselves don’t contain gluten, however they do contain a protein similar to gluten that can cause reactions in some Coeliacs. Also, oats are often processed on the same equipment that processes gluten containing products. So while some Coeliacs can have oats, it’s safest just to avoid unless they are certified gluten free oats.)
One ingredient that really needs checking is icing sugar (aka powdered sugar or confectioner’s sugar) as it often contains wheaten corn starch to stop the sugar from clumping (note: pure corn starch (or cornflour) itself is gluten free, but wheaten corn starch (or flour) are made from wheat. Confusing, I know, but if you buy pure icing sugar, then you’ll be fine.)
Now here’s one that seems like it should be evil and gluten-y but in fact isn’t – ‘glucose syrup from wheat’. This is commonly used in confectionery and fondant icings, and while it is made from wheat it is so highly processed that no detectable gluten remains. So therefore it is safe.
If you see an ingredient that you’re not sure is or isn’t gluten free, just Google it! (What did we even do before the internet, and Google?!)
This list from Celiac.com is an excellent list of gluten containing foods.
For each of the recipes I will give the tin size and the approximate height of the cake when it’s baked. To convert the recipes for various tin sizes, put those two measurements and the ingredient amounts into The CakeOmeter or download The CakeOmeter app (for iPhone/iPad). These recipes are forgiving enough that you can round the measurements up or down a few grams if you need to.
Please be aware that this blog is a one woman show, and a show run by someone who can’t afford to test every single recipe, in every possible sized cake tin. This means that while they are great recipes and should work when scaled up. I cannot guarantee the recipe will work for every size. Once again, I always suggest testing a recipe in the size you need before the event you’re making it for, so you can be sure it will work, with the flours you have, in the size you need.
Before you start baking you will need to thoroughly clean your kitchen, plus make sure all of your bowls and utensils are squeaky clean. Use stainless steel or glass bowls, and silicone or metal utensils where possible. If you’re using a stand mixer then you’ll need to clean all the little nooks and crannies. Think of it as a lovely spring clean for your mixer, I’m sure she or he will thank you for it (mine sure does!). If you wear an apron then make sure you change or wash it before you start.
I only give weight amounts for most ingredients in my cakes because cup measurements can be wildly inaccurate. Not to mention that different countries use different sized cup measurements! In any kind of baking and even more so in gluten free baking it is far easier to troubleshoot a recipe if you know for sure that the ingredient amounts are correct. If you don’t own a set of scales and I can’t convince you to buy some (pretty please, they’re not expensive!) then you can use this converter to get cup amounts.
Most cakes can be baked in two tins for faster baking. For cakes 10” and up I would definitely suggest doing it this way. Remember though that once you level both cakes, you will end up with slightly less cake than you would if you bake it in one tin and only have to remove one crust, so consider scaling the recipe up to compensate. If you don’t have two tins the same size or enough room in your oven for both tins at the same time, then I would suggest making two batches of batter rather than leaving batter until the first cake bakes.
These cakes all benefit from being left in the tin to cool completely (I bake the evening before I want to start icing it and leave the cake in the tin overnight). Just let the cake cool until it isn’t crazy hot anymore, and then cover the top of the cake with foil, securing it under the top lip of the tin. Leaving the cakes to settle overnight makes it much easier to level and split the cake into layers.
For more gluten free baking tips, check out this post.
If you’re covering the cakes in fondant, I highly suggest filling and covering the cakes in chocolate ganache before the fondant, especially if you’re doing any shaping/carving or making a tiered cake. Regular round or square cakes should be fine if filled with buttercream, but if stability is a concern then I would fill with buttercream but cover the outside in ganache.
To work out how much ganache you will need for your cake, pop over to the Ganacherator Facebook page and download the Ganacherator spreadsheet. Simply add in the size and shape of your cake and the number of layers and it will tell you how much chocolate and cream you will need to make enough ganache to fill and cover your cake. If you want to fill the cake with buttercream but are coating the outside with ganache, then add “0 layers” into the spreadsheet and it will tell you how much ganache you need just to cover the outside of the cake.
All of the recipes I’ll be posting are suitable for the three day decorating timeline that a lot of decorators use:
Day 1 – Bake
Day 2 – Ganache
Day 3 – Cover in fondant (and you can add in an extra day for decorating if you like your fondant to dry overnight before decorating).
If you’re worried about the cake drying out you can brush each layer with sugar syrup – equal parts sugar and water, boiled until the sugar is completely dissolved and then left to cool. You can even add flavourings like liqueurs to the syrup for an even tastier cake.
If you’re using fondant on the cake then check that it is gluten free. If you’re using icing/confectioner’s sugar to roll out your fondant, once again you will need to check that it’s pure icing sugar and does not contain wheaten cornstarch. Chocolate for ganache is generally gluten free, but check it anyway. Gluten is a sneaky bugger and will hide in the most unlikely of places.
So, before you bake….
Now if that hasn’t freaked you out, then let’s get on to some recipes! They’re worth it, I promise!
RICH CARAMEL MUD CAKE
(**More recipes coming soon!**)
As always, if you have any questions you can post a comment below.
If you’re a gluten free baker and you think I should add something to this post, I would love to hear from you. I don’t claim to be a world expert on gluten free baking, so I’m always open to new tips.