Gluten free Vanilla Cake is by far the most challenging of all gluten free cakes to formulate. It is quite naked in that it is the most revealing of cakes when it comes to flour exposure. There are no secondary flavors to hide behind such as fruit or chocolate. This purist among pastries must stand alone and operate in perfect unity with its supporting ingredients to create a cake that both tastes delicious and feels correct on the tongue.
I have been baking gluten free desserts now for several years and they can still be a challenge for me. In fact, last weekend while working on this cake I tossed four other trials in the trash. Gluten free ingredients can be finicky and even minor adjustments to a recipe can cause major problems. Luckily I found success with this recipe. The result is a cake with a fine, buttery, moist crumb and a light delicate texture.
To help you avoid some of the pitfalls I have been through I thought I would share some general insights I have picked up along the way when working on gluten free baking.
Gluten Free Baking Tips
- Work with the finest milled flours you can get your hands on. This will make a big difference in the final texture of your cake. This is particularly important with rice flours which can maintain a gritty texture in baked goods if the grain size is too large. I generally bake with rice powders found in Asian markets which are used to make mochi. I buy both regular and sweet rice powder and have had success with Wang and Choripdong brands. Authentic Foods has lovely fine-milled flours but they are a bit pricey and more difficult to locate.
- Use starches to both help bind and offer a fine texture to your cake. I am particularly fond of potato starch which adds a nice moist crumb to cakes and other baked goods. Corn starch comes in a close second to potato starch and will work as a reasonably good substitute. I really don’t cake for the flavor of tapioca starch so I avoid it in baked goods. It tastes like paper to me.
- Add extra eggs in a recipe to help with volume and binding. Eggs help to replace some of the protein strength provided by gluten in wheat-containing recipes and will improve the volume and overall texture of the final cake.
- Cut back on your liquids in similar volume to the increase provided by the extra eggs. For example, if you add two eggs to a recipe, cut your liquids by 1/2 cup. Too much liquid will weaken the already fragile cake structure.
- Add some xanthan gum to help with binding but not too much. I generally add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum per standard recipe, but you may need to adjust depending on ingredient specifics. Too much xanthan gum and overmixing of a batter with xanthan gum in it will result in an overly spongy cake.
In this cake, I used a combination of rice powder, sweet rice powder and cornstarch (I would have used potato but I ran out after throwing away all of those previous batches!). The rice powder helps to create a cake crumb similar to that of wheat flour. The sweet rice powder, which is derived from sticky rice, helps with binding in the cake and adds a smooth texture. The cornstarch or potato starch also helps with binding and yields as a soft, moist crumb. The starches also have a neutral flavor which keeps the cake from tasting overly ricey.
This Gluten Free Vanilla Cake recipe also contains lots of butter and a small dose of buttermilk to add richness and tenderness to this light delicate cake.
One thing to keep in mind, gluten free cakes stale rather quickly because of their starch make up. I recommend baking this cake as close to the date it will be eaten as possible. If it needs to be made in advance I suggest that after it is baked your remove the upper crust (see The Upper Crust for an explanation of this) and wrap it well with three layers of plastic wrap and freeze as soon as possible.
If you yourself are gluten free or bake for loved ones or friends that maintain a gluten free diet this is an excellent cake to bake. It is a crowd pleaser that will delight both gluten and gluten free eaters alike.
- 12 ounces (340 grams) unsalted butter, softened- 1 ½ cups
- 15 ¾ ounces (551 grams) granulated sugar- 2 ¼ cups
- 6 large eggs
- 1 ½ tablespoons (23 milliliters) vanilla extract
- 5 ¼ ounces (150 grams) rice powder- 1 cup
- 2 ¼ ounces (60 grams) sweet rice powder- 1/3 cup
- 7 ½ ounces (210 grams) cornstarch or potato starch- 2 cups
- 1 ½ teaspoons (8 milliliters) baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon (4 milliliters) salt
- 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) xanthan gum
- 6 ounces (180 milliliters) buttermilk- ¾ cup
- Preheat oven to 350 F (177 C). Grease three 8-inch round cake pans with a generous layer of butter or shortening.
- Beat butter and sugar for 2 minutes on medium-high speed of mixer. Add eggs one at a time and beat until well combined. Stir in vanilla.
- Sprinkle in dry ingredients to distribute. Turn mixer on low and mix to moisten dry ingredients. Pour in buttermilk and mix on medium for one minute until well combined and smooth.
- Pour into prepared pans and bake for about 25-30 minutes until the cake tests clean with a toothpick. Cool 10 minutes in pan and then turn out to a cooling rack. Cool completely if using immediately, or wrap in three layers of plastic wrap and freeze if using later. Frost the cooled cake with your choice of buttercream. Enjoy!