Last year, some friends were throwing a birthday party for a gluten-free friend, so I offered to make the cake. Knowing full well that gluten-free baking can be pretty hit-or-miss, I decided on a two-pronged strategy: 1) consult epicurious.com, The Best (Consistent) Source (in my ever-so-humble opinion) for really good recipes; and 2) test the recipe before the birthday party. epicurious.com did not disappoint. Their gluten-free coconut layer cake sounded delicious and had excellent reviews, so I decided to give it a shot.
Conveniently enough, I had signed up to bring food to an office luncheon about a week before the birthday party, so I had an easy test audience: a room full of gluten-full guinea pigs to test just how good this cake really was. Side note: as you may or may not know, since my celiac diagnosis in 2004, my litmus test for good gluten-free anything is how enjoyable it is to eat for people who don’t have to eat gluten-free. If they don’t feel sorry for me, mission accomplished!
Here’s the cake I made for work, last April…
My first lesson with this recipe was that the white chocolate frosting is not worth the effort or expense; it curdles way too easily and then you’re out a whole bunch of expensive, good-quality white chocolate. I managed to salvage some of it the liquid and add it to a buttercream frosting (which, I might add, made for a very tasty buttercream!), but if I ever want a white chocolate frosting again, I’ll find a simpler recipe.
Here’s the one I made for my gluten-free friend in May…
My second lesson with this recipe was that cake decorating is fun! I had baked a gluten-full cake earlier in the year for another friend’s birthday – I didn’t have the same kind of time to search for and test a gluten-free recipe – and thoroughly enjoyed the decorating aspect. Decorating this cake (all four times now) has been no exception. And, what’s great about this cake recipe is that it seems pretty adaptable; the coconut and almond flavors are subtle enough that it seems like they could handle a wide variety of flavors.
Here’s the one I made for my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary in June…
Finally, for my latest rendition of this cake, I learned that the recipe is quite scalable. I didn’t have enough almond flour in my refrigerator for a whole cake, and was making it during The Blizzard of 2013, so a grocery run wasn’t feasible. Being the Excel nerd that I am, I took the measurements for the full recipe, calculated a ratio based on the amount of almond flour I actually had, and reduced all of the ingredients accordingly. Let me know if you want the smaller recipe, which uses four small tart pans (6″, I think?) instead of three 9″ cake rounds.
And here’s the one I made this weekend!
Note: If you use the epicurious.com recipe link, be sure to ignore the ingredients & directions for the icing (unless you’re up for the challenge). Also, when we made this cake on a really humid day, the batter didn’t really set after baking, but the cake still tasted good! We may have been able to cook it longer (or beat the egg whites a little stiffer)…any suggestions? Finally, this cake keeps pretty well for 2-3 days, but better in the fridge than out!
1 3/4 cup almond flour (I used Trader Joe’s, which is pretty unrefined, but still very good!)
2 tablespoons coconut flour
10 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
1 tablespoon coconut or golden rum (could substitute vanilla or almond extract for an alcohol-free version)
2 cups plus 1 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
icing (may need to double, depending on how much icing you want)
1 cup (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened
3-4 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
up to 4 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line three 9″ round cake pans with parchment paper (check out this video for a quick-and-easy way to make a parchment paper circle – no tracing and cutting involved!).
In a large bowl, whisk together almond and coconut flours.
In a stand mixer, using a whisk attachment, whisk egg yolks at high speed for 2-3 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Reduce speed to low; mix in rum and 2 cups confectioner’s sugar. Scrape down sides, then increase speed to high and beat for 1 minute, until pale and thick. Decrease speed again to low and gradually add almond and coconut flour, reserving bowl. If the mixture is too thick or sticky, you may need to mix the last of the flour in by hand (I don’t think I ever did, but the instructions say you would). Transfer batter back to the bowl you used for the almond and coconut flours, set aside, and then wash and dry the stand mixer bowl and whisk (they must be clean and dry for the next step!)
In your freshly-cleaned and dry stand mixer bowl, whisk egg whites on moderate speed until very foamy, about 1 minute. Add cream of tartar, salt, and 1 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar. Increase speed to medium high and beat until mixture forms stiff peaks, about 2 minutes. Gently fold one cup of egg whites into the cake batter; then fold remaining whites into batter. Divide batter into three cake pans, smoothing the tops as necessary; bake until layers are golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out crumb-free (clean), 20-25 minutes (Note: cakes will rise while in the oven, then fall again after cooling). Invert pans onto wire rack and let cool completely, 1 hour. Run a knife around the cake to separate from pan, then invert cakes onto wire rack and remove parchment paper. To prepare for icing, place each layer in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes, or freeze for 20 minutes.
While cake is cooling, make the icing. In a clean and dry stand mixer, use the paddle attachment to beat butter on medium high speed for 2-3 minutes, until light and creamy. Decrease speed to low and add 3 cups of confectioner’s sugar. Once the sugar has been incorporated into the butter (scrape down the bowl if necessary), increase speed to medium and add salt, vanilla, and 2 Tbsp milk or cream. Beat on medium high for 3 minutes. If you want a thinner icing, add more milk 1 Tbsp at a time; if you want thicker icing, add more of the remaining confectioner’s sugar. Frost immediately or transfer icing to a bowl and refrigerate. After refrigeration, icing will need 20-30 minutes to soften before using to decorate.
a few little tips about cake decorating
I’m new to this world, so feel free make suggestions and do your own thing here, but here are a few things I’ve learned this year that I’ve found helpful in creating a beautiful cake…
- When icing a round cake, do it on a level platter/plate, and preferably one that rotates easily. I know there is professional equipment out there, but I’ve made do with a few decorative plates in my house. Just make sure they’re level, at least the part that the cake rests on.
- Before putting the first layer down on the plate, dab a bit of icing in the middle of the plate. This will adhere your cake to the plate and prevent it from sliding.
- Plan to do a couple of layers of icing. It takes longer and involves refrigerating your cake between layers (for 20-30 minutes), but it makes for a smoother, prettier cake. The first layer is called the crumb coat, just a thin layer on the top and sides of the cake that serves to keep crumbs in place. The second layer is the outer, pretty layer – the part everyone will see!
- Don’t be afraid to make extra icing ahead of time. It only keeps for a couple of weeks, but who doesn’t want an excuse to make a second cake sooner rather than later?