This delicious vanilla cake just happens to be gluten free.
I really think that you could serve this Gluten Free Vanilla Cake to any group of people, gluten free or not, and no one will ever guess that it's a gluten free cake.
Every layer bakes up fluffy, with a perfectly flat top, a light and tender crumb, and a gorgeous vanilla flavor. No weird after taste. No dense or grainy consistency. Just a perfectly delicious vanilla cake that can easily become your go-to gluten free recipe for wedding cakes, birthday cakes, shower cakes, anniversary cakes, or just because cakes.
Baking a truly delicious gluten-free cake is not an easy thing.
(And all the gluten free bakers of the world sigh and say, "No sh*t Sherlock.")
This matters because there are so many traditional foods that are seeped into our culture, conditioning our pallets AND our social expectations. Just a few examples off the top of my head: birthday cakes, Christmas cookies, Thanksgiving pie, breakfast and brunch pastries, bread in every form at every meal.
ALL of these culinary staples were created with wheat and all rely on gluten for their structure and flavor.
So, if you're gluten free, or cooking and baking for someone who is gluten free, you have two choices: give up all those cultural culinary staples, or try to make copycat gluten free versions.
Most of us (myself included), when faced with choices like this, quite literally want to have our cake and eat it too. But finding ways of combining other ingredients to mimic everything that wheat and gluten contributes to foods is NOT an easy task.
Today's grocery store shelves are stocked with an ever growing variety of gluten free baking mixes and flour substitutions. But they tend to be on the pricy side and many (most, even) are not very good. The frustrating thing is that in order to know that they aren't very good you have to purchase them and try them out, resulting in time and money spent on something that is most likely going to end up in the trash.
Why this recipe works
When I started working on a recipe for Gluten Free Vanilla Cake, I really wanted to find a prepared gluten free flour substitute that I could use instead of the cake flour in my favorite Vanilla Cake recipe. So, that's where I started.
Several gluten free flour mixes and many cakes in the trash later, I gave up on that idea and embraced the fact that I was going to need to create a specific blend just for this cake.
I DO think that a few of the gluten free flour mixes I tested might be fantastic in certain cakes and muffins. But, they didn't work in this vanilla cake.
The thing I love so much about my favorite Vanilla Cake recipe is that the flavors are so clean and bright. Every bite offers a mouthful of sweet buttery vanilla flavor, without any weird after taste or competing flavors mucking it up. That's what I wanted for the gluten free version, and I just couldn't get it from a pre-made mix.
Key ingredients in this recipe
After playing around with several different combinations of gluten free flours, I settled on a blend of:
Let's talk a bit about why each of these ingredients are important to the final texture and flavor of this vanilla cake.
Superfine brown rice flour. The first thing I want to say here is that it's super duper important to use SUPERFINE brown rice flour. Rice flour not labeled "superfine" or "extra fine" will result in a cake that's gritty and crumbly rather than soft, light, and fluffy. One of the biggest advantages to using rice flour in gluten free baking is that it contains a high percentage of protein - about 7% - without the grittiness that comes with other high protein gluten free flours.
One caveat with rice flour is that it doesn’t absorb liquid and fat in the same way wheat flour does. This can cause a sort of mushy consistency in cakes. The solution, which you'll see in the recipe, is to blend the rice flour with buttermilk and let it sit for a few minutes, giving it time to absorb the liquid, before adding it to the cake batter.
Potato Starch and Tapioca Flour. Potato starch is flavorless and contributes structure, tenderness and binding to this vanilla cake. But, too much results in a dry, crumbly texture. Tapioca Flour contributes a chewy texture, and some elasticity and structure to this cake. But, too much can make the baked texture too dense.
(Just to confuse us, Tapioca Starch and Tapioca Flour ARE the same thing. But, Potato Starch and Potato Flour are NOT the same thing. For this cake recipe, make sure you're using Potato Starch.)
Nonfat Milk Powder. I found that just ½ cup of potato starch and a little over ¼ cup of tapioca flour was the perfect amount to take advantage of their ability to add structure and elasticity to the cake without ending up with a dense, crumbly, hockey puck. But, the cake had a of starchy texture that I wanted to try and get rid of.
As it turns out, nonfat milk powder does a wonderful job of coating all those starchy granules and creating a texture that's nearly identical to a cake made with wheat flour.
What is Xanthan gum?
Xanthan Gum sounds like something you might not really want to put in your food. In actuality, it's a natural carbohydrate, made from corn sugar that's been fermented with the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris. As you might have guessed, the bacteria is where Xanthan Gum gets its name.
Even though you mostly hear about Xanthan Gum in relation to gluten free baking, it's actually found in all sorts of common foods, from sauces and dressings to ice cream and yogurt.
Xanthan Gum is essential to nearly all gluten free baked goods because it replaces some of the thickening power and elasticity normally provided by gluten. When Xanthan Gum is mixed with liquid, it becomes gel-like. When mixed into cake batter, those binding properties hold the batter together and keep the finished cake from turning into a crumbly mess.
How to fill and frost this cake
This is a true all-purpose recipe for gluten free vanilla cake, and the number of frosting and filling options are limitless.
This cake also pairs well with pretty much any variety of flavored version of Italian Meringue Buttercream – fresh berry, lemon, chocolate, caramel, and coconut maple buttercream are just a few of my favorites. Sometimes I flavor only part of a batch of Italian Meringue Buttercream, filling the layers with the flavored version and keeping the outside frosted in vanilla buttercream. Other times, I frost and fill with whatever flavor strikes my fancy.
And, of course, vanilla cake is pure heaven when iced with Milk Chocolate Buttercream.
The only thing I’d be cautious of when deciding how to fill and frost this vanilla cake is adding fresh fruit. Fruit jam, preserves, or fruit flavored buttercream work really well. But, fresh fruit generally contains too much moisture.
As the moisture leaks out of the fruit, it can soak into the cake layers making them kind of soggy and even causing the layers to slip, toppling your cake over.
Used in this gluten-free vanilla cake recipe:
- Wilton Cake Pan, 8-inches by 3-inches
- Angled Icing Spatula
- KitchenAid 6-Quart Professional Mixer
- Italian Meringue Buttercream
- Superfine Brown Rice Flour
- Potato Starch
- Tapioca Flour
- Xanthan Gum
More popular Gluten Free Recipes:
- Gluten Free Caramel Cake with Salted Caramel Italian Meringue Buttercream
- Chewy Chocolate Brownie Cookies
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
- Gluten Free Banana Muffins
If you give this recipe a try, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, or take a picture and tag it #ofbatteranddough on Instagram.
- 2 cups MINUS 2 tablespoon superfine brown rice flour (plus more for dusting the cake pans)
- 1 cup buttermilk, full fat, at room temperature
- 5 whole eggs, separated, at room temperature
- 2 egg whites, at room temperature
- 2 ¼ cups sugar, divided
- ¾ cup butter, at room temperature
- ¾ cup shortening
- 1 tbs pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon lemon extract (optional)
- ½ cup potato starch
- ¼ cup tapioca flour
- ¼ cup dry nonfat milk powder
- 3 teaspoon Xanthan gum
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- Whisk the superfine brown rice flour and buttermilk together in a medium size bowl until smooth. Set aside.
- Heat oven to 325. Using superfine brown rice flour and butter or shortening, grease and flour three 8 or 9-inch round cake pans, and line the bottoms with a round of parchment paper that is also slathered with a bit of butter or shortening.
- Separate the 5 whole eggs, placing the 5 yolks in a small bowl and the whites in a separate medium
size bowl. Add the 2 additional egg whites so that you have a total of 7 egg whites. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until frothy. Slowly pour in ¼ cup of the sugar, beating as you pour. Continue to beat until the meringue is glossy and stiff peaks form when you lift the whisk from the beaten egg whites. Set aside.
- Fit the standing mixer with the whisk attachment and cream the butter, shortening, and remaining 2 cups of sugar until very light and fluffy, about 6 minutes. Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl a time or two. Beat in the vanilla and lemon extracts until well combined.
- Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating each until fully incorporated, about 20 seconds, before adding another. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl from time to time.
- Add the potato starch, tapioca flour, nonfat milk powder, Xanthan gum, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg to a medium bowl and mix with a wire whisk to combine.
- Add the buttermilk and rice flour mixture to the stand mixer bowl along with the dry ingredients. Beat on medium-high speed for about 60 seconds, until the batter is completely smooth.
- With a rubber spatula, gently fold the beaten egg whites into the batter just until incorporated. Be
gentle - you want to retain as much air in the batter as possible.
- Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 40-50 minutes. When done, the cakes will be golden brown and pulling away from the sides of the pan. To check for doneness, stick a toothpick into the center of one of the layers. Remove the toothpick and look for signs of raw batter. If only cake crumbs stick to the toothpick, the cake is done. You can also scoop a tiny amount of cake from the center of one of the layers to check for doneness. (You’ll be covering the cake with frosting anyway.)
- Let the cakes cool on wire racks for 5 minutes in the pan, then gently turn them out of the pans onto the wire racks to cool completely. If you don’t plan on frosting the layers immediately, wrap each tightly with plastic wrap. The layers can be stored at room temperature for 1 day, or frozen for up to 2 months.
- Frost with Vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream, or Classic American Buttercream.
No buttermilk? No problem. DIY Buttermilk: How to make your own