Let Us All Eat Cake

By Catherine Ruehle with Sarah Scheffel

Cakes have the power to el­evate an otherwise ordinary moment into something tru­ly extraordinary. They are at the center of life’s celebrations, from birthdays and weddings to gradua­tions, anniversaries, and baby show­ers. We cheer up our friends by bak­ing cakes, reward ourselves with cupcakes, and invite our children to lick frosting off the beaters. So what happens when you or your child can’t enjoy that slice of cake because you can’t eat gluten? I can tell you from firsthand experience.

When a Pastry Chef Has To Give Up Gluten

For the past 20 years, working as a professional pastry chef and cake artist, I’ve piped enough butter­cream to stretch from Washington, DC, to my hometown of Fort Worth, Texas; drizzled enough chocolate ganache to float a boat; and sifted a mountain of flour that would be a challenge for even a seasoned climb­er to scale. My first restaurant boss and mentor, Chef Michel Nischan, gave me the big break that turned a self-taught baker into a bona fide pastry chef. Creating cakes and pas­tries under Chef Nischan’s direction was exhilarating, and it was clear at age 25 that I had found my calling; the New York Times raved about my desserts, calling them “breathtaking in both artistry and taste.”

From there I worked in turn as a caterer, restaurant manager, and cake designer, creating custom cakes for weddings, birthdays, and other gala events, and I opened Sublime Bakery, a retail bakery and cake stu­dio in Fort Worth. From its inception, Sublime stood in the forefront of custom cakes, incorporating organic ingredients before they were main­stream and championing gluten-free, vegan, and sugar-free baked goods before they became trendy. It came to be known as the place to turn to if your kiddo had a laundry list of aller­gies; we would always find a way to make a cake or cupcakes for them.

My dearest Sublime memory is of a sweet little boy named Jack; he was four when he first came in with his mom and his big brother, Pete. Pete explained that Jack had never had a “real” cupcake from a bakery because of his numerous food allergies and intolerances. Jack’s mom had heard that we baked cupcakes that were gluten-free and vegan, so they had come to check it out. Jack’s eyes grew huge when I handed him a chocolate cupcake straight from our pastry case. This was a totally new experi­ence for him; in the past, he’d always had to do without when the family got treats at a bakery. But he didn’t hesitate for a second—he just dived right in, face first. His joy was as pure as anything I’ve ever witnessed.

Little did I know that I too would soon need to eliminate gluten from my diet. It happened when I was a contestant on Food Network Chal­lenge, where I quickly became known as the contestant who always goes big: on the wedding cake show, I cre­ated one of the tallest cakes in Food Network Challenge h istory—7 f eet 3 inches tall, to be exact. But during my fourth appearance, in the midst of preparing yet another big cake—a 5-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus rex cake— I experienced a painful tingling and paralysis in my hands. I was simply unable to complete my cake before the competition buzzer went off. The diagnosis: rheumatoid arthritis. Doctors prescribed a lifelong regime of toxic medications and painkill­ers, but I did my own research and, through trial and error, created a program for myself to heal my body and control the debilitating symp­toms—which included eliminating from my diet food triggers like dairy, refined sugar, and, yes, gluten. Soon after, I enrolled in the Institute for In­tegrative Nutrition, where I became certified as a wellness coach so that I could help others suffering from chronic illnesses.

My diagnosis—and the miraculous relief that the elimination of gluten and dairy provided—inspired me to develop gluten-free (and dairy-free) versions of all my favorite cakes. My goal was to create cakes and cupcakes that would be every bit as good as the originals.

So I invite you, and everyone you know with gluten sensitivities or food allergies, to grab a fork and a slice of cake and dig in with gusto. Because we all deserve to have our cake and eat it, too! I hope you will enjoy baking, decorating, and eating my gluten-free cakes as much as I have enjoyed creating them.

Recipes

Very Vanilla Cake with Fudgy Frosting

Here is everyone’s favorite old-fash­ioned layer cake—vanilla cake with a rich chocolate filling and icing—now blissfully gluten-free. To punch up the intensity of the flavors, I have suggested doubling up on the vanilla in the cake and using both chocolate chips and cocoa in the frosting. If you like a sweeter frosting, substitute milk chocolate chips.

Very Vanilla Cake

3 cups Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Blend (see recipe page 28)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons xanthan gum
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup milk or unsweetened coconut milk (from a carton), at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (optional, see ingredient note page 16)
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter or Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks, at room temperature
1½ cups organic cane sugar
¾ cup egg whites (about 6 large whites), at room temperature
Fudgy Frosting (see recipe page 28)

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly oil two 8-inch-diameter cake pans with nonstick cooking spray or coconut oil.

To make the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour blend, baking powder, xanthan gum, and salt. In a small bowl, mix the milk with the vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste. Set both bowls aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and the sugar on medium speed for 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl. While beating on low, add the egg whites. When all the whites have been added, increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl.

Add one-fourth of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low until almost fully incorporated. Add one-third of the milk mixture and beat on low until almost fully incorporated. Repeat with the remaining flour and milk mixtures, starting and ending with the flour. When all the ingredi­ents have been added, scrape down the bowl and beat on medium for 15 seconds.

Pour batter into prepared cake pans. Bake in the center of oven for 30 to 35 minutes, until the tops are light golden and a toothpick inserted into the cen­ter tests clean. Cool the cakes on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert the cakes on the rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the frosting.

To assemble a two-layer cake, spread ¾ cup frosting between the lay­ers and on the top of the cake, then generously frost the sides. To create a four-layer cake, split each cake layer in half horizontally. Use ½ cup frosting between the layers and on top of the cake, then generously frost the sides.

You can store the frosted cake in an airtight container (or tented in plas­tic wrap) at room temperature for 1 to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. The cake layers can also be frozen prior to filling and icing: wrap tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw at room temperature before remov­ing the plastic and filling and icing the cake. The frosting can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 5 days or frozen for 1 month. Bring to room temperature and beat in the bowl of a stand mixer to restore proper texture before using.

Yield: two 8-inch-diameter layers (12 to 16 servings)

Fudgy Frosting

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter or Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks
½ cup organic cane sugar
¾ cup canned unsweetened coconut milk (shake well before opening)
3 teaspoons instant espresso powder (optional)
6 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
⅔ cup dark or semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2¼ cups confectioners’ sugar

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, sugar, coconut milk, and espresso powder, stirring until the butter melts and the sugar and the espresso have dissolved. Bring to a sim­mer, and then remove from the heat and add the baking chocolate and the choco­late chips. Let the mixture sit with the chocolate fully submerged for 2 minutes, then whisk until smooth. If the baking chocolate has not fully melted after whisk­ing, return the saucepan to the stovetop over medium heat, whisking until the chocolate is fully incorporated. Whisk in the vanilla.

Pour the chocolate mixture into a large bowl. Sift the confectioners’ sugar over the chocolate in three batches, whisking after each addition. Place plastic wrap over the frosting and refrigerate for about 40 minutes, or until thick enough to frost the cake, stirring after 20 minutes and again at the end of chilling. The frosting will be dense and firm.

If you prefer a lighter texture and color, whip the chilled frosting in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment until light­ened. Use immediately after whipping, as the frosting will firm up again if you allow it to sit.

Poppy Seed Bundt Cake with Clementine Glaze

This luscious riff on the traditional lemon–poppy seed cof­fee cake substitutes the tangy, sweet flavor of clementines in both the cake and the glaze. These tiny, red-orange citrus fruits are often available from April to November, but you can also use navel oranges. The glaze recipe makes enough icing to drip down the sides of the cake, but you can also pour extra over slices.

Poppy Seed Bundt Cake

3 cups Gluten-Free Whole-Grain Flour Blend (see recipe page 28)
¼ cup poppy seeds
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter or Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks, at room temperature
1½ cups organic cane sugar
4 eggs or Flax Egg Replacer (see recipe page 28), at room temperature
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed clementine juice
2 teaspoons clementine zest
1¼ cups buttermilk or dairy-free buttermilk (see ingredient note page 16)
Juice of 1 lemon

Clementine Glaze

¼ cup freshly squeezed clementine juice (from about 3 clementines)
1½ to 2 cups confectioners’ sugar (see ingredient page 16)

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly oil a 10-inch-diameter Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray or coconut oil.

To make the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour blend, poppy seeds, baking powder, baking soda, xan­than gum, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl with a rub­ber spatula. While beating on low, slowly add the eggs, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Add the clementine juice and zest and beat for 15 seconds on medium or until well combined. Scrape down the bowl.

Add one-fourth of the flour mixture to the egg mixture and beat on low until almost fully incorporated. Add one-third of the buttermilk and beat on low until almost fully incorporated. Repeat with the remaining flour and milk mixtures, start­ing and ending with the flour. When all the ingredients have been added, scrape down the bowl and beat on medium for 15 seconds.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 50 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake tests clean. Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then invert the cake onto the rack to cool com­pletely while you make the glaze.

To make the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk the juice and 1½ cups confectioners’ sugar until smooth. If the glaze looks thin, whisk in up to ½ cup more sugar.

When the cake is cool, place a parch­ment-lined baking sheet under the rack and pour the glaze over the cake. Allow the glaze to set up for 30 minutes before serving.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 to 2 days or in the refrig­erator for up to 7 days. Or you can freeze it, tightly wrapped in a double layer of plastic wrap, up to 2 months; thaw at room temperature before removing the plastic and serving.

Yield: one 10-inch-diameter Bundt cake (12 to 14 servings)

Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Blend

I use this blend whenever I would typically use all-purpose flour—only this one is 100 percent gluten-free! For the best flavor and texture, I use Arrowhead Mills organic rice flour and tapioca and all-natural potato starch from Bob’s Red Mill.

2 cups white rice flour
1 cup tapioca starch (also called tapioca flour)
1 cup potato starch (not flour)

In a large bowl, whisk the rice flour with the tapioca and potato starch­es until well combined.

Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to 1 month. For longer-term storage, keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 months or in the freezer for up to 1 year. Before using, bring to room temperature. Just before measuring, whisk the flour blend to aerate it in case it has settled. Sifting is not necessary if you whisk.

Gluten-Free Whole-Grain Flour Blend

The feature of this whole-grain blend is sorghum flour. Sorghum is an ancient grain; it adds protein and fiber, and its subtle flavor does not throw off the balance in sweet baked goods the way many other whole-grain flours do. I use sorghum flour and all-natural potato starch from Bob’s Red Mill and organic rice flour from Arrowhead Mills.

2 cups sweet sorghum flour
1 cup white rice flour
1 cup potato starch (not flour)

In a large bowl, whisk the sorghum flour, rice flour, and potato starch until well combined.

Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to 1 month. For longer-term storage, keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 months or in the freezer for up to 1 year. Before using, bring to room temperature. Just before measuring, whisk the flour blend to aerate it in case it has settled. Sifting is not necessary if you whisk.

Flax Egg Replacer

This simple egg substitute contains just two ingredients: flaxseed and water. To grind the flaxseed, use a mini food processor or a coffee grinder dedicated to the task. This recipe makes the equivalent of one large egg.

1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
3 tablespoons water

In a glass measuring cup, whisk to­gether the ground flaxseed and wa­ter. Set aside for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened and become fluffy. Add the flax “eggs” to the wet ingredients in your recipe and mix well to combine. Flax Egg Re­placer works best in cakes that call for four eggs or fewer and will yield very similar results to the real thing.

Reprinted with permission from Let Us All Eat Cake: Gluten-Free Recipes for Everyone’s Favorite Cakes by Catherine Ruehle with Sarah Scheffel (Ten Speed Press, © 2014). Photo: Erin Kunkel.

Ingredient Notes:

Dairy-Free Buttermilk

To make an easy dairy-free substi­tute for buttermilk, combine 1 cup unsweetened coconut or almond milk (from a carton) with 1 table­spoon freshly squeezed lemon juice and let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature. Make it just before you intend to use it; it does not store well.

Confectioners’ Sugar

Powdered sugar is another name for this finely ground sugar and also an apt description of its fine texture, which allows it to “melt” imperceptibly into other ingre­dients such as buttercreams and glazes. Wholesome Sweeteners brand is a lightly refined product made from organic cane sugar that uses tapioca starch rather than genetically modified cornstarch to keep the sugar from caking. I rec­ommend using this store-bought brand for buttercreams because of its fine texture, but you can make your own all-natural confectioners’ sugar (see page 28) for the simple glazes used to top coffee cake.

Vanilla Bean Paste

I have only recently begun to use this beautiful product in my baking— and I highly recommend that you order some right now! It combines the tiny seeds from the vanilla pod with a pure vanilla extract to create a paste with a wonderful flavor and aroma; the seeds contribute lovely little brown specks to your creme anglaise or buttercream. Thanks to its thick consistency, which is simi­lar to molasses, you can use this paste to add vanilla flavor to cake batters or sauces without thinning them out.

 

Reprinted with permission from Let Us All Eat Cake by Catherine Ruehle with Sarah Scheffel (Ten Speed Press, © 2014). Photo Credit: Erin Kunkel. Available for purchase here.