I am excited about this post. Very excited. This here cake is the first layer cake, let alone, gluten-free layer cake, that I’ve made in years. Having fallen into the mindset that layer cakes were just a little too much work, I’ve let them fall by the wayside opting instead for desserts that require less attention to presentation (a lilting piece of pie, a fruit crisp). But a picture is worth a thousand words. When I saw the layer cake spread from Seattle baker Tom Douglas in the February issue of Food and Wine, I needed no more convincing to try them once again.
The Brown Butter cake sounded alluring… double chocolate cake as well. I’ll make one recipe as cupcakes, I thought, and the other as the ambitious layer cake. Well, the brown butter cupcakes became a labor of love lost. Overfilled cups, no rising, much spreading and baking into a calcified layer onto the tin. An overall disaster. Have a look:
Except that the nutty brown butter flavor was amazing, so I will revisit this recipe. Also, I learned an important lesson in adapting recipes to be gluten-free. At least for these cakes (and the waffles that are coming soon), though the recipes called for 2 cups of regular flour, that amount was not enough of the gluten-free flour. From what I observed with the incredibly spreading brown butter cupcakes, the ratio of fat to flour was too high which caused them to lack structure. So, thankfully, I was able to adjust according when I made the chocolate cake. Instead of the 2 cups called for, I used 2 cups of a gluten-free flour mix, and 1/2 cup of almond flour. Major improvement in the chocolate cake.
Which brings me to my final point: I made a gluten-free flour blend! I think it is superb for cakes. I took Kelli and Peter Bronski’s suggested mix from their book Artisinal Gluten-Free Cupcakes. Just to keep things a bit complicated, I can’t say that it is the blend I want to use for everything, but it’s texture is great for cakes. I did just check their website, and they use it for everything, so maybe it’s the go-to blend. I’ll engage in a little more experimentation before any final decisions.
Their blend is listed below. It makes 12 cups, enough for 4 – 5 cakes. If you don’t want to make up the whole amount, I’ve included suggested measurements after the blend for this specific recipe.
And before I forget to mention it, the brown sugar buttercream recipe follows the cake recipe. If you’ve never made a meringue-based buttercream, here’s your big chance. The texture is creamy and delicious. I’ll be honest, it is a messy process, but it is a fantastic way to finish the fabulous cake. And cleaning up is the yin to baking’s yang; it’s the inevitable balance. The recipe calls for 3 sticks of butter, but I didn’t think it needed the entire third stick, so I cut it back to 2 1/2.
Artisinal Gluten-Free Flour Blend
5 cups (625g) brown rice flour
3 cups (350g) sorghum flour
2 2/3 (360g) cups cornstarch
1 cup (148g) potato starch
1/3 cup (57g) potato flour
1 tbsp + 1 tsp (14g) xanham gum (I like to leave this out and add the xantham gum to each individual recipe, 1/4 tsp per cup of flour)
Now I did some tweaking of the recipe. I used half white rice, half brown rice flours. I ran out of all but 50 grams of cornstarch so replaced it with more potato starch. And, I swapped the potato flour for sorghum. A lot of tweaks, yes, but it all seems to have worked as the cake’s texture is lovely.
*If you don’t make the whole blend, try 1/2 cup brown rice flour, 1/2 cup white rice flour, 1/2 cup sorghum, 1/2 cup potato or tapioca or corn starch. If you don’t have the almond flour called for, increase one of the whole grains (brown rice, sorghum, or try oat flour) to full cup.
Double Chocolate Layer Cake, adapted from Tom Douglas at Dahlia’s Bakery
Makes two 8-inch or two 9-inch layers
2 cups gluten-free cake flour mix
1/2 cup almond flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder, plus 2 tablespoons
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon xantham gum (if you did not add it to the flour mix)
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup canola oil
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Brown Sugar Buttercream (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons each of flour and cocoa powder. Butter two round cake pans (8-inch for thicker layers, 9-inch for slightly thinner layers) and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pans with the cocoa-flour mixture, tapping out the excess. If this seems like a lot of work, it is worth it to make getting the cakes out of the pans much easier.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the 2 cups of flour and the almond flour with the cocoa powder, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, the baking powder, baking soda, the salt, and the xantham gum (if not in flour blend).
In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk, combine the eggs with the brown sugar and the remaining 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Beat at medium-high speed until thickened, about 5 minutes. At medium speed, gradually add 1/2 cup of the oil and beat for 3 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate, then add the remaining oil in a thin stream until thoroughly blended. Scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl to ensure each addition is well incorporated. At low speed, beat in the buttermilk and vanilla. Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently mix in the dry ingredients by hand. (I partially mixed the dry ingredients in the mixer at the lowest speed and then did the other half by hand.)
Pour the cake batter into the prepared pans and bake in the center of the oven for about 35 minutes for 8-inch pans, 25 minutes for 9-inch pans. The cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached to it. (I did not read this last line thoroughly; I think I could have baked the cakes slightly less for a little more fudgy texture.) Cool the cakes in the pans for 20 minutes, then invert them onto a rack to cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper.
Brown Sugar Buttercream, from the Gourmet Cookbook
Makes about 3 1/2 cups, enough to frost a two-layer 8- or 9-inch layer cake
*special equipment: candy thermometer
3 large egg whites, left at room temperature for about 30 minutes
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Combine egg whites and salt in a large bowl.
Stir together brown sugar and water in a small heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over moderatly high heat, washing down the sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water.
As soon as sugar syrup reaches a boil, start beating the whites: with an electric mixer at medium-high speed, beat whites until frothy, then add lemon juic and beat at medium speed until whites just hold soft peaks. Do not beat again until sugar syrup is ready.
Meanwhile, continue boiling sugar syrup until it reaches 240 – 242 degrees on thermometer. (According to my experience, I would go for the higher temperature as much syrup cooled down quickly once off the heat.) Immediately remove from heat and pour into a heatproof measuring cup. Slowly pour hot syrup in a thin stream down side of bowl into egg whites, beating constantly at high speed. Continue to beat meringue, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary, until cool to the touch, about 6 minutes. (It’s important to cool the meringue properly before proceeding.)
With a mixer at medium speed, add butter one piece at a time, beating well after each addition until incorporated. (If meringue is too soupy after some butter is added, chill bottom of bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice and cold water for a few seconds, then continue to beat in remaining butter.) Continue beating until buttercream is smooth. The mixture may look curdled before all butter is added, but it will come back together before beating is finished.) Add vanilla and beat for 2 minutes more.
The buttercream can be made up to 1 week ahead and refridgerated, covered. It can also be frozen in an airtight container for up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature (do not use a microwave) and beat with an electric mixer until smooth before using.