Strawberry lemon gluten-free birthday cake
My niece Madi is enrolled in a culinary baking program and is in love with all things baking. I am not a baker; I am a cook. There is definitely a difference. Cooks fly from the hip. They taste as they go and throw this and that in the pot and have a hard time following a recipe. Bakers are methodical; they measure and pay attention to the details. Bakers are every bit as creative as cooks, but they approach their craft differently. They have to be more fastidious, as baking is a science, and you have more opportunities to screw up.
So when Madi invited me to spend a day baking with her, I was all ears. Madi wanted to take a stab at gluten-free baking so we decided to make a gluten-free birthday cake. And I have to say, it turned out pretty darned well.
Gluten-free birthday cake
More and more people are experimenting with gluten-free eating, my family included. I personally think going gluten-free can be an effective way to avoid a lot of highly-processed and sugar-ladened foods, provided you don't substitute a lot of highly processed sugar-ladened gluten-free foods to fill in the void. That said, for those on a gluten-free diet, there are special occasions when you really miss a good baked treat. For me, birthdays are one of those times. This cake fills the bill for a great gluten-free birthday cake. It is light, tender, lemony and delicious.
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There are a few good gluten-free baked goods out there. Meringues, particularly, come to mind. But there are a lot more dreadful gluten-free baked goods that are not worth the bother. Madi and I did our research and found Gluten-free Baking Classics by Annalise G. Roberts, a highly rated gluten-free baker and author. Annalise has delved deep into the science of baking gluten-free. Her book is filled with great recipes, methods and gluten-free baking wisdom. Madi and I used her lemon cake recipe for the basis of our cake.
Annalise G. Roberts' custom gluten-free flour mix
You can buy premixed gluten free flours, but just substituting them for regular flour does not always come out well. Many gluten-free baked goods are heavy and dry. Annalise developed a mix of extra finely ground brown rice flour, potato starch and tapioca flour, that until recently had to be blended at home. Now Authentic Foods sells a premixed gluten-free flour blend specifically for Annalise's recipes. You can purchase this flour here online. Or you can make your own mix by combining 2 parts extra fine ground brown rice flour with 2/3 part potato starch, with 1/3 part tapioca flour.
Xanthan gum replaces gluten in gluten-free baking. Xanthan gum is made from fermenting glucose, sucrose or lactose. It provides elasticity and helps baked goods bind together. It is critical to be very accurate in measuring xanthan gum. 1/8th teaspoon too much or too little will make a difference.
For the filling we followed my daughter Margo's suggestion and cooked down some fresh strawberries, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice to make a jammy fresh fruit filling. Adjust the amount of sugar you use depending on the sweetness of your strawberries. See my post on strawberries to learn how to buy and store them as well as the health benefits of eating strawberries.
We wanted a whipped cream based frosting, but one that would hold up. We added cream cheese to the frosting to make it a little sturdier, slightly modifying a recipe by Jo-Lynn on All Recipes. I like to use vanilla paste instead of vanilla extract, because of the flavor and aroma, and because I love seeing the vanilla seeds in my frosting. You can use either vanilla extract or vanilla paste as they are 1:1 substitutes for each other.
A trick Madi taught me is to put the cake pans in the freezer before you frost them. You can freeze them overnight, but even a half hour helps firm up the cake and makes it easier to frost.
Note on duplicate ingredients
Some of the same ingredients are used in the filling, the cake and the frosting. For this recipe, I list the ingredients and the amounts in the order they are used, repeating ingredients used at each step, rather than combining the the total quantity of the ingredient used in one line. I think this method reduces the risk of inadvertently dumping all the sugar for the entire cake into the filling. Please let me know what you think!
The most fun I have ever had baking a cake
As I mentioned, baking is not my thing, but I had a blast baking with Madi. We can't wait for our next baking date!
- 2½ cups strawberries, chopped plus 5 - 6 whole strawberries
- ¼ cups superfine sugar
- Zest from 1 lemon
- 2 T fresh lemon juice
- 1 T cornstarch
- 1 T water
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 2½ cups Authentic Foods GF Classic blend flour
- ½ t salt
- 1 T baking powder
- 1 t xanthan gum
- 1 cup canola oil
- 1 cup milk
- 1 t vanilla paste or vanilla extract
- 1 t lemon extract
- 1 T fresh lemon zest
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup of superfine sugar
- 1 t lemon zest
- 1 t vanilla paste or vanilla extract
- 1 t lemon extract
- 2 cups cream
- Put first four ingredients into a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 5 minutes. In a small bowl mix cornstarch and water to combine. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the strawberries and continue cooking another minute or so until mixture thickens. It will continue to thicken after it cools. Remove from heat and cool. Refrigerate until you are ready to use.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter two round 9" cake pans. Line each pan with a circle of parchment paper.
- Using a mixer, beat eggs and sugar together at medium speed for 1 minute. Add remaining flour blend, baking powder, xanthan gum, oil, milk, vanilla, lemon extract and lemon zest and beat for another minute to combined the ingredients.
- Pour half of the cake batter into each pan and bake in the center of the oven for about 35 minutes. Cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake pans on racks until room temperature. Tip: Before removing the cake from the pans put them in the freezer for half an hour or overnight. This will help set up the cake and make it easier to frost without crumbling.
- While the cake is baking, make the frosting. Using a mixer, combine cream cheese, sugar, lemon zest, lemon extract, and vanilla paste and mix until smooth. Slowly add the whipped cream as you whip the frosting until frosting holds stiff peaks.
- When the cake has thoroughly cooled. Use a knife or spatula to release the edges of the cake. Place your serving plate over one of the cakes and invert it. When the cake releases, peel back the parchment paper. The cake should be bottom-side up.
- Spread the strawberry filling over the top of the first layer. Cover the strawberry filling with a layer of the whipped cream frosting. Remove the second cake from the pan by inverting it into your hand. Peel off the paper and gently lay the second layer on top of the first layer. Frost the top of the cake with cream cheese frosting, and then the sides of the cake with cream cheese frosting. If any of the filling oozes out between the layers, like it did for us, no worries. Spread the oozing filling along with the frosting and you will get variegated pink and white on the sides of the cake. If you want all white sides, don't spread the filling too close to the edges. We liked the variegated color.
- Slice the remaining strawberries and arrange them on top of the cake.