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How to Make the Best Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake

Sarah Chapman had to relearn how to bake after being diagnosed with Celiac disease. She loves to share her gluten-free recipes.

The completed gluten-free vanilla cake.

The completed gluten-free vanilla cake.

Before I was diagnosed with Celiac, baking was my favorite thing to do with my spare time. I’m not talking about churching up some box mix and calling it homemade, but really getting in there and doing it from scratch. (If box mixes are your thing, go with it, no judgement here—unless you try to tell me you’re known for your cupcakes when it’s really Betty Crocker who is known for your cupcakes.)

After a few months of hesitation, I finally started to get back into baking, having spent the intervening time fretting terribly that I’d never be able to scratch bake anything ever again that lived up to the baking standards I’d set for myself before my diagnosis. Fortunately, that was a totally unfounded fear.

Equipment

For equipment, I used the following:

  • a 9-inch round cake pan (just one—you’ll need to double the recipe if you want two layers)
  • a stand mixer with the whisk attachment for the cake and the paddle for the frosting
  • measuring cups/spoons
  • a spatula
  • a medium-sized bowl
  • a sifter

If you’re anything like me, you just rolled your eyes and huffed and puffed in defiance when I mentioned the sifter. I get it, sifting sucks. I hate it, too! It makes a huge difference with the 1-to-1 flour I use and especially with the powdered sugar in the frosting, though, and I would definitely advise against skipping that step.

Here’s what all my ingredients looked like when carefully arranged on my kitchen table so that they look visually pleasing in a picture.

Here’s what all my ingredients looked like when carefully arranged on my kitchen table so that they look visually pleasing in a picture.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 to 4 teaspoons vanilla, depending on preference
  • 1 1/2 cups 1-to-1 gluten free flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 to 1 cup whole milk, for desired consistency
  • 1 cup butter, softened but not melted
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons milk

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round or 9x9-inch square cake pan.
  2. Beat together 1 cup white sugar and 1/2 cup butter. Beat in 2 eggs one at a time until fully incorporated, then add between 2 and 4 teaspoons of vanilla.
  3. Sift together flour, baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt, then add to wet ingredients. Mix on medium speed until fully combined. Stir in 1/2 cup of milk and beat until smooth. Add additional milk 1/4 cup at a time until batter reaches desired texture (no more than 1 cup of milk).
  4. Use spatula to scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool completely before frosting.
  5. For the frosting, beat 1 cup softened butter in mixer with paddle attachment until it becomes fluffy.
  6. Turn off mixer, add powdered sugar, cover mixer with towel, and beat on low for 1 minute. Remove towel, increase speed to medium, and add 1 tablespoon vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons milk.
  7. For thinner frosting, add more milk (up to 4 tablespoons total). For thicker frosting, add more powdered sugar.
Is that a finger swipe in the frosting? Maaaaybe . . .

Is that a finger swipe in the frosting? Maaaaybe . . .

Substitution Notes

You’ll notice that this recipe calls for dairy and eggs. If these are on your no-go list, my recommended substitutes are:

  • For the dairy milk: Use coconut/soy/almond/etc. milk in a 1 to 1 ratio with dairy milk; my personal preference is almond milk, but only because that’s what I usually have on hand.
  • For the dairy butter: Use dairy-free margarine in a 1 to 1 ratio with butter, but look for something with low water/high fat content for the best results.
  • For the eggs: Use banana or applesauce, subbing in 1/4 cup per egg. Either of these options would add an awesome undercurrent of delicious fruit flavor to your cake.

Skipping the Salt

Another thing that I use in this recipe that might not jibe with what you’ve got going on is salt. Feel free to leave it out. For this particular cake, it isn’t a make or break ingredient, but I do think it adds a little depth of flavor, especially in the frosting.

Notes on Making the Cake

  • To be perfectly honest, I totally forgot to flour my pan after greasing it on the day these photos were taken. Only a little bit of the bottom stuck to the pan—not enough to miss—but still try to do better than I did on this one. I mention this only because if you’re like me and you don’t love the idea of “wasting” precious/expensive GF flour on something like this, it won’t be the end of the world as long as you at least grease the pan. But again: I do recommend grease AND flour here.
  • I did not soften my butter before adding it to the cake batter. There’s a Target about 10 minutes down the street from our house, and the trip from the Target fridge to our kitchen was all the sitting out my butter did ahead of this step. You want the end-product consistency of this batter to be a bit Cool Whip-y, and a lot of that will come from the butter still being close to its original firmness.
  • The amount of vanilla you add to the cake batter is very much preferential, but I would suggest starting with 2 teaspoons and adding no more than 4 teaspoons.
  • Start with 1/2 cup of milk for the batter, and (if necessary) add more milk 1/4 cup at a time until your batter gets that fluffy, whipped cream consistency we’re looking for. I used a total of 3/4 cups of milk, and the consistency was perfect. You don’t want to add so much milk that you’re able to pour your batter into the pan without a lot of help from your spatula.
  • When adding the sugar to the butter for your frosting, turn your mixer completely off, add the powdered sugar to the butter, cover your mixer with a very slightly damp hand towel, then turn the mixer back on at low speed for about 60 seconds. Feel free to skip this entire step if you’re particularly missing winter or just enjoy having your kitchen and your person completely dusted over with powdered sugar. People are into all kinds of crazy things, and it’s really none of my business if that’s what blows your skirt up.

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