I can't even begin to describe how happy it makes me to share this recipe with you! It's going to be a long post - with a lot of photos, too, so please bear with me. I'm excited! I was literally dancing around the kitchen and shrieking and singing and jumping up and down when this finally worked out. I have worked a total of at least 50 hours over the last two years (since we went gluten-free) of trying different flours, blends of flours, measurements of xanthan gum, no xanthan gum, baking powder amounts, liquid amounts, baking, crying, baking, sighing, baking again ... until at last I FINALLY have it!
I have to give a HUGE shout-out and THANK YOU to Shauna James Ahern and her husband Daniel Ahern over at Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef for making this possible. Reading through her posts on weighing versus using measuring is what made this happen, and I'll explain more about what I did in a minute.
The Joy of Cooking (1975 edition) recipe for "Four-Egg Cake" has been my go-to cake for nearly every birthday cake I've ever made. My mom always used it (we adapted it a little, mostly omitting the need for beating the egg whites separately -- I found little to no difference in doing this after several tries each way), and I followed. It's so versatile with a buttercream frosting and other ways. My preference is to make a round layer cake with it, but I've also made it in larger rectangular pans. My mom always made great shaped cakes using this recipe. She'd make a large pan of it and then cut the shapes desired to make character cakes or anything else.
I have to also note that this is such a great all-purpose cake for so many occasions. My husband isn't a huge chocolate lover, though he'll tolerate it in some things, and I've made this for many a Valentine's Day. A raspberry filling with a pink frosting and hearts on top is perfect! This recipe is also very close to the cake we had at our wedding.
When we went GF, of course I had to try this cake without gluten. I tried so many different ready-made flour blends and blends of my own, aiming for just the right taste, moisture, texture. I finally got the taste, texture, moisture down perfect. Perfect crumb. But it fell in the middle. Every. Single. Time. I adjusted the amount of dry ingredients, leavening, liquids ... again and again and again ... and again. It fell every time. Whenever I would try a flour blend that baked a perfect-looking cake that didn't fall, it didn't taste the same. It was too grainy/gritty, too dry, too crumbly, whatever. I finally just pretty much gave up hope of ever finding a way to prevent the falling because I'd gotten it to taste so good and it was the top cake request for even gluten-eating friends.
That particular way was using Pamela's baking & pancake mix with many changes to the rest of the ingredients in the original recipe. It wouldn't fall as badly as it did the first time I made it taste good and it fell sooo badly, but it would still fall.
This is the first cake I made to taste great with a great texture, but it just cratered, big time (and keep in mind I wasn't taking photos with blogging in mind at the time):
Thankfully, this was for a dolphin-themed party. I was able to (kind of) make the crater look like a deeper part of the ocean where dolphins were actually jumping out of it. It made it not so noticeable.
Then I played with the ingredients more and more, and more, and was finally able to get it to where it fell, but not quite so deep and not quite as big of an area. And I learned to fill the frosting really thick to cover it some. Have you ever noticed that cake and ice cream photo on the top of the page? Look real close and you can tell that the frosting is thicker toward the middle. It's hiding the crater. Here's another look without the writing over the photo:
See what I mean?
Here's another just like it, without the cut (a polka dot cake was requested). Looks pretty level, right?
I promise as soon as I cut into it, it sank. Tasted fabulous, but it was held up with frosting.
Then I found another way to cover it up and use a little less frosting (though you can still see a little bit of a dip on the round cake) by making a sheet of buttercream fondant and cutting Charlie Brown's face out to cover the cake.
I'll go ahead and show off some photos of these cakes in case you are searching for ways to make a Peanuts-themed party and are having trouble finding party supplies and ideas like I was at the time. (It was a Charlie Brown-themed party, and it was my first attempt at making buttercream fondant, or using it. I think it turned out pretty well, but Charlie Brown and Snoopy did look like they'd eaten a little too much cake! By the way, the rectangular cake was a Namaste chocolate cake mix. Both my regular four-egg cake and a chocolate cake were requested at this party.)
So I figured out that fondant could help some, too. And went back to spreading the frosting really thick in the middle, and sticking things in the middle so it wasn't as noticeable:
This cake doesn't have extra frosting in the middle because it came out just fine!
As I said earlier, I have gluten-free girl and the chef to thank. I had been reading this post before Christmas: http://glutenfreegirl.com/gluten-free-holiday-baking-2010/ and decided to buy a digital OXO scale (I have the 5-pound in white, but will probably need to move up to the heavier one at some point. I like the pull-out display) right after Christmas and give this baking by weight a try. I had a feeling it could be the answer to the dilemma with my four-egg cake. By the way, they also have a newer post on the subject at this link and the muffin recipe I still want to try: http://glutenfreegirl.com/gluten-free-whole-grain-muffins/.
It just made sense to me. A cup of any type of wheat flour is going to weigh differently than a cup of any type of gluten-free flour. They all weigh a different amount per cup, so trying to use a measuring cup recipe in a case as exact as cake probably isn't going to turn out perfection.
So I got out my calculator and furiously scribbled on a sheet paper. I swear to you I did more math figuring this recipe out than I have attempted since I took my last math course in college (I was heavy in media, literature and the like. Definitely not math and science). And more scribbling, calculating and nine layers of cake in one weekend later, I had it. I had the perfect gluten-free four-egg cake! Without xanthan gum! I want you to try it, but you will need a scale. The first three layers I made, I tried to measure each flour in a cup after I weighed it. It wasn't exact, and I threw out that idea after that batch, so you'll need one for this recipe.
And a note on the scale, I do plan on using it more and more so you may see more recipes using it in the future. It makes sense. But I also do plan on using measuring cups for a lot of recipes as well, so don't throw out your cups, but do get a scale. (As of right now the only other recipe I have here using a scale is for the gluten-free roux for your gumbo.)
As I stated above, I found the best crumb and taste for this cake came from the Pamela's baking & pancake mix, it just always fell. So I used the same flours that mix uses, I just had to play around with the amount of each. And now, I am proud to give you the recipe as adapted from the Joy of Cooking.
*Please remember that I've worked very hard on this recipe and it is copyrighted, so if you decide to use it, print the ingredients for your personal use or share the link with anyone, make sure the source is with it. Thanks.
Projected prep time: 20 minutes (ingredients should already be at room temperature); Projected bake time: 25-30 minutes
*Have all ingredients at room temperature before starting
139 grams brown rice flour
36 grams white rice flour
86 grams almond flour (might be called meal, should be finely ground)
38 grams sweet rice flour
38 grams tapioca starch
37 grams potato starch (not potato flour)
2 1/4 tsp. gluten-free, aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup milk
1 tsp. pure vanilla
1/2 tsp. pure almond extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and then line the bottoms of three 9-inch round pans, or a larger pan if you are wanting a larger cake. (Grease pan and then put paper down so the paper will stick.)
Sift baking powder and salt together with flours.
Cream butter until soft, gradually add sugar and cream until light, scraping bowl occasionally.
Beat in, one at a time, the eggs.
Add extracts, blend in.
Add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with milk, in three parts.
Stir or blend at low-medium speed until smooth (don't want to mix too much or too little) and scrape bowl to make sure it's all incorporated. Pour equally into your three 9-inch round pans (or a larger single pan). Drop onto counter a few times to release some of the air bubbles. Bake at 350 degrees until done, depending on size of pan. For 9-inch rounds carefully check (without opening oven if you can) at 20 minutes. It will probably be closer to 25-30 minutes. More for larger pan, check at 30 minutes. Cake is done when bounces back when pressed lightly and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool the cakes in the pan on a wire rack and then carefully turn them over onto a large sheet of wax paper (each layer should have it's own sheet) and carefully fold the paper over the cake, then slide into a freezer ziploc bag and lay flat in the freezer. If you are working with a larger pan, use freezer paper to carefully wrap the cake and then freeze flat.
Freezing it makes it firm and easy to frost and/or cut later.
Everyone decorates their cake differently, but this is how I find it easiest. You can find my buttercream frosting recipe in this link. It's my favorite frosting to use with this cake.
When you are ready to decorate, put some frosting on your cake plate to "glue" it down. At this point in the day, I'm working with bad lighting:
Then put your first layer of frozen cake down:
And more frosting:
Add your second layer (Note that this cake was just two layers because we had to sample the third layer of to make sure it tasted okay. I do like to make three layer cakes, and if you are doing so, just repeat for your third, last layer):
Top your last layer (second or third, or more if you're going higher) with more frosting than the one below it:
Spread it out
And, if you are decorating the top, you'll want to smooth it out. If not, don't worry so much about getting it smooth. If you are crumb coating first, you'll want a thin layer first and then a thicker layer. I find I don't usually need to crumb coat when working with a frozen cake. I was decorating the top, so I smoothed it out:
Clean up the cake plate and then add your finishing touches.
I messed up some on the writing because I thinned the writing icing out too much, which ended up making it bleed onto the rest of the cake by the next day:
I hope you enjoy this cake as much as my family (and myself!) and our friends do. It really is incredible, and I am so THRILLED to finally have it coming out the way it should!