Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mama Me's Four-Egg Cake

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:

Until now.

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
4 eggs
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:

Spread it:

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!



  1. YEAH! Caneel, I am giving you a standing ovation here in my kitchen! I'm so proud of your accomplishment. My hat is off to you. This is more difficult than ANYTHING I have ever attempted/triumphed over since I've really been cooking. WAY TO GO. If my family was gluten-free and I had been trying to make their birthday cakes in vain, I would want to hoist you on my shoulders and parade you around the kitchen out of sheer gratitude.

    Thanks for doing all the hard work on this!!

    Great cakes!!


  2. Awe, thank you, Ginny! :)

    There are a lot of other good gf cake recipes out there, and plenty of good gf cake mixes, so I'm sure other families have been eating cake just fine. But it just wasn't the same for me, you know? I wanted THAT four-egg cake recipe to be GF, no ifs ands or buts about it!

  3. Caneel!! Well done! You are quite an awesome cake decorator, regardless how the cakes turn out! And this one, with the weighed flours is absolutely awesome!! What a great post and a great testament to the value of weighing flours!!

  4. Kim, thank you so much! I take that as a huge compliment!! I'm definitely not a pro, but I do put love into each one. :)

  5. Wow, now THAT is devotion to the art of gluten free cooking. So glad you finally found a way to make it come out just right! I struggle sometimes with my low carb ingredients like this too, I am just not sure I would keep at it as much as you did. Great job!

  6. Carolyn, thank you! I am a *very* stubborn woman, lol! I find myself sometimes getting so frustrated with something that I swear I'll never attempt it again, but the challenge taunts me, so I eventually give in and give it another try, and another ... :)

  7. Your cake looks amazing! I was wondering about making cupcakes (mini or regular) or a 9x13 cake. How would I adjust the temperature and ingredient amounts? Should I halve them? I am still learning about gluten free baking. I want to convert this to only "healthy" sugars (coconut sugar, honey, stevia, etc)so I can eat it more often. :)

    Miss JEM

    1. As I said in my earlier response below, this recipe seems to work fine in a 9x13 cake. I had success with it. Cupcakes, however, are another story. Both jumbo cupcakes and regular fell in the middle. They were fine after I piled frosting on them to hide it. :D I haven't tried mini cupcakes yet. Not sure why they fell even with regular size ( can understand the jumbo). I may play with the recipe at some point specifically for cupcakes.

    2. Personally, making cupcakes with this recipe was even BETTER than making cake. Don't get me wrong, the cake is great and doesn't fall in the middle, but the cupcakes were really great as well!

      I'm curious, Caneel, have you ever tried incorporating fruit into the recipe? I know you have to account for moisture and what not, so what's your take on that?

    3. I've never tried fruit - haven't even thought about it! I'm sure dried fruit would probably do okay, but I'm not sure about fresh or frozen. Hmmmm. May have to try dried! I'd like to try fresh or frozen, but would def probably have to experiment with less liquid.

    4. If you try it with any fruit, please let us know how it turns out!

  8. Miss JEM,
    Thanks! This should work fine with the same temperature and ingredient amounts for a 9x13, you may have to adjust the time. I think it would also work fine for cupcakes, probably with less time. I'd keep the ingredient amount and plan for more than a dozen.

    As for the sugar, this is one of the few recipes I use refined white cane sugar for but I'm sure you could use other natural sweeteners and I've actually been meaning to experiment with that a little for non-special occasion eating. You would have to adjust the sweetener amount - either more or less depending on what you're using. I'd start with less for things like honey. I'd also cut back a little on the liquid if you were going to use something like honey. I don't think xylitol would work real well for the texture on this recipe.

    Let me know how it turns out if you experiment with it! :)

  9. Thanks for making this post! I'm always looking for a good gluten free cake recipe! Especially where the texture is similar to that of their wheaten counterparts although it does seem as though cake baking is a bit of a holy grail of baking!

    One thing that I am investigating right now is "How to get back to being able to eat gluten". I just haven't been satisfied with having to stick to a completely gluten free diet, but recently came across a treatment for celiac disease that seems to calm down the antibodies and restore normal tolerance to gluten. I have yet to try it out but have blogged about it at http://wp.me/p1244N-6k and Dr Wise is answering questions so if you have any be sure to speak up!

    Though I must admit it really looks like a good cake! :)

  10. I'm wanting to try this method for my own recipe development and I'm curious as to the math involved. I thought it'd be obvious but after looking up the 4 egg cake recipe in my copy of the Joy of Baking, I became confused. I understand the 40/60 mixture of flour to starch in the ratio but your recipe weighs in (no pun intended)at 374 grams of flour and starch but the cake flour in the original recipe calls for only 267 grams at cake flour because cake flour is assumed to be at 100grams per cup and the recipe called for 2.67 (Rounded)cups. Could you enlighten us with the process itself of how to do the weighing exchanges?

    1. Hmmmm, honestly I don't really remember all the math I did to get to the final result! You mention Joy of Baking - is this another version of my Joy of Cooking? If not, it may be a different recipe if it's a different book. Also, when I was still baking with gluten flour I eventually quit using cake flour for this recipe because I found it made a drier cake and I like it moist and dense. I began using all-purpose flour instead, so that may make up some of the weight. Also, for that recipe I used the scoop and level method when I was using all-purpose and not the spooning into the cup. I believe that adds some more weight. I don't remember which source I used to figure out how much a cup of all-purpose weighed using the scoop and level method, but I found something somewhere and went with it in order to decide how much flour weight I needed for this recipe. Hope that helps!

  11. I LOOOOOVE that I found this recipe!! It's great and it doesn't use any gums! My daughter can't have almond, so I use coconut flour 1:1 ratio and it works great! I have only tried cupcakes and only a couple fall in the middle. I usually end up with at least 24 cupcakes and a mini bunt this time. I also just add more vanilla for the almond extract. Thanks for figuring this recipe out! :)

    1. I'm so glad you like it - and thank you so much for letting me know! I'm glad to hear the coconut flour works well for it. :)

  12. By far this is THE BEST GF yellow cake I've ever had. I've made at least 5 different recipes, and just gave up. And mixes? Forget it. GF yellow cake mixes taste like sawdust. I was elated to find the recipe because I can't eat gums. I was a bit leery of mixing all the flours, because I did that years ago and finally gave up. For that effort I highly commend your drive and desire for baking, cos it ain't easy to do, GF!

    I made this as a 9x13 sheet cake, which baked for about 30 minutes. I used half sugar and half xylitol. It seems very fragile, and I'd be terrified to decorate it. Luckily I prefer my cakes with no icing!

    Thanks so much for sharing this recipe. You're a goddess!

    1. Thank you so much! Hmmm, not sure on the fragility. When I freeze it, it works really well for decorating. Wonder if it's the xylitol, because the 9x13 has decorated easily for me. Freezing it is the key. I'm glad to hear the xylitol works in it 1/2 with sugar - it's something I've wanted to play with more.

  13. I came to this post via your lemon cake recipe. Do you think this recipe would work for the lemon cake? I was thinking I'd sub 2 Tb of the milk for lemon, but keep everything else the same. What do you think?

    Love your site!


    1. Thank you! :)

      I think for the most part it would probably work. You'd want to probably omit the almond extract, as well. It's worth a try - let me know if you try it and how you liked it!

  14. Not sure if you ever made gluten free girl's whole grain muffins or not, but if you haven't ... DO! they are outstanding! and you can sub in apples/cinnamon...blueberries...anything...they're awesome!

  15. Can I please have this recipe with regular measurments? LIke in cups, instead of grams? I don't have a scale

    1. I'm sorry, I don't have cup measurements for this recipe. :( I've tried to pour the flours into cups after weighing, and I just can't give an accurate amount of what each would be.

      I know the scale can seem daunting at first - I held out for a very long time - but it honestly is the best way for me to now accurately measure gluten-free flours when I'm experiment with new recipes - and it's so much easier. I still use cups, but only for recipes already established or not requiring very much experimentation. Again, I'm sorry!

  16. I don't usually leave comments, but I just HAD to tell you how AMAZING this cake recipe is! I would never know it was gluten free. I thought for sure before trying this recipe that there was a big possibility it was gonna suck, since that seems to happen a lot to me, but I was SHOCKED with my first bite. So Awesome!! I didn't even frost it. I just put some toasted coconut and it was great. Also, I didn't have sweet rice flour, but I substituted more white rice flour and it was STILL good! Great job! Excuse all the capitals but I'm super excited!!!! :)

    1. I'm thrilled that you like it! It's a favorite of anyone who tries it, so I'm glad it worked out for you! Thank you so much for letting me know! :)

  17. No zanthan gum! THANK. YOU. This looks amazing.
    I just bought two big bags of The Gluten Free Mama blends without knowing all of her recipes call for zanthan/guar gum. Do you know if there are blogs dedicated to using her flours without zanthan?

    1. Thank you, Sonia! I'm not familiar with any blogs that call for her flours and don't use xanthan, but I think you might have some success if you use ground chia seed or psyllium husk powder in place of it. I generally use one or two teaspoons of ground chia in my dry ingredients with most recipes these days and haven't used xanthan on purpose in years. I still love Pamela's, which does use it, but I don't add it to anything. I've found success using psyllium husk powder in breads.

  18. Thank you for this recipe! It is wonderful and so close to a gluten cake- it is amazing! I LOVE that it does not have gums- since we can not tolerate them. I plan to make this for my little boy with Celiac for his 4th Birthday party this month! I am still looking for a perfect chocolate cake recipe without gums. :) Thanks again!

    1. I am so glad this cake works for you! Thank you for letting me know! :) We still make it a lot in our house!

  19. Would this work with coconut oil? Also I am thinking of halving the ingredients and baking in a regular ceramic 8x8 square pan, Woukd that be ok? This looks so good and I haven't had any kind of cake in over 2 years

    1. Hi there, and thanks for visiting! I'm not sure how coconut oil would work, but it might work okay. I would definitely try it with solid/softened coconut oil to mix instead of coconut oil that has turned to liquid. If you try it, please come back and let us know how it turned out! :)


Have something to say? I love to hear from you and read every comment. :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...