I bet you’ve never panicked about a cake before, but I have. I still do.
The only time that cake might have sort of caused a bit of a concern for you was when we sat down with the Cake Lady to discuss our wedding cake. Perhaps you wondered how a dedicated chocoholic like me and a plain white cake with buttercream boy like you would ever find enough common ground in the flavor department to place the order at all. (I know I was.)
Cake made me nervous then and it makes me nervous now. In hindsight, finding a way to compromise on a flavor was a walk in the park compared to what we deal with now. These days, I have much more pressing concerns than whether you’ll coax the kids to insist upon a flavor other than my beloved chocolate.
When I plunged into the gluten free world, baking a cake from scratch went from a pleasant way to spend an afternoon to a risky ordeal that was often not really worth the trouble. Cakes are temperamental anyway, but throw in the fact that it had to be gluten free, and baking a cake became a precarious endeavor. I figured it out eventually, of course, and have been baking cakes without much fuss since then–until lately. Now we have an almost-two-year-old (!?) with a dairy allergy who can’t be hoodwinked out of his fair share of cake, too. And so, baking a birthday cake became a problem.
Addie’s 6th birthday is tomorrow and we had a bunch of her friends over to help us celebrate a few days ago. We’ve been planning on this party for several weeks now, but I put off figuring out the cake part until last week, when suddenly I realized I didn’t have the time or wherewithal to spend a bunch of time in the kitchen experimenting with gluten free, dairy free cake recipes. I almost just bought a box of that Pillsbury Funfetti cake mix and called it a day. Except that I don’t bake with wheat flour anymore, and I didn’t want to contaminate all my baking gear with gluten. I thought about getting the gluten free version instead, but then I realized Emery wouldn’t be able to have them because that mix contains dairy. And so, I bought a box of King Arthur Gluten Free Chocolate Cake mix because it’s gluten free and dairy free and easy … and, as I soon learned, sort of rubbery and tasteless.
I was frustrated and pressed for time and a little thrown off by the fact that it was Halloween that day and you had Vertigo and all I wanted was just to bake my daughter a birthday cake that our whole family could eat and you know, enjoy, and I didn’t want to have to go through this frustrating process every time a birthday came around. I wanted a yummy cake recipe, a go-to cake recipe. I wanted to find THE cake recipe, the one I would turn to again and again and again through the Goobies’s childhoods, the one that would be so familiar I could bake it in my sleep if I had to (and I imagine there will be years ahead when that exact scenario will be necessary).
Overwhelmed by all this, and very disappointed in the only sort of ok chocolate cupcakes I made that day, and decidedly overwhelmed by a day that kept me running since before 5:00 that morning, I decided to make a gluten free version of Smitten Kitchen’s Red Wine Chocolate Cake. You know, because I deserved it. (gag). That recipe isn’t gluten free or dairy free, but I made a few substitutions and fixed that problem. And you know what? It was fantastic.
As I sat savoring that piece of delicious cake, I realized the Red Wine Chocolate Cake recipe was a riff on Smitten Kitchen’s Everyday Chocolate Cake, and I figured if I could transform the Red Wine cake into a gluten free, dairy free version, couldn’t I do that with the everyday chocolate cake recipe too? Turns out, I could. And I did. And funny enough? You even liked them despite the fact that they were chocolate. You sneaked a cupcake after the party was long over, and said to me in your very serious voice, “These are really good, Rach.”
You like that these cupcakes are dense like a brownie (and laden with your mom’s famous not-really-butter buttercream frosting). I like that they’re moist and actually have flavor (and that the cupcake wrapper effortlessly peels away from them without tearing the cupcake apart). The Goobies like them because they all get to eat them. I like that part too.
It’s safe to assume you’ll see these chocolate cupcakes again and again over the course of our children’s childhoods. And yes, I promise to figure out a vanilla cake cousin for these little beauties. Your birthday is coming up next, after all.
Chocolate Cake Cupcakes
I hesitate to come out and say these are the best chocolate cupcake I have ever made because it is free of so many allergens and I doubt anyone would dare believe me. But I wouldn’t be paying this cake its due if I held out on you, now would I? So ok fine: these are the best chocolate cupcakes I have ever made, good enough to dupe you into thinking there must be one of the top 8 allergens in it. If you opt to use a banana instead of eggs (which is a very wise decision if I do say so myself) they are indeed free of dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, fish and shellfish . Thick and moist with a tender crumb–deeply chocolately, yet not too sweet. This is chocolate cake perfection, food allergies or not. This recipe makes enough batter for 24 cupcakes or 2-8 inch rounds. The cake is done when a wooden toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. For two 8″ rounds, check the cake at 30 minutes–which is the perfect amount of time in my oven. I used Joey’s mom’s recipe for basic buttercream frosting (recipe below), but you can frost it as you like.
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks or 6 ounces) Earth Balance Soy-Free Vegan Buttery Spread, softened OR 6 oz softened refined coconut oil (not melted)
- 2 large eggs (or for an egg free version, substitute 1 very ripe medium banana, well mashed, to equal 1/2 cup*)
- 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar*
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened regular flax or rice milk (or your choice of non-dairy beverage)
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 1/4 cups gluten free all-purpose flour
- 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt**
*If using banana instead of egg, reduce brown sugar to 3/4 cup
**If using coconut oil instead of Earth Balance or butter, increase salt to 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt.
Start by preheating your oven to 325°F. Then, line your cupcake pan with paper cups. (Bonus if you have a 24-cup pan!)
Next, sift together the gluten free flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together, and set aside to add to the wet ingredients later.
In a large bowl of a Kitchen Aid (or similar electric mixer), cream the softened Earth Balance until it’s nice and smooth. Turn the mixer off, dump in the sugars and beat them together until they get nice and fluffy. Turn the mixer off again, add the eggs and vanilla and turn the mixer back on, making sure to whip the batter together well. Turn the mixer off.
Pour 1 1/2 Tablespoons white vinegar into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup and add the flax milk (or rice milk) into the same measuring cup until you reach the 1 1/2 cup mark. Pour the vinegar/flax milk mixture to the batter, turn on the mixer again and mix well. The batter will look a little clumpy, but that’s ok. Turn off the mixer and dump in the dry ingredients. Turn the mixer back on (again!) and mix well, beating together until the batter is smooth and luscious.
Scoop the batter (about 1/4 cup per cupcake) into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or so, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean (mine were perfect at 22 minutes). Cool the cupcakes in the pan for about 5 minutes, and then pop them out and let them cool completely on a wire rack. Frost with whatever you desire, but we use my mother in law’s buttercream recipe, which I happily share below.
Mema’s Buttercream Frosting
- 2 pounds powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon meringue powder–omit to keep the frosting egg-free
- 1 1/4 cups all vegetable shortening, such as Nutiva Organic Shortening
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup water
- food coloring, if desired
Mix first six ingredients together with a spoon, then beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the food coloring and mix again, adding more color as needed.