Birthdays. I often meet people who seem to dread them. They see their birthday as a yearly obligation, one that can’t be shirked no matter how hard they try….a moment in time where they are undeniably older. Me? I love birthdays. See, I’m the type who LOOKS for an occasion to have cake. I will buckle at the slightest hint of a celebration, pulling out flour, eggs and sugar before my family knows what hit them. When I was in college, I would think nothing of starting to bake a cake at 11 PM, carefully following the meticulous instructions in The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Bernbaum. I would make Italian Cream Cakes, Roulades filled with Bavarian cream, Sacher tortes, and Red Velvet Cakes, trying each time to push my skills and wow my roommates.
A few days ago I celebrated my birthday and my family treated me to a wonderful day full of gardening, relaxing, handmade cards and some thoughtful gifts. For dinner, Mike cooked a delicious meal while I focused on baking my cake. I know that some people wouldn’t want to bake their own cake, but I looked forward to it all week. These days I’m a bit busier and I don’t get to spontaneously bake cakes at 11 PM or whenever I get a hankering. So, this year I dreamed about dark chocolate cake layered with light and dreamy caramel frosting and served in a puddle of coconut caramel sauce.
The chocolate cake recipe is slightly adapted from the talented bakers at King Arthur Flour and it is a strong contender for the best cake ever award. Notice that I didn’t say the best “gluten-free cake” because I am confident that this cake is superior to most regular, wheat based cakes. For the frosting I made an Italian Meringue Buttercream Frosting which I added coconut caramel sauce to. Of course, I made extra caramel sauce for serving!
Dark Chocolate Cake Gluten-Free (slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour)
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour mix (click here to see the one I use)
- 1 cup (3 ounces) Dutch-process cocoa
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (Hain brand or homemade for corn-free)
- 3/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon xanthan gum or guar gum
- 2/3 cup canola oil
- 4 large eggs
- 1 1/3 cups water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I use Frontier brand or homemade for corn-free version)
—> Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly coat 2, 8″ or 9″ cake pans with cooking spray. (if you use 8 inch pans, they will almost look like they are going to overflow while they are baking, so you may want to bake them over a sheet pan just in case!)
—> Place ALL ingredients in a large metal mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment. Starting your mixer slowly at first, mix on medium speed for 2 minutes to insure that the ingredients are very thoroughly mixed. (If mixing by hand, make sure to mix fast and furious to insure that it is VERY thoroughly mixed!)
—> Divide evenly in the two cake pans and bake for 28-33 minutes or until cake springs bake when pressed and is beginning to pull away from the sides. I always use an instant read thermometer and they were 205 degrees when I pulled them from the oven.
—> Cool in pans for 10-12 minutes and then turn out onto wire racks.
Coconut Caramel Sauce
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons honey or Lyle’s Golden Syrup
- ¼ cup water
- ½ cup canned coconut milk, shake to incorporate the milk and fat
—>In a medium saucepan with tall sides (so that you are protected from spattering) combine sugar, water and honey and mix with a spoon to combine. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar. (HINT: Do Not allow mixture to boil until all sugar is dissolved)
—>When the sugar is fully dissolved, brush down the inner sides of the saucepan to remove any sugar crystals that may be clinging there. When the sides are completely clean, increase the heat to medium and allow the sugar syrup to simmer, untouched. Do Not Stir. Simmer the caramel until you start to see the syrup taking on an amber color. At this point, you may notice that some areas are darker than others. If this occurs, CAREFULLY swirl the sugar syrup by gently rocking the pan around.
—>Continue to cook the syrup until your syrup is a dark golden color (take care that you don’t get it too dark as sugar burns quickly).
—>Remove from heat and very carefully add the coconut milk. The caramel will bubble violently and rise up, spattering and spitting – stand back! After about 20 seconds it will settle down and you can carefully stir the caramel. After about 1 minute, return to medium-low heat for a couple of minutes and whisk until smooth and completely combined (you will be remelting parts of the caramel that hardened when the cool coconut milk was added). Pour into heatproof bowl and cool before serving. This thickens as it cools.
Italian Meringue Buttercream Makes: 6 cups
- 6 egg whites, room temperature
- ¼ cup of granulated sugar
- 5-6 Tablespoons water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 18 ounces non-hydrogenated shortening (if you eat dairy, feel free to use butter)
1) In a metal bowl, thoroughly whip shortening with a strong arm and wide spatula until smooth and soft. Set aside. (use a mixer if your arm isn’t up to the task)
2) Place the egg whites in your electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment. Nearby place a small ramekin with the ¼ cup of sugar.
3) In a medium saucepan, combine the water and 1 cup granulated sugar. Stir thoroughly.
Ready to Begin:
—> Set the saucepan with the water and sugar on a burner over medium-low heat. Stir until all sugar is dissolved. Brush down the sides with a wet pastry brush to clean the insides of your pot of sugar crystals. When all sugar is dissolved, increase the heat to medium and allow to simmer, untouched.
—> When the sugar syrup is 210-215 degrees, turn your mixer on low and begin mixing the egg whites. After about 30 seconds (eggs will have large bubbles on the surface), add a teaspoon of the ¼ cup of sugar you set aside earlier. Then increase the speed to medium and continue adding the sugar in a slow, steady stream. The egg whites will begin to turn glossy and white and gain in volume.
**All the while, keep an eye on your sugar syrup’s temp. If your timing is a bit off, you can slow your mixer down to low to buy some time. Do not turn off your mixer because you don’t want the whites to “set up” on you.
—> When the instant read thermometer reads 246 degrees remove the sugar syrup from the heat and slowly add to your egg whites WITH the mixer ON and running. Be very careful to pour in a steady stream, aiming between the edge of the bowl and the whisk attachment. Do not pour directly into the whisk or you may spray the sides of the bowl or yourself with molten sugar syrup.
—> The egg whites will fluff up, almost tripling in volume and they will look glossy and white like marshmallow crème (see picture above). After the syrup has been incorporated, continue to mix on medium speed for 3 more minutes. Then reduce the mixer speed to Low and continue to mix until the sides of the mixing bowl are cool to touch.
—> When the bowl and meringue feel cool, increase mixer speed to medium and begin adding the shortening or butter 1 Tablespoon at a time, waiting for each bit to be incorporated before adding more. I occasionally increase the speed to medium high if the meringue looks like it is curdling or having trouble incorporating the fat. (If your kitchen is very hot, or things look like they are too soupy, feel free to chill for a bit and try whipping everything again. It’s more forgiving than you think, so don’t ever dump a batch of buttercream! It can almost always be saved.)
—> Continue adding the shortening or butter in this manner until it is all incorporated and the frosting looks light, fluffy and heavenly!
—> Add flavorings of choice (jams, liqueurs, zests, etc.) or use as is for frosting and piping. See below if you would like to make the caramel buttercream that I used for this cake.
- 6 cups Italian Meringue Buttercream, slightly chilled
- 1 recipe, Coconut Caramel Sauce (see above), cooled completely
- pinch of salt
—> In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the buttercream, caramel sauce and pinch of salt. Mix on medium/medium high speed until satiny smooth.
*This will yield a soft, light and fluffy buttercream that is wonderful for swirling on cakes and tastes divine. It is however a bit too soft for intricate piping.