It has been a while since I’ve developed a gluten-free chocolate cake recipe. My last one, this quinoa chocolate cake, was a solid few years ago. And while a good chocolate cake recipe never goes out of style, the times have changed somewhat since that recipe. You know, the whole pandemic thing.
I wanted to develop a gluten-free chocolate cake recipe that could be whipped up from pantry basics. One that could be flexible in adapting to the ingredients on hand, or the ingredients available at the supermarket. As such, this super simple gluten-free chocolate cake recipe was born. Have I mentioned that it requires only ONE gluten free flour? No blends, no weird ingredients, just a humble finely milled white rice flour.
This cake is gluten free, FODMAP friendly, nut free and easily made dairy free. There are plenty of substitution options, which we’ll dive into below!
GLUTEN-FREE CHOCOLATE CAKE RECIPE
the (finely milled white) rice flour
The recipe uses fine white rice flour alone as the backbone of the cake. Rice flour is a good sturdy gluten free flour, and one that is readily available both at supermarkets and health food stores. Because we’re only using one flour for this cake, however, there are a few caveats.
- Firstly and most importantly, choose a good quality, finely milled white rice flour. Because we’re using one simple flour, it’s quality is critical to the quality of your cake. I highly recommend buying your white rice flour at the health or bulk food store – they have a tangibly better taste than the supermarket variety. They’re also generally more finely milled. If you’re in Australia, please don’t buy the rice flour in a box. It’s gritty and it will make your cake taste gritty. My first choice is always my local bulk food store, but in pandemic times I have also used Lotus brand white rice flour for this cake.
- Secondly, I have no substitute recommendations for white rice flour at this time. I haven’t tried any other gluten free flours, brown rice flour included. If you’d like to do so, you’ll be experimenting 🙂
The next ingredient in this sinfully easy gluten free chocolate cake is oil. Oil is such a helpful ingredient in cakes – they’re soft and they stay soft on the bench. Very helpful in a pandemic, you know?
I have tested this cake with vegetable oil and olive oil. Personally I found the vegetable oil version to be slightly fluffier, but I don’t know whether that is data driven or I’m just delirious from all the sugar. Either way, both oils are suitable, depending on what you have.
You could also try canola or avocado oil – I haven’t tried them but I assume they would be worthy substitutes.
Continuing on with the theme of using simple pantry basics to make something delicious, the icing for this cake uses brown butter. Browning butter is the easiest possible way to create extra flavour with barely any additional work.
Brown butter has a beautiful nutty and complex taste that lends a whole other element to this chocolate buttercream. If you’d prefer not to brown the butter, you can just add a little less milk at the end. Browning butter drives off liquid content, so you’ll need less moisture as a result.
I’ve tested this recipe a few different ways, so here is my advice for an icing quantity that best suits your needs
FOR A MEDIUM LAYER: use the amount specified in the recipe
FOR LOADS OF ICING/A COMPLETELY ICED CAKE: double the buttercream recipe
As mentioned, you could substitute a dairy free spread in this recipe (just don’t try and brown it) or use your own favourite dairy free recipe.
- Before mixing the boiling water into the batter, you’ll think ‘this looks like a good consistency!’ You’ll panic, debating whether to add the water. You definitely need to add the water. First and foremost, the boiling water creates a beautifully soft crumb, something that is often hard to achieve in gluten free baking. Secondly, it blooms the cocoa, creating a deeper flavour and colour in your cake. It won’t curdle the eggs and it won’t ruin your cake. Trust me!
- Coffee and salt enhance the flavour of chocolate. This is a scientific fact. I promise you won’t taste either – they will simply make the cake super chocolatey. You can use a strong brewed instant coffee, and even decaf. If, however, you’re dead set on avoiding it (please don’t!) just use extra hot water.
- In a similar fashion to the above, the light brown sugar adds a depth of flavour to the cake that white sugar can’t bring. I haven’t tested the recipe without it.
- Use as good a quality cocoa powder as you can find or afford. It honestly makes such a huge different to the taste of the cake. I wouldn’t recommend it if I didn’t believe it, but as someone who used to buy generic brand cocoa powder, I can confirm the rumours are true.
- I haven’t tested this recipe without eggs. You can knock yourself out, but you’ll be experimenting!
NOTES ON CAKE TINS
I am normally a die hard spring form (or drop bottom) cake tin fan. This is what I grew up with, and anything else always feels weird to me. However! In this instance, the batter is too thin for a spring form tin. Unless your tins are stupendously high quality (sorry Coles brand) then they will leak batter. They will probably do it over the base of your oven.
I recommend using a cake pan for this recipe. I myself used two Wiltshire 20 x 5cm pans, which is the perfect size for this cake. I personally find that you get the best results from using 2 cake pans in this instance. The cake comes out fluffier and lighter. However, it is possible to put all the batter in one pan (it will go to nearly the top) or divide it between two. Note that cooking times will vary dramatically depending on how many cakes you decide to make.
I personally (every oven is different) found that when the batter was divided between two 20cm tins, it took 30 minutes to cook. When I cooked it all in the one tin, it took 50-60 minutes to cook. You can work with what you have, although I would suggest cooking the cake in a single tin if your tin is any larger than 20cm in diameter.
Because this cake gets a fair bit of height, it’s very easy to slice into two pieces at the end, creating a layer cake.
- You can use any oil you deem suitable for this recipe. I used vegetable oil, because it is light and inoffensive in a cake. Other appropriate oils include olive, canola or potentially even avocado, if that’s your thing.
- I have used fine white rice flour for this recipe. As mentioned, you can try another gluten free flour but you will be doing your own experimenting. There’s only so many chocolate cakes I can make in a pandemic!
- Needless to say, you can use whatever milk you see fit. I used both soy and lactose free full cream, but any plant milk will also work.
- If you don’t have apple cider vinegar, you could also use white vinegar or lemon juice.
- To make a dairy free buttercream, simply substitute the butter with a dairy free brand you like. I’ve heard great things about Miyokos.
- You can omit the vanilla bean paste, or add vanilla bean extract as a substitute.
- You can also omit the espresso if you absolutely must – just sub in the same amount of boiling water or milk.
Chocolate fiend? Try:
- Gluten free chocolate brownie cookies
- Best ever gluten free brownies
- Gluten free, nut free brownies
- Vegan, gluten free brownies (obviously I like brownies)
- Flourless chocolate cake
- Chocolate and peanut butter cheesecake
EASY GLUTEN FREE CHOCOLATE CAKE
FOR THE CAKE:
- 1 cup (220g) caster sugar
- 1/2 cup (50g) light brown sugar
- 1 1/4 cup (210g) fine white rice flour
- 3/4 cup (75g) dutch processed cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/4 teaspoon salt (I used table)
- 1 cup (250ml) milk of choice (I tested full cream lactose free and soy)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (see substitution notes)
- 3/4 cup (180ml) vegetable oil (see substitution notes)
- 3 tablespoons fresh espresso (see substitution notes)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (see substitution notes)
- 2 extra large eggs
- 1 cup (250ml) boiling water
FOR THE BUTTERCREAM:
- 185 g butter
- 1 1/2 cups of icing sugar
- 3/4 cup of cocoa
- 1/2 cup of milk
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (optional)
- Pinch of fine salt
TO MAKE THE CHOCOLATE CAKE:
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius or 356 Fahrenheit. Line one or two 20cm baking pans. See notes about which are best to use.
- In a large bowl, weigh out all your dry ingredients (do it!) and whisk together until they become a lovely chocolate brown.
- Mix the milk with the apple cider vinegar and allow to sit for a few minutes. This will form a buttermilk. It might not curdle dramatically but the buttermilk will assist in flavour development, leavening and general fluffiness.
- Add all the wet ingredients except the boiling water to the dry. Continue whisking until a smooth batter has formed. It will look moist enough to go into the oven and you might think you don’t need the water. You do! It blooms the cocoa, developing the chocolate flavour. It also creates a beautifully fluffy cake.
- Add the boiling water and whisk to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the size tin(s) you’re using. If you're using 2 20cm tins, 30-40 minutes is perfect. If you're using 1 20cm tin, 50-70 minutes.
TO MAKE THE BROWN BUTTER CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM:
- Place the butter in a small saucepan and brown very well over a low-medium heat. If you haven’t browned butter before, see the notes section for some handy links.
- Once browned, pour the butter into a silicon cake tin and place in the fridge or freezer to set. It will take about 15-20 minutes in the freezer.
- Once the butter is completely cooled, break it up and place it in the bowl of your stand mixer. Beat the butter with the whisk attachment until it is light and fluffy, scraping down the sides as necessary. Don’t be fooled – this isn’t a quick process. It will take about 10-15 minutes of beating and scraping down. The mixture should be light and fluffy – not quite white but a very pale beige.
- While this is happening, sieve the icing sugar and the cocoa together. I hate sieving so I wouldn’t instruct you to do this unless it was totally necessary for a smooth icing, I promise.
- When the butter is ready, turn the speed to low and mix in the icing sugar mixture and the milk. It might form a cloud of icing if you go too quickly. Add the salt and vanilla bean paste (stop the machine to add vanilla or it gets tangled in the beaters) and mix until combined. Taste and adjust if necessary.
- Once the cake has completely cooled, it’s time for icing! You can either plonk it all on top or carefully slice the cake in half to ice between each layer. The recipe makes enough icing for a reasonably thin layer between each piece. As the notes suggest, halve it again or even double it if you’re a very thick icing kinda person.
- Use an offset spatula or a flat edged knife the spread the icing over the cake. I find it helps to dip your knife in boiling water and dry it off before icing the crummy sections of the cake. The heat makes the knife glide over the top and avoids picking up too many crumbs.
- While it’s tempting to keep fiddling with the icing all day, simple is best. Get in there, ice it with confidence and move on, you know?
- This cake keeps well in the fridge for a few days.