The Retro Mom

Bringing your grandmother's comfort food out of her recipe box and into your gluten-free kitchen

Crumbly Cake Causes Compelling Consumption

I know one thing about gluten-free cakes, they taste pretty awful. One bite into a gluten-free cake and you usually begin formulating how to politely say (with-a-mouthful-of-said-cake because-you-really-don’t-want-to-eat-it-but-have-to-so-you-take-a-huge-swig-of-anything-to-get-it-down) that you are “too full” to enjoy this dessert, but, it looks lovely. Lovely.

There’s a reason why these gluten-free cakes look lovely but taste iffy – it’s not because your hostess doesn’t know how to bake. She does. In the world of gluten-free mixes, cakes are still a work-in-progress. Some are heavy, some are chalky, some are odd-tasting. Some are all three. There is no cake mix that will come close to the delightful gluten-filled cakes that we were used to enjoying in our hedonistic days of eating what we wanted to. My biggest beef with gluten-free cakes is that they taste “off”. They taste sweet, because of the ridiculously high amount of sugar put into these mixes to camouflage the alternate flours used, but they rarely taste like the flavor on the box. The exception exists, like Pamela’s Chocolate Cake Mix or Namaste Chocolate Cake Mix. But even then…….

So what’s a cake lover to do? You can always go to a gluten-free bakery and hope for the best. Sometimes you will find one that is really trying to make a good tasting gluten-free cake. Or you could start liking pie. Or cobbler. Or brownies. Mmmmmm…..brownies.

But this post is about cake.

Must focus on cake.

OK, Refocused. This is going to be a long post, so grab a cup of coffee and sit back.

So what’s a girl to do when she wants cake? I know, learn to like pie. I already do. But I wanted something layered and frosted. Like Aunt Marge’s hair.

So out came Betty Crocker, and I don’t mean the boxed mix from the market. I mean the cook book.

Now, I’m not a fan of premade gluten-free all-purpose mixes. Most of them contain things like xanthan gum, guar gum, or other things to help bind the ingredients together that usually end up giving you the texture of a heavy/gummy/thick baked good. I prefer to tinker. Another drawback to mixes is that they contain lots and lots of carbs, that is not good for Padme. Cakes are very special treats in our home, and they had better taste amazing when we have them! But, it would seem I needed a mix for this recipe. I wanted to see how a mix would behave within a vintage recipe. Would they behave and play nicely together? Or would I need to separate them forever more and not allow any more playdates?

So I bought my favorite mix from Trader Joes, as it only contains brown and white rice flours/potato starch/tapioca starch, it was what I was looking for. It’s pretty much a blank slate as far as mixes go. There are a bunch of gluten-free flour-mix recipes on the internet, but you shouldn’t have to have a degree in Chemistry to figure out ratios for starches versus rice flours. Nothing gets me as angry as when I read a gluten-free cookbook and the author launches into math, statistics and ratios. I just want to make cookies.

Actually there are a few things that get me more angry than that. But…..I digress.


cake slice

Badly lit. But still cake. With chocolate frosting. The kind that makes your teeth hurt there’s so much sugar in the recipe.

Shall we?




So every single thing they said in this recipe is true. It is double-quick, rich, yellow and tender. It is ideal for special occasions, or Tuesdays. And a word about the “Caution” – it says that this cake was rated exceptionally high on the tasters scale, and follow the directions accurately. Good to know…….maybe the word is caution is a bit strong. For the frosting, I chose the chocolate butter icing. It was delightful, and sweet. Really, really, sweet.

frosting recipe

So how did I change this recipe and how did it turn out? Changes are below, and here’s the review from a member of the double-blind-placebo-study tasting panel……in other words, the kid that didn’t watch me make it, and got a pretty slice on his plate all nice & ready to be eate

The Boy: I don’t like it.

Me: WHAT???

The Boy: I don’t like the frosting. It doesn’t taste the way I expected it to.

Me: Sigh……How about the cake?

The Boy: No thank you.

Giant sigh. Looking defeated, I turn to my daughter and chief taste-tester…..

The Girl: Dang!That’s yellow cake!

Me: Whew. That’s a relief.

(*You see, warm yellow cake was an institution in our home during the pre-gluten-free days. A square of yellow cake, fresh from the oven, was always looked forward to. Not chocolate cake, which needs to be chilled, but warm, soft, yellow cake.)

And indeed, it was very tasty. True vanilla taste, as light as you can get a gluten-free cake to be, and crumbly.

Wait? Crumbly? (crowd murmers….) Uh, I don’t think cake should crumble.

And it shouldn’t. But, it was crumbly. Well, not in the picture. The floured and greased pan gave the cake a nice start, and it came out of the pan beautifully, but once you cut into the cake, it did get a wee bit crumbly. This is because I did not put xanthan gum or guar gum into the cake – if you want to play around with that, you are most welcome to! Let me know how it turns out. If you look at the picture above, it definitely holds together for slicing, but needs to be treated with respect after that……and it would be excellent for cake pops!

What to do. What to do. Ice that bad-boy up and hope for the best!

first layer


 And so it begins.

Here’s what I did for the cake:

1. I used 2 1/2 cups if Trader Joes Gluten-Free Four Mix instead of regular flour, gluten-free flour is a little more “thin” compared to flour so an extra 1/4 cup helped. Next time, I will add a few teaspoonfuls of potato flour to my flour, which adds moistness to any gluten-free baked good.

2. 1 added in another heaping teaspoonful of baking powder – gluten-free cakes are notoriously flat.


3. I used coconut oil instead of shortening, you couldn’t taste the coconut at all. Really. Next time I will try it with Nutiva Organic Coconut/Palm Oil Blend to see how that works.

4. I used 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsps. of unsweetened almond milk instead of dairy milk. I started with 1/2 cup and didn’t add another drop until I was sure the batter needed it. You can always add more liquid, but you can never take any away.

5. I used 3 eggs, no measuring involved. I have never “gotten” the measuring of eggs – it’s not like you can actually reduce their volume very easily. I’m guessing that before the age of mass-produced food and GMO’s that chickens laid irregular sized eggs, so this was the reason for measuring. Progress is great, isn’t it?

6. Be sure to beat this cake mix extra long at high speed, the goal is to add as many air bubbles into your cake mix as possible. I have my Kitchen Aid at high speed for at least three minutes.

7. I greased and floured my pans with coconut oil and a tablespoon of the flour mix. You really need to. Honest.

cake out of oven

Here’s what I did for the chocolate butter frosting:

1. I used unsweetened almond milk for the cream.

2. I used 2 tbsps. of coconut oil for the shortening.

3. I upped my vanilla to 2 tsps. because I liked the taste!

4. For the filling layer of frosting, I thinned it a bit more to make it more spreadable. What, that’s a real word. It smoothed out beautifully and I’m going to remember it for icing and filling Christmas cookies, that’s for sure.

5. Because you have almond milk in the frosting, keep this cake in the frig.

If you are still reading this epic post, I will say this – this cake was awesome the next day! Still crumbly. Still good. And two days after? Still good. Still crumbly. Really.

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