Waaaay back in August, on the day before my birthday, my friend Sarah asked me if she could hang out at my house for a few hours after work since she needed to stay in town for a theater rehearsal later that night. What I didn’t know is that she had been secretly collaborating with my parents for days, planning a surprise party for my 18th birthday. I, being my usual clueless self, had NO idea whatsoever that they were up to something, although when I look back the signs were pretty obvious. Such as:
- Sarah casually suggesting that we drive into town and take a walk on the dock before dinner was ready, which seemed a little strange.
- My dad casually suggesting that we park in front of a certain restaurant downtown since the parking is so crowded everywhere during the summer, a piece of advice that seemed a bit uncalled for.
- Sarah casually asking to stop at the ATM on the way to the dock and “forgetting” how to use it, taking forever to enter in her PIN number and withdrawal amount. (I now know that one of our friends was running late so I needed to be stalled.)
- Seeing our other friend Julia rush into the same certain restaurant holding a bunch of balloons as we circled around looking for a parking place, and Sarah acting frazzled that we had seen her.
- Walking toward the dock, which is located right next to the restaurant, and seeing 4 of my friends walk out of the restaurant, smiling oddly.
In all honesty, it wasn’t until they all said “Happy Birthday, Emma!” that I figured out what was going on. I was actually thinking how coincidental it was that they all happened to be eating at the same restaurant at the same time, and was still trying to figure out who Julia might be bringing balloons to…anyone’s birthday I had forgotten about? Oh, that’s right. Mine!
Needless to say, I was super surprised and incredibly touched by my sweet, sweet friends. It was a feeling that I wanted Sarah to get to experience too, which is why I decided right then and there that I would throw her a surprise party come April, her birthday month.
Due to some dietary restrictions, I knew we needed to have a gluten-free, dairy-free cake, and after scouring the internet for recipes that didn’t get reviews such as “has a grainy texture” or “tastes like glue” I finally found a recipe that looked pretty promising: Sugar Mama’s Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake. Unlike many gluten-free recipes that call for a store-bought gluten-free flour blend, this one contains 3 different flours all bought separately. It was a bit of a splurge but definitely worth the price, because the combination of sorghum flour, tapioca flour, and coconut flour helped produce a cake that wasn’t just “good…for a gluten-free cake.” It was just plain good!
I was pretty skeptical as to how the end result would taste, but I was pleasantly surprised. While the texture and taste is still far from your average Betty-Crocker-style vanilla cake, the crumb was nice and moist, almost like banana bread in texture, and stuck together well without being super dense. No gummy or gritty texture, no grainy aftertaste, just a mild, sweet-but-not-too-sweet vanilla flavor. This cake is the perfect base for adaptations (lemon, banana, etc.) and this definitely won’t be the last time I make it! (Especially with all those special flours hanging out in my pantry!)
For the frosting, I was all set to make a dairy-free vanilla frosting made with margarine sticks, powdered sugar, and vanilla. To make a long story short, frosting attempt #1 was a major fail. Not as in eh, I probably won’t be making this again since it’s not very delicious; this was a fail that entailed dumping an entire bowlful of greasy, gluey frosting down the sink. (Oh, the shame!) It just couldn’t be saved. No matter how much powdered sugar I added, the frosting continued to taste like greasy margarine. It also took on a lovely grayish hue. Back to the drawing board (er, mixing bowl) it was!
Frosting attempt #2 was perfect. It would just so happen that as I was standing there, angry at having to waste all my ingredients in the batch before and having lost all my faith in the internet as a recipe source, I happened to spy a recipe for Buttercream Frosting printed on the back of my half-used bag of powdered sugar. Why not try it? It called for butter of course, but I simply swapped it out for Earth Balance margarine sticks and the frosting turned out wonderful. I used vanilla coconut milk rather than the regular milk the recipe called for, which gave an extra dose of vanilla flavor to the frosting. To be honest I think I prefer this to regular old buttercream. Yay, powdered sugar bag recipe!
I’m so glad this cake turned out well. Now I have a good base-recipe for future endeavors in the gluten-free, dairy-free world. Since my mom doesn’t eat gluten or dairy, I foresee a delicious gluten-free, dairy-free birthday cake in her near future. Perhaps in the form of a surprise party! Too bad her birthday was last week.
No more of that Oh, I don’t need a cake, it’s too much trouble since I’m gluten-free nonsense. To quote Julia Child, “A party without a cake is just a meeting.” Well said, Julia, well said.
Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake
Makes two 9-inch round cakes or 24 cupcakes
1 & 1/2 cups sorghum flour (or rice flour)
1 & 1/2 cups tapioca flour
1 cup coconut flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp xanthan gum
1 cup vanilla coconut milk* (or almond milk, soy milk, etc.)
2 tsp lemon juice
2 cups warm water
1/4 cup + 2 Tbs vegetable oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 Tbs pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9″round cake pans and set aside.
Measure the cup of coconut milk and add in the lemon juice. Allow the mixture to sit while assembling the rest of the ingredients.
In a large bowl, whisk together all the flours, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and xanthan gum. Using an electric mixer, beat in the milk/lemon juice, water, oil, applesauce, and vanilla until smooth. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans and smooth the tops with a spatula.
Bake the cakes for 30-35 minutes or until cakes are golden, the tops bounce back when lightly touched, and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and invert onto a wire cooling rack. Cool cakes completely before frosting.
(Recipe adapted from Sugar Mama)
Creamy Dairy-Free Vanilla Frosting
Yields enough frosting for a 9″ two-layer cake
1/3 cup Earth Balance spread, softened (or other non-dairy margarine)
Pinch of sea salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut milk* (or non-dairy milk of choice)
1 pound powdered sugar
Beat together the Earth Balance, salt, vanilla, and coconut milk in a large bowl. Slowly add in the powdered sugar and beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. If the frosting is too thick, add in more coconut milk 1 teaspoon at a time; if it’s too thin, slowly add in more powdered sugar until desired consistency is reached.
Spread or pipe the frosting onto cooled cakes, cupcakes, or cookies. Leftover frosting can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator and brought back to room temperature before using.
*Note: the coconut milk used in these recipes is NOT the type from a can. I used vanilla coconut milk purchased in a carton, which is much thinner than canned coconut milk. Cartons of coconut milk can usually be found in the milk section of your grocery store.