June 22, 2013

Gluten-free vanilla birthday cake


Many months have passed since I last visited this space. My baby has grown into a one-year old. I am now back at work full-time. And for the past four weeks Jacques has been away in Newfoundland on an opera training program, and I’ve been parenting on my own.

For two weeks my mother was here, and it was quite wonderful. She helped enormously with household chores, and just playing with Lucie and cleaning her up and changing her diaper when I needed a minute longer to drink my tea or get dressed.

Since Mom left I’ve had lots of help from my many marvellous friends. But it’s been hard at times. Work is very busy, and when I get home there are a million things to do before I can sit for a few minutes and relax before I go to bed and start all over again.

But I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. Life has been great overall. I’m in a job that I really love, Lucie has taken to daycare like a fish to water, and Jacques is doing incredibly well. All I can say is single parents are to be very admired. Very, very admired.

Well, let’s move onto some food talk, shall we?

A few weeks ago, I made Lucie a birthday cake. I wanted it to be the same as the cakes my Mom always made me when I was a kid. Sometimes she did fancy shapes or new recipes, but the one I remember with the most fondness was called Nanny’s Hot Milk Cake.


It’s basically a plain vanilla cake, but of the best quality. It’s tender and light with a beautiful crumb, sweet but not too sweet, and golden brown on top.  I’m not sure if heating the milk makes a huge difference, but since it’s always delicious, why mess with it? The frosting – a plain, simple buttercream – was customizable, and as a child I remember adoring the peppermint kind.


I set out to recreate this cake, gluten-free, for Lucie’s first birthday. I added some ground almonds to the first one I made, and that turned out to be a mistake. I think they added too much weight and density, because the cake turned out eggy and flat.

The second time, I tweaked the flour mixture, and came away with a winner. I used more starches and fewer whole grains than I usually do, but this is a special occasion cake. It doesn’t taste exactly like the one from my childhood, but pretty darn close. Most importantly, it’s tender, moist and fluffy. And everyone at Lucie’s birthday party enjoyed it.

Lucie was recovering from stomach flu on the day of her party and didn’t even taste the cake. But I don’t think she cared much. I’m sure she’ll grow to love Nanny’s Hot Milk Cake just like I did.

Bonne fete ma belle, belle cocotte!


Gluten-free Vanilla Birthday Cake

Makes two 8 or 9-inch layers. Halve the recipe for one layer. This also makes wonderful cupcakes. One layer equals about 12 cupcakes.

1 cup milk
4 eggs
1. 5 cups white sugar
92 g. sorghum flour
68 g. white rice flour
40 g. sweet rice flour
56 g. potato starch
20 g. tapioca starch
4 tsp. baking powder
56 g. (1/4 cup) butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour your cake pans. You can use 8-inch or 9-inch round pans, or even 8 x 8-inch square pans if you prefer.

Put milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Don’t let it boil. Remove from heat when it is scalded – there will be tiny bubbles around the edge and steam rising from it.

Meanwhile, break eggs into a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light yellow and creamy. Keep a close watch on the milk.

Add sugar to eggs and beat until thickened.

Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl and add to sugar and eggs about half at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Add vanilla extract and mix in well.

Add butter to the hot milk and stir a few times until it melts. Pour into the cake mixture and fold gently until it is all mixed in. The batter will be quite liquidy.

Pour batter into pans and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. The original recipe calls for less time, but my cakes took about 40 minutes. When done, they will be golden brown on top and a tester inserted into the centre will come out clean.

Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup (113 g) softened butter
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla, almond extract, peppermint extract, etc. *

Cream butter with an electric mixer until smooth and soft.

Add sugar a little bit at a time, until mixture becomes quite stiff  (do not add it all).

Stir in about half the milk and beat well.

Add the rest of the sugar, the milk and the flavouring.

Beat until smooth and light. This takes a lot of beating. The frosting will increase in volume and become fluffy.

Wait until cakes have cooled completely before frosting.

*Variation with Chocolate: Add 2 squares (56 g.) of melted, unsweetened chocolate to the frosting in the last step.