Each year Lammas sneaks up on me. Summer is usually very busy and this holiday doesn’t have a Christian or Catholic Saint counterpart. The beginning of August and the first harvest holiday always appear on schedule, yet surprise me none the less. This year cakes, instead of the more traditional bread, symbolize the holiday, endings as the harvest culminates a season and beginnings as the seasons shift.
On Lammas eve a good friend’s aunt came home to die. As a diabetic she hasn’t enjoyed cake in a long time. In what is expected to be her last week, her family gathers with her to reminisce and share a piece of her favorite, chocolate cake. The dark chocolate cake and icing from “The Flying Apron Kitchen Cook Book” is so decadent only her niece knows this final treat is gluten, dairy, corn and soy free. I hope it makes her passing richer and sweeter.
The next cake I baked this holiday is for another girl friend’s first gluten-free birthday. It begins a new, healthier season for her. Baked with the intent of celebration, of food being a pleasure again, not a mysterious source of migraines and pain, this cake is my gift to her.
Her favorite is German Chocolate, a mild, dark cake with a caramelly, lush coconut and pecan filling then wrapped in a bittersweet chocolate ganache. Without the sweetened condensed milk or high-sugar chocolate this cake is divine with champagne, hinting at longer nights and the coming autumn damp.
If you are baking in the morning to serve the cake that night, make the filling first so it has longer to cool. Then the ganache. Too warm filings are a misery when assembling a cake.
I adapted the cake and ganache from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “Rose’s Heavenly Cakes.” Her aptly titled “The Cake Bible” was the only cook book I count on for the rare occasion I’d bake with wheat flour and dairy products for friends. Not being able to taste test the batters didn’t matter, her recipes always turn out, always. Since the recipe uses cocoa this cake is also suitable for folks allergic to chocolate or caffeine, by substituting a premium carob powder. On the off chance you’re thinking of just using normal wheat flour or cake flour, please don’t! The adaptations that make it a good gluten free cake will turn this into an oozing volcano of wheat dough in your oven.
The structure of this cake relies more on the eggs than the flour. The directions look longer and more complicated than they really are. Just be patient, rushing can mean doing something silly like forgetting the sugar. Think of the person or occasion you’re baking this for, focus your intent for them. Being a kitchen witch is part technical skill and part meditation.
I tried making a sweetened condensed milk substitute with soy milk powder. It was horrid, suitable only for patching the garage concrete. So the German Maple frosting is directly from the “Flying Apron Kitchen Cook Book” and better than I remember any other version tasting. I’m including it here with the hope it will inspire you to buy a copy of your own. Filled with straight forward ingredients, a wide variety or excellent recipes it reminds me of Marion Cunningham’s “Fannie Farmer Cook Book” that I originally started baking out of as teen. The cook book I turned to again and again, and still do for inspiration.
Harvest sweetness and joy this season. Eat cake with people you love.
German Chocolate Cake
Adapted from “Rose’s Heavenly Cakes”
2.3 oz Dutch process cocoa (I use Penzey’s)
4 oz boiling water (if you live in an area with highly chlorinated water consider using filtered water)
4 oz extra virgin olive oil
4 egg yolks – at room temperature
4 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla (Nielson Massey is gluten free, but made with corn alcohol)
4 oz Pamela’s gluten free flour mix
2.5 oz potato starch
1.5 oz organic cane sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/3 tsp baking soda
3/8 tsp sea salt
Palm shortening the bottom of two 8’ round cake pans, then parchment line them, Don’t oil or line the sides.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the bottom third of the oven.
Boil the water, whisk in the cocoa, then cover with cling wrap and let sit until room temperature. This took a bit over a half hour in my warm kitchen.
While the cocoa is steeping, mix the egg yolks, oil in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Start the mixer out on low or it can fling ingredients everywhere. Work up to whisking on medium speed. Set a timer for a minute, scrape down the bowl. If the mixture is shiny and smooth like an icing, add the vanilla and whisk just long enough to incorporate. Then mix in the cooled cocoa concoction. Scrape down the bowl.
In a separate bowl whisk all the dry ingredients together. You can use a sifter, for me whisking is simpler. When you think you’ve whisked all the ingredients into a uniform mix, do yourself a favor and whisk for a bit longer.
With the mixer on low mix half the dry ingredients in with the egg and oil. Scrape down the sides, be sure to get the bottom of the bowl as sugar tends to settle.
Add the rest of the dry ingredients, again start on low, then bump the speed up to medium- high and mix for a minute.
Scrape the bowl again. Add in the egg whites, mixing on low then increase to medium high for two minutes. Set a timer, it is easy to rush and not let the beautiful batter beat long enough, or get distracted and over beat it to a rubbery mess.
Split the batter evenly between the pans. Weighing them on a scale is so easy, making even layers a snap.
Don’t tap the pans or wait to put them in the oven. Successful gluten free baking hinges on capturing the in-dough gasses as they form. Bake the cakes for 15 minutes, then turn the pans 180 degrees, and bake for another 15 minutes. Even if you have a convection oven, turn the pans.
Test with a tooth pick. The cake should be pulled away from the pan edge, and lightly spring back when pressed in the middle. Remove from oven.
Set the pans out to cool for a couple minutes, then invert onto racks. The cakes need to rest on the top crust formed during baking. Once they’ve cooled lay pieces of cling wrap big enough to wrap each cake. Invert them again onto the cling wrap on the bottom of a jelly roll pan. Finish wrapping the cakes. Place in freezer for a couple hours or overnight. Gluten free cakes are more fragile than regular cakes. Freezing them makes assembling the cake easier, less likely for a layer to shatter into earthquake cake (still tasty, but not as attractive.)
Flying Apron Kitchen’s Maple Coconut Frosting
20 oz coconut oil (an entire small tub of the NOW brand)
8 oz maple syrup
1 tsp sea salt (I use Penzey’s)
1 tbsp vanilla
9 oz fine shredded coconut, toasted
5 oz toasted pecans, broken into uniform bits
Toast the pecans in a jelly roll pan at 250 degrees. Watch the pan, occasionally turning the pieces with a flexible spatula, like a pancake turner. Do Not leave the oven. This should take about 10-12 minutes, but varies depending on the humidity that day, how accurate your oven is, the moisture content of this batch of nuts and if you store them in the freezer. They can go from lightly toasted to a burnt crisp in that one impatient moment. Remove from oven to cool.
Now spread the coconut into an even layer covering the jelly roll pan. The coconut is finer than the pecans so it toasts quicker. Again, turn occasionally with the soft spatula and don’t leave the oven. Once the coconut shows hints of golden color remove it from the oven. Continue to shift in the warm pan to help it cool.
While the pecans and coconut cool, place the rest of the ingredients into a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Start on low, easing the speed up to high. Beat the ingredients until inextricably incorporated. Add the coconut and pecans, beating on medium-high until fluffy.
I briefly chilled the frosting to make filling the cake easier. Cover the frosting in the bowl with cling wrap pressed onto the top of the fluff to prevent a skin forming.
Dark Chocolate Ganache (optional frosting for sides of cake)
Also adapted from “Rose’s Heavenly Cakes”
8 oz 64% bitter sweet chocolate (I use Sweet Earth Organic it is vegan and soy free)
9 oz Silk cream (use coconut milk cream if you’re allergic to soy)
½ tsp vanilla
The super easy way to make ganache is place the chocolate pieces into a food processor or blender, pulsing into fairly uniform, small pieces. Heat the cream in the microwave until it just starts to bubble. With the blades running pour the hot cream over the chocolate until a smooth liquid forms. Add vanilla. Pour into small bowl, cover with cling wrap, pressing to the top of the mixture to prevent a skin forming. Cool a couple minutes on the counter then place into the fridge. The rapid chill will give the ganache a suede or velvety texture instead of a glossy sheen.
If you don’t have a blender or food processor use a small to medium whisk in the bowl of chopped chocolate. Whisk continuously while slowly pouring the hot cream into the bowl. Add the vanilla and whisk until smooth. Follow the directions for chilling the ganache. Oh! Try not to eat it by the spoonful from the bowl.
To assemble the cake
Remove the cakes from the freezer. Place one layer on the serving dish, with wax paper strips lightly tucked under to keep the plate edges clean or be prepared to use a damp paper towel to clean the dish before presenting the cake.
Stir the maple coconut frosting, spread as thick or thin a layer you want on the top of the cake. Place it in the fridge for five minutes to set the frosting, that way the top layer is less likely to squish the filing down the cake sides.
Bring the cake back out of the fridge and repeat the process. Now is the perfect time to use a small, flexible frosting spreader to fill in any gaps in the filling. The frosting makes enough to fill a three layer cake. Store the rest in the freezer.
Hold the spreader parallel to the cake and smooth the ganache along the sides. By not using hot water on the spreader to smooth the ganache it will have a velvety texture instead of a glossy sheen.
There is enough ganache to pipe a top and bottom boarder on the cake, to play and decorate.
Alternatively, skip the ganache and serve the cake casual style with just the filling.