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Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake

I entered this Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake into the gluten-free category of Chicago’s Best Baker Contest 2019. This decadent chocolate cake was one of five submissions that allowed me to win the overall title of Chicago’s Best Baker!

This cake is perfect for your family or friends with gluten intolerance or on gluten-free diet. The best part about this cake, is that my husband and I couldn’t even tell this cake was gluten-free. For anyone skeptical about eating gluten-free desserts (i.e., someone like my husband), they’ll never even know the difference!

This Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake has a light texture due to meringue that is folded into the cake batter. The recipe also calls for a white chocolate buttercream filling with fresh strawberries to lighten the rich flavor of the dark cocoa powder in the cake.

The end result is a wonderfully balanced chocolate cake that you are sure to enjoy!

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Component List

This recipe has multiple components.  Click on the component in the list below to go straight to that component’s section.

Ingredients for Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake:
Toasting Almond Flour:

Place the almond flour in a pan over medium heat.  Stir the almond flour constantly while toasting so the flour does not burn.  Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl when the almond flour is a golden-brown color and smells strongly of almonds.  Cool to room temperature.

Making the Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake:

30-60 minutes before baking, whisk together the boiling water and cocoa powder in a measuring cup with a spout until smooth.  Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine.  Cool the mixture to room temperature. 

After the almond flour and cocoa mixture have cooled to room temperature, begin making the cake.  Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C with the rack in the middle of the oven. 

Next, place the butter and sugar (larger amount) in a large bowl or the stand mixer and use the paddle attachment to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy (approximately 3 minutes).  Add the egg yolks and mix until combined. 

Pour the cocoa mixture and almond flour into the stand mixer bowl.  Beat on medium speed until incorporated.  Use a spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure that all ingredients have been combined.

If you have a second stand mixer bowl, use it for the meringue.  If not, scrape the chocolate mixture into a large bowl and thoroughly wash and dry the stand mixer bowl to make the meringue. 

Place egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium-low speed using the whisk attachment until the mixture is foamy. 

Gradually increase the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form when the beater is removed. 

Slowly pour in the remaining sugar (i.e., the smaller amount) while the egg whites are being beaten and continue beating the meringue until stiff peaks form when slowly raising the beater. 

Gently fold the meringue mixture in thirds into the chocolate cake batter using a spatula.  If you mix too vigorously at this point, the cake batter will lose the air bubbles from the meringue and the cake texture will be too dense. 

Scrape the batter into a prepared cake pan (i.e., a 9”x 3” springform cake pan, bottom lined with parchment paper).  Use an offset spatula to smooth the surface.

Baking the Cake:

Place the cake in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.  Tent the top loosely with aluminum foil so the top of the cake doesn’t burn and continue baking 45-50 minutes.  An instant-read thermometer will read 202°F/94°C. 

Remove the cake from the oven and set the pan on a wire rack to cool for 50 minutes.  The top will sink slightly to form a ¼” depression.  To remove the cake from the pan, run an offset spatula between the side of the cake and the pan to ensure it doesn’t stick.  Open the springform pan and remove the sides.  Invert the cake onto the wire rack, remove the bottom of the springform pan, and the sheet of parchment paper.  Invert the cake a second time (i.e., right side up) to cool completely. 

Ingredients for Simple Whipped Chocolate Ganache2:
Making the Chocolate Ganache:

Cut the chocolate into small pieces and place in a medium-sized bowl.  The smaller the chocolate pieces, the easier the chocolate will be to melt.  Set the bowl aside. 

Place the heavy cream into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until the cream is scalded.  This means, that the cream will be heated until it just begins to simmer (i.e., before the cream gets a chance to boil).  Remove the cream from the heat and pour half of the cream over the chocolate.  Allow the cream to sit with the chocolate for a minute before stirring the two together with a spatula.  Pour the remaining cream into the chocolate mixture and stir to combine2.  It will initially look like the two are not mixing, but I promise, if you continue stirring, they will mix together to form a thick and shiny ganache. 

Allow the ganache to cool to room temperature and then beat the ganache on medium high speed (using a hand mixer or a stand mixer) until the ganache has lightened in texture and color.  The ganache will have more volume and should be easily spreadable on a cake.  Use immediately or place in the fridge for up to two days.  Re-whip ganache after removing it from the fridge to ensure the appropriate spreading texture. 

Ingredients for White Chocolate Buttercream:
Making White Chocolate Buttercream:

Cut the white chocolate into small pieces (the smaller the pieces, the more quickly they will melt) and place in the bowl of a double boiler3.  Heat the chocolate on medium-low/medium just until the chocolate has melted.  Stir the chocolate frequently to avoid burning. 

Remove the white chocolate from the heat and allow to cool slightly.  If the chocolate is too warm, it can melt the buttercream. 

Add the melted white chocolate to the buttercream and mix to combine. 

Ingredients for Macerated Strawberries:
  • 16oz (454g) strawberries, cut into small pieces
  • 2 Tbsp (25g) sugar, granulated4
Making Macerated Strawberries:

Place cut strawberries in a bowl and sprinkle on the sugar.  Mix together and let sit for 1-2 hours.  During that time, the sugar will sweeten and soften the strawberries.  While the strawberries are macerating, they will release juice.  Mix periodically to ensure that all sugar is incorporated.  If using in a cake (like for this recipe), strain the strawberries to remove the excess juice.  This will keep the cake from getting soggy. 

Ingredients for Meringue Cookies:
Making Meringue Cookies:

Preheat the oven to 200°F/90°C with the rack in the middle of the oven.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment and sprinkle in the cream of tartar. Then, in a small saucepan stir together the sugar and the water until the sugar is moistened.  Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is bubbling.  Add a candy thermometer and cook until the syrup reaches 200°F/90°C. 

Turn on the mixer to medium-low speed, while the syrup continues to cook, and whip until the whites are beginning to form loose peaks.  If the egg whites are ready before the syrup is ready, turn the mixer to the lowest setting just to keep them moving. 

Heat the syrup to 236°F/113°C, increase the mixer speed to medium-low, and slowly pour the syrup between the beater and side of the bowl in the stand mixer (while the beater is still mixing).  Increase the speed to high and beat until the meringue holds stiff peaks.  The meringue should be around room temperature.  Add the vanilla and mix until incorporated. 

Spoon the meringue into a piping bag fitted with a 1M piping tip (or any piping tip you would like) and pipe the meringue cookies onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  I love these pre-cut parchment paper sheets which lie flat rather than curl at the edges from the roll.  This means your cookies will stay flat in the oven while baking.

Get creative with how you want these to look.  I made peaks by holding the piping bag perpendicular to the parchment paper (i.e., straight up and down) with the tip slightly above the baking sheet and squeezing the piping bag until the cookie is the wanted size.  Then, stop squeezing the bag and lift straight up to form a peak. 

Baking Meringue Cookies

Put the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 45 minutes.  Rotate the tray (front to back) and bake for another 35 minutes.  The meringues should be crisp but not browning.  If they are browning, they are over baked.  Test one of the cookies by breaking it in half.  The inside should be slightly sticky.  If the cookies need more time, put them back in the oven to bake for another 10 minutes.  Turn off the oven and crack the oven door open for an hour to let the meringues cool slowly.  If they cool too quickly, the meringues will crack.  Remove the meringues from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool completely. 

Avoid baking meringues on humid days as they will likely have difficulty setting and the outside will remain sticky/tacky. 

Store these in an airtight container for up to 1 month. 

Decorating the Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake:

Begin by leveling the top of the cake and torting it (i.e., cutting the cake in half horizontally so there are two layers). 

Place the inverted top layer of the cake on a cake board and spread a thin layer of white chocolate buttercream on the top of the cake.  This will create a protective layer between the cake and the strawberries, so the cake doesn’t get soggy.  Pipe a dam of buttercream around the outside edge of the cake so the strawberries are contained. 

Fill the inside of the dam with strawberries and cover with a layer of buttercream (so the top layer of cake doesn’t get soggy).  Place the second layer of cake upside-down so that the flat bottom is now the top of the cake.  This will help you to have sharp edges when frosting the outside of the cake. 

Next, apply a crumb coat of the whipped chocolate ganache to the cake and put in the fridge to harden.  Remove the cake from the fridge and apply a liberal amount of ganache to the outside of the cake.  Use a large offset spatula to smooth the top of the cake.  Then, use a straight edge (e.g., a bench scraper or offset spatula) to slowly smooth the sides of the cake.  Use light pressure as you go around to ensure you don’t scrape off too much frosting.  Also, if you notice there are some spots that need extra frosting, add a small dollop and smooth the surface again.  Continue until the sides of the cake are smooth. 

While the sides are still soft (i.e., before the frosting has crusted), carefully pick up the cake and gently press the toasted almond slices into the frosting at the bottom of the cake.  This will create a beautiful decorative border. 

Decorate the top of the cake with the meringues.  I tried to put them in random places and then filled with the strawberries.  It is helpful if you have meringues and strawberries of different sizes so you can choose the ones that fit the best.  Add a few decorative mint leaves to the top and you have finished your elegant Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake. 

This cake is so complex with the rich dark chocolate cake, the sweet white chocolate buttercream filling, the freshness from the strawberries, and the crunchy textures from the almonds and meringues.  It’s really really good (if I do say so myself)! 

Now, you might be thinking, that you don’t want to spend such a large amount of time making this dessert.  I guarantee that you will love how good it tastes with all of these components, however, if you want a simpler, yet still tasty version, make the cake and eat it with macerated strawberries and vanilla ice cream/whipped cream.  Much simpler and very tasty as well. 

Let me know how baking goes or if I can help with any step of the process.  This cake allows for bakers to practice a ton of different baking techniques and it can be modified for the newbie baker (see my simpler version in the previous paragraph). 

This recipe is just one of five recipes that I submitted to Chicago’s Best Baker Contest to win the “Best Baker” category.  If you would like to get reminders when I post the remaining recipes, or if you just like reminders about all of my newest recipes, subscribe to my newsletter!

More Award Winning Recipes:
Notes:
  1. I used this cocoa powder, which is practically black (think the color of oreos).  Not only does it have a darker color than normal, but the flavor is slightly less “chocolately” than normal cocoa powder.  You can use any other kind of unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder, but it will likely have a different color and taste different.  The texture of the cake should not change if you use a different cocoa powder.  (Back to “Ingredients for Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake” section)
  2. To make a simple ganache, just use equal parts chocolate and heavy cream.  (Back to “Ingredients for Chocolate Ganache” section)
  3. To make a double boiler, fill a saucepan with an inch of water and place a bowl on top of the saucepan.  The bottom of the bowl should NOT be touching the water.  Place on the stove and heat.  This double-boiler method is the best way to melt chocolate without burning/scorching it. (Back to “Making White Chocolate Buttercream” section)
  4. This amount could vary based on how sweet the strawberries are.  Mix the sugar with the strawberries and take a small bite.  If it was not as sweet as you would like it, add a little more sugar. (Back to “Ingredients for Macerated Strawberries” section)
  5. Using superfine sugar will allow the sugar to get added to the meringue without making it grainy.  Granulated sugar can be used, but it might make a slightly grainy meringue.  When the meringue has been beat to stiff peaks, rub a small amount of meringue between your finger and thumb.  If you can’t feel the sugar, it is good to go.  If you can feel the sugar, continue mixing the meringue until the meringue is smooth. (Back to “Ingredients for Meringue Cookies” section)
  6. I adapted/was inspired by the following recipes to create this cake:

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

Ingredients for Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake

  • 2.5 sticks (300g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 8 large (149g) egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 8 large (240g) egg whites, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup + 2 Tbsp (66g) unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder (see note 1)
  • ½ cup + 1 Tbsp (133 ml) boiling water
  • tsp (9g) vanilla extract
  • cups (225g) almond flour
  • 1⅓ cups (266g) granulated sugar (to cream with butter)
  • Tbsp (34g) granulated sugar (for the meringue)
  • tsp (0.5g) sea salt
  • 1 tsp (4.5g) cream of tartar
  • Toasted almond slices for decoration (optional)
  • Fresh strawberries for topping (optional)
  • Fresh mint for topping (optional)

Ingredients for Whipped Chocolate Ganache (see note 2)

  • 4 4oz (454g) semi-sweet chocolate bars
  • 2 cups (454g) heavy cream

Ingredients for White Chocolate Buttercream

Ingredients for Macerated Strawberries

  • 16 oz (454g) strawberries, cut into small pieces
  • 2 Tbsp (25g) granulated sugar (see note 4)

Ingredients for Meringue Cookies:

  • 2 large (60g) egg whites
  • ¼ tsp (1g) cream of tartar
  • ¼ cup (56g) granulated or superfine sugar (see note 5)
  • 2 Tbsp (30g) water
  • ¼ tsp (1.5g) vanilla extract

Instructions

Toasting Almond Flour

  • Place the almond flour in a pan over medium heat. Stir the almond flour constantly while toasting so the flour does not burn.  Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl when the almond flour is a golden-brown color and smells strongly of almonds.  Cool to room temperature.

Making the Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake

  • 30-60 minutes before baking, whisk together the boiling water and cocoa powder in a measuring cup with a spout until smooth.  Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine.  Cool the mixture to room temperature. 
    After the almond flour and cocoa mixture have cooled to room temperature, begin making the cake.  Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C with the rack in the middle of the oven. 
  • Next, place the butter and sugar (larger amount) in a large bowl or the stand mixer and use the paddle attachment to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy (approximately 3 minutes).  Add the egg yolks and mix until combined. 
  • Pour the cocoa mixture and almond flour into the stand mixer bowl.  Beat on medium speed until incorporated.  Use a spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure that all ingredients have been combined.
    If you have a second stand mixer bowl, use it for the meringue.  If not, scrape the chocolate mixture into a large bowl and thoroughly wash and dry the stand mixer bowl to make the meringue. 
  • Place egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium-low speed using the whisk attachment until the mixture is foamy. 
  • Gradually increase the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form when the beater is removed. 
  • Slowly pour in the remaining sugar (i.e., the smaller amount) while the egg whites are being beaten and continue beating the meringue until stiff peaks form when slowly raising the beater. 
  • Gently fold the meringue mixture in thirds into the chocolate cake batter using a spatula.  If you mix too vigorously at this point, the cake batter will lose the air bubbles from the meringue and the cake texture will be too dense. 
  • Scrape the batter into a prepared cake pan (i.e., a 9"x3" springform cake pan, bottom lined with parchment paper).  Use an offset spatula to smooth the surface.

Baking the Cake

  • Place the cake in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.  Tent the top loosely with aluminum foil so the top of the cake doesn’t burn and continue baking 45-50 minutes.  An instant-read thermometer will read 202°F/94°C. 
  • Remove the cake from the oven and set the pan on a wire rack to cool for 50 minutes.  The top will sink slightly to form a ¼” depression.  To remove the cake from the pan, run an offset spatula between the side of the cake and the pan to ensure it doesn’t stick.  Open the springform pan and remove the sides.  Invert the cake onto the wire rack, remove the bottom of the springform pan, and the sheet of parchment paper.  Invert the cake a second time (i.e., right side up) to cool completely. 

Making the Chocolate Ganache

  • Cut the chocolate into small pieces and place in a medium-sized bowl.  The smaller the chocolate pieces, the easier the chocolate will be to melt.  Set the bowl aside. 
  • Place the heavy cream into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until the cream is scalded.  This means, that the cream will be heated until it just begins to simmer (i.e., before the cream gets a chance to boil).  Remove the cream from the heat and pour half of the cream over the chocolate.  Allow the cream to sit with the chocolate for a minute before stirring the two together with a spatula.  Pour the remaining cream into the chocolate mixture and stir to combine (see note 2).  It will initially look like the two are not mixing, but I promise, if you continue stirring, they will mix together to form a thick and shiny ganache. 
  • Allow the ganache to cool to room temperature and then beat the ganache on medium high speed (using a hand mixer or a stand mixer) until the ganache has lightened in texture and color.  The ganache will have more volume and should be easily spreadable on a cake.  Use immediately or place in the fridge for up to two days.  Re-whip ganache after removing it from the fridge to ensure the appropriate spreading texture. 

Making White Chocolate Buttercream

  • Cut the white chocolate into small pieces (the smaller the pieces, the more quickly they will melt) and place in the bowl of a double boiler (see note 3).  Heat the chocolate on medium-low/medium just until the chocolate has melted.  Stir the chocolate frequently to avoid burning. 
  • Remove the white chocolate from the heat and allow to cool slightly.  If the chocolate is too warm, it can melt the buttercream. 
  • Add the melted white chocolate to the buttercream and mix to combine.

Making Macerated Strawberries

  • Place cut strawberries in a bowl and sprinkle on the sugar.  Mix together and let sit for 1-2 hours.  During that time, the sugar will sweeten and soften the strawberries.  While the strawberries are macerating, they will release juice.  Mix periodically to ensure that all sugar is incorporated.  If using in a cake (like for this recipe), strain the strawberries to remove the excess juice.  This will keep the cake from getting soggy. 

Making Meringue Cookies:

  • Preheat the oven to 200°F/90°C with the rack in the middle of the oven.
  • Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment and sprinkle in the cream of tartar. Then, in a small saucepan stir together the sugar and the water until the sugar is moistened. Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is bubbling. Add a candy thermometer and cook until the syrup reaches 200°F/90°C.
  • Turn on the mixer to medium-low speed, while the syrup continues to cook, and whip until the whites are beginning to form loose peaks. If the egg whites are ready before the syrup is ready, turn the mixer to the lowest setting just to keep them moving.
  • Heat the syrup to 236°F/113°C, increase the mixer speed to medium-low, and slowly pour the syrup between the beater and side of the bowl in the stand mixer (while the beater is still mixing). Increase the speed to high and beat until the meringue holds stiff peaks. The meringue should be around room temperature. Add the vanilla and mix until incorporated.
  • Spoon the meringue into a piping bag fitted with a 1M piping tip (or any piping tip you would like) and pipe the meringue cookies onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. I love these pre-cut parchment paper sheets which lie flat rather than curl at the edges from the roll. This means your cookies will stay flat in the oven while baking.
  • Get creative with how you want these to look. I made peaks by holding the piping bag perpendicular to the parchment paper (i.e., straight up and down) with the tip slightly above the baking sheet and squeezing the piping bag until the cookie is the wanted size. Then, stop squeezing the bag and lift straight up to form a peak.

Baking Meringue Cookies

  • Put the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Rotate the tray (front to back) and bake for another 35 minutes. The meringues should be crisp but not browning. If they are browning, they are over baked. Test one of the cookies by breaking it in half. The inside should be slightly sticky. If the cookies need more time, put them back in the oven to bake for another 10 minutes. Turn off the oven and crack the oven door open for an hour to let the meringues cool slowly. If they cool too quickly, the meringues will crack. Remove the meringues from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Avoid baking meringues on humid days as they will likely have difficulty setting and the outside will remain sticky/tacky.
  • Store these in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Decorating the Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake

  • Begin by leveling the top of the cake and torting it (i.e., cutting the cake in half horizontally so there are two layers).
  • Place the inverted top layer of the cake on a cake board and spread a thin layer of white chocolate buttercream on the top of the cake. This will create a protective layer between the cake and the strawberries, so the cake doesn’t get soggy. Pipe a dam of buttercream around the outside edge of the cake so the strawberries are contained.
  • Fill the inside of the dam with strawberries and cover with a layer of buttercream (so the top layer of cake doesn’t get soggy). Place the second layer of cake upside-down so that the flat bottom is now the top of the cake. This will help you to have sharp edges when frosting the outside of the cake.
  • Next, apply a crumb coat of the whipped chocolate ganache to the cake and put in the fridge to harden. Remove the cake from the fridge and apply a liberal amount of ganache to the outside of the cake. Use a large offset spatula to smooth the top of the cake. Then, use a straight edge (e.g., a bench scraper or offset spatula) to slowly smooth the sides of the cake. Use light pressure as you go around to ensure you don’t scrape off too much frosting. Also, if you notice there are some spots that need extra frosting, add a small dollop and smooth the surface again. Continue until the sides of the cake are smooth.
  • While the sides are still soft (i.e., before the frosting has crusted), carefully pick up the cake and gently press the toasted almond slices into the frosting at the bottom of the cake. This will create a beautiful decorative border.
  • Decorate the top of the cake with the meringues. I tried to put them in random places and then filled with the strawberries. It is helpful if you have meringues and strawberries of different sizes so you can choose the ones that fit the best. Add a few decorative mint leaves to the top and you have finished your elegant Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake.

Notes

  1. I used a cocoa powder, which is practically black (think the color of oreos). Not only does it have a darker color than normal, but the flavor is slightly less “chocolately” than normal cocoa powder. You can use any other kind of unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder, but it will likely have a different color and taste different. The texture of the cake should not change if you use a different cocoa powder.
  2. To make a simple ganache, just use equal parts chocolate and heavy cream.
  3. To make a double boiler, fill a saucepan with an inch of water and place a bowl on top of the saucepan. The bottom of the bowl should NOT be touching the water. Place on the stove and heat. This double-boiler method is the best way to melt chocolate without burning/scorching it.
  4. This amount could vary based on how sweet the strawberries are. Mix the sugar with the strawberries and take a small bite. If it was not as sweet as you would like it, add a little more sugar.
  5. Using superfine sugar will allow the sugar to get added to the meringue without making it grainy. Granulated sugar can be used, but it might make a slightly grainy meringue. When the meringue has been beat to stiff peaks, rub a small amount of meringue between your finger and thumb. If you can’t feel the sugar, it is good to go. If you can feel the sugar, continue mixing the meringue until the meringue is smooth.
  6. I adapted/was inspired by the following recipes to create this cake:
    • Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake was adapted from “Flourless Chocolate Almond Cake” in Rose’s Baking Basics Cookbook.
    • Meringue Cookies were inspired by “Light Italian Meringue Toppings for Pies” and “Chocolate Spangled Meringue Kisses” from Rose’s Baking Basics Cookbook.
    • White Chocolate Buttercream was inspired by “Classic Buttercream” recipe in Bouchon Bakery Cookbook.

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