Cakes · Dairy-Free · Desserts · Gluten-Free

Happy Cake

When good things happen, people usually celebrate with cake. Birthday? Cake. Wedding? Cake. Graduation? Cake. Pretty much, when you encounter a big life event, you get a cake. There’s a gap in celebration cakes between graduating high school/college and getting married (besides birthdays), but I just became one step closer to being a real Adult and I deserved a cake for it, damnit!giphy

I got a big girl job. Starting Monday, I will be a Technical Writer for a national pizza chain!

…No, the irony is not lost on me, being lactose and gluten intolerant.

It felt like something like this would never, ever happen. Landing a creative position that I could see myself doing for a long time, and one that comes with grown-up benefits was literally what I would daydream about! Big-time Adult life is tangible now! Looking ahead, the idea of buying a house someday doesn’t make me nearly shit my pants anymore!

After I got the call saying that I got the position, I couldn’t stop moving. It felt like all of the pent-up frustration and anxiety and stress that had centralized in my stomach for the last two years finally exploded and shot through my arms, legs, hands and feet. As I paced up and down the length of the apartment while on the phone with my family, I had to shake my free hand to rid myself of some of the buzzing energy. I had to do something to release the burning ball of happiness inside my stomach and celebrate the awesomeness at the same time, so I decided to bake myself a cake! A Happy Cake 🙂


Am I the only one who thinks of yellow cake with fudge frosting as the quintessential cake? Maybe it’s because it was the cake that every kid had at their birthday party growing up, but when I think of a happy, celebratory cake, I picture tall layers of soft yellow cake cemented in place between rows of thick, fudgy chocolate frosting. And of course, rainbow sprinkles. Because no cake topping looks happier than rainbow sprinkles.

I use Red Mill’s Gluten-Free 1-to-1 Baking Mix for all of my baking now; it has a good ratio of substitution flours to various gums and starches that makes it close to the texture and flavor of AP flour, albeit a bit more dense. I decided to try making my own gluten-free cake flour to see if it would boost the cake’s richness. As my Tuesday Tip from August showed, I could make my own cake flour by scooping out 2 Tablespoons of the flour mix and adding 2 T of corn starch. I whisked the new gluten-free cake flour in a large bowl with baking soda, baking powder and salt to sift the dry mixture.


I set the dry mix aside while I started the wet ingredients for the cake. I creamed room-temperature margarine (butter’s salty, vegetable-oil-based cousin) with sugar and a dash of my homemade vanilla extract until it was pale and fluffy. After scraping down the sides of the bowl, I cracked 1 room-temperature egg into the mixer and beat it in slowly. Once that egg was incorporated, I scraped down the sides of the bowl again and added egg #2. I beat the second egg in slowly, and repeated this process for two more eggs.

Buttermilk is a big deal in rich yellow cakes, it just has to be in it. So, what does a lactose-intolerant baker do when she needs to use buttermilk? This one attempted to make her own butter-almond milk! I measured out enough almond milk to replace the buttermilk in a 4-cup measuring cup (you can use a bowl), squirted 2 T of lemon juice into it and let it sit for 10 minutes. When using dairy milk and lemon juice to replace buttermilk, the lemon will curdle the milk, causing it to thicken and get that weird sour taste that buttermilk has.

It’s okay if you see the lemon juice and the almond milk separate and look a bit questionable; the lemon juice is doing what it’s supposed to. I also stir the substitution buttermilk to mix it together before I add it to the batter.


Once I had my butter-almond milk thick and ready, I poured it into the egg mixture and beat it together slowly, until just incorporated. It’s normal if you see the mixture looking a little curdled. Then, I reached for my bowl of sifted dry ingredients and poured ¼ of the amount in to the wet mixture. I mixed that slowly until just incorporated, then repeated this three more times.


With my gluten-free batter ready, I greased and floured 2 round cake pans and split the batter between them evenly. I gently tapped the pans against the counter a few times, to pop any air bubbles in the batter. I set the pans in my 350-degree oven for 35 minutes and pulled them out when they were a lovely golden color and a toothpick inserted into the center of them came out clean. After letting the cakes cool in their pans for 10 minutes, I ran a paring knife around the edges and inverted them onto cooling racks.


While my soft, golden cakes were cooling, I started on the fudge frosting, using my Mocha frosting as a base. I whipped 2 sticks of butter-flavored shortening in my mixer for 12 minutes, stopping every few minutes to scrape down the sides of the bowl and give my mixer a rest.  When the shortening formed stiff peaks, I poured in 6 oz. of melted dark (vegan friendly) chocolate and a splash of vanilla extract, and whipped it into a frenzy until it was fully incorporated.

I scraped down the sides of the bowl and added 2 ½ cups of sifted powdered sugar and 8 T of sifted black cocoa powder (not just unsweetened). This firmed the frosting up and gave it a super dark color. I took a little spoonful of frosting to see if it was anything close to fudgy, and was ecstatic to taste how dark and rich it was! Although this was a little lighter than dairy-full frosting, the deep chocolate flavor was all there!


Once my cakes were cooled and my frosting was ready, I inverted one of the cake layers onto a large plate to start building. I slapped a giant glob of the dark frosting on top of the first cake layer and used my split-level spatula to spread it around. Once I had an even layer of frosting, I plopped the second cake layer on top, with the rounded top upside-down so that the top of the cake would be flat. I put a lot more frosting on the very top than I would need to cover it, so that it would be easier to spread down the sides of the cake.


As I pushed the frosting to the edges of the cake, I angled my split-level downward to spread the frosting to the sides of the top cake layer. After the first cake layer was totally covered, I frosted the bottom layer and worked my way up. I added more frosting around the middle layer between the cakes to compensate for the open space at the edge of the two cake layers, since the two rounded cake tops were facing each other in the cake assembly.

When the whole cake was assembled and covered in frosting, I started on the sprinkles. I went to town on the top of the cake, shaking the sprinkles bottle like it had stolen something from me, and then threw – literally – a few sprinkles at a time around the sides of the cake until I was satisfied.

And then I began demolishing it almost immediately. Bronson and I each cut ourselves a comically large slice, ogling the layers of thick yellow cake and dark, fudgy frosting. I dug into my cake with the kind of tenacity that I’m going to bring to my first day at my new job and started smiling halfway through the first bite. The yellow cake came out soft, rich and creamy just as I had hoped, although it was a little dense. It wasn’t unpleasant, it just felt like you were eating some serious cake. And tasting the cake with the dark chocolate frosting was amazing!  The rich frosting brought out the sweetness of the cake very well. I was quite proud of myself for getting the fudge frosting so close to the dairy-full original. It was just a tad thinner, but still so rich and chocolatey that you wouldn’t be able to tell a difference unless you were looking for it.

Even after baking my Happy Cake, the burning ball of excitement in my stomach still hasn’t died down. I’m buzzing with energy, too excited for Monday to really focus on anything (it’s a miracle that I finished this post!). With my belly full of Happy Cake, I’m so ready to leap into the next level of Adulthood and start my big girl job.

Never lose hope on your daydream jobs, fellow Adults-In-Progress!

Recipe for Happy Cake – Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Best Birthday Cake

4 cups gluten-free flour mix, minus 2 tablespoons
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp table salt
2 sticks margarine, softened
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups almond milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Alternately, you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to speed this process up.)

Sift together gluten-free flour mix, cornstarch baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition.

Combine almond milk and lemon juice in a bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes. Whisk mixture and beat in until just combined, (mixture will look curdled). Add gluten-free flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. (I like to drop mine a few times from two inches up, making a great big noisy fuss.) Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

Recipe for Vegan Fudge Frosting – adapted from my Mocha Frosting

2 cups butter flavored shortening
2 tsp. vanilla
2 ½ cups powdered sugar
10 Tbsp. Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder
Pinch of salt

Whip shortening in a standing mixer for 12 minutes on high speed, stopping every few minutes to scrap the side of the bowl. When the shortening is whipped and looks moist, add vanilla extract and the melted chocolate. Whip for 2-3 minutes. Sift powdered sugar and black cocoa before adding to shortening mixture. Add powdered sugar cocoa, and whip for 2-3 minutes, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl to make sure everything has mixed.



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