I know it’s practically sacrilegious to admit to using boxed cake mixes when one claims to call oneself a baker. But I’ve been doing the gluten-dairy-sugar free thing pretty much since I was twelve – about 18 years ago already! And for the majority of those years, that meant going without. Without bread, frosty desserts, birthday cake, or holiday celebrations in school. As an adult, still, I’m usually surprised with a cake on my birthday by well-meaning relatives that not only can I not eat, but I must slice and serve to guests, with custard-y filling dripping down my fingers while they exclaim that “this is the best cake!”
So when I get to make my Nana’s birthday cake on the Sunday morning before Valentine’s Day amongst much work to do, a boxed cake mix seems like an exciting prospect. Especially as my pantry full of flours and specialty equipment is back in my apartment in NYC.
At the store yesterday I grabbed two mixes – one from Gluten-Free Dreams and one I have never tried from King Arthur Flours. Upon pouring them out of their plastic prisons I immediately noticed that the King Arthur had a smoother texture to it that was less grainy than the GF Dreams. This would prove itself again when they were mixed and in the final baked products – the King Arthur was fudgey and soft with no trace of gluten-free graininess to it. The six of us agreed it was the taste-test winner (I’ve tried a few other brands, and this is my favorite out of them all).
I used canned pumpkin and unsweetened vanilla almond milk as the moisture for the cakes rather than oil and eggs, making them lower in fat and vegan, while tasting just as rich and chocolatey. Because they’re seemed to not be a matching set of cake pans in the house, I used an 8″ and a 9″, as well as a miniature heart mold that I knew was crammed in a cabinet here somewhere (I’m stealing it).
Now these cakes are so delicious that they don’t need frosting. I simply pureed three containers of raspberries to make a sauce and it was the perfect accompaniment to the dark and fudgey cake. But to glue them together and add some color I made a basic buttercream frosting with butter (bye-bye vegan and dairy-free) and a bit of almond milk. This is only needed if you make two layers.
Speaking of layers – my Portuguese/Italian heritage of always making too much food reared its dark-haired head again, in my making a double layer cake for 7 people! We had two-thirds of the cake left over. So if you’re feeding 8-10 people of a healthy appetite, one layer is sufficient for a dense and classy cake.
To simplify, I’m going to give you the recipe just for the King Arthur mix. If you were to choose the Gluten-Free Dreams, you’d simply reduce the milk by 1/4 of a cup.
- 2 boxes of King Arthur Flour Gluten-free Chocolate Cake mix
- 2 cups of pumpkin puree
- 3 1/2 cups unsweetened milk – I used vanilla almond, but soy or cow would work just as well
- 5 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 3 cups fresh raspberries
- 2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 1 stick (8 Tbsp) butter, softened
- red food coloring, if desired
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Lightly grease cake pans of choice – I used one 9″ and one 8″ cake pan, plus the little heart molds
- In a very large bowl: two packages of cake mix, 1 tsp baking powder, 4 tsp vanilla extract, 2 cups of pumpkin puree.
- With a hand mixer, start to mix on low. These mixes will easily fly into the air, so consider yourself warned!
- When the pumpkin is incorporated, make a well in the center of the batter and pour in 2 and 1/2 cups milk (the rest is for the frosting). Start mixing on low until incorporated, then mix in medium until nice and smooth.
- Pour into cake pans and bake for approximately 25 minutes, testing after 20, and bake until a toothpick in the center comes out clean.
- Leave in pans for 15 minutes before inverting onto cooling racks. Cool completely before frosting.
Directions: Frosting and puree
- In a food processor, process raspberries until smooth. Set aside.
- Clean and remount processor.
- Whip butter into confectioner’s sugar until incorporated.
- Add 1 tsp vanilla extract.
- Slowly pour in almond milk, stopping when frosting is smooth and spreadable.
- If desired, add about 5 drops of red food coloring until a delightful pink.
- Put a dab of frosting between the layers, and a bit more on top to decorate as desired. Serve with raspberry puree.
The Final Product
My sister and I dubbed this the Whoville Birthday Valentine Whobilation Cake. Yes, it looks like something a Who would serve to their guests in a Dr. Seuss world. I do not deny this. Nor am I too proud to share this with you. But I did come home and sign up for a cupcake class next month so I can learn how to frost better. And I think cake classes may be in my future in general.