Flourless and fierce gluten free cake recipes for spring ~ perfect for Mother’s Day, Easter, Passover, showers, and graduations.
what is gluten?
Gluten is a type of protein found in certain grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. It’s what gives doughs and batters texture, structure, and elasticity, and helps them rise during baking.
Why bake gluten free?
There are lots of reasons to bake gluten free. You might want to use alternative flours for diet, health, or religious reasons. Some people have sensitivities or allergies to gluten. I love to bake gluten free just because I like the textures and flavors you can get by branching out from plain old all purpose wheat flour. (My Almond Macaroon Cake gets amazing texture from almond flour and coconut.) Whatever your reasons are for baking grain free, I think you’ll find some great inspiration here.
what are gluten free flours?
Gluten-free flours are typically made from grains like rice, oats, buckwheat, corn, or quinoa, which are naturally gluten-free, but there are lots of different types of gluten free flours. Some are made from ground nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, or coconut.
You can find a lot of great gluten free baking mixes that are precise mixtures of ingredients that allow you to substitute for wheat flour in a 1 to 1 ratio, making gluten free baking extra convenient. Bob’s Red Mill makes one, so does Trader Joe’s and Costco.
the 14 best gluten free flours, according to Healthline:
- Almond Flour is one of the most common grain- and gluten-free flours. It’s made from ground, blanched almonds, which means the skin has been removed. You can also make it from regular raw almonds with the skin on, which I do all the time, right in my food processor or Vitamix blender. Hazelnuts also work well but have a more pronounced flavor. My Flourless Walnut Cake with Fresh Figs is made with walnut flour!
- Buckwheat Flour. Buckwheat is not a type of wheat, despite its name, and it’s gluten-free. It has a rich, earthy flavor and a pretty grey color. I love it for biscuits, and even chocolate chip cookies!
- Sorghum Flour is an ancient grain that is a dense flour, so it should be mixed with other gluten-free flours or used in recipes requiring small amounts of flour.
- Amaranth Flour, another ancient grain, it can replace 25% of wheat flour but should be combined with other flours when baking.
- Teff Flour is a teeny tiny grain, and comes in a variety of colors, ranging from white to red to dark brown. Light colors have a mild flavor, while darker shades are more earthy in taste.
- Arrowroot Flour is a starchy versatile flour and can be used as a thickener or mixed with almond, coconut or tapioca flours for bread and dessert recipes.
- Brown Rice Flour, made from ground brown rice, is a healthy, nutty flavored flour. Mix it with other gf flours when baking cakes and cookies.
- Oat Flour, this is one of my personal favorites, made from ground oats (you can make it yourself in your food processor or blender) it has a lovely flavor and gives a tender crumb to baked goods. Oat flour tends to make baked goods more moist.
- Corn Flour, is a fine flour used as a thickener, and its grittier counterpart cornmeal is usually used for breads and tortillas. Some lovely European style cakes are made with cornmeal or polenta.
- Chickpea Flour, another favorite of mine, it has a fine texture and nice flavor.
- Coconut Flour is notoriously difficult to bake with as it is very absorbant and can leave baked goods dry if you don’t adjust the recipe to compensate for that. You can see it in action in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Flourless Coconut Cake.
- Tapioca Flour is made from a South American root. It’s used as a thickener, and in combination with other gf flours in baking.
- Cassava Flour is made from another South American root. It’s similar in consistency to white flour.
- Tigernut Flour is made from a North African root and is slightly sweet and coarse textured.
almond flour is probably the most common gf flour used in cakes
I make my Gluten Free Carrot Cake, above, and my Almond Ricotta Cake, below, with almond flour, probably the most common gluten free flour used in cakes. There is a long rich history of baking with almond flour.
- Almond flour comes blanched (where the skins of the nuts have been removed) or unblanched, with the skins of the almonds left on.
- You can find ‘super fine’ almond flour, which is ideal for baking.
- To substitute it for wheat flour in most recipes you probably need to make adjustments to get it just the way you like it.
- Almond flour bakes up with a tender, dense, less ‘chewy’ texture than you get with regular flour. I love the consistency!
- The one drawback to using almond flour? It can be pricy. Be sure to protect your investment by keeping it in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent spoilage.
Can I just swap out a gluten free flour in my regular cake recipe?
Swapping out gluten-free flour for regular flour in recipes can be tricky, as gluten-free flours have different properties than regular flour. Gluten provides structure and elasticity to baked goods, so when it is removed from a recipe, it can affect the texture and consistency of the final product.
To use gluten-free flour as a substitute for regular flour, it’s often necessary to make additional adjustments to the recipe. Some gluten-free flours are denser or more absorbent than regular flour, which can make the batter or dough thicker or dryer. To compensate for this, you may need to add more liquid, such as milk or water, to the recipe.
Some cake recipes, like my Mexican Chocolate Cake with Berries (gluten free, or not) are quite forgiving and can be switched easily between regular flour and gluten free flours.
My Whole Tangerine Cake is a great example of the unique results you can get with non-conventional flours. You simply can’t make this beautiful citrus cake with regular wheat flour! Ditto for my Flourless Whole Meyer Lemon Cake.
are gluten free flours healthier?
Gluten-free flours are not inherently healthier than regular flour, as the nutritional value of a flour depends on the type of grain it comes from and how it’s processed. But overall some gluten free flours have a slight nutritional edge over plain white wheat flour because they tend to be made from whole grains or nuts, for example.
can gluten free desserts be decadent?
While gluten free cakes are often healthier alternatives to regular cakes, that doesn’t mean they can’t be a little bit sinful, too 😉 In fact, that denser texture plays very nice with chocolate.
My Flourless Chocolate Cake is a great example of a drop dead decadent cake made without gluten. The lack of flour really allows the chocolate to take center stage!
If no one told you, you’d never suspect what stands in for flour in this amazingly luscious and gluten free chocolate cake (spoiler alert: it’s quinoa!)
Yotam Ottolengi’s Flourless Coconut Cake shows off how swoon-worthy gluten free baking can be. The texture of this cake is almost like pudding 🙂
are pavlovas gluten free?
No discussion of gluten free cakes would be complete without the grand dame of all gluten free desserts, the pavlova. No flour, grain based or not, required for these masterpieces, they’re made with sweetened egg whites firmly beaten and slow cooked until crisp on the outside and soft and marshmallowy on the inside.
Pavlovas are one of the easiest and most versatile of gluten free desserts ~ you can make them in any size or shape you like, and top them with just about anything!
My classic pavlova recipe, above, can be customized to any season or occasion, depending on how you top it off. Berries are perfect for spring.
My toasted almond version is a stunner with a shatteringly crisp meringue topped with almond whipped cream and summer berries.