These gluten free cake recipes for spring are perfect for Mother’s Day, Easter, Passover, showers, graduations…so many cake-worthy occasions. From decadent chocolate cakes to delicate tea cakes and pavlovas, these gluten free recipes are flourless and fierce!
what is gluten?
Gluten is a type of protein found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley. It acts as a binder to hold grains together as they bake.
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, above, gets amazing texture from almond flour and coconut.) Whatever your reasons are for baking grain free, I think you’ll find some great inspirational here.
what are gluten free flours?
There are lots of different types of gluten free flours. Some are made from ground nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, or coconut. Some are made with gluten free grains like oats or buckwheat, for instance. 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.
- 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, 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?
Sometimes that might work, depending on the recipe, and on your gluten free flour choice, but usually it’s a good idea to stick with a recipe that is formulated to be gluten free. Often they have put together a precise blend of gf flours, and include different amounts of a leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder, or additional eggs to help achieve a good rise and texture.
Sarah from Snixy Kitchen uses a combination of oat and sweet rice flour in her Earl Grey Gluten Free Bundt Cake with Blood Orange Icing. She says
“These two flours work together to keep the crumb moist and tender without getting gummy. I’ve added a bit of xanthan gum to the cake, which helps with texture, but if you need to leave it out, the cake will still be delicious, just moderately more dense!”
Sarah uses a combination of oat, millet, and sweet rice flour in her equally gorgeous Gluten Free German Apple Cake. Skilled gluten free bakers often do much trial and error testing before getting the blend of flours exactly right, so if you’re new to gluten free baking I suggest following recipes from reliable sources to begin with.
are gluten free flours healthier?
One of the best benefits of baking with gluten free flours is that, yes, they tend to be more nutritious than all-purpose white wheat flour. Gluten free flours as a whole have more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than plain white flour.
Alana, aka The Bojon Gourmet, and author of Alternative Baker: Reinventing Dessert with Gluten-Free Grains and Flours, uses sorghum flour in her gorgeous and green Gluten Free Chocolate Zucchini Cake with Matcha Cream Cheese Frosting.
“Cake usually doesn’t have much in the way of nutritional value. But this cake has a whole pound of zucchini in it, and loads of whole grain sorghum flour, so it’s basically health food.”
I like to bake with alternative flours like almond, especially in the spring and summer months, because the moist dense cake texture that you get with almond flour is especially easy to combine with fruits. This gluten and dairy free sponge cake, below, is perfect for Mother’s Day.
My Flourless Whole Tangerine Cake is a great example of how you can get completely unique results when you bake with alternative flours. You simply can’t make this beautiful cake with regular flour! (I adapted this cake recipe for Meyer lemons, here.)
but what about chocolate?
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.
Kayley from The Kitchen Mccabe makes her “intolerance friendly” Grain Free Chocolate Raspberry Cake gluten and grain free, dairy free, and refined sugar free. Yet it still manages to be silky, rich, and indulgent!
My Flourless Belgian Chocolate Cake is a great example of a drop dead decadent cake made without a speck of flour. In fact, flour would just detract from all that chocolatey goodness.
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 🙂
This Hazelnut Chocolate Cream Layer Cake is made with hazelnut meal, one of my favorite alternative ‘flours’. It functions just like the more common almond flour, but the flavor payoff is much stronger. When you pair it with chocolate the result is heavenly.
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.
My classic pavlova recipe, below, can be customized to any season or occasion, depending on how you top it off. Berries are perfect for spring.
The Pavlova Cake with Summer Berry Cointreau from Christiann Koepke is a stunner with three shatteringly crisp layers of meringue filled with cointreau whipped cream and topped with spring berries. Perfection.
The Floured Kitchen even makes a vegan Pavlova with Saffron Berries Passion Fruit and Pistachios with aquafaba, or bean water. The possibilities are clearly endless!