When the birthday kid wants a vanilla cake, this is my go-to. It’s rich with a nice bite, yet light and fluffy and not-to-sweet. With a bit of fiber from oat flour, you can feel a little less guilty about indulging. But it also works well with a full measure of most gluten-free flour blends, or classic all-purpose. Baked in any size or shape pan, this is one of my family’s favorite gluten-free cakes!
Gluten-free cake from scratch
For clients and at home, I’ve baked many a gluten-free cake. And while it wasn’t so even ten years ago, nowadays you can find many great options for gluten-free flour blends that can replace wheat flour almost perfectly.
Feel free to keep it simple here and use a 1:1 gluten-free blend. You can’t go wrong!
A better gluten-free blend
However… most gluten-free blends – while providing amazing texture and stability to baked goods – are often loaded with refined starches and gums just as bad for you as white wheat flour.
So when I don’t want to start completely from scratch at home, I mix up a combination of a gluten-free flour blend, oat flour, and tapioca or arrowroot. Oat flour lends a richness and a bit of fiber to any gluten-free cake, and tapioca is a little less refined than the most common gluten-free flours and emulsifiers like xanthan gum.
Since this is really a classic (gluten-free) vanilla cake, the ingredients come with no surprises, other than the oat flour and tapioca starch.
- gluten-free flour blend (I like Simple Truth All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour or Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour)
- oat flour
- tapioca flour
- baking powder
- flake kosher or sea salt
- granulated or coconut sugar (most often a “wet” ingredient, but in this method, it goes with the dry ingredients)
- eggs, separated
- melted butter or avocado, coconut or olive oil
- milk or plant-based milk
- vanilla extract or seeds from a vanilla bean
Generally speaking, all cakes are born from the classic pound cake ratio of equal parts flour, sugar, butter, and eggs. A chiffon cake is different in that most recipes call for less fat (usually oil) and sugar. This gives you a lighter, slightly less sweet cake, but one that is incredibly addicting because it is so easy to devour!
1 part flour + 1 part eggs + ¾ part sugar + ½-⅔ part liquid fat + ½ part liquid
Using the above formula, the ingredients for a single 9-inch round chiffon cake may look like this:
- 8 ounces/1⅔ cups cake flour (or gluten-free flour)
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 4 large eggs (one large egg is about two ounces)
- 6 ounces/¾ cup granulated sugar
- 5 ounces/⅔ cup oil (or melted butter)
- 4 ounces/½ cup buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
A chiffon cake is different from its cousin the sponge cake in that you use chemical leavening in addition to the rise that happens because you whip the egg whites separately.
Adding one teaspoon of baking powder or one-quarter teaspoon of baking soda for every cup of flour is the professional standard.
Want an even lighter cake? Add a little more. Just be careful, you’ll know you’ve gone too far when either your cake collapses during cooling or has a funny metallic or soapy taste.
If you opt for baking soda, adding an acidic ingredient such as buttermilk helps activate the reaction.
The chiffon cake method
This is not your average mix and bake cake – and I believe you can taste the difference. For a special occasion, I find the extra steps of separating the eggs and whipping the egg whites worth it.
Especially when baking gluten-free, beating the egg whites separately then folding the meringue into the batter lightens the texture.
If you’re after a simpler process, check out this easy vanilla bean cupcake recipe which is actually a popular cake with my clients.
Butter vs Oil
Traditionally, a chiffon cake calls for oil, but I prefer the flavor of pastured butter. For a dairy-free cake, I recommend and use avocado or olive oil.
What about vegetable oil like canola? You will see canola oil or even just “vegetable oil” listed in many cake recipes. I don’t like either because blended vegetable oils are highly processed, and contain less omega-3 fatty acids if any at all. But regardless of which fat you choose, the steps for a chiffon cake are the same.
The chiffon method steps
- Separate the eggs.
- Sift the dry ingredients together with half of the sugar.
- Whisk the egg yolks with oil (or melted butter).
- Whisk in liquids, including any extracts.
- Beat in the dry ingredients at medium speed.
- Whip the egg whites separately with the remaining half of the sugar to soft to medium peaks (photo above).
- Mix a third of the meringue into the batter well, leaving no streaks.
- Gently fold the remaining meringue in a few additions.
The secret to a moist cake
Why are bakery cakes so moist? Two words: simple syrup. Or any other delicious liquid, say a liqueur or citrus juice. Brush cake layers with a simple syrup after baking and before frosting and decorating.
This not-so-secret technique locks in moisture and adds another layer of flavor. Lemon cake? Use a lemon simple syrup or limoncello liqueur. Coffee or chocolate cake? Brush a little Kahlúa on the layers for an adults-only delight at your next dinner party.
Four quick tips on gluten-free baking
Gluten-free baking isn’t a new frontier like it was ten or fifteen years ago. And it doesn’t need to be as intimidating or complicated as mixing five different flours together, uttering enchantments, or praying to the cake gods.
- Choose a gluten-free blend wisely. Not all gluten-free flour blends are created equal. Many are loaded with as much refined starch as white wheat flour, and others contain loads of emulsifiers that can cause a gummy, chewy texture. I like blends by Bob’s Red Mill, the Simple Truth All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour at my local Kroger, and for clients, I bake with Better Batter. If you have a favorite gluten-free flour blend, please let everyone know in the comments!
- Mix the batter well. No gluten, no worries! Gluten-free flours don’t have strong proteins that will develop during mixing. So mix away, and mix well. I find especially with finer grain flours, a few extra turns of the beater or whisk ensures a stable crumb.
- Let the batter rest (but not one with whipped eggs). With this chiffon cake technique, you are resting the batter a little by default. Since you mix the batter first, then let it sit while you whip the meringue. Be aware, any time you are baking a cake with whipped eggs, you want to bake straight away after folding in the beaten whites.
- Watch the baking carefully. The trick of testing a cake for doneness by gently pressing the top doesn’t always work in gluten-free baking. Often, if you wait until a gluten-free cake does this, it’s over-baked and dried out. I like a toothpick for checking gluten-free bakes, and pull the cake out when it’s almost dry, and springs back most of the way.
Frosting + decorating ideas
A vanilla cake is a chameleon! Whether no-fuss with whipped cream and fruit, or decked out in tinted frosting and more, this gluten-free cake is a friend to all sorts of frostings and flavors.
Celebration or birthday cake
In the one above, my kiddo requested a “cotton candy” half-birthday cake, so I frosted it with Italian meringue and tinted it pink with a beet-based food powder. We topped it with this organic cotton candy, which is, of course, pure sugar! But at least doesn’t contain corn syrup or artificial food dyes.
If you decorate with Italian meringue, first frost the layers with a classic buttercream to keep them from sliding. Italian meringue is smooth and slippery, and the makings of a toppled cake disaster (yes, this has happened to me).
Strawberries + cream AKA strawberry shortcake
A light and delicious spring or summertime delight! And easy to decorate. I soaked this cake in St. Germain elderflower liqueur, then topped it with whipped cream and fresh, in-season berries. Sweet, light, and a little sinful!
Here are more simple and easy celebration cake decorating ideas, and the professional technique for building a layer cake.
But truly, my favorite way to finish a cake is with a nice soaking of liqueur, like I did with this one. That way you have a perfectly good excuse as to why you don’t need to share it with the kids.
Yours in celebrating the everyday,
More Gluten-Free Tips + Recipes
- Why I love sugar cookie dough, and for way more than cookies + fruit tart recipe
- Why all French macaron recipes are really the same (and how to make the delicate pastries)
- What Japanese pancakes really are + how to make them gluten + grain free
- What compound butter is + how to make it
When you want a delicious, gluten-free crowd-pleasing cake! An easy common meringue (egg whites whipped with sugar) lightens the texture of this classic. I love splurging on a whole vanilla bean for special occasions, but loads of vanilla extract works, too.
This recipe makes two 8- or 9-inch cakes. For a single-layer cake, cut the recipe in half. If you want to bake a classic wheat flour cake, replace the gluten-free, oat, and tapioca flour with 15 ounces/3 cups of all-purpose or cake flour. Or just replace the gluten-free flour with wheat flour. Either way works!
Frost this cake with American buttercream, whipped cream, and berries, or do what I did for my son’s half birthday: Whip up a simple Italian meringue (AKA homemade marshmallow fluff) for a “cotton candy” cake!
For a dairy-free cake, simply switch out the melted butter for your favorite oil. I recommend avocado, olive, or coconut if you don’t mind the flavor.
- 7 ounces/1⅓ cups gluten-free flour blend (tested with both Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 and Simple Truth All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flours)
- 5 ounces/1⅓ cups oat flour
- 3 ounces/⅔ cup tapioca flour
- 3½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 8 large eggs, separated
- 6 ounces/1½ sticks/12 tablespoons melted butter or ¾ cup avocado/olive oil
- 10 ounces/about 1⅔ cups granulated or coconut sugar, split in half
- 8 ounces/1 cup milk or plant-based milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract or seeds from one vanilla bean
Prep Ingredients + Pans
- Grease two 8 or 9-inch cake pans (round or square). I like to line the bottoms of mine with parchment paper.
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Separate the eggs, reserving the whites for the meringue.
- Sift all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Whisk about half of the sugar into the sifted flour mixture.
- In a large bowl, whisk the melted butter (or oil) and egg yolks until frothy. Whisk in the milk and vanilla.
- With a hand mixer or stand mixer with a paddle (or a whisk), beat the sifted dry ingredients into the wet on low speed until well combined. Then beat on medium speed for about 30 seconds. Set aside.
Whip Meringue + Fold Into Batter
- In a large clean bowl with clean paddles or a stand mixer bowl with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until foamy. With the beater on medium speed, slowly rain in the remaining sugar.
- Beat the whites to soft to medium peaks, when they turn smooth, glossy, and opaque. When the beaters are pulled from the meringue, the peaks will flop over. This typically takes two to three minutes at medium-high speed.
- Mix one-third of the meringue into the reserved batter with a spatula, combining completely.
- Gently fold the remaining meringue into the batter. Do this by scooping up from the bottom and over the top. Every few strokes, cut through the middle of the batter to the bottom of the bowl, then back up and over again. Turn the bowl as you fold.
Bake + Cool
- Pour and smooth equal amounts of batter into the greased pans.
- Bake 25-28 minutes, until the tops spring back a bit when touched AND a toothpick comes out nearly clean.
- Cool cakes in the pans, on a rack, if possible, for 10-20 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely.
Soak, Enjoy + Store
- Brush or drizzle any simple syrup or flavorful liquid on the cake layers, then decorate or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze.
- Decorated cakes can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator (if frosting is perishable, like Italian meringue or cream cheese frosting).
- Unfrosted cakes can be frozen for several months. Bring chilled or frozen cakes to room temperature before enjoying.
Food Coloring. I recommend natural, plant-based food colors. I like Nature’s Flavors from a professional standpoint, but there are plenty of great natural colors in national grocery chains. If using a liquid color, mix it in with the milk, if using a powdered color, whisk it into the dry ingredients in the second step.
Keywords: gluten free cake, gluten free vanilla cake, easy gluten free cake, gluten free vegan cake, gluten free baking