Gluten Free, Dairy Free Wedding Cake

…And we’re back again! This whole grad school thing is not conducive to life. Good thing I graduate in 44 days! On with the show.

Last September, I had the opportunity to bake the cake for my dear friends’ wedding. The tricky part was, Jane is gluten free and Michaela is dairy free. They came to me with hopes of having a cake that they could both enjoy on their special day. After five months of recipe tweaking, dropping money on obscure ingredients like coconut flour, and overwhelming my friends with the despicable task of taste-testing, I succeeded. I have been wanting to post on this recipe for a while, but feared that the sheer enormity of both the process and the product might be unappealing to readers. But I want to finally get this out there to the world. Wedding cakes are expensive, and the right one can be hard to find. Especially if you are both gluten-free and dairy-free! I hope that by making this recipe available on the interwebz, more dietary-restricted folks with limited budgets and vows to write can make their cakey dreams come true. As long as they like chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and toasted coconut.


Translation: food of the gods. Darn straight. From the cacao tree we get cacao beans. After fermentation, drying and roasting, we get cacao nibs. After grinding, we get cocoa mass. After melting and perhaps mixing, we get chocolate liquor. After processing, we get cocoa mass and cocoa butter. From these, we get a glorious variety of chocolates.  In the grand scope of Time, Europeans are total chocolate newbs. Mesoamerica is where it was at, and where virtually all cacao is grown today. There is evidence of it being cultivated and most popularly consumed as a bitter drink called xocolatl more than 3,000 years ago. Chocolate has been touted as nutritious, even magical, and valued as a form of currency in the past. Cacao contains flavonoid antioxidants and alkaloids that can improve the mood and lower blood pressure. But the sweet and solid form of chocolate with which most people are familiar today is so far from its natural state that most of these benefits are lost, or at least outweighed by saturated fat. Except for the happiness – and let’s not discount that.

(Gluten free, dairy free chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and toasted coconut)
Contains: egg, soy
Yields: One 3-tiered cake (12 inch bottom, 9 inch middle, 6 inch top)

For the cake:
Adapted from Gluten Free Baking Classics by Annalise G. Roberts

10 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 ½ cups brown rice flour (extra finely ground)
1 ¼ cups potato starch
½ cup tapioca flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ Tbsp baking powder
1 Tbsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp salt
2 ¼ tsp xanthan gum
1 ½ cups canola oil
4 ½ cups unsweetened original almond milk
6 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 ½ Tbsp vanilla extract

For the frosting:
Adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

1 ½ cups nonhydrogenated shortening
1 ½ cups Earth Balance margarine
10 cups powdered sugar
1 ½ Tbsp vanilla extract
¾ to 1 cup unsweetened original almond milk

4 cups shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened – it’s up to you)

Architectural supplies (that much cake and frosting is HEAVY! If you don’t properly support it, you’re in for a very sad cave-in or avalanche):
Clean, large, sturdy (i.e. wooden or marble) board – this is the base on which the cake will stand
One each of 6-, 9-, and 12-inch circles of cardboard
Aluminum foil
2 feet of ¼- to 1/2–inch thick wooden dowel, and a saw with which to cut it

1. Line the bottoms of two 12-inch, two 9-inch, and two 6-inch round cake pans with circles of parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Make sure racks are arranged so that all six pans can fit – test this with the empty pans before you begin.

2. Melt the chopped chocolates in a saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool until lukewarm.

3. Meanwhile, sift together brown rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca flour in a large bowl. Add cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and xanthan gum, whisk until thoroughly combined, and set aside.

4. Pour canola oil and milk into a medium bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined. You may have to re-whisk later if they settle apart.  Remove ¼ cup of liquid and discard. Set aside.

5. In a very, very large bowl, beat the sugar and eggs with an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Blend in the melted chocolate and vanilla. Add dry mixture and oil/milk mixture alternately in 6-8 additions at low speed. Then mix at medium speed for 1-2 more minutes. Be sure to mix well all the way to the bottom of that big bowl.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared pans so that each pan has the same depth of batter. This is key! Arrange pans in the oven so that the 12-inchers are near the back and the 6-inchers are near the front.  Since the pans are different sizes, the smaller ones may bake through faster than the larger ones. You will need to monitor this closely and do the toothpick test repeatedly.

7. Bake for 30 minutes, then check 6-inch pans. Bake for five more minutes, then check 9-inch pans. Bake for five more minutes, then check 12-inch pans. On the wedding day, I was surprised to find all the pans finish at about the same time. Just watch closely, test all of them often, and you should be fine!

8. Remove pans from oven and cool in pans for 10 minutes. Use a small knife or rubber spatula to cut around pan sides to loosen cake. Invert cake layers onto a rack, peel off paper, and cool completely.

9. Once the cakes are completely cool, wrap each one in two layers of plastic wrap, then freeze.  Freezing the cake will make it much easier to handle later.

10. In the meantime, spread the coconut out on a large baking sheet. Toast to a pleasant light brown in a 325 degree F oven, stirring regularly. Approximately 10 minutes. Cool completely.

11. Also in the meantime, make the frosting: In a large bowl, beat together the shortening and Earth Balance until evenly combined. Add the sugar in increments of 2 cups, beating for 1-2 minutes in between additions. Once all the sugar is in, beat on high for 3 more minutes. Add the vanilla and almond milk, and beat for another 7 to 10 minutes or until fluffy. Cover and store in the refrigerator until it is construction time.

12. Here come the architectural supports. Remove cakes from freezer. Make sure each size cake fits flush with its cardboard round. Cover cardboard rounds completely with aluminum foil, keeping the top smooth and gathering on the bottom, taping if necessary to hold.

13. Dowel cutting: Stack the 12-inch layers and cut five lengths of dowel that are exactly the height of this tier. Do the same for the 9-inch layers, cutting three lengths that are exactly the height of this tier.

14. Bottom tier construction: Place the 12-inch cardboard round in the center of the display base. Unwrap the 12-inch cake layers and place one on top of cardboard. Spread frosting, sprinkle a thick layer of toasted coconut across, then top with the second 12-inch cake layer. Distribute the five dowels evenly in a circle around the center of the layer so that they will support the 9-inch tier. Press dowels straight down through the cake, all the way to the base. Spread a thin layer of frosting over all.


15. Place the 9-inch cardboard round in the center of the 12-inch layer and press lightly to firm up the dowels against the base. Place first 9-inch cake layer on top. Spread frosting, sprinkle a thick layer of toasted coconut across, then top with the second 9-inch cake layer. Distribute the three dowels evenly in a triangle around the center of the layer so that they will support the 6-inch tier. Press dowels straight down through the cake, all the way to the cardboard. Spread a thin layer of frosting over all.

16. Place the 6-inch cardboard round in the center of the 9-inch layer and press lightly to firm up the dowels. Place first 6-inch cake layer on top. Spread frosting, sprinkle a thick layer of toasted coconut across, then top with the second 6-inch cake layer.

17. Ready to frost the entirety! Using an icing knife, spread slightly less than half the remaining frosting over the whole cake. This layer of frosting will pick up crumbs from the cake, but it’s okay! The second layer of frosting will stay clean. Spread the remainder of the frosting, making a smooth, clean-cut finish.


18. Decorate as desired. Following the colors and theme of the wedding, I used fresh hydrangea, delphinium, ranunculus, nigella, and snapdragon from Molly Oliver Flowers to create a “river” flowing down the cake.

I couldn’t have done it without my incredible helpers, Danelle and Molly!