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Gluten-free, dairy-free baked goods are a pain to find, and once I find them, they rarely live up to my (admittedly extremely picky) standards.  And I have not enjoyed my DIY endeavors so far; there's been an awful lot of experimentation and preparations with twice as many steps as their dairyful+glutenful counterparts, for mediocre results.

And so I cast my mind back, to the Cookbook of Unreasonably Rich Desserts and Fatally Flawed Recipes.  Once upon a time, a decade or more ago, I got this cookbook.  I think it came from a garage sale.  Filled with fancy cakes.  I tried a few of the recipes and it didn't take long to discover that each recipe had something skipped -- some place where the author undoubtedly assumed her audience was going to be experienced enough to know, for instance, that she meant what I'd call 'simmer' when she said 'boil' (to take the example I marked up in black ink in my copy).

And I've got a favorite recipe in there.  From when I was still making things with cake flour and real butter and heavy whipping cream.  It's a three-layer chocolate cake that takes all damn day to make, and I made it rarely, but when I did, I considered it worth it. And it took me some five tries to iron out the things the recipe skipped or described in ways I found absurd.

I'm trying to recapture that willingness to experiment (though my time is even less abundant now than It was then) and willingness to take all damn day to make a cake.  And I'm doing it with that recipe.

Here's try #1. (and to be honest, it hasn't taken all day. It's taken less than five hours.)

This is a half-recipe, because I didn’t want to spend a pound and a half of good chocolate on something I might end up tipping into the garbage.  As it turns out, this one's getting eaten, but still -- the final result should be doubled & baked in three round pans.

Half Recipe of Gateau Noir with Chocolate Ganache Souffle

  • 1-1/4c gluten-free flours.  I used 1/2c white rice flour and 1/4c each potato starch, brown rice flour, and almond meal.
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4c margarine (I use Earth Balance Buttery Sticks)
  • 1/2c brown sugar
  • 3/4c granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted & cooled
  • 3/4 c  yogurt substitute (which we call "pretend yogurt" around here. I used the unsweetened plain WholeSoy & Co yogurt.  The original recipe called for full-fat sour cream.  I may try the sour cream substitute next time.  Also, I reversed the proportions of the butter-substitute and sour-cream/yogurt-substitute from the original, since none of the sour cream substitutes are rich enough for my tastes.)

Preheat oven to 325 (because the Internet has told me that gluten-free baked goods do better at lower temperatures).  Grease round 10-inch cake pan & dust with plain cocoa.

Combine dry ingredients; set aside.

In stand mixer, cream butter, sugars, & vanilla for a couple of minutes at medium speed.  Add eggs, beating well after each one. The original recipe suggests "Scrape sides of bowl as necessary." In my experience, scrape the sides of the bowl even if it doesn't seem necessary.  Otherwise you end up with a ring of layer-upon-layer of butter, egg, chocolate, yogurt, and it's an excavation of stuff that hasn't been properly mixed.  Avoid that.  Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides, start the mixer up again.

Run the mixer while drizzling in the chocolate.  Do more scraping.

The original recipe reads "beat 2 minutes at high speed."  This is one of the two portions of this cake that puts chocolate on the walls.  I didn't make it to 2 minutes and it was more like medium-high, but it seemed like a good idea.  After that, beat in the pretend yogurt, then fold in the flour mixture.  I let it sit for ten minutes, here, because The People On The Internet suggest that can be a good thing for gluten-free flours, to help with the graininess that sometimes plagues us.

Pour into prepared pan. There's actually too much batter here for a single 9-inch pan.  This is a test, remember? So twice this recipe is supposed to be in three pans, but I did not want to try to bake a cake-and-a-half.  If you make this recipe in a single 9-in pan it'll have a teeny-tiny muffin top which will make it hard to frost.  However, this is not a disaster.  

Bake 40-45 minutes; the top layer of the center will have finally solidified but it'll be extremely fragile. This cake will fall; accept that fact.  Start getting used to the idea.  That soft spot in the middle will sink.  Don't play with it. But don't put it back into the oven; gluten-free baked goods that are all the way cooked in the middle are dry and sad everywhere else.

Let it cool for at least 10 minutes in the pan.  Then turn it out onto a rack for cooling -- my normal racks weren't fine-mesh enough and the cake started to disintegrate; I had to pull out my giant cooling rack with the thick wires and half-inch holes instead of my more reasonably sized cooling rack with thinner wires and inch-long spaces, or else the thing would have sliced itself with its own weight.

At this point the cake still tasted like a gluten-free baked good, which didn't thrill me.  It was better than most, but not what I was looking for.  Clearly we need to add the next step: the frosting.

The frosting for a whole three-layer cake contains a full pound of semi-sweet chocolate.  I made a half-recipe, subbing coconut milk for the heavy whipping cream and leaving out the instant coffee and rum (but there's a cinnamon flavor, since one of the chocolates I used had some cinnamon in it).

  • 1c coconut milk (about a half-can)
  • 1/2 lb semisweet chocolate, chopped

heat the milk together with the chocolate over low-ish heat.  Don't boil the damn thing, no matter what Ms. Herbst said in her cookbook.  Get it up to simmer and stop; any more than that and the chocolate will scorch.

Pour into the stand mixer bowl and cool until the mixture is fairly close to room temperature and a bit stiffer than the coconut milk was when it came out of the can.   This will take longer than you expect.  The original recipe says you can use the refrigerator to speed this but don't let it set -- I think I generally just start beating it before it's cooled, which seems to work too.  Whipping a warm mixture puts room-temperature air into it, after all.  And that's what happens next: this is the second opportunity to get chocolate all over the walls. (I got out the blast shield for this one.)  Beat at high speed until it's thicker and lighter.  If you're accustomed to frosting that comes out of a can or icing you put on cookies, you'll be nervous at how thin and runny this is.   It's ganache.  When it's even a little above room temperature it's gooey.  This is a good thing, as otherwise the cake would fall apart when you frosted it.

Turn the cake onto a plate.  Frost.  Carefully.  The cake is fragile.

No, wait.  Let me be more specific.  There's a lot of ganache here. Remember the part above where you maybe got chocolate on the walls? This is where you get chocolate on everything else.  This is what the adjectival phrase "enrobed in chocolate" was made for.  Pour a bunch of the ganache over the top of the cake and spread it out.  If it ever for an instance looks like there might not be enough to make a smooth, even coating, add more.  Add extra to fill in where the center of the cake fell -- maybe not so much to make it absolutely flat, but definitely put more in the middle than on the sides.  Then frost the sides.  A small spatula helps, but the back of a spoon works fine. 

The dairy-ful version is prettier, because heavy whipping cream sets up firmer than the coconut milk version does.  But really, ugly is fine.  The question for me is inevitably, how does it taste?  What's the texture like?

It's not perfect.  The center (where it fell) is crumbly, though the outside part holds together reasonably well.  Perhaps next time I'll wrap the outside edges with foil and bake it longer.  I can taste what I think might be the rice flour; maybe next time I'll skip the brown rice flour altogether (or at least, use very very fresh flour; the stuff I've got is not brand-new &  brown rice flour doesn't keep as well as the others).  The ganache tastes of coconut, despite the insistence of People On The Internet that it tastes just like dairyful ganache.  It is, however, edible.  Enough so that I'll try again, sometime.

(and in the meantime, excuse me, I'm going to settle in with a glass of soy milk, a comic book, and a slice of cake.)

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