This gluten-free vanilla cake is moist, rich, and very vanilla. It’s a perfect cake for birthdays, weddings, or any celebration. Thanks to the gluten-free flour, butter, and sour cream, it remains soft and fresh for several days. Frost it with vanilla or gluten-free chocolate frosting.
What’s the difference between vanilla cake, a white cake, and a yellow cake?
If you love cake, you’ve probably enjoyed a “vanilla” cake on more than one occasion. While some folks use the terms white cake and vanilla cake interchangeably, they’re slightly different cakes.
I think of these cakes as classic birthday or wedding cakes. They’re all rich, moist cakes that are usually frosted with buttercream frosting. And unlike a gluten-free angel food cake, they all contain some type of fat, either butter, oil, or shortening.
So what’s the difference? The biggest difference is the type of eggs and how much vanilla extract the recipe uses.
Gluten-free white cake: calls for egg whites. This keeps the crumb of the cake white and the texture light.
Gluten-free vanilla cake: uses whole eggs and a generous amount of vanilla extract. The texture tends to be dense and moist.
Gluten-free yellow cake: like a vanilla cake, it uses whole eggs and, in the case of my favorite recipe, oil. These ingredients make for a cake with a lovely, light yellow color. Think of it as a homemade version of a boxed cake.
Ingredients and substitutions.
Gluten-Free Flour. The texture of this cake is wholly dependent on the gluten-free flour blend. I developed the recipe with Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 Gluten-Free Baking Flour. Given how many commercial gluten-free blends are on the market, it’s impossible for me to test them all.
Use a gluten-free flour blend that contains xanthan or guar gum. If your blend doesn’t, whisk ¾ teaspoon of xanthan gum into the flour before using.
Don’t replace the gluten-free flour with almond flour. The recipe won’t work. If you’d like to use almond flour, try this recipe for an almond flour yellow cake. It works great.
Baking Powder and Baking Soda. The combination of baking powder and baking soda gives this cake a nice rise and tender texture.
Salt. A teaspoon of salt enhances the flavor of this cake. Without salt, most gluten-free baked goods taste flat. This cake is no expectation.
Butter. The butter in this recipe does a few things: it adds flavor, keeps the cake moist, and helps the cake to rise. When butter and sugar are creamed (beaten) until light and fluffy, the mixture holds onto air bubbles. These little air bubbles, along with the baking powder and baking soda, are what make the cake rise.
It’s important to cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture is light. You want it to look white–almost like a fluffy frosting. Don’t skip this step and remember to scrape the mixer down a few times. It’s common for a thick layer of butter and sugar to form along the sides and bottom of the bowl. Scrape this off the bowl and allow it to mix before adding the gluten-free flour mixture.
Salted vs Unsalted Butter: which is best for cakes?
If you want full control over how much salt is in your baked goods, use unsalted butter.
However, there’s a baking myth that we don’t know how much salt is in a stick of butter. We do! The nutrition label tells us. It’s usually between 90 to 100 mg per serving. That’s about ⅓ teaspoon per stick of butter. (In the US, a stick of butter is 113 grams.)
If you bake with salted butter, you can reduce the amount of salt you add to the recipe. (Or not. It’s up to you. )
Granulated Sugar. Adds sweetness. Be sure to use granulated sugar. Any other sugar, including sugar replacements, won’t work in this recipe.
Eggs. Three eggs play a key role in this recipe. They help the cake to rise, provide structure, and keep the cake moist. Unfortunately, this cake doesn’t work with egg replacers.
Milk. Whole milk gives the cake the best flavor and texture. It also helps the cake to stay fresh for several days. That said, any milk works in this recipe.
Sour Cream. Adds flavor and richness. You can replace the sour cream with whole-milk yogurt. Since yogurt contains less fat than sour cream, the texture of the cake will be a little drier. I don’t recommend using low-fat or fat-free sour cream or yogurt in this recipe.
Vanilla Extract. What would a gluten-free vanilla cake be without vanilla? Two teaspoons of vanilla extract give the cake batter a lovely flavor. If you want a stronger vanilla flavor or if your vanilla extract isn’t strong, use a tablespoon of vanilla extract.
How to Make a Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake: Three Key Steps.
- Whisk. Whisk. Whisk.
You’ll need three mixing bowls to make this cake. While that seems like a lot, whisking the dry and wet ingredients together before making the batter, makes for a perfect cake.
First, whisk together the gluten-free flour with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Next, in a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, sour cream, and vanilla extract.
Why is this important: Whisking the gluten-free flour with the other dry ingredients ensures that the baking powder, baking soda, and salt are evenly distributed throughout the flour. If the baking powder or baking soda clumps, the cake won’t rise evenly.
Mixing the milk together with the sour cream and vanilla extract makes easy to pour the mixture into the batter.
- Beat the Butter.
It’s essential to beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. You want the butter to look white and very light. If it looks like frosting, you’ve done it right. (This takes about two minutes on medium-high speed.)
Why is this important? Creaming (beating) butter with granulated sugar traps air. Those air bubbles help the cake to rise, along with the baking powder and baking soda.
- Add the Flour and Milk in Two Stages.
This is not a “dump cake”. (What’s a dump cake? It’s a cake where you dump all the ingredients into a bowl and mix.) The gluten-free flour and milk mixtures must be added in two stages.
After beating the butter and sugar until light, stop the mixer. Add half the gluten-free flour mixture. Turn the mixer to low and let the flour mix into the butter. It will look thick—almost like cookie dough. As soon as the gluten-free flour mixes into the butter, add the milk-sour cream in a slow and steady stream. Do this with the mixer running on low. Almost like magic, the gluten-free the sour cream mixture turns the batter silky and smooth.
Once it’s smooth, repeat the process. Stop the mixer. Add the remaining gluten-free flour. Let it mix into the batter. Add the remaining milk-sour cream mixture. Stop the mixer. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Mix for another 30 seconds or so.
Tips and Techniques for a Perfect Cake.
Preheat the oven. Start this cake in a hot oven. If the oven is cold when you put the pans into it, the cake won’t rise as high. Since ovens can be temperamental, I always use an oven thermometer. This way you’ll know the temperature selected is the same temperature as inside the oven.
Butter temperature matters. Use butter that’s about 65°F. If you don’t want to take the temperature of your butter, I understand. Press the butter with your finger. It should feel soft and pliable. If it sticks to your fingers or feels greasy, it’s too warm. If it’s hard, it’s too cool. Butter below 65°F won’t whip up light and fluffy. And butter above 70°F is too soft to hold onto air.
Aim for butter that’s about 65°F and you’ll get a gluten-free cake that’s light and tender.
Use Cool Eggs. After beating the butter with the granulated sugar, the mixture gets warm. If you add room-temperature eggs, the butter-sugar mixture gets too warm and deflates. But if you use cool eggs, you avoid this.
So what’s a “cool” egg? Good question! It’s an egg that’s been out of the refrigerator for about five to ten minutes. The temperature should be between 45°F and 50°F. I simply remove three eggs from the refrigerator before I do anything else. This way, they’re at room temperature while I measure all the other ingredients. Easy-peasy.
Use Fresh Baking Powder and Baking Soda. Two little ingredients make a huge difference: baking powder and baking soda. If they’re fresh, they help the gluten-free cake to rise. If not, the cake turns out dense and heavy.
Most cans and boxes of baking powder and baking soda have a use-by date printed on the side. Unsure if you’re baking powder and baking soda are fresh? Test them!
How to Test Baking Powder and Baking Soda for Freshness.
Baking Powder: combine a half cup of hot water with 1 teaspoon of baking powder. Look for the mixture to bubble.
Baking Soda: combine two tablespoons of vinegar with ½ teaspoon baking soda. The mixture should bubble right away.
Use the right size pan. You can use either 8 or 9-inch round cake pans for this recipe. If you’re using two 8-inch round cake pans, make sure they’re 2-inch deep. You don’t want to fill the pans more than halfway. If your pan isn’t deep enough, bake a few cupcakes. (It’s better to bake a few cupcakes than have the pans overflow and make a mess in your oven.)
Cool the cakes in the pan (at first). Gluten-free cakes are very delicate when they come out of the oven. If you remove them from the pan right away, they can break apart. But here’s the catch: if you let a cake cool in the pan, it can stick. Even if you greased the pan well.
Here’s what to do: let the cakes cool in the pan for about five to ten minutes. After ten minutes, remove the cakes from the pans. They’re sill be hot. Place them onto a cooling rack and let them cool completely.
Frost only when cool. It’s hard to wait to frost a cake! But if you frost a still-warm cake, the frosting melts right off. Wait until the cake is totally cool before you frost it.
Frosting Questions, Answered.
Is frosting gluten-free?
The answer is: it depends. Most recipes for homemade frostings, like this gluten-free chocolate buttercream, are gluten-free. However, some recipes for old-fashioned frostings, like ermine frosting, contain flour.
Store-bought frostings are often gluten-free. But some brands can contain gluten. Check the ingredient label to ensure the frosting is gluten-free.
How much frosting do I need?
To frost an 8 or 9-inch cake, you’ll need about 4 cups of frosting. I like to fill the cake with about 1 ½ cups of frosting. Then I use about 2 ½ cups on the sides and top.
How do I level the cake before frosting?
Good question! Cakes tend to dome while baking. After baking and cooling, use a serrated knife and slice a thin layer off the tops of the cakes. This creates a flat surface. When you’re ready to frost, put the bottom cake cut-side up. Frost it. Then place the top cake layer cut-side down.
When you do this, the bottom of the cake is actually on top. It’s nice and flat and should be crumb-free.
How to Store and Freeze a Gluten-Free Cake.
To store at room temperature: Cover the cake. Do this by covering it loosely with plastic wrap or by using a cake dome.
To freeze unfrosted layers. Allow the cake layers to cool completely before freezing. Wrap each layer tightly with plastic wrap. Freeze for up to three months. Thaw the cake overnight in the refrigerator.
To freeze a frosted cake. Place the frosted cake in the freezer for two to three hours. You want the frosting to freeze. Once the frosting is set, remove the cake from the freezer. Wrap the cake quickly in plastic wrap. Freeze the cake for up to two months. When you’re ready to enjoy, thaw the cake on the counter or in the refrigerator overnight.
Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake
For the Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake
- 2 ½ cups gluten-free flour, Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 Gluten-Free Baking Flour recommended. (12 ounces; 340 grams)
- 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar (12 ¼ ounces; 346 grams)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup milk (8 ounces; 226 grams)
- ½ cup sour cream (4 ounces; 113 grams)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¾ cup butter, softened (6 ounces; 170 grams)
- 3 large eggs (6 ounces; 170 grams)
For the Gluten-Free Vanilla Frosting
- 1 cup butter, softened (8 ounces; 226 grams)
- 4 cups confectioners’ sugar (16 ounces; 454 grams)
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup milk or cream, plus more as needed (2 ounces; 56 grams)
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Make the Cake: Preheat oven to 350℉. Grease two 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick gluten-free cooking spray.
Whisk gluten-free flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together milk, sour cream, and vanilla extract until smooth. Set aside.
In a large bowl, using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until light, about 45 seconds. Add granulated sugar. Beat until light and fluffy, about two minutes.
Add the eggs, one at a time. Let each egg mix into the butter-sugar mixture before adding the next.
After you add the last egg, stop the mixer. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Tun the mixer to medium-high and mix until light and fluffy, about two minutes. You want the butter-sugar mixture to look like frosting.
Stop the mixer. Add half the gluten-free flour mixture. Turn mixer to low. In a slow and steady stream, add half the milk-sour cream mixture. Increase mixer to medium. Mix until the batter is smooth.
Again, stop the mixer. Add the remaining flour. Turn mixer to low. In a slow and steady stream, add the remaining milk-sour cream mixture. Increase mixer to high speed. Mix until the batter is smooth, about 45 seconds.
Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Use a small spatula or the back of a spoon to spread the batter into the pans.
Bake the cake until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 35 minutes.
Remove the cake from the oven. Place the pans on a wire rack. Let them cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pan and let them cool completely directly on the rack.
Make the frosting: In a large bowl, using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the butter until smooth, about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer. Add the confectioners’ sugar and salt. Turn mixer to low. Add the milk and vanilla. Mix on high speed until fluffy, about two minutes.
Place 1 cake layer on a serving plate, frost top of cake, about 1½ cups of frosting. Top with the second layer. Frost side and top of cake with remaining frosting.
Store cake loosely covered. Cake keeps at room temperature for about four days. Freeze cake, frosted or unfrosted, for up to three months. Wrap cake well in plastic wrap before freezing.
Gluten-Free Flour Blend: This recipe was tested with Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 Gluten-Free Flour Blend. Replacing the flour with another brand might change the texture of the cake. Be sure to use a flour blend that contains xanthan gum. If it doesn’t, add 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum to the flour. Whisk to combine. Then use as directed.
Butter. Salted or unsalted butter works in this recipe.
Butter Temperature. Use softened butter, about 65°F. Cold butter turns into a paste. Warm/greasy butter doesn’t get fluffy.
Egg Temperature. Use cool eggs. Remove them from the refrigerator before measuring the rest of the ingredients. Cool eggs prevent the butter-sugar mixture from getting too warm.
Sheet Cake Directions.
Lightly grease a 9 x13-inch pan. Bake the cake until golden brown, about 40. Allow the cake to cool in the pan. Frost cake when cool.
Line two 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake liners. Spoon batter into muffin cups, about 2/3 full. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Prepare frosting and frost cupcakes when cool.