Going Gluten Free: Mastering a Versatile, Delicious Cake for All Diets | Erin McKenna | Skillshare

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Going Gluten Free: Mastering a Versatile, Delicious Cake for All Diets

teacher avatar Erin McKenna, Chef, Erin McKenna's Bakery

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Dry Ingredients


    • 3.



    • 4.

      Mixing and Baking


    • 5.

      Icing & Finishing Your Cake


    • 6.

      Hungry for More?


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About This Class

Erin McKenna is the founder and baker at Erin McKenna's Bakery, the country's leading gluten-free, vegan, kosher bakery in NYC's Lower East Side. Join her for this delectable 25-minute class on baking the perfect cake with substitutions to fit any diet!

Whether you choose health or decadence, this short and fun class takes you behind the counter of Erin's bakery, going where the magic happens. Erin breaks down two classic cake recipes — both signature to her bakery — into their essential ratios and combinations. She talks through each ingredient, explains substitutions, and gives tips and tricks to make sure your cake tastes good and bakes well.

By the end, you'll not only understand the elements of a perfect cake, but also be able to get creative and customize your own recipe, making your cake in any style you want.


Erin McKenna's Bakery (formerly Babycakes) creates dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free, gluten-free & agave-sweetened cakes & cookies.

Meet Your Teacher

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Erin McKenna

Chef, Erin McKenna's Bakery


In 2005, Erin McKenna's Bakery NYC opened on the Lower East Side of Manhattan with two rules:

1. Create a bakery free of harmful ingredients.
2. Wear cute uniforms.

Today, as then, they focus on the underserved-- people with gluten, dairy, egg, and soy sensitivities, the health-minded, and, most importantly, allergic kids who are often unable
to indulge.

They select all ingredients responsibly and use their natural sweeteners sparingly. Their goal is to make eating vegan and gluten-free fun and delicious, and we're very glad to have you with
us. Get cozy and enjoy!

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1. Introduction: Hi. I'm Erin McKenna and we're at my bakery in the lower east side, and today I'm going to teach you how to make a vanilla cake which I think is the perfect vanilla cake. I'm going to teach you how to make it as healthy or as decadent as you'd like. We opened as the first gluten-free bakery everywhere in the world I think about ten years ago, you may know us as baby cakes. I started baking for myself after I learned I had food allergies about 12 years ago, and I was at a job and fashion that I felt very unfulfilled in and the only thing that made me happy was making for myself after work. I finally decided to take the plunge and give my notice at work. After I did that, I had the idea for the bakery and it felt like it was pulling me so strongly that it didn't matter that I didn't have any experience in business, I didn't have any money, I never really bet beyond stuff for myself. So, it was a huge risk on all levels but I guess I'm a gambling woman. So when I first started playing around with recipes, I thought it was going to be the easy part. I really thought that there were recipes out there that existed already that I could just tweak and I soon found out quickly that I really had a lot of work to do because it wasn't as easy as throwing flour in a bowl and mixing it with somewhat ingredients and voila it I was very complicated working with different flours. Especially back then, they weren't even readily available. I really worked the recipes teaspoon by teaspoon until I refined it to something that was reminiscent of what I'd even when I'd grown up because I only had learned about my food allergies when I was in my 20s so I knew what the real stuff tasted like which was a curse and also a blessing. Before gluten-free and vegan was thing or anything that people even knew how to pronounce, I didn't take the stand to be someone to convince people to try it because I just don't think that ever works, there's some sort of reverse psychology going on with everyone. At the time most gluten-free stuff and most vegan stuff that people had tried were pretty bad and usually dense, dry, chalky and the flavor was off and they felt really uninspired. So, when I open the bakery, I actually made a point of not putting signs up that said vegan and gluten-free just so that people would try it because I thought that they were as good and that's how we got a really loyal fanbase. People started to and come back and they were really pleasantly surprised and they were enthusiastic about the product and started telling their friends, and their friends told their friends that's kind of how it all happened. So what you're going to learn today is how to make a basic vanilla cake recipe and I'm going to teach you how to develop it into your own style and what you want and by the end, you'll be able to be very nimble in your baking apron and hopefully be able to build from there. And when you're finished, if you can, please upload it into the photo gallery because I'd love to see what you do. 2. Dry Ingredients: I have this all set up for the perfect vanilla gluten-free baking cake. A few things to note is that I really highly suggest that you use a scale to measure your dry ingredients. What I have here is a fancy scale that you can get anything from Bed Bath & Beyond or whatever you have at home. I'm measuring in grams, which is important to note, so just figure out on your device which button to click to get to grams. A tip is for those of you who don't know, before you go to measure, place your bowl on top of the scale and then press on, so it had zero and then you can begin. So. I have my scale set to grams and I'm going to start out with the first ingredient which is arrowroot. I'm going to do 28 grams of arrowroot. Arrowroot is a starch and when you're baking with gluten free, you need taking way basically all of the stretchy-ness and viscosity that you get from a wheat flour based bakery items, so you need to substitute it with combination of flour. What I've come up with and have landed on as the best combination is 25 percent arrowroot and 75 percent potato starch. If you're in a pinch and you only have potato starch handy or you want to save some money, you can use all potato starch. It will alter the texture just a little bit but it's still good. So, potato starch, we're going to do 90 grams. The next thing we move on to is your flour, so I typically use a lot of rice flour and garbanzo fava bean flour in the bakery because, I've discovered that a really high protein flour gives the baked good a lot of rise and tenderness. But it's a really strong flavor, so I tend to cut it with a little bit of brown rice flour, not white rice flour. Brown rice flour because it mellows out the flavor but it also adds a little bit of crunchy texture, which I really like. So, that's what I use. If you want to substitute out your garbanzo bean flour for something else, I would choose another high-protein flour and that's at 65 percent, then a neutral flour. You could try white rice flour although it's going to give it a little more chewine or oat flour and that's at 35 percent. I'm going to put a 100 grams garbanzo fava bean flour in and 54 grams of brown rice flour., The reason that we don't use white rice flour here, that I don't really suggest it, is that it gives a gumminess to the baked goods. The brown rice, I guess the whole is still intact in the flour and that really helps with the texture. If you're in a bind and you have to use white rice flour you can but just note that it's going to be a little more chewy. I like using grams for measurements because in the winter especially, the heaviness of the flour can change and in the summer the humidity adds to it, so,it comes and takes all the guesswork out. Our product shifts by season meaning that sometimes we'll bake the cookies in the summer and it'll come out too thin and chewy and in the winter it'll come out to cakey. So, we have different recipes for winter cookies and some are cookies and then eventually just landed on scaling them out in grams which took all the guesswork out. So, now moving on to lavenia which is a really big part of the baked goods because we're not using eggs and we really rely on baking powder and baking soda to give it that lift. If you forget it you will know because the baked goods will come out really dense and flat. So, one thing to note also, is that you need to check your baking powder and baking soda and make sure it's fresh and not dated because in the past I have used expired baking powder and the cakes are completely flat and lifeless. I didn't know what was wrong, I thought that I had messed up the recipe, but then I looked at the expiration date and it was well beyond. So, important to note. Also, another note is to always set your scale back to zero before you add ingredients in, so that you can get a true read. So, I'm going to add two grams of baking soda and 10 grams of baking powder. Finally, one gram of xanthan gum and xanthan gum is really an important ingredient with gluten-free baking because if you don't include something like a gum, the cake will fall apart completely, it will disintegrate right when you cut into it. So, xanthan gum is a natural fibre found on plants. We only use a tiny, tiny bit. If you overdo it or over measure, you're going to have again a really gummy products. So, you really have to be very precise with it. So, one gram, I did learn a tip that if you want to avoid gum, you can add two tablespoons of Black Sea with a little bit of water and whisky and add it to your product and it will give it that stretchy-ness that you need. Don't forget the salt, it's very important. Salt sharpens the sweetness in a baked good. So, unless you really want to cut salt out of your diet, just a little bit goes a long way. So, we do three grams of salt. So, now we have all the dry ingredients in the bowl, where we're just going to whisky it us, so it should look a little something like this. Here is where we're going to have some fun and do some variety on the baking. I have this bowl right here which we're going to make into the vanilla cake. Then I have another bowl set aside of the same dry ingredients all ready to go. So, this is going to be our vanilla cake and I will teach you how to make this cake into a carrot cake, sweetened with sugar and the vanilla cake is going to be sweetened with grupo nectar. I'll talk you through some variations on that as we go. 3. Sweeteners: So the first thing we're going to start out with is oil, and I know that oil choice is very personal for a lot of people. We love unscented coconut oil in the bakery. One thing to note is that you need to make sure is at room temperature, so it's in its liquid state because once it gets chilly, it solidifies and can be very confusing to people. So, make sure you melt the coconut oil. Other good substitutions are: canola oil, walnut oil if you're into it, rice bran oil, really anything you choose. I would steer away from olive oil because it really does leave a strong flavor, and can be a little bit overpowering especially in something like a vanilla cake. So, the oil is going to create moisture. There's quite a few things going on that are going to help with the moisture, but the oil is something that's really important, it also helps with texture. If you ever bake something, fat free, you'll notice that it's dry, and it's hard to swallow, so I'm a fan of oil. So we're going to do 110 grams of oil, and the same for the carrot cake. Make sure when you're getting the liquids out, that you scrape it, and mix, so you get every last drop in the batter. Next, we're going to go to the sweetener. So, for the vanilla cake, we're going to use agave nectar. Other, options for liquid sweetener is maple syrup, or honey which is not vegan. You'll use those switch out the same portions. So, two thirds cap or 260 grams. If you want to have a cake that's even more moist and give it a nice crusty crunch on the outside, I suggest using sugar. There's a lot of great vegan sugar out there. Some are called rapidura, some is by the name of evaporated cane juice, Florida crystals, vegan sugar, whatever kind of dried sugar you want you can use. Maple crystals are also available, although I don't suggest them because they add a little bit of an earthiness and a bitterness that I'm not really a fan of. So, we're doing in one cup of sugar or 230 grams. Normally, you would add this and with the dry ingredients but for the sake of a lesson and to keep people not confused, we're going to add it in after. That's another lesson is when you're making batter, you really can add things last minute and it's not the end of the world. You just got to whisk it in good later. When you're replacing egg, you need to add some fruit puree to give that same moisture to the baked good that you are taking out. My favorite is pureed pear, although you can use apple sauce, sweet potato, pumpkin, really anything that you want that is a purred fruit. So, sometimes it's fun to look at the baby food jars and see what's available and that's really convenient or make your own. So, we're going to do third cup or 105 grams of pureed fruit. In this case, I'm using pear. The taste doesn't really change if you choose a different fruit, other than something neutral like pear or apple sauce because so little of it is used. I think that with pumpkin and sweet potato, you're going to get a creamier even softer texture, but it will change the baked good a little bit orange. We're going to do another variation for the carrot. We don't need to add pureed fruit because in this case, shredded carrot does a perfect job of adding that moisture into the baked goods. So, we're going to use carrot instead of pearl or pears and this is 55 grams of carrot. Now, we're going to move on to vanilla and vanilla is obviously, probably, one of the most popular flavorings in baked goods, is probably in almost everything. If you want to tent cake with a different flavor like peppermint or hazelnut or whatnot, you can substitute half of what we use for the vanilla in your cake. So, use 55 grams of vanilla. So, if you were to do another flavor it would be 25 grounds of vanilla et cetera, et cetera. So now, I'm ready to whisk up the vanilla cake because it's got all of the ingredients except for a little bit of water but I'll show you what that's all about in a second. So, let's get up until most of the lumps are out. I wouldn't worry too much about every single lumping out because it really does break out. The final trick with the vanilla cake is adding a little bit of water to it because that loosens up the batter and helps it rise even more. So for the water, we're going to add about 85 grams, add it in here. You'll see especially if you let the batter sit around for a couple minutes that it starts to get really thick. So, the water helps loosen up that too. This is done. So, I'm going to now focus on refining the carrot a little bit more. So, we have everything in the bowl that we need and we just want to add some spices to give it that carrot cake flavor. So, in this particular recipe, I like to add two teaspoons of cinnamon. And these you don't really have to use grams because, this is the one part a little bit more on the cooking side where you don't have to be extremely precise about it. You want to follow the recipe, but you don't have to be really worrying about each gram. So, two teaspoons of cinnamon, half a teaspoon of brown ginger, and, very small amount of nutmeg because it is very overpowering. So, I use an eighth of a teaspoon of nutmeg. So one thing to know with say sugar based recipe is that like the vanilla cake, you're going to need to add water but a little bit more because the agave is obviously a liquid sweetener. So, you're taking a lot of liquid away when you're not using agave. So, you have to use more of the water and the recipe to really loosen the batter up enough. So, what I like to do is just mix it together first, and for the water, we're going to do one cup which is about 175 grams of water. Don't be scared if it looks a little bit wet at first. That is thick enough. When you're done mixing, you can taste the batter and see if it's at your level of where you want your spices to be, you can always add more. I started with a modest amount. So the batter is really loose, you don't want it to be too thick. If it's too thick, just add a little bit more water at a time, maybe two tablespoons at a time until it becomes something like this. Like a pancake consistency. 4. Mixing and Baking: So, if you want to make this vanilla cake into something like say, red velvet, what you can do is add three tablespoons of natural dye. India Tree has a really great natural red dye that is plant-based. Then, you want to add two tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder to give it that red velvet taste. Another thing that you can do with the vanilla batter is, add chocolate chips or any other sort of thing that's going to add a little bit of texture. If you want to do something spicier, you could do a banana bread, which follows the same recipe, and just swap this exact same amount of carrots for mashed banana. So, now that our batter is ready, I'm going to put the batter into two separate six-inch cake pans, which I'm going to boil with some melted coconut oil for us, or any oil you want for yourself, and then I fill the batter up. With this recipe, it goes about a little over half way high in the pan. We're going to bake it in a oven. That's preheated to 325 for about 15 minutes or until the center is fully cooked. So, now that our cake is done, I'll show you what you're going to be looking for, a nice light brown color on the edges. When you press it, it doesn't sink. So, that will mean that your cake is done. You can also insert a toothpick into the center, and if it comes out clean, then that means it's done. Once it's completely cooled, run a knife along the edges, set them aside, and then really essential for cake decorating but not completely necessary is a turntable. It helps to get the nice, clean edges on the sides. But again, it's not necessary. You can just use anything that you have around to give yourself a little bit of height. Because it is a little more difficult to frost the cake when it's not that hip height. So, we obviously are bakery, so we put it directly onto a cake round. But you can decorate your cake directly on a cake plate. So, we have a seven-inch cake round here. Always make sure when you're going to get a cake round, that it's an inch bigger than the actual cake, so that it doesn't spill over the sides. So, we put our cake round down, and then one trick that I learned was to keep the cake in place. You just put a little smear of frosting down, so that it doesn't slip around when you're trying to frost it. Today, we're going to steer away from the vanilla and vanilla cake, and do something a little bit more decadent. So, I have added a little bit of ground espresso to our vanilla frosting, and you just work it, and you can make it as strong as you want, or as light as you want. We usually go medium on it, and we're going to finish it off with cookie crumbles and drizzle it with chocolate sauces. I'll show you, just different textures and syrup that you can use to really impress your crowd. So, this is our own vanilla frosting. It's vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, and it was a recipe that took a long time to develop. For now, you can either grab a vegan frosting from your supermarket, or find something online that you like. My recipe is also in the first Baby Cakes cookbook if you're interested. So, make sure that your frosting is nice and soft and no lumps because that helps in presentation, and it also helps you spread it much easier. We add a generous amount to the center. I'd say about a cup and a half. Then, I just spread it around and push it off to the sides, and then it's started to drip over the edges, which is what you want because it makes it easier to spread around the sides. Then, I get my other layer and put that on top. Some other varieties that you can do with your frosting is, you can add fruit like strawberries, or any sort of crumbs from leftover baked goods like brownies, or cake itself, or different kinds of cookies. That works really well. Really, there's no science to it. You just add the extras into your frosting until it reaches the consistency that you want. If you go overboard, your frosting will tell you. It will be too chunky to spread. Spread over the top, and again, and that so enough kind of drips over the edges, and this is another way that the turntable comes in handy because you can spin it around as you're spreading the cake around the side. Another great thing about using cookie crumbs is that, cakes tend to crumb up a little bit on the sides when you're doing your first layer, and the cookie crumbs disguise that and add to it. But, if you want to go for a really clean looking cake, if doing the vanilla cake, you do a layer like this, which is called the crumb layer, and then you set it in the fridge for about 15 minutes to harden up the frosting, and then add a second layer of softened frosting over it, and it's like magic. It just quickly gets rid of the crumbs and gives a really nice clean smooth look. Feel free to add as much frosting as you want as long as you can get it to stay, or as little as you want. I know something that's also popular now is a naked cake, which you do not frost the edges. You can really see the layers and what's in between. Okay. So, now that we have the basic mocha cake frosted, we move on to adding the crumbs around the side, and I'm going to use a glove because I don't like getting it under my nails, but you can use it. You can use your bare hands at home because everyone's all family there, right? So, this is basically just our chocolate chip cookies that we've pulsed down to a small grain and in the food processor, but you're welcome to just crumb them down by hand. You can do big chunks. If you do big chunks, you just tap on the sides, and it gives more of like a Pava look, but this is just more of a cookie crumbly look. So, you're going to lose some in the process, but don't worried. You can re-smash them in, so you get some in your hand, and kind of just push it in. If you live in a really warm environment and you're using a frosting that melts quickly like ours, you may have to take a few breaks to put the cake in the refrigerator to harden up the frosting a little bit. But with this particular decorating style, if the frosting is melting a little bit, it actually works to your favor because the frosting will then hold onto the crumb a lot easier. There's something about like a really undone, messy-looking cake that is approachable and delicious-looking. Sometimes, if the cake is too perfect, it can put people off a little bit, or it's just not as appetizing. So, you've got the cookie crumbles all over. I'm going to clean up my mess a little bit by dusting it back into my reserves. You don't have to get it all off, but when you're moving it around, you don't want the cookies crumbling falling everywhere. Okay. So, the final piece of this mocha cookie cake is a chocolate drizzle, and what I did is I just melted down my favorite chocolate chips that are vegan and gluten-free and soy-free, but you can use any chocolate chips you want, chocolate bars. I know that there's a lot of really healthy raw chocolate bars out there now that are really nice to melt down. You can also use caramel or strawberry syrup, whatever you like. So, I get an offset spatula, and you just kind of [inaudible] down, drizzling as much or as little as you want. That's it. Our mocha cookie crunch cake. 5. Icing & Finishing Your Cake: So, here we have the variation on the vanilla cake which I made into a mocha cookie crunch cake. We have a basic vanilla cake inside and we've topped it with a mocha frosting, cookie crumbles, and chocolate syrup, and I'm going to cut into it, so we can see the final results. If you're entertaining, this cake feeds about eight very hungry people, or 12 light eaters. So, here's the cake and I'm just going to bite into it. This is one of the most popular cakes in the bakery. I think mainly because number one, who doesn't like a mocha and chocolate cookies, and chocolate sauce everywhere, but it has a really nice moist cake, and then the frosting is creamy, and there's texture from the cookies on the outside, and another creaminess from the chocolate drizzle, but in a little bit of a different texture. So, you have a lot of different things going on and they all work really well together. I hope you enjoyed this recipe as much as we do and hopefully see you next time. 6. Hungry for More?: