Gluten-free Oatmeal Cake Goodness

Taking out the gluten and adding whole grains still results in a heavenly dessert.

By Kristin Belz July 22, 2013 Published in the July 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

When can restrictions become bonuses? When you ask for a cake that’s gluten-free, easy to prepare and that perhaps even contains something good for you, like whole grains – that’s when.  It’s a request that we get more and more as people become aware of food allergies and dietary restrictions, especially where children are concerned.

"Cupcake Wars"-winning baker Kyra Bussanich has the recipes to free you from gluten in her new book, Sweet Cravings – 50 Seductive Desserts for a Gluten-Free Lifestyle. (We're giving away a free copy – read more about the book and enter to win.) There are many alternatives to, for instance, the classic pound cake, famously made of only three ingredients: a pound each of flour, eggs and butter.

Most of what you use in gluten-free baking will look familiar, but replacements for wheat flour might require several items.

Image: Kristin Belz

Although one hopes classic pound cake will never go out of style, it’s great to have new classics, and Bussanich is creating them. With her TV baking competition fame, and her gluten-free bakery here in Portland (Kyra's, formerly known as Crave, in Lake Oswego), she's forging new ground for people with celiac disease or gluten-intolerance.

People's Co-Op and Bob's Red Mill tend to have good selections of the many ingredients needed for gluten-free baking.

Image: Kristin Belz

The gluten-free oatmeal cake differs from the typical recipe only in that it contains none of our typical wheat (gluten-filled) flour. Part of the mystery (and intimidating quality) of gluten-free baking is that there is no single replacement for wheat flour. The magic of baking (i.e., chemistry) means that several ingredients might stand in to create a reasonable facsimile to wheat flour.

Bussanich has experimented extensively to come up with the right combinations for the different types of baked desserts. Her oatmeal cake ingredients, proportions and methods closely match the Joy of Cooking recipe: oats, water, butter, brown sugar, baking soda, vanilla, eggs, salt, and cinnamon (Joy adds nutmeg).

But subbing for the flour is a line up of five items: tapioca starch, potato starch, rice flour, xanthan gum, and baking powder. Unlike vegetarian cooking, where the vegetables can more than make up for the lack of meat with cake – well, you want it to look and feel and taste like cake, not something else. Having tried this one recipe, I’m a novice at GF baking, but was pleased with the results. Even without the icing, the cake was moist but not heavy, with a slight crispiness at the edges and a light tinge of cinnamon. In fact, I think I’ll have seconds. 

Kyra Bussanich's Gluten-Free Oatmeal Cake

(From her new book Sweet Cravings) 

  • 1 cup gluten-free quick oats
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1/2 cup (one stick) butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup tapioca starch
  • ½ cup potato starch
  • ½ cup rice flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon xanthan gum

Vanilla Glaze

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spray either two large (2-pound) loaf pans or one 9 by 13-inch baking pan with gluten-free cooking spray and set aside.
Put the oats in a heatproof container and stir in the boiling water. Then set aside. Cream the butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the brown sugar until very creamy. Add the vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time, blending thoroughly after each. In a separate bowl, combine the starches, rice flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and xanthan gum. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the oats, and blend thoroughly after each addition, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Pour the batter into the  loaf pans and bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool completely.
To make the glaze, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla until smooth and shiny. Pour liberally over the cake and let set, about an hour. Then slice and serve!

Wrap the leftover cake or store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the freezer. You can also make the batter ahead of time and store in the refrigerator for several days: just wrap well or place in an airtight container.  

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