Layered birthday cake (gf)

David Lebovitz.

A name that acts like a comfort blanket in the kitchen. When I use one of David’s recipes, I relax and let my hands get into the rhythm of measuring, sifting, creaming, folding. Because I know it’s going to work, so well, and so easily.

Don’t get me wrong. I love reading and discovering new food blogs. I would be that much more productive and better informed about non-food news* if WordPress, Blogger and Google didn’t point me to all those food blogs and websites.

* Though I had to smile at twitter messages this week asking “Who was Margaret Thatcher?”. Or, maybe I’m just showing my age, and the company I keep?

But. When I am baking for a friend and it’s her birthday, and it’s a gluten free cake (and I have no idea about the chemistry behind gf baking), and I’m taking this cake into work, and there is no time to make a second cake when the first one goes wrong, the recipe just. has. to. work.


That’s when I saw a recipe for a layered German chocolate cake on Gluten Free Girl and the Chef, which was adapted from David Lebovitz. Shauna Ahern + David Lebovitz = phew.

This is not the first time I’ve baked a gluten free cake, though my last proper gf cake was at Christmas, where the batter was more or less something to hold the brandy-drunken fruit together. This time, the cake will stand or fall by the taste and texture of the chocolate cake batter. What’s more, we all have our own idea of the perfect chocolate cake, our palates are honed since childhood to pick up the nuances of a chocolate cake that differ from our ideal.

So, attempting a gf chocolate cake? That was scary. But I muttered David and Shauna’s names like a mantra and boldly went where no saucy gander has gone before.

And made this.


I made the cake small enough so it can be a personal cake (you know, cake-for-me-and-only-me), yet large enough that it can be shared with a few close friends. The cake cutting ceremony was like a morning tea for a secret society.

Making a layer cake was an odyssey. I should have remembered how long it took to make a layered tree house cake last year (long story). Every time I finished one component, there was more – cake, custard for the filling, sugar syrup, ganache, and cooling the filling and ganache. Just as I was about to give up, I began to assemble the cake. This last stage was surprisingly quick, and suddenly, a layer cake sat in front of me.

I made the chocolate cake as Shauna and David instructed, and was just a little bit playful when it came to its assembly. I used macadamia nuts instead of pecans in the coconut filling, which gave it a creamier taste; I made a ton of ganache (you can never have too much ganache, right??), and spread ganache between cake layers, as well as using it to ice the cake. Finally, to decorate, I sprinkled shredded coconut and white-silvery glitter on top of the ganache icing – you can just see the glitter in the photos, I think – and surrounded them with rose petals.

Rose petals…I wonder if rose water will be a good addition to the cake, or ganache, next time?


Transport tip: build the layer cake on the cake board, or have the tools to move the cake onto a cake board. I had some difficulty moving the cake into a container so it could be taken on the bus (a layer of baking paper is, well, floppy, and not designed for cake moving). Also luckily, the cake was just small enough to fit into a plastic food container, so it arrived at work intact.

We had the larger chocolate cake left over at home, which I duly iced. Mr Gander (who does not believe in gf cakes, just as he does not believe in congee and those fried dough sticks for breakfast, or 10pm dinner time in Spain and Argentina) scoffed a slice before dinner. Two days in a row.

I don’t believe he can still believe that he doesn’t believe in gf cakes. (Now say that quickly five times)


Gluten free flour mix

Based on instructions from Gluten Free Girl & the Chef, I made my own gluten free flour mix.

40% whole grains: millet (15%), brown rice (15%), quinoa (10%).
60% white or starch: corn flour (40%) and potato flour (20%).

For 280 grams of flour, that was 112 grams of wholegrain and 168 grams of white or starch. Or make a bigger batch and make more gf goodies.

The wholegrains in the flour mix gave the cake a distinctive taste, and a little more character than plain white wheat flour. I think this mix would be great in cookies, bars, hearty cakes (maybe a gf version of Dorie Greenspan’s dimpled plum cake?), and I’ve made brownies using a similar mix.

German chocolate cake

(Adapted, barely, from David Lebovitz.)

The original recipe makes a large 9 inch cake. To decorate a ‘personal’ sized 3.5 inch cake, I used just over a third of the ganache, and just under a third of the coconut-macadamia filling and syrup.



4 ounces chocolate: 2 bittersweet or semisweet plus 2 ounces unsweetened (I used 115 grams of chocolate, with equal amounts of 70% and 80% cocoa)
6 tablespoons water
8 ounces (2 sticks or 225 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cup + ¼ cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups all-purpose / plain flour (see gf flour mix)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt (I used table salt)
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Coconut filling

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
3 ounces (85 grams) butter, cut into pieces
½ teaspoon salt (I used table salt)
1 cup macadamia pieces, toasted (the original recipe asks for pecans)
1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut, toasted (I used shredded coconut, unsweetened)


(I had some sugar syrup left over from another baking project, so didn’t have to make the syrup from scratch)

1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum

Chocolate ganache (make more if you are going to use it as filling as well as for icing)

8 ounces (225 grams) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used 70% cocoa chocolate, chopped into small pieces to ensure it would melt properly)
2 tablespoons light corn syrup (I used sugar syrup instead)
1 ½ ounces (just over 40 grams) unsalted butter, also chopped into small pieces
1 cup heavy cream (I used thickened cream)



1. Butter two 9-inch cake pans, and line the bottoms with buttered parchment/baking paper. (For the small cakes, I buttered and lined the bottoms of two 3.5 inch cake pans, and had enough batter left over for two thinner 9 inch cakes.) Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Or forget to sift and just mix them together really well…

3. Melt both chocolates together with the 6 tablespoons of water in a double-boiler, keep stirring until smooth. Let the mixture cool to room temperature. (If you follow the steps, and don’t get distracted by a TV show, the chocolate should be at room temperature by the time you need to add it to the cake batter.)

4. Beat the butter and 1 ¼ cup of sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stir or beat in the melted chocolate. Add one egg yolk at a time and stir until fully incorporated. 

5. Add half of the flour mix to the butter mixture, stir to mix. Add the buttermilk and vanilla, then the rest of the flour mix. Stir to mix well.

6. Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks (David specifies they should be “soft, droopy peaks”). Beat in the ¼ cup of sugar until the mixture is stiff. If using a kitchen mixer, be careful not to overmix until the eggwhite mixture separates again. Because that is bad cake karma.

7. Fold a third of the egg whites into the cake batter. Be very gentle to keep all the air in. Fold in another third, and then the rest of the egg whites. Fold, gently, just until no white streaks remain.

8. Pour the batter into the cake pans, smooth the tops, and bake until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. For a full-sized 9 inch cake, David suggests 45 minutes. For the small cakes, it took about 20 minutes. For the thinner 9 inch cakes, it took about 40 minutes. 

Coconut filling

1. Mix the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. I made a third of the amount, so the mixture went into the small pan designed for making sauce. Put the butter, salt, toasted coconut, and macadamia / pecan in a mixing bowl.

2. Heat the cream mixture over low heat. Stir constantly, making sure you reach all sides and the bottom of the pan, otherwise you might get bits of scrambled yolk. Watch until the mixture begins to thicken and coat the spoon. Basically you are making custard.

3. Pour the custard immediately into the mixing bowl with the coconut and nuts, stir until the butter is melted. Cool to room temperature (maybe put it in the fridge if it’s a warm day. The mixture thickens when it cools, so it is easier to spread on the cake.)


1. Heat sugar and water in a saucepan, until the sugar has melted. Remove from stove and add rum.


1. Place chocolate, corn syrup and butter in a mixing bowl.

2. Heat the cream until it boils (but before it forms a skin). Remove from heat immediately and pour over the chocolate etc. Let it stand for a minute, and stir until smooth. If not all chocolate pieces are melted, you may need to heat the mixture over a double boiler for a little while. Let the ganache come to room temperature.

Building the cake!

1. Cut each cake in half horizontally. I used a small knife for the small cakes, and a large serrated bread knife for the large cake.

2. Set a cake layer on a board/plate (important!!). Brush the top generously with syrup. Spread one quarter of the coconut filling over the cake so it just reaches the edges of the cake. Spread a roughly equal amount of the ganache over the coconut filling, also making sure it just reaches the edges.

3. Set the second cake layer on top of the first. Press down very gently to make sure it is level (ish). Some of the filling might ooze out, but that’s ok. Repeat: syrup, coconut filling, ganache.

4. Repeat with the other two cake layers. You should have coconut filling to spread over the top cake layer.

5. Ice the sides with the chocolate ganache. At this point, if there is filling oozing out, either scrape them off or push them gently back between the cake layers. I also iced the top of the cake.

6. Decorate the cake: I pressed non-toasted shredded coconut into the still-just-warm ganache, then sprinkled glitter over the top. I also pressed rose petals into the ganache. The cake is easier to transport if it rests in the fridge for at least an hour, but let it come back to room temperature before serving. (The original recipe says: don’t ice the top coconut layer, and pipe the ganache decoratively around the coconut mixture.)



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15 thoughts on “Layered birthday cake (gf)

  1. Sally 13 April 2013 at 7:24 pm Reply

    This looks like a beautiful bloom. What a lucky friend.

    • saucygander 13 April 2013 at 10:38 pm Reply

      Thank you! It was an adventure, but a worthwhile one.

  2. yummychunklet 14 April 2013 at 10:07 am Reply

    Beautiful looking cake!

  3. milkandcerealblog 15 April 2013 at 3:43 am Reply

    Wow, this looks so indulgent and delicious!

    A couple months ago, a co-worker asked me to make a gluten free chocolate cake for her daughter’s birthday party, and I really struggled to find the perfect recipe! In fact, I’m not sure I ever did. I didn’t want to go flourless ’cause I didn’t know if kids would like that, and the cake also had to be shaped like a Springer Spaniel dog, so I didn’t know if a flourless cake would work best for that.

    But this cake looks like it’d be tasty AND have a nice texture. Would you say this recipe is a kid-pleaser? I used a store-bought gf AP flour mix, but maybe I would’ve had better results making my own flour like you did.

    • saucygander 15 April 2013 at 9:06 pm Reply

      Hi there! The cake was a little crumbly but had a nice chocolate flavour. The custard filling and ganache took the cake to another level – adding creamy, chocolatey sweetness. I think children would like the whole package. I may use something other than quinoa as it has a stronger taste that children may not like.

      If I was going to make a Springer Spaniel shaped cake, I would think about adding a tiny pinch of xanthan gum (which I’ve tried) or guar gum (I haven’t tried yet), these should help the cake stick together and be less crumbly. The texture becomes a bit ‘gummy’ if you use too much though.

      I guess the most important thing is to experiment and see where the cake takes you? Good luck if you try this!!

  4. Amy Tong 15 April 2013 at 6:59 pm Reply

    Your layered birthday cake is looking wonderful and decadent. I agree with you, I love David Lebovitz’s and Gluten Free Girl’s recipe too. 😉

    • saucygander 15 April 2013 at 9:08 pm Reply

      Thanks! They are great cooks and writers, aren’t they?

  5. lovinghomemade 15 April 2013 at 7:36 pm Reply

    That’s a lot of work! Try using two solid metal egg slices, one on each side, to move your cake if you have them. That’s what I use though I keep meaning to invest in a proper cake lifter, much safer!

    • saucygander 15 April 2013 at 9:12 pm Reply

      Egg slices are a good idea! I tried silicon spatulas but they went all floppy on me (d’oh). But you’ve got me thinking I should invest in a cake lifter, if I’m going to try more layer cakes.

  6. genevieveyam 16 April 2013 at 10:18 pm Reply

    This cake looks gorgeous! Thanks for checking out Life Is Like A Dumpling, hopefully I’ll get to try this recipe out in the near future 🙂

  7. Tina Evans 19 April 2013 at 9:39 am Reply

    This is almost too pretty to eat…Almost 😉

  8. coffeetablecookbook 21 April 2013 at 1:45 am Reply

    Wow! I think the rose petals are absolutely stunning!! My mind is now wandering off into magic rose petal cake combination land, thank you!!

    • saucygander 21 April 2013 at 7:31 am Reply

      Magic rose petal land, I like that! It described the flight into fantasy in cake making well.

      Thanks so much for dropping by!

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