You’ll Never Believe It’s Gluten-Free: Orange Drizzle Cake

Did I lose you on that term, gluten-free? I don’t blame you; it’s been horribly abused and vilified. A gross percentage of GF treats are bland, claggy, dry, and generally awful.

But what if I told you they didn’t have to be?

Most of our current baking habits, knowledge, and training are based on our long history of using wheat flour and how it behaves with fats, moisture, heat, etc. As bakers started substituting other flours for dietary reasons, they simply substituted the new flour for the wheat flour without adjusting any of the other ingredients or preparation techniques.

It’d be like using a cookie recipe to make a brownie and not understanding why the result didn’t turn out as expected.

But what if you were given gluten-free recipes written by people who fully understand the behaviors and characteristics of these new flours? For example, many GF flours tend to be dry, so a proper recipe will provide additional moisture. Other methods include adding a thickener, a stabilizer to prevent separation, and using the reverse creaming method to result in a perfectly balanced final crumb.

When done correctly, gluten free baking combines a whole new set of rules and chemistry that result in baked goods that stand deliciously on their own, instead of simply being disappointing counterfeits for their wheat-based counterparts.

And this recipe proves it!

This Orange Drizzle Cake is gently orange and lightly sweet. But more incredibly, it has a perfectly soft crumb that neither I nor my friends and family could even tell was gluten-free. And yet, it is!

The credit goes to Katarina Cermelj, a PhD author of Baked To Perfection: Delicious Gluten-Free Recipes with a Pinch of Science. Her fantastic GF cookbook takes a whole new approach to GF baking; treats that stand on their own without being compared to traditional wheat-based baking. And they don’t need to be, because these recipes are divine!

Go ahead; try it! I was skeptical right up until my first nibbled taste of the cooled cake, then proceeded to eat three consecutive slices, while exclaiming, “NO WAY!”

NOTE: Don’t be intimidated by having to buy new GF ingredients. The only specialty ingredients you will need for this recipe are a good 1:1 GF flour blend (I prefer King Arthur’s Measure For Measure) and some xanthan gum. Everything else is found easily in your grocery store and probably already in your own kitchen!

This recipe has inspired me to do a deep dive into real gluten-free baking. I ultimately want to understand the science behind both specialties: traditional wheat-based baking AND properly using gluten-free flours. There are places in the world for both! Which is why this will be the first in a new series I’m calling I Can’t Believe It’s Gluten-Free!

TIP: I also made this sugar free, using a baking sugar alternative. It worked beautifully!

Gluten-Free Orange Drizzle Cake
(Original recipe: Baked to Perfection)

265g gluten-free flour blend (I use King Arthur’s Measure for Measure GF Flour)
200g superfine baker’s sugar
1 TBSP baking powder
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 tsp salt
225g unsalted butter, softened
Zest of 3 organic oranges
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
6 TBSP orange juice, freshly squeezed
1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Set an oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift together gluten-free flour blend, almond flour, sugar, baking powder, xanthan gum and salt. Add butter and use a stand mixer with paddle attachment or a hand mixer with beaters to work butter into dry ingredients until texture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add orange zest and mix well.

In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, milk, orange juice and vanilla paste. Add wet ingredients to flour mixture in two or three batches, mixing well after each addition. Mix until you get a smooth cake batter with no flour clumps.

Transfer batter to prepared loaf pan and smooth out top. Bake until risen, golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. If cake starts browning too quickly, cover with foil (shiny-side up) and bake until done.

Let cake to cool in loaf pan for about 10 minutes, then remove from pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

120g confectioners’ sugar
7–8 teaspoons orange juice

Whisk confectioners’ sugar and 6 teaspoons orange juice together until you get a thick mixture. Add a further 1–2 teaspoons of orange juice, mixing well, until you get a runny icing consistency that coats the back of a spoon.

Drizzle orange glaze on top of cooled cake, spreading it evenly with the back of a spoon and letting it drip down the sides. This cake can be stored overnight in a closed container in a cool, dry place.

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