Cakes · Dairy-Free · Experiments · Fiesta Friday · Gluten-Free

Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake Experiment One (g/f, d/f, can be made vegan)

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So. It’s come up a lot when I tell people about this blog that gluten free baking is often difficult for people. Recipes ask for hard to find ingredients and don’t often work when people attempt substitutions. I know for some people who have discovered their gluten intolerance or coeliac disease later in life it can be a big thing to have to get used to. I am still in that process too. But I’m fortunate enough to have access to a few general resources, which help me out a lot. However – I still make mistakes, sometimes struggle with substitutions and sometimes can’t conquer recipes either.

But it occurred to me that I haven’t put up that aspect of what I do on this blog. It’s one thing to post about successes. But I think it’s also good to talk about things that haven’t worked – or which will need work. I make mistakes too. But the thing is – it’s a learning game. You have to see the fun in learning from each mistake and find the challenge in testing each new ingredient or recipe as it comes along. Treating these recipes as challenges rather than as potential failures can improve things so much! Believe me! So please don’t let these setbacks get disheartening, because we all have setbacks. And it breaks my heart to see people getting down on themselves because of it. You are all wonderful people. It takes a lot of courage to persevere in the face of failure, I know, but I believe we can do it! It’s a chance for us to rise to a challenge! Besides – we can never learn if we never make mistakes! You don’t know what’s right until something goes wrong! So chin up!

And I know the standard advice is to tell people to make the recipe exactly as it says to. But I also know for some that’s not possible to do if the recommended ingredients are difficult to find and/or expensive to purchase. In some cases we need to make substitutes and to experiment.

So. I have added a new section to this blog called Experiments. It’s all about recipes I have experimented with – for better or for worse, and each post will feature the recipes I tried, what I did, what worked and what didn’t. I hope that all the readers out there can have fun with these posts, learn from what I did wrong or what I did right, and perhaps learn a thing or two about the ingredients I use. I want to share this learning curve with the prospective gluten-free and non- gluten-free bakers out there. Let’s learn together!

For the first experiment – it was a failure. But not a complete one! So please – read on!

I gave in to temptation awhile back and picked up a kindle edition of another cookbook. It’s a beautiful book called Let Us All Eat Cake – and features a few cake recipes, all gluten-free and which can also be made dairy-free and vegan. Or so it claims. One thing I noticed when I picked up the book was it’s standard recommended substitute for unsalted butter is a product I see often when looking at what I think are American blogs. I have never seen this earth balance butter replacement product here before. Or perhaps it’s available in larger cities – I’m not sure. But I use Nuttelex spread as a general go-to replacement for butter, as I can use it in icing and in creaming it with sugar, and I can also get a salt reduced version.

I picked the Texas Sheet Cake and decided to give it a whirl. First of all I needed to swap out the flour, as the all-purpose blend I use is similar to the one in the book – and I don’t have ease of access to potato starch so as to make up the author’s flour blend. I also replaced the butter with Nuttelex, and as I didn’t have almond milk on hand I made the buttermilk replacement with lactose free milk.

What Worked

  • Replacing the flour. It was simple, didn’t affect the texture of the mix, and made no serious difference to the final product. Except that I believe, after some taste-testing, that this cake would have been better if I had replaced the all-purpose flour with the gluten-free self-raising flour I have on hand, as I felt it needed a little more of a lift. That, or I would like to test increasing the raising agent – which in this case was baking powder. As we don’t have “baking soda” here, and I am loath to use straight bi-carb soda as it’s very bitter.
  • Swapping the sugars. I swapped the 1.5 cups of organic cane sugar for brown sugar and it came out wonderfully. If you’re willing to spend the extra on the cane sugar, by all means do. But I had more than enough brown sugar on hand, and I think it was lovely.
  • Making the buttermilk replacement. Although I think lactose free milk versus the recommended almond milk was not the best choice, I think making the buttermilk replacement is so quick, and so simple, that it doesn’t at all increase the prep time of the recipe versus using regular buttermilk. It took me less than thirty seconds to put it together!
  • Swapping the icing. For reasons I’ll explain in the next section, I swapped the icing to a dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan buttercream. I used nuttelex, and the icing was beautiful. Even mum, who isn’t such a fan of those sorts of icings, thought the flavour and texture was great! So I will be keeping that particular icing recipe on hand!
  • The flavour. The flavour got a big thumb up of approval from all the taste testers. I also thought the flavour was great and not too sweet despite the sugar!

What Didn’t Work

  • Melting the Nuttelex and combining it with the cocoa powder. Although Nuttelex creams well, and I have noticed how well it blended with lactose free milk when melted alone, it didn’t quite work when attempting to mix it with the cocoa powder. It didn’t allow the cocoa powder to dissolve. So for this reason I also couldn’t make the dairy free chocolate icing to go on top of this cake, as I didn’t have a viable butter substitute.
  • The texture. This cake is not forgiving of longer than recommended cooking times, or of different oven temperatures. But for the most part I feel like with the right butter and buttermilk substitutions, and something to give it more of a lift, be that another flour or more baking powder that could be fixed right up. The cake was too dense and chewy in the end; it really needed something to lift it.
  • Using Lactose free milk instead of almond milk to make the buttermilk replacement. As I said above, the method for making the dairy-free buttermilk is an absolute walk in the park. But in future I will try and stick to using almond milk like the author suggested, and see if that works any better for me.

So have a wonderful Fiesta Friday! and read on for the recipes! Next week I also have some pancake themed experiments set up to talk about, one of which was a great success and has been a quick and simple breakfast for a little while thereafter as a result, and I hope everyone looks forward to it!

Let Us All Eat Cake’s

Texas Sheet Cake

Serves: 12, Prep: 25-30 mins, Cook: 17-20 mins

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup buttermilk/non-dairy buttermilk (SEE NOTES)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (or 2 sticks unsalted butter/earth balance buttery sticks – a dairy-free vegan substitute as I understand it)
  • 6 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 cups gluten-free whole grain flour blend (which is 2 cups sweet sorghum flour, 1 cup white rice flour and 1 cup potato starch) (I used 2 cups gluten-free all purpose flour, but would like to try using gluten-free self raising flour)
  • 1.5 cups cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (I used 2 cups brown sugar instead)
  • 1 tsp baking soda (I used 1 tsp baking powder, as we don’t having “baking soda” here.)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 eggs (or the equivalent in egg replacer, see notes!)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Original Chocolate Icing Recipe (Makes 3 cups)

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (or 2 sticks unsalted butter/earth balance buttery stick)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup milk (or 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 1/4 cups icing sugar (gluten-free)

Or Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free Chocolate Coffee Icing

  • 2½ cups ic­ing su­gar (gluten-free)
  • ¾ cup nut­telex dairy-free spread (or another dairy-free butter replacement)
  • 3 tsp vanil­la ex­tract
  • 3 tbsp hot cof­fee
  • 7 tsp raw ca­cao pow­der (or 2 tbsp Co­coa)

NOTES: To make the non-dairy version of buttermilk combine 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk or almond milk with 1 tbsp lemon juice and let sit at room temperature. Make it just before you intend to use it, as it doesn’t store well. And to make the egg replacer, the author uses 1 tbsp of ground flax mixed with 3 tbsp water to make up one large egg, so for this recipe you would need twice that as it calls for 2 eggs. So to make the replacer you put the flax into the water, whisk it together and leave for about 3 mins.

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180C, and grease and flour a 13 x 18 inch roll pan using nuttelex/butter and gluten-free all purpose flour. Line the base with baking paper.
  2. Now, if you are using the dairy-free buttermilk substitute you want to make that now and put it aside.
  3. Melt your butter or substitute in a saucepan over medium heat, then add the cocoa powder and whisk until well combined.
  4. bring the mixture up to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 2 mins, stirring occasionally. Add the boiling water and whisk to combine, before continuing to cook for a further minute over low heat.
  5. Remove the chocolate mix from the heat and allow to cool for a minute.
  6. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  7. Add the chocolate mix and whisk/beat with an electric mixer to combine. You don’t want any lumps.
  8. Add the buttermilk or non-dairy version, eggs or egg replacer, and vanilla and whisk until well combined.
  9. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread the batter right into the edges and corners.
  10. Bake for 17-20 mins, or until the centre of the cake is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  11. Leave the cake in it’s pan to cool a little while you either make the original icing, or let it cool altogether if you’re going to use the chocolate coffee icing.
  12. ORIGINAL ICING: Melt the butter/butter replacement in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk to combine. Reduce heat to low, add the milk or coconut milk, vanilla and icing sugar in two batches, whisking to create a smooth, pourable icing. Then while the cake is still warm, pour the icing over the cake and spread it all the way to the edges and corners of the pan. Then cool the cake completely before cutting into squares to serve right from the pan.
  13. CHOCOLATE COFFEE ICING: Com­bine all of the ic­ing in­gre­di­ents in a bowl and beat with an elec­tric mix­er un­til the ic­ing is com­plete­ly blend­ed and looks shiny. Then spread it all over the completely cooled cake, and cut into squares to serve.
  14. NOTES: To store the cake, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. It should keep in the fridge for up to 5-7 days, but if you want to freeze the cake don’t ice it. Wrap the pan tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap and freeze for up to 1 month. Then thaw it at room temperature before icing.
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30 thoughts on “Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake Experiment One (g/f, d/f, can be made vegan)

  1. Nell, I read a lot of American cooking blogs and often make things from them, mostly with success (though, like you, I have my moments!). I have always understood baking soda to mean bicarb soda. If the recipes wants you to use baking powder, an American would call it ‘double-acting baking powder’. So I always substitute bicarb directly for the baking soda and it works a treat. However, I must admit, I also always use a bit less — if a recipe says 1 tsp, I tend to use 3/4 tsp — but I do this with any recipe, even one that actually specifies bicarb. Like you, I don’t like the bitterness of bicarb.
    Thanks for liking my post on my own blog yesterday and I’m now a follower of yours. I love your blog! Have you had any success with g/f breadmaking? I don’t use xantham gum and I can’t tolerate psyllium or chia or grain-free breads (they do horrible things to my gut), so my experiments with breadmaking are always — ahem! — fun. Mostly, I end up making muffin-like breads, which work fine, but I really miss a good slice of simple bread. I’d be interested to hear how you’re going with that side of things.

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    1. Hi Rebecca! Thanks for your comment! It’s a very interesting read! And so far I haven’t had a chance to experiment with homemade gluten free breads I’m afraid. I’m too in love with the Pure Bred gluten free breads to need to. But perhaps that could be something I look at in the future. 🙂

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  2. I’ve been gluten free for about 4 1/2 years, and lately I’ve been experimenting more with vegan baking. One suggestion I have for the cake itself it to replace the butter with a combination of unsweetened applesauce and canola oil. It doesn’t work universally in every recipe, but for a lot of my baked goods I’ve found this to work well. Hope this helps!!

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  3. Happy Fiesta Friday, Nell! Wow! What a great dessert to bring to our table this weekend! I love Texas sheet cake, and I LOVE this experiment page! How cool is this?!! Thank you so much for sharing this… and giving all of us the chance to learn from each other. Awesome, AWESOME post. ❤

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  4. Well done you for trying! I didn’t know that there is a difference between potato starch and cornflour but I realised that in Germany we can buy ‘potato flour’ which apparently is potato starch. Good luck in your adventures!
    Ginger

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  5. We so appreciate your vulnerability in cooking! You’re right, it’s one thing to post all successes and make it seem like you’ve got the whole thing figured out, but being open about the not-so-successes helps everyone see that we’re all human, even food bloggers!

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