One of the biggest problems I hear from special dieters is birthday cake. The recipes for cakes receive more hits on our website than even the dairy-free “ice creams!” Needless to say, most people would prefer an easy mix than a from-scratch preparation, so we have been diligently sampling the different varieties to get a taste for worthwhile options.
While a good dairy-free or vegan mix can be hard to find, gluten-free brings an even bigger obstacle to the table. Yet, Gluten-Free Essentials has taken on the challenge with their dairy-free, nut-free, gluten-free cake mixes. These mixes can even be prepared egg-free and vegan with a quick substitute (several have been tested successfully). With three varieties to choose from, we armed ourselves with one generous bag of each for a complete trial:
Any sweet labeled as “spice” instantly catches my eye. While I am not a big cake fan, spice cake is one of the few with the power to lure my taste buds in. Since we have a very petite household, and this mix makes a generous full-sized cake, I opted to make cupcakes for some easy to bake and freeze treats. The dough looked identical to chocolate chip cookie dough, sans chocolate chips, texture, color, and all. While I was highly tempted to sneak a sample, the less than perfectly fresh raw eggs in the batter kept me at bay. As I stirred the alluring batter, I pondered the idea of making a vegan cake the next time around, so I could have a little pre-baking taste.
After my whopping five minutes of preparation were complete (dump mix in, add wet ingredients, stir, pour into muffin tins), I popped them into the oven and waited rather impatiently as the wonderful aroma of sweet spices filled the kitchen. Obviously, the scent didn’t go unnoticed, as my husband quickly appeared, asking when some dessert would be ready. Allowing only a minute or two to cool, we each sampled our first cupcake. Now, I use the term cupcake loosely, as we both agreed that these were much more like muffins. Fragrant in every way, I could detect the individual notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Yet, these were a touch heartier, something I might even adventure to indulge in on a lazy Sunday morning. They were flaky and relatively fluffy, but definitely more like a hearty muffin than a lighter-than-air cupcake. Our take on this dessert was verified, when I actually took the time to look at the package. While the other mixes were described only as cake, the Spice version was listed as a “cake and muffin mix.” That explains it!
With a flavor that mimicked the warmth of the holiday season, I felt the urge to make a “cream cheese” frosting. I grabbed some Creamy Sheese, Earth Balance, powdered sugar, and vanilla for a quick and tasty cream Sheese frosting, if you will. It was wonderful! However, I was later told of an even better preparation. It seems if you top this treat with a warm glaze, it takes on a donut-like taste … definitely worth a trial. Alas, I cannot seem to locate my spice muffin pictures, but trust me, they looked great!
Honestly, chocolate cake ranks pretty low on my list of favored desserts. However, eager to appease the sugar-craving chocoholic in our house (otherwise known as my husband), I went for Gluten-Free Essential’s Chocolate Cake Mix next. Once again, I chose to prepare them cupcake-style, but unlike the Spice mix, these were genuinely cupcakes. They were a touch moist when compared to your average cake, but I found this to be more of a plus than anything else. The velvety texture was smooth and inviting, for an overall melt-in-your mouth experience. Not a hint of heartiness could be detected in these bad boys.
My husband indicated that the cupcakes were “good.” At first, when he didn’t go back for seconds, I was sure his initial reaction was really just an indication of “they’re okay.” But, when I left the house for an hour, I returned to discover that another cupcake had gone missing. This was the official sign of, “yeah, I like them.”
As it turned out, I actually thought they were pretty good too. The chocolate flavor was quite light, and easily palatable for both chocolate and non-chocolate consumers alike (as confirmed by both my father and myself). Overall, the cupcakes were mildly sweet, without that lingering sugary aftertaste. As I tasted on, the tasty treat before me emerged as more of a pleasant snacking cake than a super-indulgent cupcake. Somehow, I used this reasoning to justify making a peanut butter frosting. Heck, while I was at it, why not throw on some chocolate chips? I guess I was craving the super-indulgent cupcake. Dressed up or down, these gluten-free goodies seemed to pass our tests!
Since the quality of GF Essentials cake mixes had already been well proven, at least in my other two trials, I decided to have a little fun with the Yellow Velvet Cake Mix. With my grandmother’s birthday and father’s day on tap, I knew a tasty dessert was in order. Both my grandmother and my father love bananas in every way shape and form, so I decided to turn this cake mix into an easy banana cake!
As long as I was experimenting, I decided to go for the gusto, and make it vegan. Replacing the applesauce and eggs with mashed banana (three whole bananas in total), this dessert would surely meet my family’s banana quota. I topped it off with a homemade "buttercream" and some caramelized bananas (recipe to be out in the new dessert book, My Sweet Vegan). While I had hoped to create an attractive two-layer cake, I knew that a covered 9 x 13 inch pan would be a safer form of transport for the forty minute road trip to my parents house.
Keep in mind, no one in my family is gluten-free, and I don’t believe my grandma even knows what gluten-free is, so we had a fairly good test group. After the last of the birthday candles were blown out, I quickly grabbed a knife and got busy portioning out pieces to the overzealous, and apparently over hungry, bunch. I was a bit disappointed at how moist the cake appeared, as it rose only a touch in the oven. However, the added density seemed to be a bonus for both taste and texture. Everyone loved it! In fact, just six of us all but polished off two-thirds of the 9×13 cake in one night. Though the slices I dished up were generous, every single one of us went back for seconds!
As I have become wise to the taste and texture of gluten-free flours, I could detect some distinct notes when I focused, but no one else spotted a single thing that was "off." While my substitution with bananas did result in a heavier cake, it was very cohesive, unlike most gluten-free baked goods. I would like to try this one again, with just a slight modification or two, for fluffier results, but my family said they wouldn’t change a thing.
My Extra Notes & Tips:
- If you would like to enjoy freshly baked cupcakes or muffins all week, the batter refrigerates very well. Throughout the week I baked up six at a time (for both the spice and chocolate mixes), and the last batch was as delicious and “glutinous” as the first.
- The people at GF Essentials have trialed various egg alternatives for those who would like an egg-free and/or vegan cookie. They recommend any of the following:
- Ener-g egg replacer (best option for cakes)
- ¼ teaspoon of Guar Gum, 2 Teaspoon of Tapioca Starch and ½ teaspoon of oil.
- 1½ tablespoon of oil- flaxseed or cooking oil and 1 teaspoon of Baking Powder.
- 1 teaspoon flax meal plus, ¼ cup water = 1 egg.
Where to Purchase: All GF Essentials baking mixes can be purchased directly on the Gluten-Free Essentials Website.