Gluten Free Sponge Cake w/ Rose Water & Mandarin Orange Filling

Well Hello Again!! It’s Royal Wedding Week, and while many of you are scurrying around making last minute egg and bunny preparations, my eye’s been on a certain Princess-to-Be whose pending nuptials are just around the corner.

We have been very busy around here over the last few weeks. Mother Nature waits for no one, and in between the rain, snow, and generally yucky weather we’ve been having this spring, the Kitchen Divas in Training and I suspended regular schooling for a week to put in a square-foot garden. It’s amazing how much practical learning can be packed into one backyard kitchen garden project! When I debriefed the experience with the girls, here’s just some of what they said they learned:

Geometry, volume, money management, reading, chemistry, patience, ‘that it’s hard to co-operate sometimes’, flexibility when your project goes wrong, ‘bossy’ leadership vs. ‘real’ leadership (don’t you love that?!?), that big projects take longer and cost more money than you think, a sense of humor makes the hard work more fun, delayed gratification, that sometimes you just have to stop and play (I’ll admit- it was me who had to learn that!) the list goes on, but you get the idea…. what a rich experience for all of us! Future lessons will include the enjoyment and preparation of our food (arguably the best part- right?) and then preserving the bounty of the harvest- so keep your eyes peeled in future months for posts regarding pickling, freezing and other types of preserving!

When the rains began again, I found myself digging in a box of old photos for a picture that my grandmother took of me holding a badly decorated ‘wedding’ cake in front of the TV, where Prince Charles and the new Princess Di were in a carriage leaving St. Paul’s Cathedral. I was 10 years old. (Alas, the picture was not to be found.) I’d like to say that my cake decorating ability has improved significantly in 30 years time, but it hasn’t. So I compensate with whipped cream and flowers.

Now, if you’re a true Anglophile, you know the proper wedding cake for an event such as this is a fruit cake. Not the nasty stuff we all received in red tins from various grandparents, aunts, and uncles in the day, but real fruitcake. Such as soon t0 be Princess Kate- or is it Lady?- will be having next Friday. Now, I know absolutely nothing about the proper making of a fruitcake, but Fiona at Life on Nanchang Lu has an incredible fruitcake recipe that’s been a part of her family for some time. While I haven’t attempted a GF version, one look at her picture is enough to make a fruitcake lover out of anybody.

Thinking of the Royal Wedding Cake naturally got me thinking of my own wedding some years ago. My wedding cake was the last gluten-bomb I enjoyed. Six weeks later I was handed my life-changing celiac diagnosis. But, I do remember my cakes fondly- an antique rose cake and a mandarin orange cake. Both high on flavor, but low on fuss and frosting. So this week I set out to create a gluten-free hybrid of what I remember enjoying on my big day.

There are two places I go when I need to convert a recipe, The Joy of Cooking, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. First, the technical cooking information is very comprehensive, so it helps me figure out the cooking chemistry. Second, who needs anything else? You’ve seen the picture of my beat-up Joy in a previous post, and my Mastering is quickly taking on the same look. This time, Julia did not disappoint. I converted her recipe for a basic butter spongecake with a handful of tweaks and only one hiccup. First go-round I was supervising the Kitchen Divas in Training in a chemistry lab, and as soon as I turned around from popping my fluffy cakes in the oven I noticed this: (melted butter sitting on the counter)

Which resulted in this:(funky looking cake)

In case you’re looking at these pictures a bit mystified- let me explain. Spongecakes get their sponginess from eggwhites whipped into stiff peaks. This provides structure, air bubbles,  and even a bit of elasticity to a gluten-free pastry. This is key for the pastry to not have that tell-tale ‘gluten-free’ texture. But, fat has a role to play too. Think of the egg whites as very excited children on a sugar high. They get all huge and out of control and then- phfszzzzz- they collapse. Adding fat to your spongecake is like insisting your child eat a turkey sandwich prior to the candy. It keeps everything manageable, and results in a cake that looks like this: (normal looking cake)

Much better, yes? More stable and cake-like. With the addition of the fat- in this case melted butter- the batter also behaved more like regular batter. It flowed nicely, and spread easily in the pan.

Now, if you look closely at both versions of the cake, you’ll see that the first cake- while not as attractive, does have a little more volume- this is because the eggs expanded unhampered by the fat. I would absolutely consider this recipe without the use of fat if I were spreading it on a sheet and making a buche de noel. The texture was very nice and definitely spongy- but too spongy for what I wanted for this cake.

The second cake is a bit denser, but ended up having a lovely crumb, and worked well with the mandarin orange curd I made. While I used rose water to flavor the cake this time, this is a very basic recipe that could easily take on any flavoring you desired. There will definitely be different incarnations of this in my future.

As for the decorating- in this life I will never win any awards for a beautiful cake. I content myself with simple frosting or whipped cream. The girls had the idea of picking the violets and the mint- both are rampant in our yard at the moment, and since we don’t use chemicals in our yard- they’re also edible. So in the mist and drizzle this afternoon, we ran in and out of the kitchen collecting pretty edibles and decorating a cake fit for a princess…or two!

Gluten Free Sponge Cake w/ Rose Water &  Mandarin Orange Filling

Makes 2 8-inch rounds


4 tbs ghee or grapeseed oil (ghee is clarified butter)

2/3 cup sugar

4 egg yolks

2 tsp rose water (or other extract or flavoring of your choice)

6 egg whites

generous pinch of salt

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

2 tbs sugar

1/4 cup tapioca starch

1/4 cup sorghum flour

1/4 cup white rice flour (could also use brown)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch cake plans and flour using sorghum flour. Melt the ghee and set aside. You want this tepid- but not yet solidifying again- it should be clear. Sift flours into a small bowl. Sifting here is important because it’s adding air to the mix.

If possible, use a stand mixer and a hand mixer for this next section- you can have the yolks mixing in the stand mixer while you whip the whites. If you don’t have both; do the yolks first, then whip the whites.

Place yolks in the bottom of the stand mixing bowl. For optimum leavening, have all ingredients at room temperature, or about 70 degrees if you’re in a hot climate. In a separate bowl place the egg whites. Turn the stand mixer on medium high and begin to whip the yolks. After about 20 seconds add the rose water and gradually pour in 2/3 cup of sugar. Mix until the eggs are fluffy and very pale yellow and make ‘the ribbon’. See this post for an explanation of ‘the ribbon’.

Begin to whip the egg whites with a hand mixer on the lowest setting. When the eggs start to get a bit foamy add the salt and cream of tartar. When the whites reach the ‘soft peak’ stage, add the 2 tbs of sugar, and beat until the peaks are just stiff. Remember, at the stiff peak stage the whites are glossy and stand up when you scoop them with the beaters. The tops may flop over a bit- that’s ok. If your whites become dull and uneven you’ve overwhipped. I’ve read this can be remedied by adding another egg white, but I’ve never tried it myself.

Scoop 1/4 of the whites into the yolk mixture and begin to fold them together. Next, sift (yes, this is the second time you’ve sifted) 1/3 of the flour mixture into the yolk mixture. Then add another 1/4 of the eggwhites and fold, followed by another 1/3rd of the flour, continuing to fold.  Add another 1/4 of the egg whites, fold, and sift the last of the flour. Fold again, and finish by folding the last of the eggwhites into the batter. Pour 1/2 of the butter mixture into the batter and fold. The butter will drop straight to the bottom of the bowl, so it’s important to fold from the very bottom up. Fold in the last part of the butter and pour into the pans.

Cook in the lower third of the oven for about 25 minutes. The color should be golden and a cake stick should come out clean. Allow to cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the side of the pan and flip over onto a cake rack to cool. It may take a little effort to get the cake out, but gravity will win- just be patient and don’t force it.

While the cake is cooling, make the filling.

Mandarin Orange Curd

Makes about 1 1/2 cups


4 egg yolks

1/3 cup sugar

zest of 2 clementines

1/2 cup clementine or orange juice- strained (about 3 clementines)

8 tbs butter, cut into 1 tbs segments


Place egg yolks, sugar and zest in a medium saucepan and whisk briefly until yolks have just started to lighten (be carefeul not to over-whisk as this results in grainy curd)

Add orange juice and butter. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until butter has melted and mixture has thickened. This will be a little runnier than lemon curd, but will thicken in the refrigerator if left overnight.

To Assemble Cake

When the cake has cooled and you are ready to assemble, place one layer on a tray or large plate. Using a bread knife, gently remove the crusty top part of the cake- this facilitates the absorption of the filling. Scoop the filling into the center of the cake and using a spatula spread outward within 1/2-3/4 inch from the side. The weight of the top layer will push the filling all the way to the sides.

Next, use a bread knife to remove the crusty top part of the second layer. Gently flip this exposed side down onto the filling and using your hands, gently center the cake. Place in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes to allow the filling to firm up. While the cake is chilling, make your frosting or whipped cream.

For this recipe, I used 1 cup of heavy cream, 1/2 tsp of rose water, and 4 tbs sugar. Beat on high in a cold bowl until cream makes soft peaks. If you over beat the cream it will turn to butter. Spread evenly around the top and sides of the cake. Decorate as you wish. Edible flowers are always lovely!