Bakers of Mefi, please help me save this cake.
May 14, 2016 10:30 PM   Subscribe

It's a three layer gluten-free and dairy-free cake. I just had a nibble and it's... not awful, but not tasty either. It has a lovely texture, but I need to add flavour and sweetness to counteract the overwhelming heavy dark cocoa taste.

I baked this cake for a colleague who celebrates a big milestone tomorrow. It smelled amazing while cooking, but it smells a bit less amazing now that it's cooled. Honestly, it smells yukky. So I dug out a tiny bit of the centre of what will be the middle layer and tasted it... not good. Bland, too much cocoa, not sweet enough. It needs flavour and sweetness, stat!

She needs to eat dairy-free, and my well-meaning but clueless colleagues were planning on buying her a cake from a supermarket. I overheard and was all, "um, no, she won't be able to eat that, I'll make her a gluten-free and dairy-free cake". (I have to eat gluten-free, so if I make something for work, I get in trouble if it isn't g-f so I can eat it too. It really doesn't worry me, I just enjoy seeing people enjoy something I've cooked for them, but they get a bit stressed about it, bless their little cotton socks.)

My instinct is to try a poke cake thing. Poke holes in it, pour something sweet and tasty over it, let it soak overnight, then assemble the layers tomorrow.

I know she likes apricots, and I have a tetra-pak of apricot nectar in the pantry (and a bag of dried apricots, come to think of it). Should I make the nectar into a syrup, do the poking thing with the syrup, and hope that I can assemble it tomorrow morning before I'm properly awake? I was planning on making this fake buttercream and icing (frosting).

I also have a bag of mixed berries in the freezer, and a good selection of the usual pantry staples.

Complication: I had a boozy lunch with a mate today. I won't drive anywhere to buy any more ingredients in case I'm over the limit.

Your suggestions will be gratefully considered.
posted by malibustacey9999 to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Do you have any orange juice, either frozen or fresh? If so, I'd add that to your apricot nectar, and poke and pour now, rather than wait. Then it will be moist and tasty and you can get a good nap in before the event.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 10:38 PM on May 14, 2016

Best answer: I would also suggest mixing the apricot nectar with OJ if you have it, or with a simple sugar syrup of half sugar, half water, and either way reducing it down until it's a syrupy consistency. Making the syrup very hot will help it permeate and penetrate-- I mean get it to boiling and then cool it just enough not to melt your implements. Then use a pastry brush to brush the outside, and get the rest inside it.

Do you have a syringe, or a turkey baster? If so, I'd use that instead of just poking holes, and literally inject the cake with the juice.

Also, you can make a very quick jam with those mixed berries and the dried apricots and put it between the layers of the cake to sweeten things up. (Of course, if you already have jam, especially apricot to match the syrup or marmalade to match OJ, you can use that.)

Jam with the berries and apricots: both apricots and raspberries contain a lot of pectin, so if your mixed berries have raspberries in them, jam will jell with no outside assistance. Take your apricots, soak them in hot water for about twenty minutes, and either blitz them in a food processor or finely dice. Defrost the berries. Throw both of them in a decently sized saucepan with a weight of white sugar equal to the amount of fruit. Cook on medium, stirring continuously, until the sugar has dissolved, and then keep it going as the fruit cooks and breaks down. If you totally defrosted the berries, this should only take about fifteen-twenty minutes.

If you have a candy thermometer, take the jam off the stove after it reaches 218 F. If you don't have a candy thermometer, put a clean saucer next to the stove, and every so often take a drop of jam from the saucepan and flick it onto the saucer. When the drop cools to being the consistency of jam, take it off the heat, and you're done! Let it cool before you put it on the cake. Homemade jam, even with frozen berries, tastes much nicer. Canning, which you won't do, is really the difficult and time-consuming part. Either use all of this jam in the cake or put the leftovers in the fridge and eat them within a week.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 11:00 PM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Looking at the recipe, I don't have high hopes for this cake's final edibility. As a cake. So I suggest you give up on cake as cake and maybe make it into cake pops/cake truffles, or a trifle. Changing the form factor is the best shot at improving flavor. Looks like it will already be moist, so probably won't absorb much flavor though poke and soak. So crumble and re-combine would be a more dramatic, and probably more effective, transformation. If it really needs a more cake-ish form factor, crumble combine and remold in the layer pans, chill, then frost the layers with a vanilla frosting.

Chop dried apricots, rehydrate in hot water, drain. Use them and boil down the apricot nectar to boost flavor. Add some sugar. Mix with crumbled cake. Press into balls, or pans, and chill. Apply frosting.

Or just make lots of the "buttercream" from the recipe you linked to, and use it to make the cake into pops/truffles. Maybe add some cinnamon?

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I loathe pumpkin and squash and would never ever try to make a cake out of it. I also think that this is not a very good recipe in general, too much in the way of non-standard and poorly defined ingredients, even for g-f d-f pseudo-paleo. Who puts flakey sea salt in a cake? Why? It makes no sense. I have however made some truly inedible g-f baked goods. There is nothing you can do to save almond flour cinnamon cake sweetened with xylitol and erythritol. Nothing.)
posted by monopas at 1:12 AM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm wondering about the flavor profile of cocoa and apricots, Sweetened coffee/espresso would be more in the same area. I'd make a simple syrup of coffee and sugar and drizzle it over the cake. I would also make some icing.

What topping had you envisioned for this cake?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:05 AM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I once made a gluten-free chocolate cake as well (that one was a bit better cake wise), but what sold it was the fact that I spread Nutella between the layers, and made a bittersweet chocolate icing to drizzle on top. Both of those have dairy, I am aware; but the concept is what I'm suggesting, where you layer something like jam or some other dairy-free spread in between and put something else on top.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:12 AM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Here's an idea, based on Ruthless Bunny's suggestion. Drizzle whichever layers you like with espresso glaze, recipe below, and then frost the whole thing (you could just use the glaze between layers and frost the outside, or just frost the heck out of the whole thing, depending on taste.

You can fiddle around with the quantity of powdered sugar and espresso with the recipe below, depending how much you want to make, and how runny you want it to be (if too runny, add more sugar).

Espresso Glaze
1/2 cup icing/powdered sugar
1 Tbsp brewed espresso coffee
Sift icing/powdered sugar into a bowl and add 1Tbsp of espresso and mix until smooth.
posted by gudrun at 7:14 AM on May 15, 2016

I would probably toss it and make a new cake. That recipe looks deeply suspect. I can vouch for this one being delicious (just be sure to use a gluten free mix with xanthan gum or it will crumble on you).

If you really want to salvage it, I'd slice your layers in half so you can add more fillings, and add liberal amounts of ganache and raspberry jam between each layer. Or listen to monopas and make cake pops or trifle.
posted by snaw at 8:24 AM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In the recipe notes, it says the cake tastes better after spending the night in the fridge. Hopefully it tastes a little better today? If not, then cake pops!
posted by hydra77 at 8:36 AM on May 15, 2016

Best answer: I would go to the store and get some red raspberry preserves and some raspberries. Layer of jam in the middle, frost with a tasty frosting, serve with raspberries.
posted by theora55 at 1:31 PM on May 15, 2016

Making a simple syrup and drizzling it over the layers could help but it sounds like the structure might not be able to handle the added moisture. It's really the only feasible solution to this problem but it will probably create a new issue. If you have espresso powder, I would try that in the syrup but I don't know if apricot sounds good with chocolate. However, I rarely think fruit of any kind is good with chocolate cake.

I know this may not be helpful but why do a gluten-free, dairy-free cake when cakes pretty much depend on wheat flour and dairy to be cakes and when there are so many delicious fruity desserts to be had that don't rely on dairy or gluten? If you have mixed berries, margarine, and gluten-free rolled oats, you could make a lovely fruit crisp (I am biased, crisp is the king of sweets).
posted by Foam Pants at 4:35 PM on May 15, 2016

Response by poster: It was saved.

I did the apricot nectar/OJ syrup thing, and it cut through the heavy cocoa flavour nicely.

I did the berries plus sugar thing to make a jam, and then the phone rang and I overcooked it to a solid so didn't use it. (However, that will be repurposed tomorrow in a slow cooker recipe with jam and chicken and french onion soup mix.)

I woke up this morning and raced to the supermarket and bought a really nice raspberry conserve.

I put one layer of soaked cake (very gently, involving flipping onto a thin chopping board while praying hard that it wouldn't disintegrate, and then gently sliding it off onto the plate) down, spread it with conserve, topped that with the fake icing/frosting. Repeated that with the remaining layers and then topped it with the icing and a scattered bunch of the defrosted berries.

It was a huge hit. Even the non-dairy-free and non-gluten-free people loved it. (Ironically, I was the only one who didn't finish her slice.)

Thank you all so much. You are kitchen goddesses/gods, who helped make a dairy-free person really REALLY stunned that she got a cake she could eat when she qualified as a child protection caseworker.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 5:49 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

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