Favorite Gluten-free Chocolate Cake with Hibiscus Frosting

date01.25.17

The BEST gluten-free chocolate cake topped with naturally pink ombre hibiscus cream cheese frosting. Light and tender cake with a moist crumb and rich dark chocolate notes that balance with tart hibiscus cream cheese frosting.

The BEST Gluten-free Chocolate Cake with Ombre Hibiscus Cream Cheese Frosting

At this time last year, I was approximately 1 billion pounds heavier, awaiting the arrival of #cheesebabygirl. We’d just thrown one last “you probably won’t see us for a while” pre-baby dessert shindig (we were right). I spent an entire day baking for it and my feet were trying to quit my body. They were going on strike, swelling up like balloons, and throwing in the towel along with any hopes of homemade Valentine’s Day treats. With Zoella’s February 7th arrival and our unexpected week-long hospital stay, our Valentine’s Day dessert was a heart-shaped Whole Foods cheesecake shared over hospital trays with visiting friends and a snuggly soft baby that smelled like fresh laundry.

I’m making up for no homemade treats last year by getting a head start with this (naturally) ultra-pink ombre layer cake. I’ve waited months for the perfect occasion to share this chocolate cake – this is not any ol’ chocolate cake. The base is my absolute favorite chocolate cake EVER. I considered going as far as titling it “the best gluten-free chocolate cake in all the land,” but decided to tone down my intensity. But, in my not so humble opinion, it is just that.

Hibiscus Cream Cheese FrostingOmbre Hibiscus Cream Cheese FrostingThe BEST Gluten-free Chocolate Cake with Ombre Hibiscus Cream Cheese Frosting

I’ve been baking and tweaking this cake for years – this is the chocolate cake I baked for my birthday party two years ago that ignited a matcha + chocolate rampage. It’s the chocolate peanut butter layer cake I made for Father’s Day. In short, any time there’s a need cake or cupcakes (read: often), I turn to this trusty cake. For this iteration, I simplified the flours to just three and removed all the gums, which will be my new go-to recipe.

The BEST Gluten-free Chocolate Cake with Ombre Hibiscus Cream Cheese FrostingThe BEST Gluten-free Chocolate Cake with Ombre Hibiscus Cream Cheese FrostingThe BEST Gluten-free Chocolate Cake with Ombre Hibiscus Cream Cheese Frosting

Between my blog and styling for The New York Times, Alanna and I have made a lot of baked goods last year. And thus, Lucas’s office has consumed a lot of baked goods last year. Enough that warranted building a PieBox-sized rack on the back of his bike. Even when we send the less than stellar flops, no one ever seems to complain – lovingly (and unknowingly) earning his office the nickname “the trough,” where no crumb is left behind.

This week, I sliced and packed up this gluten-free chocolate cake with hibiscus frosting. When Lucas inquired whether I intended it to go to the trough the next day, I said, “it could.” He quickly replied, “no, it can’t. It’s staying here.” (You hear that, trough? Lucas likes this cake more than he likes your happiness).

I don’t blame him though, this cake is light and tender with a moist crumb and rich dark chocolate notes that balance with tart hibiscus cream cheese frosting. Naturally pink hibiscus frosting adds bright notes and dresses it up for Valentine’s Day.

The BEST Gluten-free Chocolate Cake with Ombre Hibiscus Cream Cheese FrostingThe BEST Gluten-free Chocolate Cake with Ombre Hibiscus Cream Cheese FrostingThe BEST Gluten-free Chocolate Cake with Ombre Hibiscus Cream Cheese Frosting

If a three-layer ombre frosted cake eludes you, I don’t blame you. Frosting a cake is no cakewalk – just look at mine! I’m going for the painted plastery look but mostly not by choice (just go with it, ok?). If you’d rather not fuss with smoothing frosting, halve the recipe and make 12 cupcakes! Either way, there’s not much more festive that this naturally hot pink Valentine’s Day chocolate cake.

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The BEST Gluten-free Classic Chocolate Layer Cake with Ombre Hibiscus Cream Cheese Frosting
Author: 
Yields: 6-inch layer cake (or 24 cupcakes)
 
Ingredients
Chocolate Cake
  • Scant ⅔ cup milk (2/3 cup minus 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar (or ⅔ cup buttermilk)
  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons (105g) sweet rice flour
  • ½ cup (66g) gluten-free oat flour, plus more for dusting pans
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons (55g) millet flour
  • ¾ cup (75g) unsweetened dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted (I use Rodelle Organic Cocoa)
  • 1½ cups (335g) organic cane sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons safflower oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I use Rodelle)
  • ½ teaspoon chocolate extract (or ½ teaspoon more vanilla extract) (I use Rodelle)
  • ⅔ cup hot water
Hibiscus Frosting
  • 16oz cream cheese
  • 1 cup butter
  • 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I use Rodelle)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ tablespoons hibiscus powder, sifted (or dried hibiscus leaves, ground)
  • Optional: ¾ teaspoon beet powder, sifted
Instructions
Chocolate Cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare three 6-inch cake pans by lightly oiling them, lining them with a round of parchment paper, then lightly oiling and dusting the bottom and sides with oat flour. Or, for cupcakes, line a muffin tin with 24 liners.
  2. Combine the milk and vinegar in a small cup and let sit while you measure the flour, at least 5 minutes.
  3. Whisk the sweet rice flour, oat flour, millet flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk the milk and vinegar mixture with the egg, oil, vanilla extract, and chocolate extract together until smooth. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients and stir lightly.
  5. Pour the hot water into the dry ingredients and mix until completely smooth, scraping up the sides and bottom to completely incorporate.
  6. Divide the batter among the 3 prepared cake pans and smooth the tops. (Or cupcake liners)
  7. Bake for about 33-37 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs and the center bounces back when poked. In my experience, it's best to err on the side of an extra minute or two to be sure - this cake is very moist so it won't over bake very easily! (For cupcakes bake for 18-22 min)
  8. Let cool in the pans for 5-10 minutes, then overturn the cakes onto wire racks to cool completely.
  9. Meanwhile prepare the frosting.
Hibiscus Frosting
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter over medium speed.
  2. Add the cream cheese and beat until completely smooth.
  3. Slowly add the powdered sugar, in thirds, mixing on low speed until combined.
  4. Add the vanilla and salt, and beat on medium speed until smooth.
  5. For a purely pink cake, add the hibiscus powder and beat until smooth. For an ombre cake like the one shown here, divide the frosting into four bowls and add the hibiscus and beet powder as follows: Dark Pink: ¾ cup frosting + ¾ teaspoon beet powder + ½ teaspoon hibiscus powder - Medium Pink 1½ cups frosting + 1 tablespoon hibiscus powder - Light Pink: ¾ cup frosting + ¾ teaspoon hibiscus powder - White: 2 cups frosting + ½ teaspoon hibiscus powder
  6. To frost the cake, place one cake layer on the cake stand, spread ⅓ cup frosting (medium pink if making ombre) in an even layer. Place the second cake layer over the top and spread another ⅓ cup frosting (light pink if making ombre). Use the white frosting to create a very thin crumb coat layer and chill for 10 minutes. Frost the whole cake, smoothing with an offset spatula. For ombre, pipe 1-2 large rings of each color of frosting around the cake, as shown, finishing with white frosting on top. Smooth with an offset spatula, wiping after each use. Enjoy!

The BEST Gluten-free Classic Chocolate Layer Cake with Ombre Hibiscus Cream Cheese Frosting

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21 Comments

  1. Amisha says:

    Stunning cake dear Sarah! I ofcourse love the ombre frosting! It is one of my fav styles of cakes! I forgot about hibiscus! haha! The color imparted by hibiscus powder is just so beautiful! That cake does look v moist and delicious! cant believe your baby is going to be 1 soon! Early birthday wishes to your sweet girl! :)

  2. This is beyond pretty!! That color is epic :)

  3. Veronica says:

    So pretty! This looks scrumptious! Lucas is very hard to please when it comes to cake, so this lovely dessert must be out of this world!

  4. Obsessed! Pink cream cheese frosting (by way of beet juice) was my mom’s signature, so this ombré beauty is giving me all the feels. Can’t wait to try with hibiscus!

  5. I would hoard this cake too, if I was Lucas! Too pretty and delicious to share! The ombre is just gorgeous and in my favorite color, no less! And happy *almost* birthday to cheesebabygirl!

  6. This is beyond gorgeous! I cannot wait to try it.

  7. Tieghan says:

    seriously so pretty!

  8. I kind of almost forgot about Valentine’s Day, so I’m glad you remembered with this pretty cake! I don’t make layer cakes often enough, so adding ombre frosting makes it that much prettier :)

  9. Georgina says:

    This looks so beautiful and delicious. Definitely going to give your lovely chocolate cake recipe a try!

  10. This cake sounds fantastic, and it looks even prettier. I don’t know what you mean about not being able to frost a cake- this is one of the most beautiful cakes I’ve seen in a long time.

  11. Blink! Another year. Goodness, Sarah. Happy almost birthday to you and Zoe… it WAS just yesterday! This cake is simply stunning. I gotta get my hands on some beet powder asap!

  12. Carla says:

    Remember almost a year ago when you had A BABY? That’s so crazy. We should make a cake to celebrate! (I know, you just did. Let’s do it again.)

  13. Deliposts says:

    This looks in-sane! Seriously, I fell in love with it. Definitely worth to try

  14. Gretchen says:

    Ohhh, I love everyeverything about this!!

  15. Mackenzie says:

    Lovely recipe. In the instructions for the frosting it mentions powdered sugar and I was wondering how much?

  16. Maddie says:

    This cake is gorgeous! If you had to choose, would you use the buttermilk or the vinegar? Which makes for a better cake in your opinion?

    • Good question- I originally wrote this recipe with buttermilk years ago, but rarely had any on hand, so I’d sub in milk and vinegar. Now that I’ve made this recipe SO MANY TIMES, I’ve decided that I think the milk and vinegar makes a better, lighter cake. The buttermilk cake is just a bit denser but maybe has a slightly deeper flavor, but I prefer milk and vinegar cake!

  17. Okay- GENIUS! can’t wait to try!

  18. Jacquie says:

    This cake is so beatutiful! I need to make 3 9″ layer cakes to feed more people. Should I just multiply the whole recipe by 1.5x? And how long should I baje it for?

    • I’ve never baked it in a 9-inch pan, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work! Just based on the area of the pans (9-inch is 64 square inches while a 6-inch is only 28 square inches), I would multiply the recipe by 2.25x. As for the baking time, I’m not sure, but my gut says 45-50 minutes. The great thing about this cake is that it’s very hard to overbake and it’s easy to tell when it’s done. After about 40 minutes (I like to check early just because in this case, they’ll be filled to the same level in the pan), I would start checking every 5 minutes by poking the center with your finger (you want it to bounce back and not look indented at all) and inserting a toothpick into the center to make sure it comes out clean or only with a few dry crumbs. I always err on the side of a couple minutes longer with this cake and I’ve never had it turn out dry! Hope this helps!

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