Gluten Free Birthday Cake with Chocolate Frosting

5 from 6 votes
A red circle with the letters GF

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Celebrate your big day with a Gluten Free Birthday Cake! Four layers of yellow butter cake recipe with thick layers of fudgy buttercream will make any occasion extra special and delicious.

Looking for more gluten free birthday desserts? Have a slice of this cake with a scoop of gluten free Birthday Cake Ice Cream, or try Gluten Free Vanilla Cupcakes.

A slice of yellow birthday cake with chocolate frosting

Originally published Jan 6, 2013. Updated with new photos, video, retested recipe, and more helpful information.

An Easy Gluten Free Birthday Cake with Chocolate Frosting!

One of my all-time favorite local restaurants, when I lived in New Jersey, was Old Man Rafferty’s. Besides a varied menu (which includes one of my favorite salads ever and inspired my version of their Italian Country Salad), they have awesome specials that change weekly. And then let’s talk about the dessert case! Oh my!

They actually begin the menu with the quote, “Life is uncertain… eat dessert first,” then proceed to go on with their dessert menu for several pages before presenting the appetizers and main courses. And when you are ready to order dessert, your server doesn’t return with a menu. They send you to the case to choose from the ginormous assortment of cakes and pies and tortes.

My favorite was always the Golden Fudge Cake – four layers of yellow cake separated by thick layers of fudge frosting.

I love fudgy chocolate frosting, but most of the time, to get a fudge frosting, you have to get a fudge cake. And, crazy as it sounds, I am not a chocolate cake girl. Give me a yellow or butter or vanilla cake anyway. And yellow cake with chocolate frosting is my favorite combo ever. 

Only I don’t live in New Jersey anymore. And I can’t eat gluten anymore. But now I love making this as my own Gluten Free Birthday Cake! It’s pretty darn close to the delicious dessert I remember.

Looking into a sliced gluten free yellow butter cake to see layers of cake and chocolate frosting

What is Golden Fudge Cake?

Let’s talk about the cake in the original golden fudge cake. It’s a yellow cake, but not quite the same as a super moist box mix style. It is made with butter, making it a bit more dense, along the lines of a pound cake. Unlike some wheat-free cakes, this gluten free yellow cake recipe is not grainy, spongy, or crumbly. It was tender but had enough structure to stand up to that thick, rich frosting. Also, the cake itself is not super-sweet, which makes it the perfect balance against that sweet chocolate frosting.

Speaking of the frosting, it is more than just a basic chocolate buttercream too. I like to call it a chocolate fudge frosting. It is slightly adapted from the chocolate buttermilk frosting from Evil Shenanigans, though I cut back on the sugar just a bit. It’s a little denser with a texture almost like chocolate fudge candy since it is made with chocolate chips and not just cocoa powder. And the addition of buttermilk gives it that bit of tang, tempers some of the sweetness, and keeps it from being cloying.

And those lovely crumbs on the outside of the golden fudge cake are not necessary, but since I was attempting to make my cake as close as possible to the original, I had to do it. It’s a great way to use up the cake trimmings unless you just sneak a few samples of them while you are frosting your gluten free cake.

Don’t worry, we are going to take this step-by-step.

A slice of gluten free layer cake with chocolate buttercream

What’s Involved in Making this Gluten Free Layer Cake?

This recipe is adapted from Gluten Free Yellow Cake from King Arthur Flour. That recipe uses three cups of King Arthur Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour. I instead substituted a standard blend of brown rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca starch. However, you could use their blend and original recipe instead.

How to Make Gluten Free Yellow Cake

Ingredients

  • Brown rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca starch: The most basic and common blend of flours and starches. While I have not tried it in this recipe, I have had a lot of luck baking with Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 gluten free blend and similar 1:1 blends. If you try it, I would omit the extra xanthan gum, as that blend already contains it. for gluten free baking
  • Baking powder: This will ensure your cake will rise and have the right texture.
  • Xanthan gum: Often used in gluten free baking to mimic the proteins from gluten.
  • Salt: Always need a bit, even in sweet recipes.
  • Unsalted butter: Let it soften to room temperature
  • Sugar: We all want a nice, sweet cake. This recipe has not been tested with sugar substitutes.
  • Eggs: Bring these to room temperature too.
  • Vanilla extract: Gives the yellow cake the perfect flavor. Make sure yours is gluten free.
  • Buttermilk: You’ll also want it at room temperature. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to a measuring cup then add enough milk to reach 1 cup total of liquid.
two sticks of butter, four eggs, and bowls of rice flour, starches, other dry ingredients, sugar, buttermilk, and vanilla frosting

Overview – see the recipe card for the full directions

  1. Preheat your oven and line two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper.
  2. Sift together the dry ingredients.
  3. In a large bowl or bowl of an electric stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar.
  4. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla.
  1. Alternate adding the buttermilk and dry ingredients. The batter will be thick. This is perfectly normal.
  2. Divide the batter between the pans and bake at 350°F for about 25 minutes.
  1. Let cool in the pans for 5 to 10 minutes before removing from the pans and cooling completely on racks. While it is cooling, go ahead and prepare the frosting.
Slice of gluten free birthday cake from the front

How to Make Chocolate Fudge Frosting

Rich, thick, fudgy. It’s literally everything you could want in a chocolate buttercream frosting. Definitely more than your basic butter, powdered sugar, and cocoa powder combination. The addition of melted chocolate and buttermilk really takes it to another level and it like covering your cake in fudge.

I wanted the nice thick layers of frosting, and I wanted to decorate the cake, so I made a large quantity of frosting. You can always cut the recipe in half if you want to just a basic coating of icing.

Frosting Ingredients

  • Powdered sugar: Gotta have a nice, sweet frosting.
  • Cocoa powder: The first ingredient to give the frosting its chocolaty flavor.
  • Semisweet chocolate: Melted and cooled, this helps make the chocolate frosting not just chocolate, but extra fudgy.
  • Unsalted butter: Make sure to let it come to room temperature so it blends smooth and easy.
  • Vanilla extract: Believe it or not, vanilla enhances and intensifies the flavor of chocolate.
  • Buttermilk – Again, you’ll want it at room temperature so it doesn’t cause the frosting to seize. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can add 2 teaspoons of white vinegar or lemon juice to a measuring cup, then add enough milk to reach 2/3 cup total of liquid.
Four sticks of butter plus bowls of powdered sugar, cocoa powder, melted chocolate, vanilla extract, and buttermilk

Overview – see the recipe card for the full directions

  1. Sift together the powdered sugar and cocoa powder.
  2. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and melted chocolate.
  3. Add the vanilla, then gradually beat in the powdered sugar mixture.
  4. Slowly add buttermilk to achieve desired consistency.
Don’t want chocolate frosting?

A Piping Tip Full of Vanilla Buttercream Piping the Frosting Into a Glass

 

Try my luxurious Vanilla Buttercream instead!

It is simple to make, fluffy enough to spread or pipe, and has the perfect vanilla flavor.

Chocolate Buttercream piped on top of a gluten free yellow cake

Assembling and Decorating Your Birthday Cake

Trim the tops of your cakes to make a flat surface. If you want to make the cake crumb coating, set the trimmed tops aside. Cut each cake in half. Place one layer on a cake platter and spread 1 cup of frosting on top. Repeat with the additional layers, putting the final layer on top. Cover the entire cake in frosting and decorate as desired.

If you only plan to put a layer of frosting on the cake and don’t want to pipe the decorations shown here, you can cut the frosting recipe in half.

Buttery Cake Crumb Coating

As I mentioned, you don’t need to add those cake crumbs on the outside, but they give it a delicious buttery, toasty flavor and a bit of texture.

To make it, crumble the cake trimmings you set aside and toss them with melted butter on a baking sheet. Pop them in the oven at 350°F for 20-30 minutes, tossing every 5-10 minutes until they are dried out and crispy, but not burnt.

Let the cake crumbs cooke cool and press them on the sides fo the cake before you pipe on any decorations.

Gluten Free Birthday Cake on a white cake platter

Pro Tips for the Best Gluten Free Birthday Cake

Brianne Recommends
  • Use parchment paper. I definitely recommend lining your pans with parchment paper so they come out easily. If they stick and start to break, they will be harder to slice in half to make the four layers.
  • Cut even layers. You can use a serrated knife to cut your cake, but a cake leveler tool can be very helpful for making straight, even layers.
  • Give it a crumb coat. Whether you make your cake fancy or not, using an offset spatula for an initial thin coating of frosting before you add the rest will ensure you seal in those crumbs and get a nice finish.
  • You don’t have to be an expert to make a gorgeous cake. I am not a pro with a pastry bag, but it’s easy to make a cake look totally beautiful with a simple Dessert Decorator tool. Just load it up with frosting and pipe stars all over the top and around the edge.

Storing Gluten Free Birthday Cake

Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to two days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving. You can also freeze the cake for up to two months.

How to Freeze Birthday Cake

Want to freeze the cake? You can freeze the individual, unfrosted cake layers wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. If you want to freeze the entire cake or leftover slices, I recommend putting them on a plate or platter and freezing uncovered. Then wrap the frozen cake tightly in several layers of plastic wrap before returning to the freezer. If wrapped well, you can keep it for up to two months.

Like it’ll last in the freezer that long. If you are anything like me, you’ll be sneaking slivers every night!

A whole gluten free layer cake with chocolate buttercream and yellow butter cake crumbs

Try this Birthday Cake and Let me Know What You Think!

There is nothing more classic than the combination of layers of yellow butter cake with rich chocolate frosting. And now you can enjoy a gluten free version for your birthday or any special celebration. The buttery cake is super delicious and that fudgy buttercream makes it an over-the-top indulgent dessert recipe.

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A whole gluten free layer cake with chocolate buttercream and yellow butter cake crumbs
5 from 6 votes

Gluten Free Birthday Cake with Chocolate Frosting

A gluten free golden butter birthday cake with thick layers of fudgy frosting!
Prep: 1 hr
Cook: 25 mins
Servings: 16 slices

Ingredients

For the cake (*See Note):

  • 2 cups brown rice flour
  • 2/3 cup potato starch
  • 1/3 cup tapioca flour or starch
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons xanthan gum
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

For the frosting (**See Note):

  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 6 cups powdered sugar (can use more if needed to achieve desired consistency)
  • 8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate melted and cooled slightly
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 t pure vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

For the buttery crumb coating:

  • 1 Tablespoon melted butter

Instructions

For the cake (*See Note):

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray with cooking spray or lightly grease two 9″ round cake pans, and line with parchment paper.
  • Sift or whisk together the flours, xanthan gum, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer or stand mixer to cream the butter and sugar.
  • Add 1 egg, and beat for a minute or so at high speed, until fluffy. Then add the remaining eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
  • Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • Add the vanilla and beat until smooth.
  • Reduce the mixer speed to low and alternately beat in the milk and dry ingredients, adding about 1/3 of each at a time, and ending with the dry ingredients. Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
  • Divide the batter between the prepared pans. It will be quite thick. Spread evenly. Bake the cake for about 25 minutes, about 3 to 4 minutes past the point where the cake springs back when touched lightly in the center, and a cake tester (or toothpick) inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  • Remove from the oven, and cool for at least 5 to 10 minutes before turning out of the pan to cool on a rack (I left the cakes in the pan overnight).

For the frosting (**See Note):

  • Sift together the cocoa powder and powdered sugar to remove any lumps. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, using an electric mixer or the paddle attachment of your stand mixer, cream together the melted chocolate and butter until smooth.
  • Add the vanilla, reduce speed to low, and gradually add the flour and cocoa powder mixture until fully combined.
  • Slowly add the buttermilk until the frosting reaches your desired consistency. You may need slightly more or less.

For the buttery crumb coating:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Using a serrated knife or wire cutter, trim the top of each cake off to make a flat surface.
  • Take the tops that you cut off, crumble into smaller pieces into a cake pan or baking sheet.
  • Drizzle the melted butter over the crumbs and toss to coat.
  • Place in the oven, and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until browned and dried out, stirring and continuing to break the crumbs down smaller as they get crispy, about every 5-10 minutes.

Assembling the cake:

  • Using a serrated knife or wire cutter, cut each cake in half.
  • Take one layer and place on a plate or platter. Spread 1 c frosting evenly on top of the layer.
  • Repeat with the remaining three layers.
  • Scoop a small amount of frosting into a separate bowl, and put a thin layer on the top and sides of the cake.
  • Finish frosting the top and sides, reserving some frosting for decoration, if desired.
  • Press the crumbs into the sides of the cake.
  • Brush the excess crumbs off the platter, and pipe or decorate with the reserved frosting, as desired.

Notes

Cake adapted from Gluten Free Yellow Cake from King Arthur Flour.
*Based on recommendation from King Arthur Flour website, the flours used here are a replacement for 3 c of King Arthur Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour. I used the individual flours, and not their blend. Frosting is a double batch of Chocolate Buttermilk Frosting from Evil Shenanigans.
**If you don’t want such thick layers of frosting, or don’t intend to decorate the cake, you can cut my quantities in half to make a single batch.
Nutrition Facts
Gluten Free Birthday Cake with Chocolate Frosting
Amount Per Serving (1 slice)
Calories 839 Calories from Fat 441
% Daily Value*
Fat 49g75%
Saturated Fat 30g150%
Cholesterol 153mg51%
Sodium 219mg9%
Potassium 382mg11%
Carbohydrates 98g33%
Fiber 4g16%
Sugar 70g78%
Protein 6g12%
Vitamin A 1371IU27%
Vitamin C 1mg1%
Calcium 98mg10%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

More gluten free cakes

68 Comments
  1. Elizabeth

    5 stars
    Just made this cake and I’m so happy with how it turned out! This is the third gluten-free cake recipe I’ve tried this week and by FAR the best. I used a different icing, but the cake is amazing. You’d never know it’s not a “normal” cake!

  2. This looks so good, as good as any non-gluten-free cake for sure! The crumbs were a nice touch and really gives your cake some texture. Thanks for sharing, I’ll definitely have to try this!

  3. what a gorgeous cake! I am so bad at layering cakes. They don’t cut even and I just can’t fill it evenly. I can work the piping tips though and you did a great job! Love the piping.

  4. That is one of the most fabulously beautiful cakes I have ever seen, gluten free OR gluten full! Wow! You should approach that restaurant and offer to sell them your gluten free version to offer to customers. I’ll bet it would be a big seller! You did yourself proud in this bucket list challenge.

  5. Brianne, this is a knock-your-socks-off, stunning, jaw dropping cake. I can totally get on-board with the “have some cake with your frosting” sentiment, especially when the frosting looks this rich and fudgy. You’ve got mad piping skills, girl – it’s a goal of mine to conquer cake decorating. This just looks so beautiful – this was the post I was most eager to see this week after all those teasers you posted on Facebook and you do not disappoint. Yum!

  6. Bless you, Brianne! My husband tends to be a bit wheat-sensitive and his favorite childhood cake was yellow cake with chocolate frosting. No kidding. And he loves pound cake. Sooo thanks to you, I’ve got a winner dessert =)

    P.s. I pinned your mouthwatering photo onto The Ninja Baker’s Gluten Free & Vegan board on Pinterest.

  7. Beautiful !!! Love that you used real stuff instead of GF flour. Would like to hook this to my GF cafe if it’s Ok with you. Have a lot of clients who are looking for new recipes & this looks & sounds fab ! Hope your pregnancy is going well !

    1. Thanks Sue! I would love it if you linked it up. Definitely a lot of sugar, so not an everyday thing, but I decided if I was going to dive into gluten free baking, I was going to try to work primarily with the flours versus blends. Plus the little bit of brown rice flour can’t hurt, right?!

  8. What a gorgeous cake! Your layers are so even–do you use a wire cutter? I have a few friends who are gluten-free. This would make a lovely birthday cake (maybe with some sprinkles for homemade funfett? 🙂

  9. Oh, my gosh…what a spectacular cake!! Who would guess it was gluten free? It seriously looks like it came from a bakery. My daughter is the same way…she loves a yellow cake with chocolate icing 🙂

  10. It is GORGEOUS! And I like that it is on the less-sweet side, because often cake + frosting is just too much sweet for me. I’ve never really baked gluten-free, so I’ve always been curious if I’d be able to tell the difference. One of these days I’ll give it a go…very inspiring! 🙂

  11. A ginormous quantity of frosting is just what I like. I’m in awe of your mad piping/decorating skills. And the cake is gorgeous and I bet no one would know it was gluten free unless you told them.

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