When my little brother Gabe was two, he was diagnosed with celiac disease (my other brother and father have since been diagnosed as well). Up until that point he’d gone from eating bread and pasta to a subsistence diet of peanuts and orange juice. He often complained of joint pain and spent large spans of time lying with his feet underneath the radiator in our living room. His diagnosis ended it, and propelled me into the field of gluten-free baking.
I cannot impress upon you how disheartening the attempts often were. Being only twelve or thirteen when I started, I didn’t understand that you can’t use a baking mix which includes baking powder, and substitute it one for one into a gluten recipe. Indeed, I think about 3 out of 4 of my cakes collapsed during that period. For the longest time, my banana cake was a dense crater-cake. This, I assured myself, was better than a dry sandy thing, like the many other gluten-free options I knew existed. Slowly, I figured things out. It helped that as the years went by more options came onto the market, giving assistance to us weary gluten-free bakers.
The boys, no matter how many times the cakes split in half, no matter how many times I tried to frost a hot cake to have the frosting melt, separate, or slide off, they would still eat it. My strange science experiments were their only dessert options.
Now, not really in terms of dessert but in terms of food, my brothers were becoming more adventurous because of their disease. Pizza, pasta, and sandwiches still aren’t staples in our house, despite the options now out there. Gabe lists his favorite foods as paella, curry, and sushi. Toby, just sushi, his favorite thing on earth. Asian food, for it’s inherent absence of gluten, is our preferred cuisine. Instead of trying to make gluten things gluten -free, we more often eat the things that are inherently that way, food often full of bright colors, fiery spices, and tons of flavor.
Ever since Christmas when I got the Bon Appetít Desserts cookbook, I’ve wanted to make this cake for my little brother, the sushi lover. Filled with ginger, wasabi, and sesame seeds, I knew it would be perfect for him. Having finished, I must say I’m truly proud of it. I mean, it didn’t collapse, it tastes amazing, the texture isn’t bizarre, it didn’t split in half…I mean guys, look, it’s normal!! And the best thing is, I think my whole family looks forward to trying it, despite being a little out of the ordinary flavor-wise. Celiac has made us all more adventurous and willing to try new things, even sesame-wasabi ganache.
Gluten-free Black Pearl Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Bon Appétit Desserts cookbook
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
5 match-stick sized pieces fresh ginger
1 vanilla bean, cut lengthwise or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (you can use chips or chop up a bar, either way choose something of higher quality)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon (or more depending on what you’re looking for) wasabi powder
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons softened butter
1 tablespoon corn syrup
2 tablespoons black or white sesame seeds
2 cups brown rice flour
2/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup tapioca starch
1 teaspoon xantham gum
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups boiling water
1 cup cocoa (not dutch process)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger (optional)
2 1/4 cups sugar
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 to 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
2 cups chilled heavy cream
1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground ginger (adjust as you wish)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Heat the water, sugar, ginger, and vanilla or scraped vanilla bean in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stirring occasionally, bring to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes. Strain out the vanilla bean and ginger. Chop up the ginger finely to use in the cake later. Let the syrup sit in a bowl for about an hour to cool and let the flavors balance out.
Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. In a medium saucepan, heat the cream, wasabi powder, and ginger. Stirring occasionally, bring to a boil (do not boil for long, just when a few bubbles break the surface). Pour this over the chocolate and cover with plastic wrap. Let this sit for 15 minutes. Then, remove plastic, stir the chocolate and cream until emulsified, then add the corn syrup, sesame seeds, and butter. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for a few hours to firm up. If the butter doesn’t fully get distributed the first time, you will be abel to do so once it has firmed up.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 3, 8-inch cake pans and flour with the reserved flour specified below. Place a round of parchment paper in the bottom of each.
Whisk the flours together thoroughly in a medium bowl. Remove 1/4 cup of the flour mixture to set aside for flouring the pans. Add the xantham gum, being powder, baking soda, and salt to the flours and whisk to combine.
In a separate medium bowl, place cocoa, chopped ginger from the syrup, and, if you wish, an additional tablespoon chopped fresh ginger. Pour over this the 2 cups boiling water, and whisk to combine.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment or paddle, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy on medium speed. Add the eggs to this, one by one. Then, starting with the flour mixture, add the flour alternately with the cocoa mixture. Make sure you finish with the flour mixture. Scrape around the bowl to make sure that all of the butter, flour, ect., is mixed in. Divide between the pans and place on the middle rack of the oven. I cooked the first two before the last one, but I assume you could fit 3 pans on the middle rack. You would want to move them around part-way through baking though. Bake for about 25-30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and place n a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Remove from pans and let cool entirely before frosting.
In a cold bowl with cld whisk attachment of a standing mixer, beat cream cheese, confectioners sugar, vanilla, and ground ginger. While the mixer is on low speed, slowly add the heavy cream. Scrape around the bowl occasionally to make sure that all of the cream cheese is being distributed throughout. Increase the speed to medium and then eventually high, ending when the frosting is relatively stiff.
Place the first layer, bottom side up, on a cake stand. Spoon one-third of the syrup over the cake. Spread half of the ganache over the first layer. Place the second layer on top, bottom up, cover with syrup, and cover with the rest of ganache. Place the final layer, bottom up, on top and cover with the remainder of the syrup. Then cover the cake with the whipped cream frosting. When frosting, it often helps to stick strips of parchment paper under the edges of the cake so the stand doesn’t get messy. Decorate with sesame seeds and /or cocoa. Let sit in the fridge for about 4 hours. Remove from the fridge half an hour before serving.