Vanilla Cake with Rhubarb Filling

This cake is perfect for a celebration and I wish I had a slice of it right now. You see, yesterday I completed my first-ever running race, the 10K United Run for the Zoo in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. And I ran it without stopping to walk – finishing in 60 minutes for an average 9:49 mile pace. As much as I may tell myself that I’m running just to finish, those number still matter. A LOT. When I’m running by myself, I’m a lot more leisurely – I know I CAN run faster, but I don’t always because I get bored. I’m still a cyclist at heart, and there’s just not as much mental stimulation in a good run as flying through the city on bike. Running is a silent, more meditative sport – which is part of why I want to become a runner, but it’s harder for me. So finishing my first 10K with a personal best time – yeah, I’d like a big slice of this cake to celebrate!

I actually made this cake 2 weeks ago…and in this post about “firsts,” I’ll admit that this is my first layer cake ever. Seeing that homey, frosted cake on my grandma’s beautiful cake stand made me feel so proud (though not as proud as crossing that finish line for the 10K)! I was initially nervous at the thought of making a layer cake, but I’ve watched just enough Martha Stewart to know that I had what it takes to fill, stack and frost a cake. I may not be a baker like my grandma, but I think she’d be proud of this cake too.

I can’t take too much credit for the cake itself – I used a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake Mix that I had in the pantry. I added a teaspoon of cake spice to the batter to give it a little more punch in the flavor department. But let’s be honest – a layer cake is really about decadent frosting and a good filling, and this cake has both. Do you remember those Rhubarb Bloom Cocktails I made a few months back?  I recently made another jar of that beautiful, tart pink syrup which leaves behind about a cup of thick, jammy rhubarb compote, perfect for spreading between layers of fluffy white cake.

If you’ve never made frosting before, next time you bake a cake, skip the mixes or jarred paste-like frosting substance and go for the real stuff – a couple sticks of butter, confectioner’s sugar and your flavoring of choice, and with a couple minutes of whipping – you have a big bowl of fluffy frosting that just begs you to drag a finger through it and taste the marvelous stuff. I kept the frosting pretty simple, spiking it with some vanilla and lemon extract, to complement the flavors in the cake and filling. Judging by how quickly the cake disappeared off plates when we served it to friends, I think this layer cake is another “first” with a personal best attached.

The 2010 Zoo Crew Running Team: Dave, Shelley, Jeremy Aria, Mark, Lane, Danielle, Jenn, Chris and Debbie
Vanilla Lemon Chiffon Frosting
Makes enough for 1, 9-inch layer cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 T lemon extract
1 T vanilla bean paste (or extract)
2-2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  1. Set up your Kitchen Aid stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Add the butter to the bowl and whip on medium speed for 2 minutes, until the butter is pale and a little fluffly. Add the extracts and increase the speed to medium high. Start adding the sugar slowly, about a 1/4 cup at a time, allowing the sugar to fully incorporate, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed before adding more sugar. You’ll need somewhere between 2-2 1/2 cups of confectioner’s sugar before you’re done. Taste the frosting as you go, and stop adding sugar when it tastes good to you and is still fluffy, not too stiff. The finished consistency should be easily spreadable, and you should not be able to feel the grains of sugar if you rub a little of the frosting between your thumb and first finger (3-5 minutes of whipping time). I don’t like my frosting too overly sweet, so I used a little less sugar than most recipes I looked at online.
  2. Frosting the cake: Prepare your cake stand or serving plate by lining the edges with small squares of waxed paper overlapping and hanging off the edges like a paper wreath. Place your 2 layers of (fully cooled) cake on a cutting board and level the tops of the cake using a long serrated knife to take off any domed or uneven areas (this is my favorite part, as the chef gets to snack on the trimmed cake pieces).
  3. Place the bottom layer of cake in the center of the cake stand. Using an offset spatula or silicone spatula, spread a thin skim of the frosting on the top of the layer. Then, spread the rhubarb compote on top of the frosting, leaving an inch of frosting-free border around the edges. For the thickness of your filling, I’d say go for a little thicker than you’d spread on your toast, but not too much – you don’t want too much moisture in there, or for it to come squeezing out the edges when assembled.  Now, take the second layer of cake and turn it bottom-side up. Spread a thin skim coat of frosting on the bottom – this is to prevent the rhubarb compote from making the cake soggy. Next, place the top layer of cake over the first layer, carefully centering it over the bottom layer. Whew!
  4. Finally, frost the assembled cake. Listen to Martha on this one. Make a big ‘ol pile of frosting in the middle of the top of the cake, and then use your knife/spatula to work the frosting out from the center, and down over the sides to cover the whole cake. Once the cake is completely covered in a good layer of frosting, use a spatula to cover any amateur mistakes to make pretty peaks in the frosting for a homey, hand-finished look. Pull the waxed paper pieces out from under the cake, and gaze at your creation with joy before serving to friends.

Rhubarb Syrup recipe for leftover compote for cake filling
Cake Spice from The Spice House
Bob’s Red Mill Vanilla Gluten-Free Cake Mix

9 thoughts on “Vanilla Cake with Rhubarb Filling

    • Thanks, Heather! For my first attempt at a layer cake – this one was pretty tasty! As for the running…you could do it with a little training….our group of non-runners proved that on Sunday!

  1. The cake looks divine! And a BIG congrats on completing your first 10K! I know I’d never have the determination or physical stamina to do a run (weak back / knees, genetic). So proud of you!!

    And I’ve caught the baking bug lately. So I’m certainly gonna give your cake a try soon 🙂

    • Thanks, Sabera! Well, one of our team of runners had been laid up with serious back injuries for 3 years, and she did the 5K after training by using the Couch 2 5K podcasts…so it is possible – you just have to take it slow and listen to your body.

      Thanks for the props on the cake…it tasted as good as it looked – I couldn’t be happier…I baked a cake!

  2. Hello, Jenn. I have been really looking over your recipes and reading your articles over the last week or so since I (finally!) stumbled upon your blog. I am so relieved that I did! I found out about two weeks ago that I have dairy/gluten/egg (inc. yolks)/beef (what!!!???)/almond sensitivities. I am lost. So lost. And it’s been an emotional battle since I am nearly 14 wks pregnant and craving hamburgers and milk. So, I removed all of the offenders the day after my test results came back but I just feel like I’m treading water. I have relied heavily on your recipes (the ones that don’t contain any eggs or dairy) and I just wanted to thank you for doing what you do. It might sound crazy, and I guess sort of it is, but when I go through a down period (which is most mornings when I totally don’t know what to eat) I think of you and how you did it and so then can I. If only I could eat an egg, my problems would be solved…Anyways, I just wanted to say thank you for putting your recipes out there, they are saving me.


    • Hey Teresa – Thanks so much for your message – you made my day! I love to hear folks who find my blog and use it to get started on the healing journey. I promise you, it will get easier, and in time, you will likely be able to add some of those foods back into your diet – maybe not gluten, but the eggs and beef may be possible – or at least they are for me, so long as I stick to organic/pastured meat and eggs. I’m sure your sensitivities are a little more pronounced because of the pregnancy changing your body’s responses to everything. For any of the baked stuff, you can probably sub out coconut oil for butter, too – I do that alot now. But when I was first diagnosed, I had to do no wheat, eggs, dairy, beef, pork, citrus, and sugar for about 2 years – so I know exactly how you’re feeling. It’s not easy, but it is easier now that there are blogs and now that groceries are better about offering gluten-free products as well as labeling for allergies. And egg cravings – YEAH – I hear you on that – I think that was far harder for me than wheat or dairy. I’m still lightly sensitive eggs, but so long as I keep it to just a couple eggs a week and make sure they’re pasture raised/organic, they affect me less. If there’s any specific things you need help with, just let me know – I’m happy to help.

      Be gentle with yourself as you make the transition. You will feel like you’re treading water for awhile, and maybe not feel like you’re making much progress…but then one day, you’ll wake up and realize that you have more energy than you did 3 months ago, and that you ARE getting better. The progression is slow, but you’ll make it! And when that little one comes, keep him/her away from any gluten until at least 6 months – I just read a study from Europe, and they’ve found that babies that have even a tiny amount of gluten before 6mos of age are more likely to be sensitive to gluten later in life – tiny immune systems are not ready to deal with gluten. Anyway, I could ramble all day, but you are on your way to better health!

  3. The last few days I’ve been saying to myself, ‘TWO YEARS!!!’. TWO YEARS? Wow – I admire your determination and I hope I can find it within myself to do the same. It sounds super corny and I hope that’s OK, but you really are an inspiration and for real.

    I had been seeing a naturopath because ever since the fall, I’ve become increasingly sick (fibromyalgia, headaches blahblahblah) a whole laundry list of complaints. I had my thyroid, liver and adrenals tested and tested but all the tests came back with good numbers. So I was stumped. Finally, my naturopath suggested I test for food allergies and I was so desperate (and now preggers) that I would do anything to figure out what had gone so wrong with me. And so results day rolled around and there came my new reality: I could eat nothing. Well, almost nothing, or so it felt at the time. It has gotten a lot easier, and as I told you in my first note, I have leaned heavily on you and you just don’t know what a blessing you have been to me. Thank you thank you thank you!

    I was diagnosed with PCOS (have you heard of that?) at 13, (I’m 34 now) and was further diagnosed with insulin resistance a few years ago, so I must watch my sugar intake and the GI of foods. So all the replacement flours (potato, tapioca) kinda scare me. And because I’m pregnant now (14 weeks – yay) my tummy is still really quite sick and I just don’t know what to nosh on when I’m nauseated (had to give up the 10 o’clock toast and glass of milk). I was hoping you might have a couple of ideas for small midnight snacks that could get me through the tough times..? I thought the bad tummy would have easied off by now, but nopes. I was sick for about 5 months with my first (he’s nearly 2.5 now), but that was mainly due to burping for 10 hours in a row (hope that’s not TMI!!) but I figure that maybe dairy was doing that to me now. I drank A LOT of milk with him – that’s all that I craved. Oops! Oh, and I promise that my first, nor this bubs, will have a stitch of gluten before 6 months, and a lot longer after that. I’ve always known that I’m sensitive to gluten – but that study you told me about sounds interesting. It makes me wonder what I (and lots of other 70’s babies) were fed at an early age…

    I am also very, very organic and even support the Environmental Working Group, so I’m on the same page with you on that one. It’s so awesome to go to the farmers markets in the summer time to load up on organic everything that’s local local local! I love reading about your farmshare experiences and seeing your terrific photo’s – I have never heard of that before, I’d love to do it! I wonder if it’s in my area…

    Sorry this is so long, but I’m pretty excited to be able to ask someone so in the know about this stuff and has lived through it. I appreciate your wisdom and your recipes – I made that enchilada casserole last night and YUMMO! So, I was just curious if you had any ideas for lil’ snacks that might help to settle an upset tums. I woke up this morning at 430 with a very upset tummy and no choice but to eat boiled potatoes which was very unsatisfying! Anyways, thanks again – you are so awesome!

    • Hey Teresa – Ah, the upset tummy – I do know that one so well…as all celiacs do. And I know PCOS as well – when I gained a lot of weight, they diagnosed me with that one, too, but after getting rid of gluten – and the weight, it doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore, though I do still have to watch my sugar intake as well.

      I’m with you on fearing the potato/tapioca starch/flours – I just don’t need to eat stuff that “white.” Which is why I still don’t bake a lot of gluten-free stuff. I just avoid baking a lot.

      When my tummy is upset, I eat quinoa cooked in rice milk (or water) with some cinnamon, vanilla extract and a little salt. It makes a very comforting breakfasty kind of dish, but I’ll eat it at any time of day. Quinoa is a complete protein and a complex carb, so a small bowl of it late at night should keep your energy steady and hold you through the night. I make a big batch of it on the weekend, and just portion it out into small tupperwares that I can grab whenever I want them. Heres the recipe:

      Strangely, I also eat things like cold slices of cucumber or radish with a tiny bit of salt…though that might make for baby burps too, I suppose. I’ll let you know if I think of anything else…

  4. Thanks, Jenn – My note was really long, I’m sorry…Oh, so you know about the pcos issues – well, hearing about your story makes me more solidified within myself that I can do this, too, and probably with some very big pay offs. I’m not celiac (I’ve been tested twice) but I am sensitive – I think everyone should go gluten free for awhile, good for the soul. I love quinoa, I’ll make that recipe for sure. It’s nice to have something ready and waiting for when you need it. I appreciate your help. =)

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