BakingEntertainingGluten Free
Dreamy strawberry cake with not-too-sweet-buttercream
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Let me just start off by saying I suck at decorating cakes.

If you are an avid baker like me (or only bake occasionally) and struggle with making your cake or cupcakes look like they came out of a Martha Stewart magazine, then you’ve come to the right place.

This is a no-judgment zone for all those lopsided, uneven, not perfectly smooth cakes that I am so great at creating.  The good news is, I’ve got some awesome cake decorating hacks for this unbelievably delicious Dreamy Gluten Free Strawberry Cake & Not-Too-Sweet Strawberry Meringue Buttercream.

I’m always in awe of those show-stopping, perfectly decorated cakes I see on Pinterest or in Southern Living magazine and have wanted so desperately to emulate their styling.  However, I only bake cakes 2-3 times a year, so I don’t get enough practice to become an expert buttercream piper.

It really takes A LOT of practice to master the art of cake decorating and I just don’t think my waistline can handle it.  So instead of moaning and groaning over my lack of decorating skillz, I decided to use some easy tricks for making this dreamy cake not only taste amazing, but look beautiful and rustic and perfectly imperfect.


Strawberry cake is quite often filled with fake strawberry jello to enhance the strawberry flavor, and food coloring is added to give it that pink tone.  I don’t like using either of these in my cakes as I try to use as many organic ingredients as possible.  A few years ago, I found the answer to naturally enhancing strawberry flavor on the Cook’s Illustrated website.

Their tip was to macerate the strawberries first to bring out their natural sweetness.  All you do is place fresh or frozen strawberries in a colander over another bowl and sprinkle them with a little bit of sugar and let them sit for about two hours.  This really sweetens the strawberries with no need for unnatural additives.  You can also do this if you want to enjoy fresh strawberries by themselves or with whipped cream or ice cream.

Here in the southeast, strawberries come into season at the end of April or beginning of May and last through June at the latest.  I go every year to one of two local strawberry farms and pick fresh strawberries to stock for the year.  I only buy about 10 pounds because I don’t have the freezer space.  I do the same for fresh blueberries too.  It’s amazing how much sweeter freshly picked local berries are, plus they are a fraction of the price of what you pay in the store.

macerated strawberries

Ok, now we are on to the cake!  I adapted this strawberry cake recipe from the Cook’s Illustrated site.  It’s a light and spongy cake that isn’t too sweet and is oh-so-good.  I replaced coconut milk with regular milk because I wanted a more tropical flavor.  It’s subtle, but it definitely enhances the cake.  I also made this a gluten-free strawberry cake because I am baking this for two lovely people that have been buying gluten-free baked goods from me for a few years.

Actually, if you use the right blend gluten-free cakes can sometimes be better because gluten-free flours don’t have the proteins that wheat flour has, resulting in a cake that is light and airy.

For this cake, and many other gluten-free baked goods, I use Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Baking Flour because it has a clean flavor and great texture for cakes.  By all means, if you want to make this cake with regular flour, this recipe works perfectly with cake flour.  Cake flour will lend a lighter texture than all purpose flour.

strawberry cake batter

Instead of creaming the butter and sugar together in the beginning, you want to add softened butter after you mix the dry ingredients.  This process is called “sanding” because the batter will have a sandy texture when the butter is incorporated.  Sanding gives a tender crumb to cakes.

strawberry cake batter 1

Then you add the wet ingredients until combined.  It’s ok if you have tiny little chunks of butter throughout the batter, as they melt when baked.

strawberry cake in cake pans

Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and cut a piece of parchment paper in a circle so that it fits the bottom of the pan.  Butter the top of the parchment paper too.  I always use parchment because cakes can easily stick to the pan, so it’s extra insurance they will pop right out when baked.

strawberry cakes cooling



Most strawberry cakes I’ve eaten are so sweet they make my head spin.  American buttercream is a base of butter and lots and lots and lots of powdered sugar.  Although you might not realize it, a plain vanilla buttercream for an average sized cake can have anywhere from 4-6 cups of powdered sugar!  When you add liquid to flavor it (in this case we are using strawberry puree), you sometimes have to add even more.

When you add liquid to flavor it (in this case we are using strawberry puree), you sometimes have to add even more powdered sugar to stabilize the buttercream.  This is why I always make Italian meringue buttercream, which is a mixture of meringue, lots of butter, and a little bit of sugar.

I actually like fusing American buttercream and Italian Meringue buttercream by adding a bit of powdered sugar at the end to sweeten it up a bit more and to help to stabilize it.

It starts with a base of egg whites and a simple syrup of sugar and water.  While whipping the egg whites, you simmer the sugar and water until it reaches 244 degrees.  Turn down the mixer to low, then slowly pour in the simple syrup in between the beater and the bowl so it doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl.

Once it’s all incorporated, turn the mixer back to medium-high speed and whip until the bottom of the outside of the bowl is cool to the touch, about 10-15 minutes.  You will have a nice sturdy meringue at this point that looks like the photo below.  I like using this thermometer because you can keep it in the liquid the entire time it’s simmering and it can also be placed inside meat while baking or roasting with the oven door closed so you keep an eye on the temperature as it cooks.

italian meringue


When the meringue is done, whip in softened butter.  The buttercream will collapse at this point and almost look curdled, which might make you very sad.

Don’t worry, this is completely normal, so don’t throw the buttercream in the trash!!  Just keep whipping and it will come back together in a couple of minutes.  When it comes back together, add the strawberry puree, and the powdered sugar.

strawberry meringue buttercream

Now we are ready to start frosting the cake.  For this cake, I was short on time and didn’t level it out first.  Since I was adding lots of strawberries to the top of the cake, I wasn’t worried about it looking lopsided.  If you wish to level the cake first, use a serrated knife to trim the top layer and the sides if necessary.  Make sure to add some buttercream in between the layers first.  Once it’s leveled, wipe off the crumbs, and add a crumb coat, which is a thin layer of buttercream all around the top and the sides to seal in the crumbs.  Place the cake back in the fridge for about 30 minutes to set the buttercream.

Again, I skipped the crumb coating myself because of time constraints and went straight to frosting the whole cake all at once.  I knew this was going to be rustic- looking cake and perfection wasn’t something I was looking for.  But if you really want your cake to look clean, then leveling it and adding a crumb coat is a good way to go.  Using a turntable is a much better way to frost and level cakes.  In the photo below, I placed my round marble top on of the turntable since that is what I used to serve the cake on and I didn’t want to have to transfer it again.  Here is a link for the turntable that I have here.   At under $12.00, it’s a bargain and works great.

strawberry cake layered

strawberry cake crumb coating


As you can see below, I didn’t spend much time making the buttercream perfectly smooth, and I’m totally ok with that.  To finish decorating the cake, I piped little flowers with the Wilton rose tip.   I piped them in a disposable piping bag by simply squeezing and releasing straight up.  It’s about as simple as you can get for piping flowers.  I piped two rows around the cake to ensure that it would hold the strawberry sauce without leaking down the sides of the cake.

I used the remaining strawberry puree and made it into a sauce by simmering it with a little bit of cornstarch and sugar to help thicken it.  Make sure your sauce has been chilled before pouring over the cake!  You don’t want hot or even warm sauce to melt the buttercream.  The sauce and flowers really add a nice touch to the top of the cake and hide any imperfections.

To decorate the bottom of the cake, I added toasted coconut chips instead of piping more flowers.  I think it gives the cake some charm and texture and is perfect for all you folks out there that aren’t expert buttercream pipers like me.

strawberry cake with buttercream


Even though my cake wasn’t perfectly level and my piping wasn’t perfect, the sauce (plus the extra strawberries that go on top) really hide it well.

strawberry cake with strawberry sauce


strawberry cake with strawberry sauce 1

I think the fresh strawberries on top add another dimension of height and color, and really taste great to drive home that real strawberry flavor.  I would encourage you to buy extra strawberries for decorating!

strawberry cake strawberry buttercream

strawberry cake strawberry buttercream 1

strawberry cake starwberry buttercream overhead

As long as you haven’t cut into the cake, you can keep it refrigerated for 24 hours.  Any more and I would freeze it to keep it fresh.  Also, once you have cut into the cake, you can freeze extra slices for later.  As with most cakes, let it sit and room temp for 15-30 minutes before serving, as the cake will have a better texture.

strawberry cake strawberry buttercream sliced

strawberry cake sliced 1

strawberry cake sliced 2

strawberry cake sliced 3

bon appetit ya'll signature







Learn how to make a strawberry cake filled with no artificial ingredients and all natural strawberry flavor. Take your cake to the next level with a not-too-sweet buttercream and easy decorating tips!
Course Cake
Prep Time 2 hours 45 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 3 hours 10 minutes
Servings 8


For the Strawberry Puree

  • 4 1/2 cups strawberries fresh or frozen 24 oz.
  • 2 tsp . sugar

For the Cake

  • 2 1/4 cups Gluten Free Flour with xanthum gum added I like Bob's Red Mill 1 to 1 Baking Flour
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp . vanilla
  • 4 tsp . baking powder
  • 1 tsp . salt
  • 12 Tbsp . butter softened to room temp.

For the Buttercream

  • 8 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp . water
  • 4 pound sticks butter 1 or 453 grams
  • 1/4 cup macerated strawberries leftover from strawberry puree
  • 2-3 cups powdered sugar sifted (depending on how sweet you like it)

For the Strawberry Sauce Topping

  • Remaining strawberry puree leftover from the cake and buttercream
  • 2 tsp . sugar
  • 1 tsp . cornstarch

For Decoration

  • cup Toasted coconut chips about 1/2-3/4
  • cup About 1 of fresh strawberries
  • Recipe Adapted from Cook's Illustrated


For the Strawberry Puree

  1. Place strawberries in a colander and sprinkle 2 tsp. sugar over them. Place the colander in another bowl to catch the drips. Macerate for about two hours until the strawberries have sweetened. Stir occasionally.
  2. Puree the strawberries in a blender or food processor and set aside.

For the Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl or standing mixer.
  3. Add in the 12 Tbsp. softened butter and mix until the mixture resembles course sand.
  4. Combine the coconut milk, 3/4 cup of the strawberry puree, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the batter.
  5. Add in the whites and mix until incorporated.
  6. Butter two 9-inch cake pans and cut out a piece of parchment paper to the bottom of each one. Butter the top of the parchment paper too.
  7. Add equal amounts of the cake batter into the pans.
  8. Bake for about 22-25 minutes or until the cake just springs back to the touch and the edges of the cake are separating from the pan.
  9. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool, about 20-30 minutes.
  10. Skim a knife around the edges of the cake to release if from the pan. Invert the cakes on a rack to finish cooling.

For the Buttercream

  1. Whip 8 egg whites in a standing mixer with the whisk attachment over medium speed.
  2. Mix the sugar and water together in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Insert a thermometer into the sugar and water mixture and let it reach 244 degrees. Remove it from the heat and turn the mixer down to low. Slowly pour in the simple syrup in between the whisk and the side of the bowl so it doesn't stick to the bowl.
  3. Increase the speed to medium high speed and whip until the bottom of the outside of the bowl is cool to the touch, about 10-15 minutes.
  4. Now add in the 4 sticks of butter (in chunks) until they are incorporated. The mixture will deflate and almost curdle, but DON'T WORRY, this is normal. Just keep whipping until it comes back together.
  5. Add in 1/4 cup strawberry puree.
  6. Add 2-3 cups of powdered sugar on low speed, depending on how sweet you want it.

For the Strawberry Sauce

  1. Add the remaining strawberry puree to a small saucepan with 1 tsp. cornstarch and 2 tsp. sugar. Simmer for 3-4 minutes or until it starts to thicken. Let cool and place in a bowl and refrigerate.

Decorate the Cake

  1. Place one of the cakes on a turntable and cover with buttercream. Place the other cake on top and check for unevenness. You may choose to level the cake. Add a crumb coat to the cake by frosting a thin layer all around it. This will seal in the crumbs. Place in the fridge for about 30 minutes to set the frosting. It doesn't need to be covered.
  2. Now frost the cake with buttercream and smooth the edges as much as possible. Using a bench scraper is helpful.
  3. Take a piping bag and place a Wilton rose tip (or whatever decorating tip you like) inside. Cut the tip of the bag and place more buttercream inside.
  4. Pipe two rows of flowers all the way around the top of the cake.
  5. Fill the center of the flowers with the strawberry sauce.
  6. Coat the base of the cake in toasted coconut chips and top with fresh strawberries.
  7. Keep the cake covered in the fridge until ready to serve. Let the cake sit at room temperature for about 15-30 minutes before serving. The cake will soften and have a better texture.
gluten free strawberry cake pinterest

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  1. Linda says:

    I made the Dreamy Gluten Free Strawberry Cake. It was good, but very dense. Can you please tell me if I was suppose to beat the egg whites and fold them into the cake? Is that where I might have gone wrong?

    • Thank you Linda for commenting! It is not required to whip the egg whites first. The density might have been impacted by the gluten free flour blend you used. May I ask which brand and what kind of flours were in the blend you used? My favorites are Bob’s Red 1 to 1 Baking Flour, and King Arthur Flour’s Gluten Free multi-purpose flour blend for cakes. Different gluten free flours impact baked goods depending on what type they are. They all absorb different amounts of liquid and can sometimes weigh your baked goods down. Let’s see if we can figure out what happened!

    • Hello again Linda. I just wanted to follow up with you about the cake. Again, I’m not sure what kind of gluten free flour blend you used, but in case you used the same that I did, I was troubleshooting yesterday to see if I could figure out what might have happened. I decided to make the recipe again just to make sure the recipe was correct (mistakes can definitely happen on my end). Although I had made the recipe several times without whipping the egg whites, I decided to test two batches side-by-side to see which had the lightest texture. I made one recipe the same way, and another batch where I whipped the egg whites. The batch with the whipped eggs whites did rise about 1/4 inch higher than the batch without the whipped egg whites, so that was a nice improvement. However, the original batch still came out with a nice tender crumb and wasn’t dense, so I know the measurements were correct. I thought about possible scenarios that might have contributed to the density other than the gluten free flour.

      1) Is it possible that the way the recipe was written was confusing? By this I mean, did you happen to add the entire 24 ounces of strawberry puree to the batter instead of 3/4 cup? In the recipe instructions I have written to add 3/4 cup of the puree to the batter and reserve the rest for topping the cake.

      2) I also wonder if the weight of the buttercream and the strawberry puree on top (with extra strawberries if you added more) might have weighed the cake down some? Perhaps if the cake was under baked by a couple of minutes, it might have collapsed somewhat in the center, weighing the cake down.

      I’m just troubleshooting to see if any of these things might have been an issue. Thank you again for commenting and taking the time to make this cake. It gave me the opportunity to bake it again and see if there were any changes it needed. I’m keeping all the measurements the same, but adding to whip the egg whites first and fold in in to the batter. Thank you for helping me to improve the recipe, it’s readers like yourself that help to improve this site!

  2. Linda says:

    Hi Leslie, First, thanks so much for your quick response. And second, I’m totally impressed by you…making 2 more cakes to tweek the recipe. That’s so sweet (pun intended)! Let me fess up to the gluten free flour I used. Have you heard of “Cup4Cup” flour? It’s expensive, so Nicole Hunn came up with a better than “cup4cup” flour blend (glutenfreeonashoestring.com). Long story short: I think it was the flour that made the cake too dense. Here’s the recipe for the flour blend:

    Cup4Cup All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Blend
    Ingredients (note: all ingredients should be certified gluten free)
    180 grams superfine white rice flour
    145 grams cornstarch
    85 grams tapioca starch/flour
    80 grams superfine brown rice flour
    60 grams nonfat dry milk
    20 grams potato starch
    10 grams xanthan gum
    In a blender or food processor, grind the nonfat dry milk into a fine powder.
    Place all ingredients in a large bowl, and whisk to combine [i]well[/i].
    Store in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to use.
    The recipe can be halved or used in multiples easily. Just be sure to whisk fully in a large enough container.
    It makes a total of 580 grams, which is 20 grams more than 4 cups.
    Thanks, again, for all your help. I’ll try the recipe using the flour you suggested. Linda

    • Hi Linda!
      Yes I have absolutely heard of Cup4Cup flour. The company is owned by Thomas Kellar, one of the best chef’s in America. One of his chef’s created the blend and they started the company a few years ago. And yes, it’s VERY expensive! Your blend actually looks pretty good, however one of the drawbacks of Cup4Cup is the large amount of cornstarch in the blend, which can lend an overly starchy texture to baked goods. I have read GF blogs in the past where they baked a basic vanilla cake side-by-side with C4C and other blends, and the blind taste test revealed a starchy texture with the C4C flour. Plus, other blends used resulted in a higher rising cake. Also, the addition of the nonfat dry milk powder might have added too much excess moisture. Generally, gluten free baked goods require a larger amount of moisture because they absorb higher amounts of liquid, making GF baked goods drier (I assume that’s why dry milk powder is added to C4C). In my recipe, the coconut milk used seemed to have added just the right amount of liquid in combination with either Bob’s Red Mill 1-1 Baking Flour or King Arthur Flour’s Gluten Free Multi Purpose flour. It just goes to show you that there really is no perfect GF flour blend for ALL recipes. Definitely don’t throw away your blend, but maybe try with other muffin recipes or cake recipes to see if you have the same issues. I have made sooooo many gluten free flour blends over the past few years, but I stopped making them once I found the two blends I just mentioned because it was so much more convenient. These are great notes to add to the recipe, so thank you for sharing your blend! I’ll be sure to be more specific about what blends I use and recommend.

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