Why do gluten free cakes fall apart?

Gluten free baking can be tricky, especially when it comes to cakes. Gluten free cakes are notorious for being dense, dry, and crumbly. So why do gluten free cakes fall apart, and what can you do to prevent this?

What is gluten and what does it do in baking?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. When flour is mixed with liquid, the gluten forms a stretchy network that gives the batter structure and elasticity. This gluten network is vital for trapping air bubbles and allowing cakes to rise. It also helps bind ingredients together.

In traditional baking, gluten provides:

  • Structure – Gluten forms a strong, elastic network that can support the weight of ingredients like sugar and eggs.
  • Binding – Gluten acts like a glue, holding the ingredients together and preventing crumbling.
  • Chewiness – Gluten provides the characteristic chewy texture in cakes and other baked goods.
  • Rise – As carbon dioxide gas forms during baking, gluten stretches to trap the air bubbles, allowing the cake to rise.

When you remove gluten from the equation by using gluten free flours, you lose all these critical functions in your baked goods. This makes gluten free baking extra challenging.

Why do gluten free cakes fall easily?

There are a few reasons why gluten free cakes tend to fall apart:

Lack of gluten structure

Without gluten, there is nothing to form the strong elastic network required to hold up the weight of the cake. Gluten free flours don’t contain proteins capable of forming gluten. So there is less structure, which leads to a greater likelihood of collapsing.

Dense, heavy crumb

Gluten free cakes tend to have a much denser and heavier crumb than traditional cakes. This dense crumb lacks airiness and is prone to becoming soggy. The extra weight exerts more downward pressure, causing the cake to fall.

Inability to trap air bubbles

As mentioned, gluten stretches to trap air bubbles as cakes bake. Without gluten, there is nothing to stretch and hold in the air as the cake bakes. This leads to greater collapse as air bubbles escape and the cake deflates.

Lack of binding

Gluten acts as a glue to hold ingredients together. In its absence, the ingredients are not bound tightly. As the cake bakes, the weaker structure cannot prevent everything from separating. So the cake is more likely to fall and become crumbly.

Less cohesion and elasticity

Gluten allows dough to stretch and hold its shape as it bakes. Gluten free flours form batters that are less cohesive and elastic. As air bubbles expand in baking, these batters break rather than stretch. This also contributes to the cake falling.

Moisture imbalance

Without gluten, it can be harder to balance moisture levels in gluten free cake batters. Too much moisture leads to a gummy crumb that collapses. Not enough leads to dryness and crumbling. It’s a difficult balance to achieve.

Tips for preventing gluten free cakes from falling

While gluten free cakes are inherently more fragile, there are things you can do to minimize problems:

Use binders

Using ingredients that can mimic some of gluten’s binding properties will help hold the cake together better. Options include:

  • Eggs – The protein in eggs provides structure similar to gluten.
  • Xanthan or guar gum – These add binding and moisture retention.
  • Gelatin – Helps bind and give structure.

Avoid overmixing

Vigorously mixing activates gluten development in wheat flours. But overmixing gluten free flours can quickly make the batter heavy and full of air bubbles that collapse. Gently mix just until combined.

Let batter rest

After mixing, let the batter sit for at least 15 minutes. This allows the flour to fully hydrate and thicken up.

Don’t skip leaveners

Without gluten, you need more leaveners to produce lift and lightness. Use a combination of baking powder and baking soda.

Include xanthan or guar gum

About 1/2 teaspoon of xanthan or guar gum per cup of flour can help improve binding and replicate some of gluten’s elasticity.

Handle gently after baking

Avoid moving or jostling gluten free cakes much while they are hot and delicate. Let them fully cool in the pan before inverting.

Use a light hand with flour

Too much flour can make the batter dry and prone to crumbling. Use the minimum needed to prevent sticking.

Bake at a low temperature

Gluten free cakes do better with a longer baking time at a lower temperature. Try 325°F instead of 350°F.

Don’t overload with heavy ingredients

Dense, heavy ingredients like fruit, nuts, and chocolate make it harder for gluten free cakes to support the weight without collapsing. Use a light hand.

Freeze cake layers after baking

Freezing the cake layers firms them up, making assembly less likely to crumble the cake. Just make sure they are fully cooled first.

Assemble cakes with care

Work slowly and gently when stacking and frosting so you don’t disturb the structure. Use a cardboard round or cake circle underneath for support.

Choose flours carefully

Some gluten free flours hold together better than others. Almond flour, buckwheat flour, and teff flour tend to make sturdier cakes.

Example gluten free cake recipes

Here are some example recipes for resilient gluten free cakes:

Gluten Free Vanilla Cake

Gluten free flour 1 1/2 cups
Sugar 1 cup
Baking powder 1 1/2 teaspoons
Baking soda 1/2 teaspoon
Xanthan gum 1/2 teaspoon
Salt 1/4 teaspoon
Eggs 3 large
Milk 1 cup
Oil 1/3 cup
Vanilla 1 tablespoon


  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease two 8-inch cake pans and line with parchment.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in the milk, oil, and vanilla.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix just until combined. Divide batter evenly between pans.
  5. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely before frosting.

Gluten Free Chocolate Cake

Gluten free flour 1 1/4 cups
Sugar 3/4 cup
Cocoa powder 1/4 cup
Baking soda 1 teaspoon
Baking powder 1 1/2 teaspoons
Xanthan gum 1/2 teaspoon
Salt 1/4 teaspoon
Eggs 2
Yogurt 1/2 cup
Oil 1/4 cup
Vanilla 1 teaspoon


  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease two 8-inch cake pans.
  2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, xanthan gum and salt.
  3. In another bowl, mix the eggs, yogurt, oil and vanilla.
  4. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry just until combined. Divide between pans.
  5. Bake 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  6. Cool completely before assembling the cake.


Gluten free cakes are inherently more delicate and prone to falling and crumbling. But by using binder ingredients, handling the batter gently, allowing it to rest, adding gums, and baking carefully, you can minimize structural issues. Follow recipe guidelines like weighing ingredients and not over-mixing. And use gluten free flours that yield a finer crumb versus gritty, heavy results. With testing and practice, you can make tender, fluffy gluten free cakes that hold together beautifully.

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