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Gluten free Thomas the Tank Engine cake

A few weeks ago my daughter asked me to make a Thomas the Tank Engine cake for her toddler’s second birthday. She knows how I love doing birthday cakes. I thought I would browse YouTube to get some ideas. I didn’t ask her to send me the usual email reminder – after all how could I forget something like that? Between her house and mine my 70-year-old memory went AWOL and I didn’t make a note in my Outlook. I was really busy for a few days and then I totally forgot all about it. I don’t know what to do about this sort of thing. Just jump off a bridge now? Eat more Brazil nuts?

The party was on a Saturday. The day before she said, ‘It’s a gluten free cake, isn’t it? So everyone can eat it?’ I nearly said, ‘What cake?’ and then it all came flooding back while I froze in terror. Luckily the shops were still open.

By the time I got back to my kitchen it was 7:00pm. I watched several tutorials on YouTube. One was particularly detailed and had a downloadable template with all the fondant icing bits measured out. There’s an old saying, ‘Never let a machine know you’re in a hurry’. The template wouldn’t print. The screen said, ‘The printer has an error.’ Yes. And? And what am I supposed to do about it at 8:00pm on Friday evening?

So I launched into Plan B, AKA ‘just wing it’. (I must say I don’t understand the enduring attraction of Thomas the Tank Engine. Big eyes, smiley faces, bright primary colours, but such sinister undertones in the Fat Controller.) I made the Buttermilk Birthday Cake, straight out of Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’ but with gluten free flour and unrefined Rapadura (Panela) sugar. No idea whether it was going to work. It did!

The fiddly time-consuming fondant pieces needed to dry out overnight (ignore the ‘do this several days in advance’ advice). So – 6 wheels with spokes, all the lettering… AND the Thomas face. I had no idea how to do this. At 11:00pm in a kitchen in London, England, I was saved by a talented lady in Australia somewhere. Bless you Ann Reardon! Your Thomas face tutorial was perfect.

I  got up at 4:00am on Saturday and finished everything. There were a couple of black bits at the front of the train in the pictures I copied. Mine looked more like Thomas with Dreadlocks. I stuck some yellow stars on and it looked a bit better. The party was at 3:00pm. The father of the birthday boy popped by and collected the (drying) cake at noon. All calm on the birthday cake front.

For the cake (I doubled this recipe)

250g self rising gluten free flour

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

¼ tsp salt

200ml buttermilk

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

125g soft unsalted butter

200g caster sugar or Rapadura (Panela)

3 eggs

Preheat oven to 180ºC/350ºF. Line and grease 2 23cm square cake tins.

Sift flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a medium bowl.

Measure the buttermilk into a jug and stir in the vanilla extract.

Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Add about a third of the flour mixture, then half the buttermilk, then repeat, blending well after each addition, finishing with the last of the flour.

Bake for about 40 minutes and test for doneness. A digital thermapen should read about 95ºC when inserted into the middle of the cake, or use a toothpick. Leave to rest before unmoulding.



  1. At first, second and third passes through the gluten free tag, I thought you were cutting a truck. Now I’m reading and I totally get it. So convincing from afar. You’re a master of your craft. I love those yellow stars. xo


  2. Pingback: Vegan gluten free chocolate cake | Three Oranges

  3. Pingback: Gluten free Thomas the Tank Engine cake | Steve the Magic Conductor

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