Rapunzel: So…Mother…earlier I was saying tomorrow is a really big day, and you didn’t really respond, so I’m just gonna tell you: IT’S MY BIRTHDAY! Tada! Mother Gothel: No no no, can’t be. I distinctly remember, your birthday was last year. Rapunzel: That’s the funny thing about birthdays, they’re kind of an annual thing!
And the funny thing about those annual birthdays…the tradition is to serve cake. For an allergy family, safe cake can be daunting. When Celia was just shy of a year old, we trialed eggs into her diet in preparation for birthday cake. And in less than 3 bites she went into anaphylaxis. She started vomiting, mucous ran from her nose like somebody turned the tap on full force, and she was covered in full-body hives. As I cleaned up the mess, I noticed her lips resembled Angelina Jolie’s pout. Nope, she wasn’t getting a cake with eggs.
I had NO idea how to make a cake without eggs. Thank goodness for the internet. I started googling. I found several options, such as recipes that substituted yogurt for the eggs. I tried the yogurt idea, using soy yogurt (we already knew dairy wasn’t a good thing for her), and I think it took me six cakes to finally get one that didn’t fall apart. (Hint: Line the pan with greased wax paper, move it as little as possible, and ONLY remove the paper when it’s on its serving plate being frosted.) They just didn’t have the ability to stay together. I think regular-style or Greek dairy yogurt would have worked. Cow’s milk yogurts have a lot of protein, compared to alt milk ones, and pulling eggs out of a recipe tends to leave you with a structural deficit. In the end, I made a small cake for her (who cared if it practically smashed itself?) and regular cupcakes for everyone else (the theme was “Ladybug Picnic,” so the cuppie idea was cute). But it wasn’t the same as everyone sharing the birthday cake, and thus began my mission to find a cake that was allergy AND party-guest-friendly.
Today is MY birthday, hence the birthday theme. I’m sharing one of my favorite cakes with you. It’s a mock Black Forest Cake, because I’ve opted to put cherry pie filling between the layers. Yum! You can make it a “plain” cake by just filling the layers with frosting (see below for my go-to recipe). Let’s start with the cake itself, shall we?
One of my favorite layer cakes is called Wacky Cake. Alternatively called “Depression Cake” or “War Cake,” it omits eggs, butter, and milk – all foods that were expensive or rationed during the early/mid-1900s. They’re also three of the “Top Eight,” so that makes it VERY allergy friendly.
Wacky Cake – makes 1 layer or 12 cupcakes
1 1/2 cup flour
3 Tbsp cocoa powder (optional)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp vinegar
5 Tbsp oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup water or strong coffee (see below)
Grease and flour an 8″ square or 9″ round pan. (For cupcakes, line one 12-cupcake muffin tin with paper liners.)
Preheat oven to 350F.
Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients until thoroughly combined.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix JUST until the batter is smooth. Do NOT beat the cake batter, or else you will lose your leavening.
Pour into prepared pan. Bake about 35 minutes for cake, about 20 minutes for cupcakes, or until a tester comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes (cake and cupcakes), then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
Why is coffee an option for the liquid? Because coffee makes chocolate taste more chocolatey, and I’m all for that! (Decaf is totally fine to use, if caffeine is an issue.) To make it extra-rich tasting, add the cocoa powder to the coffee and allow it to sit and “bloom” for 5-10 minutes before mixing the cake.
Don’t like chocolate? I’ll forgive you. You can make other flavors, too.
-Vanilla: Omit the cocoa, and double the vanilla extract.
-Orange: Omit cocoa and vinegar. Substitute orange juice for water.
-Lemon: Omit cocoa. Substitute lemon juice for vinegar, lemon extract for vanilla, and add 1 tbsp lemon zest (zest optional).
-Spice: Omit cocoa. Add 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice.
Now, you’re thinking “ONE LAYER??? That’s a puny cake!” Well, yeah, kind of, so make two layers. Yes, two batches. I know, I know. But here’s the thing. Cooking is an art. Pretty much anything goes. Baking, however, is pure chemistry, and if you try to double this recipe to make two layers, it’s not going to work. By the time you divide the batter among the pans, you can lose your baking soda + vinegar leavening (think “volcano experiment” fizzing out). You CAN double it and pour all the batter into a 9×13 pan, but if you want two layers, make two batches. Baking the pans at the same time is totally OK. Just don’t double the batter.
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking,”So what if it doesn’t have milk or eggs? I’ve got Celiac disease! I still can’t eat it.” Ah, but sure you can. It takes a little adjusting (what doesn’t to make it gluten free?), but it’s still a really easy cake.
-Increase the flour to 1 3/4 cups
-Add 1 1/2 tsp xanthan or guar gum if your flour mix does not already contain a binder
I’ve made it with a purchased all-purpose mix (King Arthur’s, to be exact), with a homemade rice-based blend (premixed blend of equal parts rice flour, tapioca starch, and potato starch), and with a “custom” blend of 1 c. sorghum, 1/2 c. potato starch, and 1/4 c. tapioca starch. The cake you see here in today’s pictures is using the King Arthur blend. I wanted Neal to be able to share!
Gluten free is where you want to stay small, because you don’t have a whole lot of glue for structure in this recipe. Cupcakes or single pan is ok, but don’t try the double-into-a-9×13 pan, unless you are serving it directly from the pan and a little crumbly is OK. (Or you’re making trifle. Cake disasters + pudding = fancy looking dessert and nobody knows it wasn’t *meant* to fall apart into chunks.) I actually prefer to go down to an 8″ round pan.
Ok, so now that you have cake, you need to frost it, right? Yes, you could just dust it with powdered sugar, but really…let’s face facts here. Cake really is nothing more than a polite vehicle for icing consumption. My husband is a buttercream fan. He has yet to meet a buttercream he didn’t like. Whipped cream frosting? No, thank you. He’d rather not have cake. I admit there are some things that a whipped frosting is good for, like strawberry shortcake. But to I have to agree, “Birthday Cake” means thick, creamy, super-sweet frosting. My hubby-approved go-to:
2 c. shortening
2 lbs. powdered sugar
about 1/4 cup vanilla-flavored So Delicious coconut milk
pinch salt (optional)
Beat the shortening and sugar together. Add milk, a tablespoon at a time, until frosting is the consistency that you want (slightly thicker to pipe, slightly thinner to spread).
I use Spectrum Shortening, because it is soy free (we can’t do Crisco, etc.). If you use Spectrum, you may need a little more liquid. For some reason, that shortening is a little “drier” and you need more liquid. If you want to color it, be sure to use paste coloring. The food color drops will make your frosting runny.
To assemble my Black Forest Birthday Cake:
-Level the layers using a large serrated knife, if necessary. Place the bottom layer on your serving plate. (You can tuck pieces of parchment paper under the edges to catch any frosting smears.)
-Place some of the frosting in a pastry, decorating, or zip-top bag. Snip the corner and pipe a line of frosting around the edge. (This will keep your pie filling from oozing out the sides.)
-Drain excess liquid/gel from the pie filling. Pile the cherries in the middle of the cake, and spread them so they don’t quite reach the frosting. (The weight of the top layer will press it the rest of the way.)
-Top with your second layer.
-Frost the outside of your cake.
What’s that? You have a birthday boy who has his heart set on a train. Or a light saber. Or a Lego. No problem. Here’s a recipe that bakes up into mini-loaves (and muffins), perfect for things that have brick-shaped foundations. I created this recipe for Jude’s first birthday. He only had three safe foods (pears, potato, sorghum) and we threw in (doctor approved) trials of palm oil and corn. This is his birthday cake.
Jude’s Birthday Bread
3 medium pears (to equal 1 1/2 cups chopped)
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup shortening, melted
1/3 cup pear juice
1/4 cup water
2 rounded Tbsp Ener-g Egg Replacer
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 cup sorghum flour
2/3 cup potato starch
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 3 mini loaf pans.
Peel and core pears. Pulse in blender/food processor until they have “ground down” into very fine bits, but don’t puree into “baby food” consistency. Measure out 1 1/2 cups of pears and place in mixing bowl. Add sugar and shortening, and mix together thoroughly. Add pear juice and stir well.
In a separate bowl, combine baking soda, baking powder, xanthan gum, and flours. Add pear mixture to the dry goods, and mix well.
In a small cup (I use a coffee mug), combine 1/4 cup water plus egg replacer. Whisk with a fork, and then pour into bread batter. Fold/stir gently until it’s mixed in.
Portion into pans, and bake for 35 minutes. (You can test with a wooden skewer; it should come out clean.) Remove from oven, and let cool in pan for about 10 minutes. (If you remove it too quickly, it may crumble; let it cool for a few so it can “set.” If you prefer a softer crust, you can let it cool to room temperature in the pan; if you prefer a crisper edge, remove after 10 minutes.) Remove from pan and allow to cool.
Jude’s Birthday Frosting
1/2 cup shortening
4 cups (1 lb) confectioner’s sugar
1/4 – 1/2 cup pear juice
pinch salt (optional)
Beat the shortening and sugar together, and add juice a tablespoon at a time until desired consistency. Add salt if desired.
Variation: Use chunky applesauce and apple cider, and add 1 Tbsp. cinnamon to the cake batter OR frosting. This version is also REALLY good baked in . Glaze them by mixing 4 c. powdered sugar with up to 1/3 cup apple cider (add a little at a time until glaze is pourable but not runny) and either pour on top or dunk donuts, or roll them in cinnamon sugar while still warm. Each batch of cake batter will make a dozen or so donuts.
To make a train or Lego brick, make two loaves and one pan of mini-muffins. “Glue” the piece together with frosting, and then insert a toothpick or skewer to help keep them secure.
Now, excuse me as I go eat more cake. I won’t say how old I am, other than I would like to forget that birthdays are kind of an annual thing!