|All-natural birthday cake|
Josceline writes: When we assembled Em's 1-year-old-birthday cake, it didn't turn out perfect the way we hoped it would. The apple-sauce I used as "frosting" kept falling apart and I started to sob that it wasn't working. The husband retorted, "The love we've put into it is working fine enough."
Until I started to write down this recipe, I never realized exactly how much work I'd put into Em's cake for her 1-year old birthday – the reading and "research", planning, trials, and finally executing the cake. Just reading my notes from the little food-spattered legal pad has been exhausting. And looking back at her birthday pictures, I now understand what the husband meant when he said that.
A lot of folks would say, and have said, "Why the big fuss?"
Well, we celebrated Em's 1st birthday far away from our families and close friends, and we wanted to make it up to her. Give her a birthday celebration she'd recognize, feel important at, and thoroughly enjoy. So we started the day offering special prayers at church, with new clothes, and ended with loads of presents. As for the party, well, how many kids can grow up and say, "For my first birthday, I had a lot of cake for lunch." See, we managed to give Em at least one thing special for her birthday, something very unique from her food-crazy parents.
Besides, a month before her 1st birthday, as a mom, I had this to consider:
- All the basic ingredients that go into a cake, i.e., flour, wheat, milk, eggs – Em was unable to digest at the time. She can now comfortably eat all these, thank God! But at the time, we'd tried and failed and didn't want to take chances and get her ill on her birthday.
- Sugar was an absolute no-no: the pediatrician (who looks exactly like my mother does when she's being stern) had sternly warned against it. And as a hopeless sugar-addict married to another one, we're in no hurry to start Em off on the darned stuff! We're actually using her as motivation to cut back on our own sugar consumption. Also, we'd read all these stories on Mommy chat-boards about how kids who'd eaten just a bit of cake on their birthdays had tummy-aches the next day or week or so. Again, being away from country and family, we didn't want to take chances.
- Artificial coloring kills me – literally sends me choking and gasping for air. We didn't want her to have that visual on her birthday for sure!
We finally settled on a Banana Cake stuffed with a Baked Banana Custard, frosted with Apple Sauce. When she saw her cake, Em knew it was all about her in that surprisingly instinctive way that a baby just knows. She waited all well-behaved while we blew the candle, cut the cake, sang the birthday song, and photographed and videotaped the whole thing. Then she waited while we changed her out of her party clothes and into her "special birthday-cake-eating clothes" and bib that we'd laid out in advance. And finally, she waited while we strapped her into her high chair and removed all the off-limit decorations. After that, she launched into her cake – all lady-like at first, and then transformed it into a full-scale attack! Ah! What satisfaction for her Mommy and Dada!
The cake turned out a little dense (not muffin-style airy and fluffy). But it was addictively yum and after Em was done, we had a hard time keeping our big greedy mouths off it.
So here's the recipe – in a home where we don't spend more than 30-45 minutes a day in the kitchen, this was a major exception.
(Substitution cheat-sheet: 1 egg = 1/4 cup applesauce = 1/2 a large yellow banana)
For the Apple Sauce:
- We peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces about 5-6 kilos of apples (Yes, 5-6 kilos – and whatever 2-3 cups was leftover, we all spiced with cinnamon and ate for breakfast, smacking our lips and our spoons).
- Then we dumped them into a large pan; poured in just enough water to cover;and boiled on medium heat until soft (offered no resistance when pierced with a fork).
- After that, we drained and blitzed the apples in a blender until smooth.
Tip: Fuji and Gala apples in our trials gave a white applesauce – which was the color we aimed for. Braeburn, which we finally used because it was on huge discount at the farmer's market, gave the off-white colored applesauce, which you see on the cake.
For the 2 layers of Banana Cake: (makes 2 layers of 9x13 inches)
- 5 large ripe yellow bananas
- 3/4 cup applesauce (1 cup = 240ml)
- 1 tsp baking soda (1 tsp = 5ml)
- 1 1/2 cups sifted brown rice flour (You can also use whole wheat, maida, or white rice flour. We used brown rice as that's what we eat daily.)
- 3 tsp vanilla bean paste (You can also use vanilla extract. We took the time to read bottle labels for ingredients and settled on a non-chemical version – some extracts had a greater percentage of alcohol, sugar, or corn syrup.)
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- Mash bananas.
- Sift dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon.
- Mix wet ingredients: banana, applesauce, vanilla.
- Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until just incorporated.
- Coat two 9x13 inch pans (or two 8 or 9 inch round pans) with oil/butter/flour.
- Divide batter equally and spread evenly into the bottoms of both pans
- Bake in a pre-heated 400F oven for 20 minutes.
- Cool, and remove from pans.
- 3/4 cup applesauce (or 1 1/2 large bananas, or 3 eggs)
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
- 1 cup banana puree (about 2 large yellow bananas)
- 1 1/2 cups rice milk (For rice-milk, blend 1 cup cooked rice + 4 cups boiled/filtered water at high speed for 2-4 minutes.) (If your baby has started happily on dairy, replace with skim (2%) or whole (4%) milk. Or, if she/he has had soy-milk, you can use that too.)
- Puree all ingredients in a blender
- Grease a 9x13 inch pan (or and 8 or 9 inch round pan) with oil or butter.
- Pour and spread puree evenly into the pan.
- Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 25-30 minutes until the custard sets on the sides and jiggles. At 25 minutes, check if done, and if not, wait till 30 minutes.
- Cool to room temperature.
- Cover the pan in foil or cling-film and refrigerate till cold.
(We used apple-sauce. But if your baby's having dairy, then better options to frost would be whipped hung-curd, or cream-cheese, or whipped cream + sour cream in a 4:1 ratio.)
- Place the first (bottom) cake layer gently on your cake dish, or cake board.
- Gently tap the custard out of the pan and onto the cake layer.
- Gently place the 2nd (top) cake layer on the custard. We almost squished the custard – so be nice.
- Carefully dust all crumbs away. Apply a thin layer of applesauce to frost the cake. It won't look attractive at all. Place it in the fridge for 30 minutes. This will allow the frosting to form a nice firm coat. And it becomes easier to frost the pretty layer.
- Liberally frost the cake with applesauce – we had to ensure there were no pretty swirls and it was an even coat, because of the design we have planned.
- The puzzle was made out of cut-fruits: Turmeric-stained Gala applesauce for the base, and the shapes were cut out of kiwis, watermelon, and persimmon. Em was able to eat her puzzle after playing with it. We removed the other decorations before Em was given the cake to eat:
- The flowers were gum-paste – ready in advance
- The baby and the animals were cake decorations bought from the store
- The "Happy Birthday Emily" message was written using frosting tubes (that look like little water-color tubes) on store-bought colored milk chocolate discs.