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February 20, 2013

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All-Natural Sugar-Free First Birthday Cake

All-natural birthday cake
All-natural birthday cake
These days some parents spend an obscene amount of money to celebrate their child's first birthday party. But how many would be willing to make this kind of effort to ensure that their child's first birthday cake is special. Read this recipe sent across by Josceline to know what I mean. Josceline has titled this piece, "1st birthday cake – a labor of love." Give it a read and you'll agree, it was indeed a labor of love. Josceline has penned down her experience of making this cake beautifully. So I’ve just copy-pasted what she's written.

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
So Em's cake had to be sugar-free, all-natural, and without flour-eggs-milk. It also had to look presentable and be personal to Em – she loves her toy puzzles and animals, and the cake was designed to reflect that. Designing was the easier part. The recipe trials were another story altogether. (We could've ordered it from a vegan cake shop – the local ones had some really cool stuff, but the stingy me preferred to spend all that bakery cash on Em's gifts instead.)

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:

Steps:
  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. After that, we drained and blitzed the apples in a blender until smooth.
The whole process took 30 minutes – with two tired adults working on it at 10pm. In hindsight, I should've cored and baked the apples for 55 minutes in a preheated oven of 350F, and then peeled and blended – there would've been less water and less melting and less grief when I frosted.

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)

Ingredients:
  • 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
Steps:
  1. Mash bananas.
  2. Sift dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon.
  3. Mix wet ingredients: banana, applesauce, vanilla.
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until just incorporated.
  5. Coat two 9x13 inch pans (or two 8 or 9 inch round pans) with oil/butter/flour.
  6. Divide batter equally and spread evenly into the bottoms of both pans
  7. Bake in a pre-heated 400F oven for 20 minutes.
  8. Cool, and remove from pans.
For the Baked Banana Custard filling:

Ingredients:
  • 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.)
Steps:
  1. Puree all ingredients in a blender
  2. Grease a 9x13 inch pan (or and 8 or 9 inch round pan) with oil or butter.
  3. Pour and spread puree evenly into the pan.
  4. 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.
  5. Cool to room temperature.
  6. Cover the pan in foil or cling-film and refrigerate till cold.
Assembling and Frosting the cake:

(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.)

Steps:
  1. Place the first (bottom) cake layer gently on your cake dish, or cake board.
  2. Gently tap the custard out of the pan and onto the cake layer.
  3. Gently place the 2nd (top) cake layer on the custard. We almost squished the custard – so be nice.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
Decorations:
  1. 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:
  2. The flowers were gum-paste – ready in advance
  3. The baby and the animals were cake decorations bought from the store
  4. The "Happy Birthday Emily" message was written using frosting tubes (that look like little water-color tubes) on store-bought colored milk chocolate discs.

11 comments:

  1. Its just superb .. i have been giving my baby foods w/o sugar , her first bday cake could also be sugarfree, what more can I ask for ? Will surely try 2 make this cake ..Thanks alot for sharing this recipe ...

    Sangeetha Menon
    www.bumpsnbaby.com

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  2. Thanks Sangeetha...I have to thank Josceline for this recipe who not only painstaking made this healthy cake but also shared the recipe with me...btw visited your blog...you have a lot of interesting posts...I'll be viewing them over time for sure :)

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  3. Thanks a lot for this receipe, it is great! I was looking for a lng time for a suitable birthday cake for my daughter (1 coming Friday) and this is exactly what I wanted.

    In fact I have already tried it for my daughter and I have a few questions, i really hope you have some time to answer them. Here they are:
    1) regarding the osting: tried both steeming and baking the apples and, although they look much drier from the oven, the frosting still stays soft. How tough did it come out for you and what to do to get it better?

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  4. ... and the second one: regarding the custard, although keeping it in the oven for half an hour and subsequently in the fridge for a few hours, it still did not get the creme brulee - like consistency. What am I doing wrongly, am I expecting too much?

    Oh, and maybe a small question, is it possible to also use other fruits ( peaches or melon ...)?

    Sorry to ask so much, I am not so experienced in the kitchen, as you might have noticed already:) But I really want m little gil to enjoy a nice healthy cake on her birthday!

    Thanks a lot in advance!

    Ioana

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  5. Hi Ioana...even I'm not experienced when it comes to baking :) I forwarded your queries to Josceline the guest author of this recipe and she was really sweet to answer them promptly.

    So here's what she said:

    "answer 1: the frosting stays soft - I had this problem too. So I did what I normally do when I want a nice stiff buttercream frosting:
    1) I let the applesauce cool to room temperature (assembled cake is already cool), and then applied a thin layer to all sides of the cake - top and sides. And placed this in the fridge to cool. Also placed the frosting in the fridge to thicken and cool.
    2) then applied the slightly less soft applesauce to the cake. It's still soft, and if you use colors on the cake they'll run. but it's a bit more stable.
    3) refrigerate the cake again (I did overnight) and then add the decorations before party-time. When I added the decorations the previous night they had slid off and I was so upset. So I did a gentle touchup before Em's party."

    "answer 2: that custard drove me mad too. The first time during trials, it was nice and firm and almost jelly-like. Then during the final birthday cake baking it wouldn't set. So I plunged it into the freezer for a couple of hours.
    The custard depends a lot on the ingredients and the oven temperature. I'd say the best way is to experiment with small quantities till you get what works best for your oven. I would use a little more banana and sneak in some steamed rice flour to get it to thicken if it's runny even after following the recipe."

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  6. Thank you sooooooooo much Josceline...you're an angel :D

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  7. Oops I forgot to paste the 3rd part:

    "Also the question about peaches or melons - I'm guessing that's for the decoration? The more fruits for decoration the better.
    If it's for frosting, peaches may work - give it a try. Melons have too much water content so they probably won't work. Althoug, if she slices the melon nice and thin in the cake shape and places it atop the cake, she'll get a nice glossy frosting of melon slices - that sounds like something that would look really cool - I'd love to see a pic of something like that."

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  8. @Ioana: Like Josceline said pls do share a pic of the cake...we'd really love to see it...you can send it on my Facebook page :)

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  9. Thanks a LOOOT for your fast answers, I will get back to work this evening:))
    If it gets out ok, I will send you a picture:)

    I was asking about alternatives for frosting / custard, I will try it with peaches ... anyway, I am glad to know that the frosting should not get completely tough, I was really thinking I am doing something wrong here ...

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  10. Hey no problem at all, Mukta. We enjoy your recipes so much, it's the least I could do in return :)

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  11. Hi Mukta and Josceline,

    Thanks again a lot for the receipe, I made it last week and it came out ok-ish for the photo session:D It was, however, extremely soft, both the custard and the icing, and indeed the decorations move with the apple or even, in my case, get disolved in it during the two hours elapsed between decorating and serving it:D
    I did not find such nice decorations as yours, here the options are limited (or let's say, they are limited for such unconventional cake:D). I put watermelon on the sides, did not have the courage to place it on top, seeing how fragile the apple is:D I sent you already a picture on Facebook.

    Daria, my 1 year-old daughter, loved it, she had a whole half cake only for her (the other half we served to the other kids): she had more than half an hour to enjoy it and, to our dissapointment, she only prefered the lady-like approach, with the little fork. Oh, well...

    Anyway, we are grateful that we found such nice idea! Thanks and I will certainly continue to follow your blog!

    All the best,
    Ioana

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