The creation of a birthday cake: a glimpse into my mind…
(The cake is vegan. The frosting is not)
So yesterday was my mom’s birthday. I wanted to make a cake for her, but was a little nervous about it. Considering the list of food allergies, baking can be a bit… ahem… challenging. After all, once you take the flour, eggs and sugar out of a cake, what’s left? But I really wanted to make a special treat for her, and I am trying to get my nerve up to really get back into baking because it used to be such a source of stress relief for me.
So I thought about the allergens and put them into 2 categories. The primary allergens are things that, if eaten, will really impact our ability to function in daily life. The secondary allergens are things that have milder consequences- still uncomfortable, but not necessarily painful.
The primary allergens that needed to be considered were:
gluten (that means wheat, barley, rye, malt, and any number of other gluten-containing flours and baking products)
almost all nuts and seeds, as well as their flours
The secondary allergens to avoid, if at all possible, were:
I happened to have a few pounds of hazelnuts in my freezer, left over from a project I made a while back. Thankfully, hazelnuts are one of the only nuts that everyone in the house can eat, so I decided to toast and grind them up to use as a nut flour for the base. So what else can go in there? The flavor of sweet potato would go nicely with the toasted hazelnut, as well as provide some nice bulk and moisture to the batter. Non-gluten grain and bean flours can have a strong flavor and are unlikely to yield the soft, moist cake I wanted, but we definitely need some sort of binder in there. Okay, so we’ll use just enough rice flour (bland flavored) to really bring it all together. Now, what about sweetener??? Mom and the hubby both love the flavor combo of maple and sweet potato, so we’ll try using some good quality maple syrup.
As I went along, I added a few other things, as well, but that’s a glimpse into the thought process that brought this recipe to you. The result is a wonderfully moist and flavorful cake that was deemed a winner by everyone who tried it. I’ll be making it again next week, but as muffins instead of a cake, for a baby shower next week.
This is the recipe:
preferably a decent mixer with a paddle attachment, or strong arms and a wooden spoon
a dish towel (preferably one with some texture)
a food chopper to grind up the nuts and seeds
pan for roasting nuts
pan for baking
*parchment to line the baking pan
4 large sweet potatoes, cooked and peeled (I’m guessing it’s about 6 cups worth)
note- butternut squash or pumpkin would probably work really nicely, too
3 cups hazelnuts (pecans or almonds would probably work nicely here, too, if you’re not allergic to them)
1 c pumpkin seeds, raw, unsalted & without shells
1 c rice flour
1/2 c maple syrup
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons baking soda (not powder)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
Toast the hazelnuts over medium heat. I used my gi-normous, heavy-duty,13-inch frying pan. As the nuts toasted, I peeled my steam-roasted sweet potatoes. Peel a couple of sweet potato chunks, toss the nuts around the pan (or be smart and cautious and give them a good flip-and-turn type stir using the cooking implement of your choice), peel a couple of chunks, toss/stir the nuts, and so on. Once the sweet potatoes were all peeled, I added the pumpkin seeds to the pan with the hazelnuts, gave the pan a good shake to toss the nuts and seeds together, then went and did a quick clean up of the sweet potato mess. By the time my hands were clean, the skins were scooped into the compost pail and the steam-roasting pan was soaking with hot, soapy water, the nuts and seeds were done toasting, so I turned the heat off and gave them another toss around the pan.
As the nuts are cooling a bit, put everything else, except the lemon juice, baking soda and salt into the mixing bowl. Give it a quick mix, just to mash it up and start getting things blended. Turn oven on to pre-heat to 325F.
When the nuts have cooled down to the point they’re comfortable to touch, pull out the hazelnuts. Working in small batches, give them a quick rub with a dish towel, to remove any excess skin/hull bits, then put them in the chopper, grind them up and add them to the mixing bowl. Getting all of the skin off of the hazelnuts is an exercise in futility. You just want to rub the loose bits off, because those loose bits can give a bitter edge to the flavor of your cake. As far as the grind of the nuts goes, it’s a matter of personal preference. I went with a fairly coarse grind, because I wanted to be able to see some little nutty bits in the cake. You can grind them fairly fine, if you prefer, though. Also grind up and add the pumpkin seeds.
Mix to combine everything.
While the mixer is on at maybe medium speed, add the baking soda & salt. Once that’s been incorporated, add the lemon juice.
Line the bottom of your baking pan with parchment, then dump in the batter and spread it out to the sides of the pan. This cake didn’t really rise much for me, so if the pan’s a bit full, it should be okay.
I baked this cake in the same pan I used to toast the nuts. It’s got an approximately 13-inch diameter and the batter was maybe 1 inch deep. It took about 55 minutes to bake all the way through.
To check for done-ness, insert a toothpick or fine wood skewer into the center. It should come out dry and fairly crumb-free.
Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes, then invert to remove from pan. Peel away parchment and allow to cool completely before adding icing.
1) This was not very sweet, so next time I will probably add a full cup of maple syrup; for muffins, I would leave it at a half cup.
2) I think the flavor would have greatly benefited from about 1/4 teaspoon allspice.
3) Next time I will consider doing some add-ins, such as shredded carrots, raisins, etc.
4) It would have looked much prettier if I’d coated the sides in crushed hazelnuts.
The Frosting (not vegan, unless you substitute)
1 stick salted butter
2 blocks of regular cream cheese (or cream cheese substitute)
1 cup maple sugar
Bring butter and cream cheese to room temperature. They must be soft to whip up properly. Whip butter and cream cheese on medium high to high (stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl periodically) until light and fluffy, and the volume increases by around 50%. (This takes 1-2 minutes with my mixer.) With the mixer still on medium high, sprinkle in the maple sugar. Continue mixing until the maple sugar has dissolved into the butter & cream cheese.
If you’re going to do anything fancy beyond slathering a plain layer of frosting on the cake top and sides, or if you’re doing cupcakes or muffins, I’d recommend making a double batch of frosting. If you plan to pipe on any fancy decorations with a pastry tube and tips, stick half of the frosting in the fridge for 30 minutes or so to let it firm up a bit.