Refined Sugar and Dye Free First Birthday Cake
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If there’s one thing I love about a kitchen, it isn’t beautiful countertops or hidden gadgets; it’s what a kitchen prodcues. Whether it be fresh brownies or a homemade pasta, I’m all in. Not to mention the community and camaraderie that often envelops the space. All that to say, when it comes to my children’s birthday cakes, I was going to bake them, not buy them. It brings me joy, so I just had to do it, even if I was short on time.
Keep reading for the cake I baked my twins that was free of processed sugar and artificial dyes.
If you had to put my parenting style in a box, you could put me in the kind of crunchy bin. For example, I try to have the twins wear 100% organic cotton items when I can, but I also had a c-section which “interferes” with birth’s “natural” cycle. I also did combo feeding (breast feeding and formula feeding) right off the bat, and did a mix of baby led weaning and purees. Oh and I sometimes fed them myself with a spoon! I only wanted wooden toys with nontoxic paint. But, I have a pediatrician we see regularly. So on and so forth, you get the idea? The whole point in saying that is that I do not follow a straight and narrow path of “this one thing is right”. I gather data, then pick and choose what I want to do and what makes sense based on the needs of me and my family.
Regarding cake and eating, I probably fit more in the crunchy category. But again, don’t put me in a box! Prior to their first birthday, the twins had tried some homemade blueberry muffins I made and some pancakes that Nick made from his sourdough starter. They consumed a little bit of sugar in those type of items, but they hadn’t had it in a straight up dessert. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding refined / added sugar in food and drink before the age of 2. While I love chocolate cake, we won’t be introducing chocolate until 2+ due to both sugar and caffeine content. In addition to refined sugar and chocolate, I (to my knowledge) have never fed them any kind of synthetic food dye or coloring. If you’re unaware of the side effects of additives like red 40 or yellow 5, I’d encourage you look it up so you can form an opinion on it. All of the above informed my decision on what kind of cake to make them for their first birthday.
For their first birthday party in Los Angeles, I made the twins a gluten free (GF) tahini cake that I referenced here. They had another first birthday party in Dallas and for that, I wanted to try something else, specifically cakes with color. I began searching for cake recipes, but none of them sounded that great. I know, I know. It didn’t “sound “great” for a baby who won’t even remember the cake? I get it, but I just wanted it to be good and you can’t fault a mom for that! Sometime before their big day, I finally stumbled upon a recipe that @emmyapproved shared. I actually first found her on TikTok first and that let me to her Instagram page. She’s a health coach based in LA who specializes in pregnancy, postpartum, and baby nutrition. When I read over the recipe I thought “Yes! This is it.” It appeared to be a cake I actually wanted to eat, so I knew it was the one. She posted her recipe here.
Dye Free Colored Frosting?!
While I loved the @emmyapproved cake recipe, I wanted the cakes to be fun, have an easy pop of color, and more so than just a splash of sprinkles. I found this plant based food dye, but it wasn’t going to arrive in time for my to use them for their party. Surely there was something I could do! This is just a side-note, but pre-twin me would have already researched and ordered the dye in time, but the post twin me is really only able to operate a week or so out for most things. I may have the ideas swirling in my head, but between caring for the twins and finishing my own work, parties details and such have me down to the wire.
Around the time I was trying to figure out the frosting debacle, I was making this cherry almond smoothie and added in spinach. The smoothie itself is this beautiful pinky red. Once you add in the spinach, the color becomes a murky, brownish purple. Not the best shade, but it’s so cool how the real and natural colors of fruits and veggies affect things! A lightbulb went off and I thought about adding fruits and/or veggies to the twins’ birthday cake frosting as a way to get some color on them. I wasn’t going to add in spinach (even though you really can’t taste it) for a green, but it made me think of an avocado. Avocados are a beautiful green, don’t really change the flavor, and add a dreamy, creamy texture! I ended up using avocado to naturally color Cyrpus’ frosting. I really wanted to add blueberries to Olive’s frosting, but was looking for more of a pinky red than bluish purple, so I went with some freeze dried strawberries. They grind really fine and make a wonderful flavor. I have experience using them in this Sallys’ Baking Addiction recipe, so I figured they would work out well for me in this case too.
There are so many options for natural food coloring and a lot of them add a good flavor or even little, to no flavor. For fruit, note that you can try mashing, reducing, or even processing freeze dried pieces into a fine grind. Here are some ideas:
Green - avocado, fresh herbs (for example - basil! It pairs really well with a lemon or strawberry flavors. Same with rosemary.)
Pink - strawberries, raspberries, cherries
Purple - blueberries, blackberries
Yellow / Orange - carrots (they actually have a pretty sweet flavor and mash really well when you boil them)
Brown - cocoa (duh), tea, coffee, espresso, even instant espresso powder can give a speckle!
For any of the above, I would start by adding a little and go from there. Note that adding an avocado is going to create more frosting than just using ground up freeze-dried strawberries. I share specifics of what I used below, in the recipe section.
I followed Emmy’s recipe fairly closely, but did make some tweaks. I included them below:
3 6” cake pans (I bought a set of 4, but just used 3 for this)
1 1/2 cup organic all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 egg, room temperature
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
5 TBS (1/3 cup) melted better, cooled
1 TBS nut milk (I used unsweetened almond milk, but you could use any milk honestly)
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 TBS butter, room temperature
Maple Syrup to taste
Optional: fruit for coloring and/or dye free sprinkles (I used these for their last cake, but used this more specialty brand sprinkles for some cookies at their party.)
Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease your pans, then place parchment paper inside. I like to cut circles in my parchment paper and place them inside the cake tin versus just shoving a square in. Grease the top of the parchment paper. I like to grease with butter. Set aside.
Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine all wet ingredients.
Slowly pour about half of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add in the last of the dry ingredients and mix until combined. If you want to include sprinkles in the batter, mix in now.
Divide the batter evenly among the 3 pans.
Place in the oven to bake. Set a time for 25 minutes so you can start checking the cakes and make sure they don’t burn. You’ll probably end up baking them for about 30 minutes, depending on your oven. The cakes are done when you insert a toothpick and it comes out clean. Bananas can be persnickety to bake, but don’t worry! Just keep that in mind, as it won’t necessarily bake the same as other cakes you may have baked.
Once complete, place the cake tins on a cooling rack and let cool completely before removing. It should come out like a dream because of the greased parchment paper!
You can start on the frosting while the cake is baking, cooling, or even make it the day before! Just let it get to room temperature before you start spreading if it was in the fridge for any length of time. Just combine the butter and cream cheese. Add in maple syrup to taste. The reality is that you don’t need much, especially with kids. I’d start with 1 TBS and go from there. Consider anything you might me adding before adding more maple syrup, as fruit will add to the sweetness. You can always add more maple syrup in at the end!
I used about 1 TBS of maple syrup, then added in the food for coloring. For the green frosting, I used half of an avocado, mashed. For the pink frosting, I used half a cup of freeze dried strawberries. I finely ground freeze 1/4 of the mixture and broke the other 1/4 into piece with my hands for more of a chunky look.
Place a dollop of frosting on said cake plate, then lay the first layer down. Spread a layer of frosting. Place the next layer on top, then repeat. I spread very thin layers of frosting in-between, since it was a baby cake and didn’t really matter. If this is for a crowd or an adult, I would use more and therefore double the frosting recipe.
Once all layers are on the plate, frost a crumb coat (a thin layer of frosting) and place the cake in the freezer for 20 minutes. Once complete, frost the final layer and it should spread on smooth and easily, without picking up any cake bits. For the twins’ cakes, I did more of a naked cake look and didn’t use a crumb cake. Do what best fits the occasion!
I hope this helps you! Baking doesn’t have to be hard or include complicated ingredients. You also don’t need a lot of sugar for it to taste good. The banana sweetens the cake just right and the cream cheese is a great addition. The options are basically endless with the fruit / dye combinations. Do whatever your heart desires, just don’t limit this cake to a kid’s birthday party! It’s great for any celebration and for any age. Enjoy!!
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