My son is turning four in a couple of days; this is the first birthday that he is actually really into—he's been counting down the months, weeks and days. So, it was a while back that he decided that he wanted a "green dinosaur cake." I am not a cake decorator by any stretch of the imagination; I set to work on finding an easy way to make this special treat happen.
What wasn't for me was the Betty Crocker cake mix and frosting (both full of partially hydrogenated oils and other junk) and the artificial food coloring. So, I knew I had to make some changes.
I adapted my cake recipe from the "Best Chocolate Sheet Cake Ever" and (as is my way) changed it to make it a bit more nutritious. Now, this ain't health food. But it does follow one of my favorite directives from Michael Pollan's Food Rules: Make your own junk food. When you make your own, you control the quality and quantity of the ingredients. For me, that means using organic ingredients, replacing white flour with whole wheat pastry flour, and significantly cutting the amount of flour and sugar. You can easily make these same changes with whatever cake recipe you use.
yield: two 9"-round cakes
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 cup almond flour*
- 1 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 4 heaping Tablespoons cocoa (I used raw cacao powder because that's what I have)
- 2 sticks (salted) butter
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla
You can find all the recipe instructions at Pioneer Woman's site. My 9-inch rounds took about 25 minutes to bake. Once the cakes cooled completely, I wrapped them in plastic wrap and then in aluminum foil and froze them. This meant that (1)I could make them ahead of time and (2)it was easier to cut out the dino body parts. I assembled them on a big cutting board.
I wasn't quite sure what to do about frosting. I'm not a big fan of frosting—I prefer baked goods without it (like pound cakes, brownies, coffee cakes). I like whipped cream, but that's not good for an outdoor party on a hot day; none of us particularly like buttercreams.
So, I tried this flour-based frosting recipe. Sounds kinda gross, right? But it's actually like a sweet bechamel; I figured I could get down with that. I didn't alter the recipe too much because I was nervous about affecting the texture, but I did make a couple of minor changes:
- I used a bit less sugar, more like 3/4 cup
- After making it, I found the butter flavor too heavy, so I wanted to cut it with something tangy; I whipped two tablespoons of softened cream cheese into it and it came out really delicious.
Then it was time to color the frosting. I have zero experience with this. My mom never used food coloring in anything and neither do I. Even as a kid at a friend's birthday party, I never chose the cupcake with colored frosting—I always felt that I could taste the food coloring and it always tasted nasty to me. And, of course, artificial food dyes may pose risks, including hyperactivity, cancer, and allergic reactions. But I did buy some natural food coloring—pricey, but worth it for my peace of mind—and I tried my best to mix up a green that looked dinosaur-worthy! (A quick note about natural food coloring: the colors are more muted than with artificial dyes, so you can't get super bright colors. I'm okay with that.)
For the chocolate decorations on top, I chose my standard semi-sweet chocolate chips for the dino's back and (pointy-side down) for the eyes; dark-chocolate covered raisins for the toes; I melted some organic milk chocolate in my mini-muffin tin and chilled in the fridge to make the big dots; and I bought a pack of Cadbury Buttons for the rest of the dots.
The chocolates candies weren't all the same color, I know. It doesn't look like a professional cake, I know that, too. But this cake was more about showing love than achieving perfection. When my son first saw it, he whispered, "Whoa!"
|Ignore my dishwashing gloves, please. And the forced smile, too.|
This party was for family and neighborhood friends; we'll be having a couple more celebrations with different groups of friends over the next few days. I'll post about some of my other, healthier party treats soon. So stay tuned...
**In other news, we've been nominated for the Top 25 Foodie Moms blog contest at Circle of Moms. If you're a fan of our blog, we would love to have your vote! No need to register—just scroll to "Full Belly Sisters" and click on "vote." You can vote every day (and we will love you extra if you do!). Thanks to all of you who have shown such enthusiastic support for us on this blog, on our Facebook page, and in real life!**