Autumn is a season of birthdays in my family, including my very own next weekend! Two weeks ago, my nephew, Dylan, had his first birthday. My sister, not wanting to introduce him to processed sweets and junk, asked me to make a cake for him. She wanted, specifically, a cake that looked like Elmo (that was the theme, you see). That's easy enough. But here's the rub- Dylan is allergic to soy. Whenever his mum would eat it and then proceed to breast feed him, his face would break out in red rashes. So I was asked to make a birthday cake without soy product. Eeek! How can you ask a vegan to do such things? Every time I thought of ingredients I could use, I kept coming back to 'Oh, but that has soy in it TOO!'
Not to fear! I then remembered an 'allergy bible' a friend from a previous job passed along to me. This is a collection of typed up recipes that are wheat free, gluten free, egg free, dairy free and yes, soy free. She had used it when her kids were little because they were pretty much allergic to everything.
I fingered through it and found a simple recipe for chocolate cake. Sugar, flour, cocoa, veggie shortening, vanilla extract, white vinegar, salt and baking powder. Let me tell you, it was an extemely yummy chocolate cake and incredibly quick and easy to make.
Now, the frosting! I couldn't use a glaze because my sister wanted it to look like Elmo. That meant thick, colored frosting. After searching online for a non-soy butter based icing, I came up with one idea. Veggie shortening- 100% palm oil. I wasn't sure how it would taste in place of butter. I was a little wary.
So I tried it and guess what? It tastes almost exactly the same! I will admit, it's not as creamy as butter, but it has a very thick and smooth texture that worked just fine.
Now, for the dye. I am against using any chemicals in my food. Luckily, Wholefoods has a brand of food dye in stock that uses plant-based ingredients for color called India Tree. It's a whopping $20! Perhaps that's my most extravagant spend, not the coconut cups. I bought it because I really wanted to make my nephew's first birthday special.
Working with the dye is frustrating. Because the colors come from plants, it's difficult to get the exact shade you want. I used the entire red bottle because the frosting kept looking pink and then almost purple. Eventually I got a maroon-ish color. It took a while to get the yellow and red to come out orange too. The yellow tastes like cumin if you use too much. Not a flavour I want on my cake. The red (derived from beet juice) actually offers a hint of a juicy flavour. The blue, however, has no flavour.
I had Mike, quite the artist, help me design the face. Using a steak knife, he made outlines of the eyes, nose and mouth. We then proceeded to carefully frost and before we knew it, Elmo was staring back at us!
To add a little more to the fun, I baked strawberry cupcakes (using fresh strawberries) and painted them with the yellow and red frostings. Wallah!
Needless to say, Dylan love it! It was his first bite of cake- or anything sweet for that matter, save fruit! He stopped crying and seemed mesmorized by each bite!
The party was cute and fun.
The layout and my cutie nephew, Kenny:
I think I was the most excited about these hats (red eyes kept due to the devilish horn hats):
Oh, by the way, Mike keeps nagging me to point out just who, exactly, he is. Mike is my closest friend and guitarist of Acrasjia and artist man and wonderful person who hangs out at my house all the time and helps me do stuff. I just love him!
For my other newphew's first birthday, just yesterday, it was requested of me to make a Cookie Monster cake. I used the same recipe but this time made the buttercream frosting with soy butter. Again, Mike 'carved' the face and we frosted him together. The blue dye looked a little silver until the oxygen hit it for a while. Then it became a dark blue.
Mike also had the idea of hanging a cookie out of the mouth. So using the delicious recipe from 'The Joy of Vegan Baking', I made up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. A slot was cut into Cookie Monster's mouth where the cookie fit nice and snug. The rest of the batch decorated the frame of his head.
Luckily, I was able to redeem myself from the last cookie disaster. Everyone, kids and adults alike, snatched the cookies and they were gone in the first hour. My oldest nephew, Kenny (who is 3), was the first to grab one. He loves his cookies!
Joey ate the cake up with absolute delite. :)
Here is the close-up of this moist cocoa cake (this one's for you, Kevin):
After having a left over batch of frosting and a couple of cookies that weren't as pretty as the rest, there was only one thing to do with them:
This is a kid's meal by far. Sugar on top of sugar. That was the best breakfast I've had in a long time!
My family, though supportive of my ethics and lifestyle, never really know what to offer me at parties, so they've given up trying to make dishes. That's okay. It gives me another excuse to cook!
I made an apple kugel- green apples, yams (though sweet potatoes would have been better), walnuts, cinnamon, matzo meal and apple juice baked in a casserole dish.
It's very reminiscent of apple pie, but a little on the dry side. I think next time I'll put apple sauce in the mix. Or maybe ice cream. ;)