Made a couple of birthday cakes in the last couple days, since there have been a couple of birthdays in my house. In the time since I baked my eldest child’s very first birthday cake to now, as we celebrate his 17th birthday, there’s been some change in my approach to cake.
I’ve always made cakes from scratch – I like having control over ingredients, it’s fairly easy to do, and it tends to impress people. Back then, I hadn’t yet discovered whole wheat pastry flour, which I now use almost all the time. It’s available at most “health food” stores and many “regular” supermarkets. Whole wheat pastry flour has a very light, mild flavor. It bakes up soft and light. And it has 4 to 5 times more fiber than white flour, and about 25% more protein. The fiber and protein help keep you feeling full, and help slow your body’s absorption of sugar.
Speaking of sugar, I’ve certainly changed how I use that in my baking. I used to use as much sugar as a recipe called for. Now I routinely decrease the amounts of sugar, brown sugar, molasses, etc., and my cakes, while still plenty sweet, are not cloying. You can cut down by about a quarter of what a recipe calls for without any complaints from the kids (or from grown-ups, for that matter).
In any cake recipe that lists “shortening,” I substitute canola oil. Works just fine, and avoids hydrogenated fats. I’ve also found several soft butter substitutes made without hydrogenated oils that work wonderfully in frosting. I make a basic “butter frosting” with the aforementioned substitute, powdered sugar, and a little low-fat buttermilk. Or, depending on the type of cake, I’ll sometimes “frost” a cake by putting a layer of mini marshmallows on top and popping it briefly in the oven to get a melted toasted marshmallow topping (watch very closely if you do this, because it can burn very quickly).
I haven’t found a great way to reduce the amount of sugar in frosting, but it’s very easy to simply reduce the amount of frosting I use. And I reduce the amount of cake I make, as well. I used to make a full recipe any time I made a cake. Now, if it’s just going to be the five of us on a birthday night, I don’t make a full double layer cake that’s supposed to feed a dozen people (because those dozen servings would simply over-feed the less-than-half-dozen of us) – I halve the recipe and make a single layer. And I leave it in the glass baking pan and just put a thin layer of frosting on the top.
There’s certainly plenty for all of us, but not so much that those of us with limited cake will power can go too far overboard. And when we have birthdays right on top of one another, that’s especially helpful!