This weekend we celebrated Jiya’s 1st Birthday, which also meant her very first cake! While we definitely wanted her to experience the fun of enjoying a birthday cake, we haven’t given her anything containing refined sugar up until this point.
Research continues to surface demonstrating how addictive sugar can be given it activates various reward regions of the brain. A 2014 article from macleans.ca reports that on average, Canadians consume a whopping 88lbs of sugar a year and mounting research continues to indicate it could be a major contributor to chronic disease.
She has her whole life to deal with the temptation of sugar so why introduce it to her earlier than we have to? She currently loves green onions, lemons, cucumbers, green apples, raspberries, smoothies, soups and avocado. It’s been fun introducing such a wide variety of whole foods into her diet and I truly believe the earlier we can create good habits and a healthy relationship with food, the better.
Given my own health challenges, we were reluctant to start her off with a conventional cake containing refined flour, sugar, artificial colours and flavours. Birthdays aren’t every day and balance is important, but the first few years of life are crucial for growth and development. Being diagnosed with MS has made me hyper aware of all of the dietary and environmental factors that can contribute to disease. We don’t really know at this point if Jiya is at increased risk of MS given I have it. As a result, prevention and eliminating potential dietary triggers whenever possible is crucial.
Treats are going to happen from time to time and that’s okay. When I can though, I opt to make them myself though using ingredients and natural sweeteners I feel good about. Who doesn’t appreciate something that’s home cooked and made with love?! ☺
Anyway, back to the cake…
I should have prefaced this post by stating that I am NOT anywhere close to being a pro cake baker. In fact, I don’t recall ever making a cake before last week. I’ve created some pretty awesome desserts using whole foods, but cake hasn’t been one of them. Our family is gluten and dairy free, so I knew I wanted to make a flourless cake. Chocolate and lots of icing were obviously a given. ☺
You could be the best baker in the world, but if you’ve ever attempted a gluten free recipe, you know there’s a bit of a science and a whole lot of trial and error that goes into gluten free baking. Many gluten free recipes call for almond flour, but I happen to have an almond intolerance. I knew if I was spending time making this cake, I was going to want to eat it so almond flour wasn’t an option this time around. So then, what did I use as the primary ingredient in this cake? QUINOA!
Quinoa actually isn’t a grain, but rather a seed. It’s considered to be a complete protein, contains B vitamins and is rich in fiber. Other ingredients featured in this recipe include:
- Coconut milk, coconut oil and chia seed ‘eggs’ in order to make the recipe dairy and egg free.
- 1 cup of local maple syrup instead of refined white sugar (I’d likely reduce the maple syrup even further for at home, but opted to keep the recipe on the sweeter side for the purpose of the party. You could definitely use honey or coconut sugar instead as well.)
- Cacao, the unprocessed form of cocoa that hasn’t been stripped of all the beneficial nutrients. Cacao is one of the richest food sources of magnesium and contains a host of therapeutic properties.
- An optional ‘caramel’ layer with softened date paste and chocolate icing using coconut milk as the base.
The result? Success! The recipe was a hit with Jiya, party goers and chocolate lovers alike (including multiple kids.) The cake was very moist and had a rich, fudgy flavour. You would never guess this cake to be gluten and dairy free, let alone made with quinoa!
Gluten Free Chocolate- Caramel Layer Cake with Coconut Milk Icing
‘CARAMEL’ LAYER (OPTIONAL)
ICING (make 24 hours prior and store in fridge so it has time to set)
- The day before making the cake, place the cream from 1 can of cold coconut milk (keep the liquid portion for smoothies or for the cake portion of recipe), 1 tsp of vanilla, 3 tbsp cacao powder, 2 tbsp honey, cashews or cacao butter in a blender and blend on high until combined. (If using cashews, soak them for several hours prior to blending to make for a smoother texture.)
- Once complete, place icing in a covered bowl and return to the fridge to set for 24 hours.
- Let 8-10 dates soak in warm water overnight, once softened blend together until smooth and creamy paste is formed. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Cook quinoa normally according to package instructions until light and fluffy. Further fluff with a fork once cooked and cool to room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line the bottoms of 9″ cake pans with parchment paper.
- Make chia seed eggs (take one tbsp. of ground chia, mix with three tbsp of water and let sit for a few minutes – this makes one egg.) Multiply by four for this recipe.
- Blend ¾ cup of coconut oil, 1/3 cup coconut milk, 4 chia eggs, 1 cup maple syrup and 1 tsp vanilla extract in a blender until combined. Add 2 cups cooked quinoa and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender with a rubber spatula as necessary.
- Whisk 1 cup cacao powder, 1.5 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp baking soda, and ½ tsp sea salt together in a bowl. Add dry mixture into quinoa mixture and combine thoroughly or blend in a high powered blender. Pour batter into prepared cake pans.
- Bake in the preheated oven until a knife inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool completely in the pans before removing to a plate
- Once the cakes have completely cooled, use a spatula and spread a generous amount of your date paste (AKA caramel) covering the top of one of the cake layers.
- Carefully take the remaining layer and place on top of the layer with the caramel.
- Fully ice and add desired toppings (I used a combination of coconut and Enjoy Life chocolate chip shavings, free of dairy, soy and gluten.)
*Once iced, I found it best not to keep the cake out of the fridge for more than an hour or two given the base of the icing is coconut milk and the cold air helps it to stay set.