Yes, you can have a delicious birthday cake that’s healthy, too

Posted by
June 3, 2014




The other day, I mentioned to a friend that I would be baking my sister Linda an organic cake for her birthday. He made a wry face and, in a voice tinged with sarcasm, replied, “Boy, I’ll bet that will really be delicious!”

“Actually, it will,” I replied. And, despite the fact that I’m hardly what you’d call a pastry chef (or a chef of any sort), it actually turned out to be even more delicious than anticipated – in fact, about as good as it gets, cakewise (even if that does sound a bit like bragging).

But at the same time, I well understood where this particular individual was coming from. Ever since we were old enough to understand the meaning of words, we’ve been fed a steady (and stealthy) diet of processed-food propaganda that the only things that taste good are those that aren’t particularly good for us – and the worse they are, the better they taste (an idea reinforced by the addition to many foods of neurotoxic flavor enhancers like MSG).

So it should come as no surprise that many people still think that a cake made from organic ingredients (which, by definition, would eliminate all those ‘unnatural’ additives one finds in conventional confections) would be unappealing to anyone with a sweet tooth.

But even some consumers who might know better – the ones who have become somewhat wary of what ‘regular’ food products contain and would like to give their families the benefit of a healthier diet – might be apt to believe that when it comes to special occasions like birthdays, they have only three options. They can either bake a cake from a standard mix, settle for one of the commercial concoctions conveniently placed in the refrigerated case of their supermarket, or buy a “custom-baked” cake from the store’s bakery section –none of which are particularly desirable in terms of ingredients.

If you think those are your only practical choices where birthday cake is concerned, however, I’m happy to tell you you’re wrong. In fact, all the fixings of a superb organic birthday cake – in terms of taste as well as ingredients – are probably available in the same supermarket where you’d ordinarily buy those additive-adulterated cakes or cake mixes. And if not, you’ll almost certainly find them at your local health-food store.

But how much of a difference will this make in the ‘caliber’ of your cake? Perhaps that should be put another way: how much can you really enjoy eating a cake – or, for that matter, serving it to your children or guests – when so many of its ingredients pose genuine hazards to your health and well-being?

First, let’s look at what you’ll find in a store-bought chocolate cake with vanilla frosting (the same type as my organic cake), starting with a Pepperidge Farm Chocolate Fudge 3-layer cake.  Listed among the numerous additives in this presumably healthier brand is partially hydrogenated oil, or PHO – the same artery-clogging ingredient that the Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged causes 7,000 deaths a year and has proposed phasing out as a result.

In fact, there’s enough PHO in this cake to amount to a whopping 2.5 grams of trans fat per single serving. And that’s in addition to high fructose corn syrup (our number-one ingredient to be avoided) and sodium caseinate, a form of free glutamic acid considered part of the ‘MSG family’ that can trigger a whole range of adverse effects in many people.

Next, let’s examine what you’ll get if you choose to bake a cake using one of the conventional supermarket cake mixes, such as Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate and Betty Crocker Butter Recipe Chocolate (both with vanilla frosting). Despite the control you might have over some ingredients, you’ll still be serving a cake laced with things like partially hydrogenated oil in both the cake and the icing (enough to register 1.5 grams of trans fat in the latter), aluminum (in the form of sodium aluminum phosphate), a substance which has now been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s. and various artificial flavors and colors — although Duncan Hines does make a point of having “no high fructose corn syrup,” which is at least a step toward a healthier product.

Then, there’s your typical bakery cake, which is likely to be just as bad, if not worse, in terms of ingredients. An example is the golden fudge double layer cake offered by the bakery of our local supermarket, which contained two types of  partially hydrogenated oil and two artificial colors, along with HFCS and aluminum (in the form of acidic sodium aluminum phosphate).

Finally, let’s talk about our organic cake.  The cake and icing mixes, both made by Organics (that’s the name of the brand), contain none of the undesirable additives included in either the conventional mixes or the store-bought cakes — just things like organic cane sugar, organic wheat flour, organic cocoa powder, baking soda, organic cornstarch, organic vanilla flavor and sea salt.

To the cake mix I added two organic eggs and two-thirds of a cup of organic extra virgin coconut oil, which is now generally considered to be the most beneficial oil on the planet, then blended the icing mix with eight tablespoons of organic butter, which, as we noted in a recent blog, has now been fully reinstated as a ‘healthy fat’. Then I topped it off with a sprinkling of shredded, unsweetened coconut and some organic strawberries! And the results couldn’t be better in terms of taste.

But, as I commented earlier, there are still people out there who continue to think that a product made with organic ingredients must somehow be deficient in the taste department. My sister even encountered one who, when told she was eating organic birthday cake, responded that it sounded “scary”.

What I really find scary, however, is the idea that we must continue to let people eat cake (or any other food) that’s laced with health-destroying additives in order for them to enjoy it.