This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays Cake Challenge.
Back in the spring I took several cake decorating classes in order to pick up a few tips for making the boy’s birthday cakes. One class I took was called “Stage Cakes.” Basically, you build a stage out of cake and then build a scene. I made a Monster Truck cake since I have a house full of testosterone! I have made a few since then including one that I made this weekend for Mike’s grandpa’s 86th birthday.
One of the unintended consequences for me while taking my cake decorating classes, was the affect the food dyes had on me. Using such a high volume of concentrated food color gels (and the resulting stains on my hands and cutting boards, of which the black will NOT come off), really made me start think about how safe they are in the long term.
Many kiddos cannot tolerate food dyes and I read a disturbing article on the blue dominoes website that most food dyes contain lead, mercury and arsenic (I’m sure the amounts are minute, but with synthetic food dyes being in so many foods, one has to wonder about the cumulative effect. Kind of like with gluten, 20 ppm may be deemed “safe” at the moment, but is that 20 ppm per meal, per day, what?).
Red No. 3 has been linked to breast cancer. I also read an FDA Public Health Advisory on Blue No. 1 which really expressed to me that there is not enough research to support the safety of synthetic food dyes. I used to take the approach of “everything in moderation,” but that was before I realized that synthetic food dyes are in EVERYTHING! There are the obvious products like Koolaid, brightly colored cereals, candies, colored yogurts, etc. but it is also in things that one would not necessarily think of, like pickles, salmon, orange peels, vitamins, children’s medications and the list goes on and on. I used to think I was doing well by limiting added food coloring to special occasions like birthday cakes but I didn’t realize how often my kids were still consuming them.
So, I have decided to challenge myself and my family to go synthetic dye-free for the next 3 months. One, I want to see if we can do it; but more importantly, I like to walk in other people’s shoes for a while and want to teach my boys to do the same. I think it is not only a great way to feel compassion for others, but I think it is a great way to learn about and implement new ideas. I also want to see if removing the dyes will help with Luke’s eczema.
Over the past few months I have been experimenting with natural food colors derived from fruits and vegetables. I have purchased a few and I have even tried to color icing with vegetable powders. I have had two problems with this. One, the overall color effect was too pastel to impress my kids (namely my 6 year old son), who is subjected to seeing his friends’ brilliantly colored birthday cakes, etc. Natural Red colorings usually end up pink which would be fine for a girl (or Luke, he loves pink), but Sam would put me out to pasture. Two, when using vegetable powders, the icing tends to develop a strong vegetable flavor over time. Spinach flavored icing put me on Sam’s ” bad list” for about a week.
An idea occurred to me during my cake decorating classes from all the extra accents used to decorate cakes, namely toys. Why not ice a cake with naturally white or chocolate icing and embellish with non-food items that can add a pop of bright color without being edible? I also got the tip from my instructors that you do not need to limit yourself to specialty cake decorations, you can put pretty much anything on a cake! I have since been collecting trinkets from craft stores, dollar bins, you name it, to use for decorating cakes and cupcakes.
I tried this out for the first time over the weekend. Mike’s grandpa was turning 86 and I wanted to personalize the cake to his interest, namely woodworking. I decided I would try and make a replica of his garage, complete with a workbench, pegboard, etc. During a recent trip to Hobby Lobby, I discovered the doll house/miniatures section. I found all sorts of little decorations that I could use on this stage cake. I also bought a flat piece of wood (I am sure there is a specific name, but I’m no Bob Vila and if I ask my husband, he will laugh at me ). I painted it to look like a peg board then attached miniature tools with a hot glue gun. I used the same approach to make a replica of his work bench. For some added flair, I embedded a few mini battery-operated lights, called “Celebration Lights” that I found in the wedding section at Michael’s Craft Store.
The following photos are of the cake that Sam, Luke and I decorated (Luke’s main contribution are all the holes in the icing from his repeated “taste testings”).
The black bottom border is ribbon. The top part of the cake represented one of H.G.’s favorite places to go and spend the afternoon with his late wife (Mike’s grandma), up in the Sandia Mountains. I made the “H” and “G,” as well as the “86″ out of chocolate. I did this free hand, which is why they are not even; I will use a mold next time so they come out smooth. I did paint the chocolate with edible gold dust.
Inside the wheel barrel, we added melted chocolate and cake crumbs to make it look like a pile of dirt.
The cake was a big hit, especially with Sam and Luke! This gives me a lot of hope that their upcoming birthday cakes can be free of synthetic dyes and they will still think they are cool!
Luke really wants a Jungle Junction birthday cake and I am fretting a bit because they do not make any toys for that show yet. My friend Kristen, who made the Star Wars party invitations for Sam and her son’s co-party last year, is working on designing some Ellyvan and Zooter invitations for Luke’s party. I am thinking that I could laminate a few of those and prop them on the cake somehow. Or, maybe even use some Aroma Dough to make the characters and that way Luke won’t be tempted to eat them (okay, who am I kidding? Luke requested a bowl of Aroma Dough for a snack once!).
See why I am beginning to panic, how does one accomplish that ↑↑ without using chemical dyes and with zero toys on the market??
That’s okay, I am up for the challenge and where there is a will… (and a good bottle of wine), there is a WAY!
(have any idea’s for me?)
I will get the photo tutorial up for building the stage cake within the next few days, it is really easy to do!
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