Have you ever tried to make a Lego birthday cake without gluten, dairy, eggs, soy and artificial colorings?
Let’s just say it’s challenging. The gluten, dairy, soy and artificial colorings are actually a breeze to replace, but eggs are an entirely different matter, they play a very important part in baking!
I made 17 different vegan cake recipes last week, some that were already gluten-free and some that needed to be converted. In the end, only 2 showed real promise. It was not a taste issue mind you, because most of the recipes had great flavor but the texture was a definite obstacle, especially for what I wanted to do with the cake!
The different egg substitutes (I tried everything from Ener-G Egg Replacer, flax eggs, sparkling water, applesauce and pureed pumpkin) presented one of two problems in most of the cakes: either the particular egg substitute produced a cake that was too gooey (the cake would literally stick to the roof of your mouth like peanut butter), or it would not hold the cake together once you pulled it out of the pan (and I draw the line at “gluing” a million crumbs together with frosting!). Either which way, most of the results were not conducive for a child’s birthday cake…at least not one made by an over-ambitious mom who cannot seem to accept her limitations…I think I need to explore this issue more with my therapist!
Here are the links to the vegan cake recipes we liked best for flavor and texture:
Gluten-Free Vegan Chocolate Cake over at Ginger Lemon Girl (I added the chocolate chips as Carrie suggested and I definitely recommend doing that, not only is it delicious, but I think the chocolate chips were what allowed me to remove the cake from the pan in one piece and use it as the base of my overall cake).
Fluffy White Cupcakes over at Shmooed Food (I tweaked this recipe to make it GF and soy-free, I will share those results along with a few notes in an upcoming post on the Lego cupcakes I made for Sam’s class).
So, after 17 attempts, I found myself late last Friday afternoon with one egg-free cake that I could actually work with for Sam’s birthday party on Saturday. I had a very difficult decision to make at that point (I even called up my blogger buddy Lexie from Lexie’s Kitchen to beg for help since she has been going the GF/CF/EF thing for much longer than I have!). I had depleted my entire stock of gluten-free flours, and since time was of the essence, I caved and ran to the grocery store for Betty Crocker’s gluten-free cake mixes (thank you General Mills…speaking of which, I will be announcing the winner of the Gluten-Free Bisquick Prize Pack Giveaway at the end of this post). And some eggs. It was Sam’s birthday party afterall and as much as it killed me to make a cake that my youngest son couldn’t eat too (we recently discovered he is allergic to eggs), he is only 3 so a separate gluten-free, casein-free, egg-free cupcake would not ruin his life. Right?
Personal ramble: I think this has been the most difficult challenge for me to overcome as a parent of children with special health and dietary needs. My mommy guilt is downright oppressive at times and I have yet to learn the art of letting go (this stems from my own childhood experience of being chronically ill and feeling different, left out, etc., at school and at home). Mike and I have been hell bent on making sure we all eat the same way as a family because our hope is that as long as our kids feel included and normal at home (by being free to eat whatever), it would make it easier for them to deal with all the challenges of “life on the outside.” My husband and Luke went gluten-free when Sam was diagnosed with celiac (a good thing since we now know Luke has non-celiac gluten sensitivity) but now I feel we owe it to Luke to go casein and egg-free too, which is why it was so difficult for me to resort to an egg-filled cake that Luke could not enjoy with his brother. Parenting. Is. Hard.
I didn’t manage to get a decent photo of the entire cake and quite frankly, I was too tired and worried over how we would actually transport a 50+ pound cake across town (in one piece) to Chuck E. Cheese (they kindly allowed us to bring in our own safe pizza)!
Okay, the reason behind the decorations…
Back in early June, I decided it would be fun to do a dye-free challenge for 3 months, partly because I wanted to see if I could do it and partly because I wanted to walk in the shoes of many of my mom friends, whose children cannot tolerate artificial food colorings. Putting myself in other people’s shoes for an extended period of time not only expands my compassion for what other parents have to deal with, but it motivates me to educate myself and find creative/fun solutions for the obstacle.
I had no idea when I began the dye-free challenge what a profound learning experience it would be for me. At first I lamented that I would be further restricting my children from all the “joys of childhood,” but instead, my kids not only accepted this new change, they have become enthusiastic about it!
Initially, we only planned on going synthetic dye-free for 3 months, but we are now 4 1/2 months into it, mostly by my kids choosing (and a little subliminal encouragement from mom). When I began planning Sam’s 7th birthday party, I told him that he could have artificial food coloring on his cake if he wanted because natural food coloring cannot even come close to replicating the bright colors of Legos. I really thought Sam would jump at the offer but instead, he recalled what I did for Luke’s dye-free Jungle Junction Birthday Cake back in July. I made inedible characters out of FIMO clay (click here for the gluten-free status of FIMO) and Luke was able to keep his decorations. Sam asked if I could decorate his cake with real Legos that he could then keep to play with. Why yes I can!!!
Sam wanted me to recreate the Star Wars Battle of Kashyyyk on his cake. I did my best (not that I even know what the heck ‘Kashyyyk’ is!), but ran out of time (and Legos) to do all the trees. Sam didn’t seem to care though, he was too excited about all the new Legos he would be adding to his collection (yea for me, more Legos to step on!).
To make the “water” I added natural blue food coloring by Nature’s Flavors to some piping gel. Because I ran short on time, I used Wilton’s pre-made piping gel which does not contain any gluten ingredients, but it is made in a plant that also manufactures gluten-containing products. I found a couple of recipes for homemade piping gel and I plan on experimenting with them in the near future…but just in case you would like the links, here they are:
Recipes for Homemade Piping Gel
Homemade Piping Gel 1 (this recipe looks like it could be easily modified to be corn-free, by switching the cornstarch for arrowroot or tapioca starch).
Homemade Piping Gel 2 (I wonder if Light Agave Nectar could replace the Karo syrup for a corn-free piping gel? Maybe agar powder could replace the gelatin for a beef-free/vegan version?).
The recipe I use for frosting is one I picked up in my cake decorating classes called Class Buttercream Icing (from the Wilton Course 1 Cake Decorating book which is available at craft stores). I adapted the recipe slightly to fit our dietary needs:
Dairy-Free, Egg-Free Icing
1 cup Shortening (I used Palm Shortening)
1 tsp. Clear Vanilla Extract (you can certainly use Pure Vanilla Extract, but it might lend an off-white hue to the icing).
2 Tbs. Water
1 lb. Confectioners’ Sugar (powdered sugar)
*I added about 1 Tbs. of pure cocoa powder to make the tan colored icing for the “sand” (omit this step for white icing).
- Using a wire whip mixer attachment, cream the shortening, vanilla extract and water.
- Add dry ingredients and mix on medium speed until all ingredients have been thoroughly mixed together. At this point, check the consistency of the icing and if it seems too stiff, add more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached.
- Increase mixer speed to high (or as high as possible without having icing fly everywhere) and continue whipping for several minutes more (I go about 8 – 10 minutes for a super fluffy frosting).
For the Happy 7th Birthday writing on the cake, I downloaded a free Lego font (be prepared to download a bunch of super cool movie themed fonts while you are there, LOL!), printed out what I wanted it to say, pulled out my kids’ markers and had my husband play like a first grader for a while. :-D I then ran the sheet of paper through my laminator in order to keep the sheet of paper from getting greasy on the icing.
The Lego-style candles are called Blokz Birthday Candles.
All the Legos are the real deal. Mike and I had fun trying to spell Sam’s name out with them (not as easy as I remember from my own Lego days back in the early 80′s…maybe it was the wine?).
I also added a couple battery operated lights underneath the tank (I shared the information on the lights in my post on Dye-Free Army Tank Cupcakes).
These were the goodie bags. My dear friend Kristen made custom Lego-style toppers for the treat sacks (you can see the super cool Stormtrooper Helmet party invitations she made for me last year here). I filled the bags with various Lego bricks, Lego Mini Figs and Halloween Silly Bandz (is your child into those crazy things too?).
This is an up close and personal shot of Carrie’s (Ginger Lemon Girl) Vegan Chocolate Cake with gluten-free, dairy/casein-free, egg-free, soy-free chocolate chips by Enjoy Life Foods…yum!
No one ever said this life would be easy. But if you will pause and try to see the world through the eyes of a 7 year old, the simple joy of crafting with Legos will make you feel young again! I promise…just try it!
It’s time to announce the winner of the Gluten-Free Bisquick Prize Pack Giveaway! Thank you to everyone who entered, I really enjoyed reading all of your comments, they triggered so many fond memories for me. I only wish I could channel the powers of Oprah and give the following prize pack away to everyone!
Janet said, “Gosh, I’m not sure where to start. There are so many good recipes that start with Bisquick. Hmmm, I think I’m going to have to see if the recipe book I used to have with all the Bisquick style recipes is one of the things I got rid of when I discovered I couldn’t eat anything with gluten in it.”
Congratulations Janet, I will email you for your shipping information!
On Friday, I will be having my first guest post, yea!!!! Diane Bramos, a.k.a. @MrsAwwsum on Twitter (formerly @pilateschik) will be sharing some of her celiac journey as well as a yummy dish she made from the *awesome* cookbook she won on my blog a few weeks ago: Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes. Be sure to check back for Diane’s inspiring post!
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