Let’s get the truth out right from the start: those doggone boxed cake mixes are moist and delicious, every time. They’re almost impossible to mess up. They’re also loaded with preservatives, and usually trans fat is only one of its ingredient transgressions.
Two years ago, when I was more or less just beginning the traditional food journey in spite of the fact that I had been doing many “healthy eating” habits for years, I knew I had to find something other than the boxed cake mix in my basement when Paul’s birthday rolled around. I scoured the web for a simple, basic white cake recipe. I wasn’t even shooting for “healthy” or “nourishing”…just not “deadly to the nth degree.”
I made a from-scratch, white cake with white flour and white sugar. Cake recipes are rather complicated, with detailed instructions about how long to cream the butter and sugar and how to add a third of the flour mixture, then half of the liquid, then more flour…It’s a far cry from my favorite one-bowl muffins, and I sweated my way through it with high expectations for the perfect cake.
It was on the dry side and pretty mundane, everyone agreed.
Since a “normal” cake wasn’t that great anyway, I figured I couldn’t do much worse with a part whole-grain recipe this year! I got the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Cookbook for Christmas, and it has yet to disappoint. It was a relief to avoid the Google searching to find healthy birthday cake recipes for both kids.
When I evaluate a baking recipe for overall “healthy” rating, I like to see what kind of ratio the flour vs. sugar is. Many quick bread recipes, for example, will have 2 cups flour and 1 cup sugar, a 2:1 ratio. That’s not great, but much better than many cakes, which get closer to 1:1! These cakes are 3:1 and 1-1/2:1, which really aren’t bad. They also have 2-3 times as much whole grain flour as white, with only 1 cup white flour each.
I realize white flour and white sugar aren’t good for you…but I wasn’t shooting for dense sourdough whole wheat bread here. That’s why the “balance” is in my tagline. These are birthday cakes, and they’re exponentially better than a boxed mix!
Recipe: Coconut Cake
Everyone gave good reviews to this unique cake, which adds a cup of shredded coconut that I count against the white flour in the 3:1 ratio of whole grain to white. I’m thinking of using coconut flour next time to avoid the mouthfeel of the little pieces of coconut in the cake, in which the coconut flavor is evident but not overwhelming. It is just as moist as a boxed mix cake (yesssssss!) and truly delicious, not just “this is good for a whole grain cake.” If I had been home for my birthday, I would have made one for myself!
Inspired by the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook. King Arthur provides all measurements by weight as well, for those of you amazing bakers who use a scale. I’ll just share the volume measurements, as I’m not so fancy as that.
- 1 c. shredded coconut (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!)
- 1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour (may I just say I love that they include the “unbleached” part? You know there’s a healthy consciousness there!)
- 3/4 c. unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/4 c. superfine or granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 3/4 tsp.
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 5 large egg whites
- 2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 c. plain yogurt
- Choose either two 9-inch round pans, one 9×13 pan, 24 cupcakes, or a 15×20 sheet cake pan.
- Grease pans with butter and flour them thoroughly, or line with parchment paper.
- Whiz the coconut and all-purpose flour in a food processor until the pieces are quite small. (The original recipe called for 30 seconds, but after realizing that you can feel them in the final cake, and that’s not the greatest mouthfeel, I would process longer or use coconut flour (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!).) Set aside.
- Cream butter, baking powder, sugar, salt and vanilla in a large mixing bowl at least five minutes until fluffy and light.
- Add the egg whites to the butter mixture one at a time, beating well after each one.
- Stir 2/3 cup of the whole wheat pastry flour into the batter, then a ½ cup yogurt, then 2/3 cup more flour, ½ cup yogurt, and the final 2/3 cup flour, mixing well between each addition. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as well between each ingredient.
- Add the coconut and flour mixture all at once, stirring until the batter is evenly mixed.
- Pour into your prepared pans and bake in a preheated oven at 350F.
- 9-inch rounds or cupcakes: 21-23 minutes
- 9 x 13 pan: 30-33 minutes
- 15 x 20 sheet cake: 25-30 minutes
- Test for doneness by poking with a toothpick and watching for the cake to pull away from the edges of the pan slightly. Because of the whole grains, checking to see if the cake springs back when you depress a finger does not work as a doneness test.
- Cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan. Cool completely before frosting. You can freeze the layers for 30 minutes to make frosting easier.
Notes on ingredients: The original called for sweetened coconut, but unsweetened went great.
I used organic sugar (evaporated cane juice) from Wholesome Sweeteners as part of my test of their products.
The original also called for coconut extract, which I didn’t have, so I doubled the vanilla. Also, it’s so exciting to find a recipe that calls for egg whites, because I always have them hanging around from making homemade mayo and Caesar dressing. Do not try to substitute any other kind of flour for the whole wheat pastry flour. Regular whole wheat would not generate a happy texture in a cake. Pastry flour is a totally different beast and well worth the investment if you want to dabble in whole grain biscuits or cakes.
- Need a little help getting healthy food on the table every day? Real Plans takes the stress out of meal planning and puts the nourishing food BACK on your table. There’s a plan for every diet type, including GAPS, Paleo, AIP, Whole30, vegetarian and more! You remain totally in control: use your own recipes, accept theirs, and teach the system what your family likes…Check out how powerful it is here!
King Arthur offers a coconut frosting as well, but I used my mom’s famous almond-flavored frosting. We don’t do birthday cakes without it! She used Crisco all my life, but I’ve had good success substituting real butter, or even coconut oil (in the winter only). I used Wholesome Sweeteners organic powdered sugar.Print
This basic butter cake was good, probably better than the white flour version I made last year, but there was no hiding the whole grains. People will notice, but if they’re used to whole grains at all, they won’t mind one bit.
- Begin with all ingredients at room temperature.
- 2 ¼ c. whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- 1 c. unsalted butter
- 1 ½ c. sugar
- 1 tsp.
- 4 large eggs
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 1 c. plain yogurt
- Grease pans with butter and flour them thoroughly, or line with parchment paper or cupcake liners. (I use the butter wrapper from the recipe itself, and it’s usually the perfect amount of grease.)
- Mix the flours, baking powder and baking soda and set aside.
- Cream the butter, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy, likely about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each one. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl a few times.
- Mix the vanilla and yogurt together in a separate bowl. Add one-third of the flour mixture to the butter/sugar/eggs and mix until uniform. Pour in half the yogurt and beat until fluffy. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, then let the mixer run on low speed and add another third of the flour mixture, the rest of the yogurt, and the last of the flour, mixing well after each addition and scraping the bowl.
- Pour the batter into your chosen pan and bake in a preheated 350F oven:
- 9-inch rounds or cupcakes: 25-27 minutes
- 9 x 13 rectangular cake: 30-34 minutes
- 15 x 20 sheet cake: 27-30 minutes
- Cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan.
- Cool completely before frosting. (The photo at the top is the classic yellow cake.)
Notes on ingredients: I used “natural cane sugar,”which is a less refined sugar than pure white, from Wholesome Sweeteners, as part of my test of their products. It’s funny to see how much darker the cake turns out than a boxed classic yellow: I blame the deeper yellow of my eggs, the whole grain flour, and the fact that unrefined sugar is not bleach white. It all comes through (but not in a bad way).
I was a little stuck in a rut this year on size because I packed up my 9-inch round pans in an effort to have less stuff in my cupboards when we put our house up for sale. I’m ready to get my stuff back! There is something to be said for frosting a sheet cake vs. trying to stack layers correctly, I suppose.
I’m just excited that I can make a sort of healthy birthday cake that everyone eats joyfully!
What are your healthier celebration options?
Other healthy desserts:
- Dairy-Free Chocolate Cake
- 100% Whole Grain Healthy Fruit Pizza
- 100% Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Walnut Oat Pie Crust (A GF and trans-fat-free alternative to a graham cracker crust)
There are affiliate links to Amazon in this post. See my full disclosure statement here.Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.