We recently celebrated my daughter’s first birthday with a casual afternoon affair – close family and friends, with take-out to share from our favorite pizza place. Even though we were keeping things simple, I knew for sure that I wanted a classic, baby-sized smash cake for the birthday girl to sink her teeth (and hands) into. I admit that I even bought the sparkly, “number one” cake topper from Etsy to complete the look.
Yes, I wanted the photo of our baby girl covered in cake crumbs, surrounded by her favorite people. Did I want the sugar crash? Nope. This girl is a spunky, on-the-go, little firecracker, and the last thing we needed was to test the boundaries of her blood sugar. I knew the only way to get the health-factor I was after was to make the cake myself, so off down an internet rabbit-hole I went, searching for healthy baby smash cakes.
A quick Google search and you’ll find no limit of smash cake recipes, which can be overwhelming to new moms who might still be in the process of introducing baby to new foods and getting the hang of solids. On top of that, us Colorado bakers have the added challenge of adjusting a recipe found on the internet so that it will work for Denver’s mile-high altitude. Luckily, most cake recipes follow the same general formula, so it’s easy to make adjustments for altitude and nutrition on your own, if you know how. I finally settled on a gluten-free, banana and apple sauce cake with cream cheese frosting (with a few tweaks of my own!). Here are my go-to tips for improvising the rest:
Colorado bakers, have you ever baked a cake, following the instructions to a tee, only to have it fall five minutes after taking it out of the oven? That’s because the low air pressure causes a cake to rise extra fast up here. To counteract this quick rise, cakes at high altitude need more structural support and you get this by adding more flour.
I follow this rule: Add 1 ½ TBS of flour for every 1 cup of flour called for in the recipe. This rule also applies to gluten-free and alternative flours.
Higher is Dryer
Everyone who lives in Colorado knows that it’s dry as heck around here. Liquids evaporate quicker at higher altitudes, so the type of liquid a recipe calls for is often not enough. Whether you’re using milk, water, or any other liquid, don’t be afraid to slowly add more to your batter if the consistency and texture doesn’t feel right. This will also give more moisture to your cake, so it will last a little longer. If there’s any left after baby gets to smashing, that is!
Baking soda and baking powder are leaveners, and they are what help a cake rise. But because cakes rise extra fast at high altitudes already, we don’t want to encourage this. It’s a smart idea to reduce the amount of baking soda and/or baking powder your recipe calls for by just a smidge. I’ve found that simply running my finger over the top of the teaspoon to scrape off a small amount is just enough to do the trick.
If your recipe calls for sugar, King Arthur Flour recommends reducing it by 1 TB per cup because low moisture increases sugar concentration, which can also contribute to a weak cake structure. To be honest, when I’m baking I’ll usually reduce the sugar by up to ¼ – ½ a cup, because I personally just don’t want to consume a lot of sugar. If you want to reduce/replace/remove sugar entirely, here are some other substitutes you can play around with:
- Maple Syrup
- Fruit Juice
- Honey (not recommended for babies until you have your pediatrician’s go-ahead)
- or leave it out altogether!
The recipe I went with called for 6 bananas and a heaping of apple sauce, so the cake was sweet enough on its own. And vanilla and apple juice flavored the cream cheese frosting just enough not to require any added sugar. Play around and see what works. You will likely be able to find a recipe with one of these alternatives to give you a starting place.
These are the go-to high-altitude baking modifications I’ve mastered through years of playing around in my kitchen and a quick stint in a professional pastry program. If you want more information about high-altitude adjustments I also like these detailed guides from King Arthur and Pie in the Sky.
So, what about my ultra-healthy, no sugar, gluten-free smash cake? We forgot that our baby can get too overwhelmed to eat in front of a crowd and refused to take a bite. But she very much enjoyed it the following afternoon, between just the two of us.