When I first began baking in earnest, it was to appease my own sweet tooth with more wholesome ingredients, but I quickly learned, eating desserts alone is selfish and usually wasteful. I began to share my efforts, and the rewards returned tenfold. There’s something magical in the way butter and sugar, flour and eggs, come together into morsels, layers and tiers, how they solidify occasions, brighten days, widen eyes and close mouths in blissful, savory silence. I’ve had the immense privilege of baking a wedding cake for dear friends, baking a birthday cake to send a lady back in time, and most recently, to bake a little one’s very first cake in his lifetime- his very first baked good ever! As a baker, this was perhaps one of my most exciting assignments to date!
I wish I could remember my first cake experience, how puzzling this new, solid food would be, how it would feel between a minimal set of teeth. As a cake maker, maybe I place too much importance on this “first,” but collectively, maybe we aren’t placing enough importance on a baby’s first cake or young children’s diets in general. It’s all too easy to be lost in a sea of chemically-colored birthday cakes and let that first bite propel him or her to a sugary crash, giving an all new meaning to “it’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to.”
Baby Knox is the Urban Farmer’s nephew, and he’s a lucky little dude. His parents have prioritized his health even before day one. His dad, Dr. Alex, is on a mission to make our notoriously greasy, overweight city a lot healthier. After witnessing his grandfather, and then his father, in hospital beds, he realized he needed to make changes, so his future children would never experience that fear and helplessness. He and his wife Jena own and operate City of Bridges Chiropractic, where they use nutrition and proper spinal care to make major changes in people’s lives. I’ve heard Alex speak publicly, and I’ve met his patients, and the results of his work are truly inspiring!
Whereas being healthy for his kids was once just a driving idea for Dr. Alex, today it’s a blue-eyed reality. I’ve had the privilege of watching Knox change from a sleeping bundle to a big personality, and as a non-blood relative, I can tell you, he is objectively cute!
Most recently, this kid has come to LOVE food! Remove an empty plate from his tray, and he’ll throw his head back in utter despair, longing for more bites to savor. So vast is his appetite, Jena has yet to discover his limit. Plate after plate, it’s comforting to observe Knox’s diet and trust everything is helping him grow bigger, stronger and healthier.
As Knox’s first birthday loomed around the corner, the question of cake arose. Birthdays are celebratory times, deserving of treats and festivities, but does a birthday justify feeding a tiny digestive system new, unhealthy ingredients for the sake of smashing a cake in a photo? No, which is why Alex and Jena asked me if I would make Knox’s FIRST EVER BIRTHDAY CAKE. I was honored, and I of course said yes to such a momentous cake request.
A baby turning one deserves his or her own cake, so my first thought was a towering layer cake, to which the Urban Farmer laughed and joked, “yeah, his own little ‘Fort Knox.'” The idea was born, and that’s how this little gluten-free, maple-sweetened cake came to be a tiny castle with turrets and a special flag for the birthday boy.
Watching his chubby fingers fill his cheeks with cake was a pretty memorable moment. Like a king, he lifted his cake bites triumphantly and regarded his camera-wielding subjects with seriousness. He liked it, he really liked it! It’s moments just like these when I am reminded it’s better to bake for others.
This Fort Knox Cake was a variation on a recipe from Rubies & Radishes, who elaborates why the ingredients in this cake are more fitting for a baby’s introduction to baked goods. If you have a special little one in your life, or even a special older one with dietary sensitivities, preheat your oven and start baking. You have a cake to make!
Three Cheers for Knox!
Coconut Flour Maple Banana Cake with Maple Buttercream & Strawberry Sauce
About This Recipe: This recipe bakes a 9-inch layer cake, and it calls for a LOT of eggs. This is not a typo. Coconut flour requires a lot of moisture, which the eggs provide in this cake. If you want to create the Fort Cake I feature, pour the batter in a parchment-lined 9×13 glass baking dish, bake for 40-50 minutes, and use a biscuit cutter to create the circular layers. Cut the turrets from the remaining edges of cake after using the biscuit cutter. Since this buttercream is mostly butter, it can be difficult to work with in hot, humid kitchens (i.e.: my third-floor apartment in spring). Chill in the freezer in between icing layers.
Coconut Flour Maple Banana Cake
2 cups organic coconut flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 dozen eggs (pasture raised/cage-free)
2 cups organic, full-fat coconut milk
2 very ripe, organic bananas
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
organic melted coconut oil for greasing the pan
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Whisk together the coconut flour, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the eggs, coconut milk, bananas, maple syrup, and vanilla extract until smooth.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and whisk until a smooth batter forms.
Grease a 9-inch, round springform pan with coconut oil.
Pour batter into the cake pan, and use a rubber spatula to smooth the surface.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool before removing from the springform pan. Assembly directions follow.
10 oz frozen organic strawberries
Place the strawberries in a saucepan over medium heat. After a few minutes, the strawberries will release their juices. Allow them to cook uncovered, occasionally stirring and smashing them.
Keep cooking them until the strawberries are soft, smashed and the sauce has reduced, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow to cool slightly.
Pulse the strawberry sauce in a food processor until smooth.
Note: You’ll probably have some leftover strawberry sauce. It’s a great addition to summery cocktails, with yogurt, or on toast.
Maple Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
4 eggs (organic/pasture raised)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
dash of sea salt
1 lb (4 sticks) grass-fed butter, softened but still cool
3/4 cup organic heavy cream (preferably from grass-fed cows), chilled
In a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, bring the maple syrup to a boil, and cook until it registers 240°F on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
While your maple syrup is heating, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
With the mixer running, slowly pour syrup down the side of the bowl in a slow, steady stream, until completely incorporated, about 1 minute.
Add the vanilla extract and salt, and continue beating for an additional 4 to 5 minutes.
Add butter, one piece at a time, until thoroughly incorporated.
Then add heavy cream slowly, and beat until it is well combined and fluffy. Keep chilled until ready to use.
Using a Lazy Susan and a bread knife, cut the cake into two horizontal layers. Place the base layer on a serving plate. Dollop buttercream onto the exposed surface, and use an offset spatula to smooth.
Add a layer of strawberry sauce over the buttercream, and use the offset spatula to smooth.
Top with the remaining layer of cake, and ice the top and sides.
Note: If you have extra jam and want to garnish to the top, spoon the jam in a few circles on the surface of the cake. Then use a skewer or a toothpick to pull the jam from the center towards the outer edge to create this pattern. Top with a strawberry, et voila!