Whole Grain Chocolate Cupcakes with a Fudge Mint Cookie Crunch for @BevBirthdays

For a brief stint of diligence, I had a gratitude journal. Daily, I would jot down three elements of my life for which I was grateful. Unfortunately, I fell into a rather lazy rotation of bullet points: my apartment, heat, employment, a roof over my head, etc. Of all the things I recorded, I never once thought to write “I am grateful to have had birthday parties to celebrate my place in this world.” 

Whole Grain Chocolate Cupcakes with a Fudge Mint Cookie Crunch // www.WithTheGrains.com

I never thought to write down “birthday parties” in my gratitude journal because these were celebrations I had taken for granted. Of course I had birthday parties. I had a BIG family who relished my existence, and even when times were tight, we had the resources for my favorite flavors of cakes and thematic decor. My older sisters channeled their creativity to make thrilling scavenger hunts and party games that stick out in my memory to this day! It should have been obvious, but I discovered recently just how blessed I had been/am on the birthday front.

Whole Grain Chocolate Cupcakes with a Fudge Mint Cookie Crunch & a Naturally Dyed Mint Buttercream Frosting // www.WithTheGrains.com

It was this article that set me straight (and probably made me all misty-eyed too). In it I learned about Megan Yunn, who founded Beverly’s Birthdays. In 2011, Megan was volunteering at a local after-school program and helping 12-year-old Beverly with her homework. Discovering that Beverly never had a birthday party nagged at Megan and then eventually inspired her to start the organization that now provides birthday celebrations for homeless kids in the Pittsburgh region. 

Whole Grain Chocolate Cupcakes with a Fudge Mint Cookie Crunch & a Naturally Dyed Mint Buttercream Frosting // www.WithTheGrains.com

Imagine the effects of these parties! Reading through a few of the organization’s blog posts had me in tears. One child asked to keep a clean disposable birthday plate because he wanted to cherish the birthday party. He washed it and reused it. Another child just wanted her own bottled water- not even a fancy bottle of water, just one bottle. Another mother walked her three children to the party after a stressful day of doctor’s visits (to which she also walked) because she knew how important the celebration would be to her kids.  

Whole Grain Chocolate Cupcakes with a Fudge Mint Cookie Crunch & a Naturally Dyed Mint Buttercream Frosting // www.WithTheGrains.com

All these stories reiterated how much I have taken for granted. Theme parties and baking are two of my biggest passions, so I was so long overdue to contribute. I finally signed up and baked these cupcakes for a zoo-themed party. I chose this party in particular because it took place in the very neighborhood where The Urban Farmer started his farm. The community has welcomed him with such open arms, this felt like the least I could do to give back.

Whole Grain Chocolate Cupcakes with a Fudge Mint Cookie Crunch & a Naturally Dyed Mint Buttercream Frosting // www.WithTheGrains.com

I’m not sharing these cupcakes to toot my own horn. My hope is this story will inspire you to find a similar outlet for your passions, whatever they may be. There are countless organizations that rely heavily on the work of volunteers, so whether you love knitting, power tools or cupcake making, there is probably an outlet for you. Also, these stories are worth sharing because they not only inspire us to give but to be grateful. I can’t applaud the folks at Beverly’s Birthdays enough, and I look forward to future themed baking!

Quelcy Signature

Whole Grain Chocolate Cupcakes with a Fudge Mint Cookie Crunch & Mint Buttercream Frosting

About This Recipe: These cupcakes may be green and feature traditional cookie flavors, but they are made from all natural and organic versions because playful party food can still have a wholesome spin to it. I used all-natural blue and yellow dyes (from India Tree) to create the green frosting. 

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A Baby’s First Birthday Cake: Gluten-Free, Coconut, Banana & Maple Cake

June 2015

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!

A Baby's First Birthday Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

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.”

A Baby's First Birthday Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

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!

A Baby's First Birthday Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

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!

A Baby's First Birthday Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

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.

A Baby's First Birthday Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

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's First Birthday Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

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.

A Baby's First Birthday Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

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.

A Baby's First Birthday Cake // www.WithTheGrains.com

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!

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Three Cheers for Knox!
-Quelcy

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.

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Flourless Dark Chocolate Torte with Roasted Carrot Buttercream

April 2015

The movement of the spoon filled his eyes with wonder, and his mouth opened as wide as possible. Mashed beets surrounded his precious lips like a first attempt at applying lipstick in a moving vehicle. His chubby fingers curled and tightened, and the bright green of a prematurely cut avocado squeezed through the opening of his tiny fist. The enterprising dog waited under the table patiently, hoping for fallen splatters of purée. “Now you’re just playing,” she scolded in jest, pushing the plate beyond his stubby reach.

Flourless Dark Chocolate Torte with Roasted Carrot Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

When I first met The Urban Farmer’s future farmhand, aka his nephew, he was a mere string bean tucked in a pod, living off milk alone. Now he’s a chubby, little, army-crawling sweetpea eating yams, avocados, spinach, pears, apples, beets and even caviar on a very special occasion! Think about that leap, from liquid to colors, textures, and tastes. No wonder we approach food playfully when we are young!

Flourless Dark Chocolate Torte with Roasted Carrot Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

Food is exciting, but eventually, even the most supportive mama has to intervene. Her desire to wear a shirt without spit-up stains or Gerber greens surpasses the amusement of a baby discovering his hands and how they clumsily wrap around this thing called a spoon. On our epic journey from milk to solid foods, there comes a point when the all-knowing adults reprimand, “don’t play with your food.”

Flourless Dark Chocolate Torte with Roasted Carrot Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

I may not have a beet-stained face or squish avocado through my fist, but there is a sense of play I find in baking. A cake is like a blank page, and nature has given us so many ways to color. Why cheat and resort to artificial dyes and sugars? Just looking at a baby’s dinner, I saw so many inspirational hues. His “dessert” was spoonfuls of avocado, which led me to thinking, what other vegetables can we eat for dessert? Sure, there’s carrot cake, but what about carrot frosting?

Now we are playing with our food!

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Happy Playing!
-Quelcy

Flourless Chocolate Cardamom Torte with Roasted Carrot Cream Cheese Frosting

About This Recipe: Whipping egg whites into stiff peaks for the cake will take a long time, (i.e.: the length of a classic Bob Dylan folk anthem), but don’t lose heart. Fluffy egg whites make all the difference in this torte. The frosting starts by roasting carrots (follow this recipe but stick to the orange, red & yellow carrots for color purposes). Then simply puree the roasted carrots until smooth. For the frosting application, I used a #32 pastry tip. Have some piping fun, or simply spread with an offset spatula.

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