Handling Holidays: Cakes and Tortes


“Why are the Christmas decorations up when it’s not even Halloween?”

My son and I had popped into BJ’s to pick up a couple of much needed bulk items. As we entered, we were greeted by twinkling lights, decorated trees, and gift wrapping.  Since it was still a week and  a half until Halloween, I could understand the reason for my son’s question.

What I didn’t know, though, was how much I should explain to an eight year old about the “pushing” aspect of the holidays — everyone trying to get us to think we need to purchase something, whether we need to or not.  For the most part, I don’t actually mind all the early decorating.  It’s pretty.

What boggles my mind is the onslaught of catalogs that begin to pile up in my mailbox. It wouldn’t be so bad if you received one for every company, but you don’t.  You receive multiple copies from October through December.

I usually simply recycle them all without looking at them.  One which my children love to pore over, though, is the Swiss Colony catalog with its different types of cakes and tortes and petit fours that they’re hoping we will purchase.

When it comes to the holidays, nothing says, “Celebrate!” like a cake.  And in many parts of the world, a torte is seen as special holiday food.  There are basically two types of tortes:  traditionally thought of torte which is made with little flour where nuts and jams take center stage in a layered extravaganza and the type of torte which is a multi-layered cake alternating cake with cream, frosting, ganache or jam.

Both types can wreak havoc with a healthy diet and/or an allergy sensitive one. Below, I’ll give you some tips for lightening cakes and substituting ingredients when necessary, but I’ll also share some thoughts for that latter type of torte (multi-layered cake alternating with filling), in case you’re thinking your holiday dinner ought to end with one.

For Healthier Cakes:

1.  Cut the amount of “filling” you use:  If your cake or torte calls for chocolate chips or dried fruit  or coconut flakes or nuts, use mini chocolate chips and/or process the dried fruit or coconut or nuts into smaller pieces. By doing so, you can distribute more of the filling throughout the cake or torte and can then cut the amount you’re using by a quarter or half without losing the flavor and texture.

2.  Swap out solid butter or shortening with coconut oil, which is actually a solid, not a liquid as the name implies.  It’s considered a healthier fat than butter and shortening.

3.  Substitute applesauce or pureed banana, pumpkin or prunes for up to half of the fat called for in a cake recipe.

4.  Swap out melted butter or vegetable oil for a heart healthy oil:  safflower oil, grapeseed oil, canola oil, a nut oil, Smart Balance, olive oil, etc….

5.  Substitute egg whites for the whole eggs.  Two egg whites equals one egg. You can also substitute ground flaxseed meal mixed with water for the eggs. 1 tbsp of meal mixed with 3 tbsp of water equals one egg.

6.  Swap out part of the flour in the recipe with a nut flour, coconut flour or soy flour.  You can substitute up to half of the flour with  a nut flour, about 1/4 of the flour with coconut flour, and up to 1/3 of the flour with soy flour.

7.  Swap the white flour for whole wheat.  100% whole wheat has a higher fiber content, but you can also use white whole wheat if you want something closer to white flour.  Since 100% whole wheat flour is denser than white, you should use about 1/4 cup less in your recipe.

8.  Use Agave or Stevia or Coconut sugar in place of the sugar in the recipe. For every cup of sugar use about half of any of these substitutes.  If you use the Agave and it’s simply a couple of tablespoons to 1/4 cup, don’t worry about it being a liquid.  If you’re using a cup or more, though, decrease any other liquid by at least 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup or increase a flour ingredient by 1/4 to 1/2 cup.

9.  Swap out any “whole” milk product (milk, yogurt, cream cheese, etc….) for a lower fat, lower sodium variety.

10.  Use date molasses instead of regular molasses.  You can use the same amount of date molasses as regular molasses.

For Allergy Friendly Cakes:

1.  Use gluten free flour instead of wheat.  Authentic Foods has a multi-flour blend that includes everything including the xanthan gum which works very well as a substitute.  You can also use your favorite flour blend and add 1/2 tsp of xanthan gum for every cup of flour your recipe needs.

2.  Substitute water, 100% fruit juice or your type of “milk” (soy, rice, almond, coconut, etc…) for any milk needed in a recipe.

3.  Swap out the heavy cream: You can substitute using coconut milk; or 3/4 cup of your type of milk with the addition of an extra 1/4 cup of your type of butter per cup of “cream” needed; or a type of yogurt you can eat; or pureed soft or silken tofu.

4.  Substitute vegan butter or coconut oil for any butter or shortening called for in a recipe.

5.  Use a recipe that calls for a liquid oil as opposed to butter so you can use safflower, canola, grapeseed, walnut, pumpkin, etc… oils instead.

6.  Substitute vanilla soy milk for evaporated milk.  1 1/2 cups is equal to those 12 oz cans usually used.

7.  Make your own dairy free sweetened condensed milk.  This recipe only works for a cake that is going to be baked:  Beat 2 eggs until thick.  Add 1 cup brown sugar and mix well.  Add 1 tsp vanilla and mix well.  Add 2 tbsp of a flour and beat for one minute.  Add 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp salt. Beat for another minute.  Set aside until you need to add it to your recipe. This is equivalent to one 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk.

You can also try making homemade sweetened condensed milk by mixing about 2 1/2 cups of your type of “milk” (rice, nut, coconut, soy) with 8 tbsp sugar or agave.  Stir well and simmer over low heat until the “milk” has reduced and thickened.  This will take a couple of hours.  Keep the heat low and stir frequently.  When it’s thickened, you can add 1/8 tsp of salt and/or 1/2 tsp vanilla, if you’d like.  Put a clear plastic wrap up against the mixture before cooling in the fridge to prevent a “skin” from forming.

8.  Make a dairy free whipped cream.  Chill a can of full fat coconut milk overnight. Turn the can upside down and drained out the liquid.  Put the cold cream into a cold mixing bowl and whip into it’s light and fluffy.

9.  Substitute eggs with 1 tbsp ground flaxseed meal mixed with 3 tbsp water for every egg needed in the recipe.  Simply mix up the meal with the water and let it sit for at least five minutes to thicken to an egglike consistency.  Or if you are allergic to flaxseed, you can substitute 1/4 cup applesauce for every egg needed in the cake recipe and add 1 tsp of baking soda with 1 tbsp of vinegar to the cake recipe.

10.  Use Tofutti sour cream and cream cheese instead of the dairy versions.

11.  Substitute the dairy chocolate in chocolate cakes or fillings with Enjoy Life chocolate bars and/or chocolate chips.  Or use unsweetened cocoa powder instead of the chocolate.  Three tbsp of cocoa powder plus one tbsp of a fat (oil or “butter”) is equivalent to one ounce of unsweetened chocolate. One tbsp of cocoa powder plus two teaspoons of a fat (oil or “butter) plus one tbsp of sugar is equivalent to one ounce of semi-sweet baking chocolate.

12.  Replace nuts in a cake recipe with chopped dried fruit or coconut flakes or chocolate chips.

Allergy Friendly Torte

1.  Decide what type of torte you’d like to make:  chocolate mint (chocolate cake with mint filling); raspberry (white cake with raspberry jam filling); pumpkin spice (pumpkin cake with spiced filling); lemon (yellow cake with lemony curd filling); etc….  The options are actually endless.

2.  Make your cake:  Find a recipe that you really like and make your substitutions as needed.  Most torte recipes will tell you to bake one or two layers and then cut them.  I suggest instead that you bake thinner layers.

Line your cake pans with parchment paper and pour one cup of batter into each pan and bake for 10 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.  Let the cakes cool for a couple of minutes, then turn them over onto a wire cooling rack to cool, removing the parchment paper immediately from the cakes.

If you only own two cake pans or your oven will only fit two 8 or 9 inch pans at a time,  after you bake the first two cake layers and turn them over onto a wire cooling rack, put the cake pans into the freezer for a couple of minutes to cool them.  Then reline them with your previously used parchment paper and fill them with one cup of batter each again and repeat.

I usually find that a basic cake batter recipe for a two layer cake will make six of the one cup layers.  Let all the layers completely cool.

3.  Make your filling:  If you’re simply going to use jam, scoop out whichever jam you are going to use (I like to use Polaner All Fruit which has no added sugar) and whip it up in a bowl to a nice spreadable consistency. Similarly do the same if you are using a store bought lemon or fruit curd or fruit butter.

A recipe for your own lemon curd:  Heat 1/3 cup of lemon juice in a pan until it’s warm, but not boiling.  Whisk two whole eggs and one egg yolk with 1/2 cup of sugar.  Then while you’re constantly stirring, very slowly pour the hot lemon juice into the egg mixture.  Pour all of the mixture back into your pan and cook for about two to three minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 2 tbsp of “butter” which has been cut up into small pieces.  Add 1 tbsp of cream or cream substitute, 1/4 tsp vanilla and 1/8 tsp salt.  If you want the curd to be smoother, push it through a mesh strainer.  Wrap the curd with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the curd surface.  Let it cool in the fridge until needed.

If you are making an allergy friendly cream filling: A nice versatile recipe I like to use is as follows:  Overnight, put two 14 oz cans of coconut milk into the fridge. When you’re ready to use them the next day, turn the cans upside down and open them.  Pour out the coconut water and scoop the “cream” into a cold mixing bowl (I put the bowl into my freezer for about ten minutes, along with the mixing tool.) Whip the cream until it’s nice and thick.

For a chocolate cream, add 1/3 cup special dark unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/2 cup coconut sugar, and 2 tsp vanilla.  To make it minty, reduce the vanilla to 1 tsp and add 2 tsp mint extract.  For a spice cream, add 1/2 cup coconut sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon or a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, etc….  For just a plain sweetened cream, just add 1/2 cup of coconut sugar and 1 tsp vanilla.

While the cream is being whipped, put 2 tbsp of cold water into a bowl. Gently sprinkle 2 tsp of unflavored gelatin over the cold water.  Let it sit for two minutes. Carefully pour 1/4 cup of boiling water over the gelatin and whisk until its completely dissolved. Let it cool for a couple of minutes. Then add it to the whipped cream.  You can either cool it in the fridge for two hours and then stir it and spread it over your layers or you can spread it directly onto your layers immediately and let the entire cake cool for two hours in the fridge.

4.  Layer your torte:  I find that the best way to layer the cake is to use a springform pan that fits your cake.  Put down one of the cake layers on the bottom of the pan, layer your filling, and then keep repeating until you reach the top layer of cake.  Cover and let the cake chill.  When you’re ready to top the torte, release the springform pan and clean up the sides with a metal spatula.

5. Top your torte:  After your torte is cooled, you can frost it with your favorite frosting or cover it with a ganache or top it with melted chocolate.

Elana’s Pantry has some nice allergy friendly frosting recipes if you’re trying to also avoid using sugar.  If you have no problems with powdered sugar, then use a recipe you like and just substitute as necessary for ingredients like butter and spread the frosting over your cooled torte.

For a ganache:  If you aren’t allergic to dairy, heat in a pan over low heat 1 cup of cream, 1 cup of sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt, stirring frequently until it begins to simmer.  Pour the hot mixture over 10 ounces of small pieces of chocolate.  Whisk until smooth.  Add 1 tsp vanilla and 1 stick of butter.  Cover and refrigerate for about an hour until it’s cool but spreadable.  Spread carefully over your cooled torte.

If you need to substitute, you can use Enjoy life chocolate, and/or water or your type of “milk” (this will just make it  bit thinner and have less of a “shine”) and/or 1/2 cup of Agave and/or your type of butter.

You can also make another type of ganache where you melt one ounce of your type of butter with two fluid ounces of your type of milk per four ounces of chocolate, cool, and then whip until thick.

For a hard chocolate topping:  Fill a small pan halfway with water.  Put a larger pan on top of the smaller pan and turn the heat to medium low.  Melt 2/3 of a 10 ounce bag of Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips, keeping the other 1/3 nearby.  Be sure to stir constantly.  Once the chips are melted, remove them from the heat and quickly stir in the remaining 1/3 of the chocolate chips until all the chips are melted.  Working quickly, pour the melted chocolate over the cooled torte, and use a cake spatula to spread the chocolate over the top and around the sides.

You can use regular chocolate if you’re not allergic to dairy.

If you use the chocolate as a topping, you’ll need to remove the torte from the fridge about an hour before you’re going to serve it so it can soften a bit. Then run your knife under hot water before slicing the torte.


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