Recipe Makeover: Butter Birthday Cake

“I just want to make her happy.”

Many of my friends are in what folks refer to as the sandwich generation. They’re “young” enough that they still have children at home but they’re “old” enough that their parents are aging and in need of care. One of my friend’s mother has begun experiencing dementia symptoms which complicates my friend’s care of her mom because the mother keeps forgetting she has diabetes and that she now has adverse reactions to gluten and dairy.

The mother’s 80th birthday is coming up, and she apparently is fixated on having a butter birthday cake with chocolate frosting the way her mother (my friend’s grandmother) used to make. So, my friend reached out to me, asking if I might be willing to play around with the recipe which her mother had written down in an old journal of recipes.

The original recipe called for 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 eggs, 1 tsp vanilla, 3 cups all purpose flour, 3 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, and 1 1/4 cup whole milk.

The butter: Substituting for the butter is easy. I simply used Earth Balance’s vegan butter. I did cut the amount to 3/4, though, which would cut some of the fat and calories but not diminish the butter taste.

The sugar: Since there were no nut allergies present, I opted to switch out the sugar in favor of a one to one ratio of coconut sugar. With diabetes, one has to be careful not to have too much sugar. While coconut sugar will still affect the system as a sweetener, it has a lower glycemic index than white refined sugar. If I had been making it for myself, I would have used one cup of coconut sugar, but I figured the mom would want a sweeter cake like the one of her memories.

The eggs: Three eggs are a lot, so I chose to decrease the eggs to two eggs and increased the milk by 1/4 cup to make up for the loss in liquid ingredients by the one egg. I could have used just egg whites but then it would have been a white cake we were making and not the traditional yellowy butter cake, which again, I figured would be what the mom remembered.

The vanilla: Since I reduced the butter and eggs, I increased the vanilla to 2 tsp to enhance the flavor and give the cake more of that browned butter taste.

The flour: With diabetes, one has to be careful about carbs, too. Cake is going to have a lot of carbs no matter what you do, but I tried to make them healthier carbs. I decided to use a Krusteaz gluten free blend which is a blend of sorghum, millet, and quinoa flours with brown rice flour which added a bit more protein and fiber than one would find in just a white rice flour blend.

The baking powder: Because we were making a gluten free cake, I needed to increase the leavener a bit. Instead of just adding more baking powder, though, which could give the cake a metallic flavor, I decreased the baking powder to 3 tsp and added 3/4 tsp of baking soda.

The salt: The mom has a bit of hypertension, so I decreased the salt to 1/2 tsp.

The milk: Since the mom couldn’t have milk, we needed to substitute. The recipe called for whole milk, though, which means we needed the milk to be thick. I opted to make a homemade butter milk, using soy milk and vinegar. Another good substitute would have been flax milk which has the texture of a whole milk, but flax milk doesn’t have any protein which I wanted to make sure was in the cake. Since I had reduced the eggs by one, I increased the milk to compensate not just for the egg but for the fact that gluten free flours can make for a drier cake.

The frosting: The recipe in the mother’s journal called for 1½ cups butter (3 sticks), softened, 1 cup unsweetened cocoa, 5 cups confectioner’s sugar, ½ cup milk, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract… which was a lot of sugar and butter and also contained the milk the mother could no longer have. As such, I decided to make the frosting which my family loves because of it’s creaminess, which is just a combination of Enjoy Life chocolate chips and avocado oil and vanilla.

Butter Birthday Cake with Chocolate Frosting


3/4 cup Earth Balance vegan soy free butter

2 cups coconut sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

3 cups gluten free flour

3 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups “milk” of choice (soy, flax, almond, etc…)

2 tbsp white vinegar

2 cups Enjoy Life chocolate chips

1 cup avocado oil

1 tsp vanilla

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Prepare three 9 inch cake pans by lining them with parchment paper.
  3. In a mixer cream together the butter and coconut sugar until a paste forms. Only takes a minute or so.
  4. Mix in the eggs, one at a time.
  5. Add vanilla. Set aside.
  6. In a bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  7. Stir the milk and vinegar together and let sit for a couple of minutes to thicken.
  8. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix well.
  9. Divide the batter evening among the three cake pans.
  10. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes until the cake is puffed and golden, pulling from the sides, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  11. Put the pans onto a wire rack to cool for ten minutes. Then remove the cake layers from the pans and allow them to cool completely on the wire racks.
  12. In a large microwave safe bowl put the chocolate chips with the avocado oil. Heat for a minute. Then stir until the chips have completely melted and the mixture is smooth.
  13. Add the vanilla and mix well.
  14. Pour the mixture into a mixing bowl and put into the freezer for 15 minutes.
  15. Check the chocolate. It should have begun to harden around the sides but still be sloshy in the middle. Scraped down the sides and put the mixture back into the freezer for 10 more minutes. (If your pan is very shallow and the mixture is hardening in the center already, then you don’t need to put it back into the freezer.  Just scrape down and follow the next step. My bowl is deep and requires almost 25 minutes in the freezer.)
  16. After the second time in the freezer, if needed, pull out the bowl, and scrape down the sides. The middle should no longer be sloshy but a soft hardening, not a completely solid hardening. Use the mixer to begin to whip the chocolate.
  17. Begin on low speed and slowly go to a higher speed, making sure to occasionally scrape down the sides. The chocolate mixture will become lighter in color and fluffy and creamy in texture.
  18. When the cake layers are completely cooled, frost the cake in between the layers and around the sides and top, and enjoy!




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