Today we have a fun one. This child, let’s give him a fake name: Jake. Jake is a complex case and has a very short list of safe foods. Aside from having food allergies that limits variety, there are additional restrictions within the safe foods. Jake has limits on his starch and fiber intake. As you can imagine, every day meals can be a challenge, but his mom, let’s call her Sue, joined RAISE and has been able to manage meals utilizing our support.
Now, day-to-day life was pretty well handled. But that’s every day. Here’s the real dream: Jake was turning three and had yet to taste the joy that is birthday cake. He’d seen his family and friends enjoy the sweet treat, but had always been excluded due to his restrictions and lack of safe options.
My Approach & Solution
In my opinion, birthday cake is one of those particularly special foods that every person, regardless of their dietary restrictions, should have access to in some form (more on that later). I looked at each safe ingredient available to Jake, and had to determine what we could make since key elements of a traditional cake were missing.
My solution was to create a very cakey chocolate brownie, which for a kid, can pass for cake. This was done in part because the cacao could give the recipe a fighting chance at success, as compared to a vanilla cake. It would also help with the final texture and stability (for slicing).
The real challenge however was the frosting, and required some serious creativity. Frosting is typically a simple combination of powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, and milk. In this special case, I leaned into one of my favorite special ingredients: Tiger Nuts. I know the name makes them sound like they are a nut, but they actually belong to the tuber family.
Given Jake’s limitations, I ended up inventing a wild frosting that leaned into tiger nuts. It’s not something most people would think of, however, if you’ve ever heard of Ermine frosting (uses cooked flour), it’s almost a play on that. One of the key goals was to stabilize his safe sweetener and make it spreadable.
Jake was OVER THE MOON happy with his cake. It was the first time he was able to be like the other kids. His party was a smashing success, there were candles, and everyone in attendance ate with him. Birthday inclusion for the first time in three years!
The cake was so good that the taste testers insisted that the recipe be on RAISE as well.
Jake is now 5. He’s thriving and I recently had the opportunity to meet him in person. Two years later, he instantly recognized me as the person who helped him finally have cake, and was excited to meet me. I assumed I was just a blip in his small life, but obviously I was part of an important milestone that he will remember for a long time.
I was truly honoured that a little kiddo would remember something like that, and that I was able to use a wild idea to help him make memories. Jake’s cake is a good reminder for all of us: food has a large impact on our social relationships and culture.
This is why I will never stop sharing tools to help people enjoy their food. No matter the restrictions, we can find a way to include everyone and change the world one bite at a time.
The story of Jake shows us that a lot is possible in the kitchen. If you’re facing a similar situation, think outside the box. For example, a stack of safe pancakes with custom frosting between each one is a literal panCAKE. Another option is to shape watermelon in the shape of a cake and add cute fruit decorations all over using mini cookie cutters.
Sometimes, a birthday cake only needs to LOOK like a birthday cake, and of course, have candles on top. When we think outside the box, so much is possible.