When my first grandson, Felix, turned two, we shared our favorite sprouted carrot cake recipe on this blog (Maia made the cake for that party). When Maia’s second baby, Wolfie, turned one a few weeks ago, I offered to make the cake (Maia is quite busy with Gimme the Good Stuff and two active boys out of school for the summer). I stuck with our carrot cake tradition, because we always try to make our children’s birthday cakes a little healthier, and this time I tried one from a Paleo cookbook that I have.
What is a Paleo Diet?
Americans have an obsession with diet books, and there are always new ones being published! As a health coach, I keep myself informed on some of the more popular ones—so I have a well-stocked bookcase in my kitchen. Over the last few years, I began seeing things like “caveman muffins” in my local health food store, and more and more of my clients have asked about “Paleo” diets. Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint, gave a compelling presentation on this topic when I was in nutrition school. It is especially fascinating to me because I spent many years moving away from my meat-eating family roots and adopting more of a vegetarian-based diet, which of course relied heavily on grains and beans (more on this in a moment).
“Paleo” is short for Paleolithic, the prehistoric period of human history distinguished by the development of the most primitive stone tools. Here are some of the highlights of eating a “caveman” diet from Diane Sanfilippo and her book Practical Paleo:
- Eat whole foods, and avoid modern, processed, and refined foods. (I can get behind this, we all know that processed foods aren’t healthy! However, Sanfilippo defines modern as foods after the stone age, such as grains and legumes and other foods that we developed when we started farming)
- Eat to maintain proper digestive function. (I fully agree that our health depends on this function, but what this means can vary depending on the individual.)
- Eat to maintain proper blood sugar regulation. (I agree, but, again this varies per individual. I do agree with her rules about avoiding sugar and processed grains like flour, etc.)
- Follow a plan that will help you reach your personal health goals. (Sounds good, if vague.)
I was on board with Paleo until I read that you should avoid all grains and legumes. Sanfilippo asserts that dairy is ok if raw, grass-fed, and organic. I agree, assuming an individual can tolerate dairy.
My Bottom Line on Paleo
Like most dietary theories, I find Paleo too extreme to be sustainable. However, there are some great recipes that I can enjoy from my collection of Paleo cookbooks!
Wolfie’s birthday cake, for example, was a big hit. This cake is quite rich and certainly a special treat. It’s from the Make it Paleo cookbook by Bill Staley and Hayley Mason. I found it in the “ Treats & Cheats” chapter, so apparently it is not technically caveman food. I guess they weren’t baking cakes back then. What makes this cake Paleo is that it calls for coconut flour instead of grain flour (guess those cavemen were gathering coconuts and making flour from it?). The recipe also includes a date mixture heated in a microwave, Ziplock bags, and vanilla extract. Cheater cavemen!
Paleo Birthday Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
- 5 large carrots, peeled and shredded
- 1 cup pure maple syrup
- ¾ cup coconut flour
- 1 Tbsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- Date mixture (recipe below), plus 4 additional dates for a total of 10 dates
- 10 eggs
- 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup melted virgin coconut oil
- Cream cheese frosting (recipe follows)
- Chopped walnuts for garnish
- In a food processor, using the grating blade, shred carrots.
- Place carrots in a large zip lock bag. Pour maple syrup over carrots and let marinate in the fridge for an hour.
- Preheat oven to 325 F.
- In a small mixing bowl, add sifted coconut flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda.
- Make date mixture (recipe below) with 10 medjool dates.
- In a large mixing bowl or kitchen mixer, blend eggs, vanilla, melted coconut oil, and date mixture.
- Add dry ingredients to wet and blend.
- Remove carrots from the fridge, and drain the excess maple syrup from the carrots using a colander.
- Stir grated carrots into cake batter.
- Grease two 9-inch cake pans with coconut oil. Pour batter into pans. (For easy removal, line pans with parchment paper)
- Bake for 35 minutes. Test center with a tooth pick. If the toothpick comes out clean, then the cakes are done.
- Remove cakes from oven and cool.
- Frost cake with cream cheese frosting, garnish with walnuts, and serve.
- 6 medjool dates, pitted
- 4 Tbsp water
- 1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
- Pour 3 Tbsp water over dates and microwave for 30 seconds.
- Mash with a fork, repeat with last Tbsp of water and microwave another 30 seconds and mash again.
- Add 1 Tbsp of maple syrup and mash again.
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 16 oz full-fat cream cheese
- ½ cup pure maple syrup
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- 2 Tbsp ginger grated (we skipped this ingredient for the kids’ sake)
- Bring cream cheese up to room temperature.
- Blend cream cheese, maple syrup, vanilla, and ginger with a hand mixture or kitchen mixture.
- Use right away or refrigerate.