I love birthdays. So when it recently came to light that three of my wonderful colleagues have their birthdays in the same month, I was the first to suggest a party. After much diary crunching we finally set a date for a big birthday BBQ and I was declared official birthday cake maker, much to my delight. That was, until I realised that the various dietary requirements of the guests would make it no mean feat.
I’ve tried a couple of diabetic recipes before with good results, but never anything on this scale. Originally the plan was to adapt my trusty sugar-free Red Velvet cupcake recipe into something larger, but that went to pot when I ran out of red food colouring and couldn’t find anything in the shops that didn’t turn my mixture vomit-brown (this is a recent problem with UK stockists, which resulted in my first attempt going straight in the bin). So I got to wondering, as Carrie Bradshaw once said. What would happen if I just made the Red Velvet cake without the, er, red?
Food colouring is just food colouring, after all. It doesn’t actually add anything, flavour-wise. What I found out after a spot of Googling is that there’s a big online debate over the nature of Red Velvet cake: is it a chocolate cake, a buttermilk cake, or something else entirely? My own view is the latter. Yes, there’s chocolate involved, but it’s not really enough to make the cake look or taste like chocolate, which is where I initially came unstuck in my endeavours. I discovered that I needed to add a lot more cocoa powder to the mixture to prevent it turning out an unappetizing beige colour, but failed to realise the obvious: extra dry ingredients lead to extra dry sponge. And that was how Cake #2 met its doom.
To my extreme joy and relief, on the third attempt I got the science right. More cocoa, less flour (and zero sub-par red food colouring) and I was left with two layers of wonderfully squidgy chocolate sponge. The frosting was easy-peasy, with just a bit of cocoa powder needed in the diabetic cream-cheese frosting I usually use. And there it was: a diabetic, nut-free, rather humungous birthday cake that everyone seemed to enjoy (I got the tin back a few days later without a crumb in sight, which is always the acid test). Understandably, it wasn’t as sweet as cake made with real sugar, but it had a nice subtle flavour and the texture was rather fab. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the chocolate fanderols I used for decoration are definitely not sugarless, but were just too pretty to resist. As I told my lovely diabetic friends, sometimes you just have to suffer for art (or else they could always pick them off and give them to me).
6 heaped tbsp cocoa powder
270g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
10 tbsp Splenda Granulated
2 large eggs
150ml sunflower or olive oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tsp white or white wine vinegar
300g cream cheese (light or full-fat are both fine, though full-fat will produce a better consistency)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3.5 tbsp Spenda Granulated
Chocolate fanderols, to decorate
1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees and line two deep 16cm cake tins with parchment.
2. Place the flour, cocoa, bicarbonate and Splenda in a mixing bowl and stir to combine.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk oil, egg, buttermilk and vanilla, pour into the dry ingredients and mix to form a thick batter.
4. Lastly, add the vinegar and mix again, but don't over-beat.
5. Spoon into the prepared tins, even out with a spoon and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the sponge is springy but still moist. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
6. To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in the vanilla, then the cocoa and Splenda to make a thick buttercream.
7. Cut a thin layer off the top of one of the cakes, then sandwich the sponges together with a small amount of the frosting. Use the remaining frosting to cover the cake, spreading with a palette knife and swirling the top. Finish with chocolate fanderols or other decorations of your choice.