I love making this Gingerbread Spice Cake during the fall, it is perfect for a healthy Halloween treat and great for Thanksgiving too. I actually first got the idea for this recipe from Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook, Deceptively Delicious. However, I wasn’t going to follow the recipe exactly as it appeared in the book. And here’s why…
The MAJORITY of the Ingredients Used Need to Be Healthful In Order for a Recipe to Be Considered Really, Really Healthy
I think Jessica Seinfeld’s brilliant idea to add fruit and vegetable purees to all sorts of kid-friendly recipes (such as mixing cauliflower in mac and cheese, spinach in brownies, and carrots in meatballs) is just that…brilliant. Actually, bestselling author Missy Chase Lapine did this first in her book Sneaky Chef. I have Missy’s book too and I absolutely love it!
Anyway, I had started slowly spiking my recipes with ultra-healthy ingredients (flax, wheat germ, hemp seeds, chickpea puree, etc.) when I was working on the recipe development for my first book. This was back in 2004 and since then (and since first reading the Sneaky Chef and later Deceptively Delicious) I’ve gotten even more adventurous in the kitchen. I have to say, once you start experimenting it really is amazing how many super healthy foods you can manage to sneak–undetected—into an astonishing number of recipes.
But, here’s the deal. Just because you sprinkle some flaxseeds into your cake batter or mix half a cup of carrot puree in a meatloaf that serves 8 doesn’t necessarily mean your recipe is then truly, intrinsically healthy. The majority of the ingredients used need to be healthful in order for a recipe to be considered really, really healthy.
When I do recipe development my goal is to use as many health-promoting, nutrient-dense ingredients as I possibly can without sacrificing taste. Of course this is often easier said than done…especially when making desserts.
What Can You Do to “Health” Up Gingerbread Spice Cake (& Other Cakes Too!)
1. The most obvious thing to do is to reduce the sugar. Your average gingerbread spice cake recipe calls for a most unhealthy 2 cups of sugar. The Deceptively Delicious Cookbook called for 3/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of molasses. I managed to reduce the sugar by an additional 1/4 cup and I promise it still tastes sweet as pie In fact, I bet you could even reduce the sugar by another 1/4 cup and not notice the difference. As a side note, there’s an interesting “sweet point” phenomenon I’ve experienced when making desserts…you actually only taste the sweetness up to a certain point. After you reach the critical “sweet point” adding more sugar doesn’t necessarily make the dessert taste much sweeter. However, there’s a definite fine line here…if you reduce the sugar too much it won’t be sweet enough. You sort of have to experiment with the “sweet point”. In this recipe I still think you just might be able to reduce the sugar another 1/4 cup without sacrificing taste…
2. Be sure to use whole grain flour. Your basic gingerbread spice cake calls for all-purpose flour (which is highly processed, fiber-less and enriched with synthetic nutrients). Deceptively Delicious calls for 1 cup whole-wheat flour and 1 cup all-purpose. But, why use any nutrient-poor all-purpose flour at all? You can still get an amazing tasting cake using white whole wheat flour. To read more about white whole wheat flour click HERE.
3. I added a full tablespoon of freshly grated ginger. In Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine, ginger is known as the “universal remedy”. It’s got potent anti-inflammatory properties and is also rich in antioxidants. Plus, fresh ginger also adds a richness you just can’t get from bottled ground ginger.
4. Instead of highly refined, empty calorie vegetable oil I used extra virgin coconut oil. To read more about the health promoting benefits of extra virgin coconut oil click HERE.
5. I added an entire 10-oz box of frozen butternut squash (Deceptively Delicious called for 1 cup of broccoli puree and 1/2 cup carrot puree—I added the butternut squash only for convenience because it was already pureed! It’s not any healthier, just less work on my part (Ok, so I’m a smidgen lazy sometimes!) By the way, if you are making this for Halloween you can absolutely substitute canned pumpkin puree for the butternut squash.
6. I swapped the yogurt for organic coconut milk. I did this because I’m not a huge fan of dairy products. I try to eat as few dairy products as possible…especially if eliminating them doesn’t sacrifice taste. Coconut milk contains important plant-based phytochemicals not found in any animal foods, including milk. And, the coconut milk makes the gingerbread spice cake ultra moist.
7. I also added 1/4 cup ground flaxseeds to give my gingerbread spice cake a healthy omega-3, fiber and phytochemical kick!
What Does the “Healthy” Version Taste Like?
I’ll be honest, I never made the Deceptively Delicious recipe so for all I know it could taste ten times better than my version. All I can say is that my “eat clean” version delivers a super moist, tender spice cake that nobody would ever suspect was “healthy”. Because of the sugar I still consider mine a “dessert”…but other than the sugar it really is pretty darn healthy as far as desserts go. Almost guilt free!
And by the way, kids love to make and eat this! That’s my little guy in the photo below.
Gingerbread Spice Cake
Note: This is a vegetarian and dairy-free recipe
- 1/4 cup extra virgin coconut oil (such as Barlean’s brand) plus more for wiping pan
- 2 cups white whole wheat flour (such as King Arthur Flour brand)
- 1/4 cup ground chia seeds or flaxseeds (such as Barlean’s brand)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
- 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 organic, free-range egg
- 1 package (10 ounces) frozen butternut squash puree, thawed (or 10 ounces canned pumpkin puree)
- 1/2 cup organic coconut milk
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with extra virgin coconut oil. Place 1/4 cup measured coconut oil in a microwave-safe bowl and place in microwave for 30 seconds, or until melted. Set melted coconut oil aside.
2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, flaxseeds (or chia seeds), baking soda, fresh ginger, cinnamon, allspice and salt; set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, add the sugar, coconut oil and egg; beat until smooth. Add the butternut squash puree, coconut milk, molasses and vanilla extract. Add dry ingredients in with the wet and mix until smooth.
4. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake on the middle rack in the center of the oven until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake, 45 to 55 minutes. Cool 5 minutes in the pan before turning the cake out onto a rack to cool completely.