I love making this Healthy Gingerbread Spice Cake during the fall, it is perfect for a Halloween treat and great for Thanksgiving too. I actually first got the idea for this recipe from Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook, Deceptively Delicious (which really does give so many imaginative ways to sneak fruits and veggies into all sorts of foods!)
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 just as much as Jessica’s.
When my son was real little I used both books quite a lot for healthy kid-friendly recipe and meal idea inspiration. By playing around in the kitchen over the years I have discovered I can make so many of the recipes even more nutritious by sneaking in superfoods such as flaxseeds, wheat germ, chickpea puree, hemp seeds, etc. 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 does not necessarily mean your recipe is then truly, intrinsically healthy. This is the same problem people have when trying to figure out whether or not a packaged food is healthy or not. The thing is, the majority of the ingredients used in a recipe (or packaged food) need to be healthful in order for the food to be considered 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.
How Can You Make a Healthy Gingerbread Spice Cake?
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 used Coconut Palm Sugar, which is an unrefined sugar that still contains all of its vitamins and minerals plus molasses, which at least contains trace minerals like iron, zinc, chromium and copper. But not to worry, I promise my Healthy Gingerbread Cake 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 by another 1/4 cup without sacrificing taste….
2. Be sure to use whole grain flour. Your conventional 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 in her healthy gingerbread spice cake. But, why use any nutrient-poor and refined all-purpose flour at all? You can still get an amazing tasting cake by using 100% whole wheat flour. I actually take this to the next level by using Biodynamic Whole Wheat Flour (if you are gluten-sensitive biodynamic whole wheat flour just might actually be a flour you can tolerate! Click HERE to read more about how some non-celiac gluten-sensitive people find they can still tolerate this particular flour and to learn why it is my favorite all-purpose flour.) However, if you absolutely must be gluten-free, then try Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten Free Flour (it is the most nutritious one I have seen on the market and also has fiber, which many all-purpose gluten free flours are lacking.)
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. 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 fan of milk (click HERE to read why). 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!
Ok, enough talk. On with the recipe….
- ¼ cup melted extra virgin coconut oil (such as Barlean’s brand) plus more for wiping pan
- 2 cups biodynamic whole wheat flour (such as ISIS Biodyanamic Whole Wheat Flour) or Bob's Red Mill All-purpose gluten free flour
- ¼ cup flaxseeds (such as Barlean’s brand)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- ¼ teaspoon unrefined sea salt
- ½ cup coconut palm sugar
- 1 organic, pastured egg
- 1 package (10 ounces) frozen butternut squash puree, thawed (or 1 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin puree)
- ½ cup organic coconut milk
- ¼ cup molasses
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with extra virgin coconut oil.
- In a large bowl, mix the flour, flaxseeds, baking soda, fresh ginger, cinnamon, allspice and salt; set aside.
- In a high-speed blender (such as a Vitamix), add the sugar, coconut oil and egg; process until smooth and creamy. Add the butternut squash puree, coconut milk, molasses and vanilla extract and process again until ingredients are well-blended. Add wet ingredients in with the dry ingredients and mix until smooth.
- 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.