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When Your Kid Wants a “Junky” Birthday Cake

Apparently 4-year-olds want to eat spray-painted cartoon characters.  Here is a conversation between my son, Sam and I:

“Sam, what kind of cake do you want for your birthday?”  (I’m thinking he’ll request one of my regular culinary wonders: a nice sourdough chocolate cake, maybe honey-sweetened carrot cake, or perhaps one of my favorites: whole wheat cake with burnt butter frosting.)

He says, “I want a JUNKY cake!  From the store!  With pink frosting!!!”

Um…yeah.  So, what does one say to the light of their life on their fourth birthday when the desire of their little heart is a poisonous cake?Well, we had a conversation about chemicals, additives, and preservatives, real food versus “fake food,” and what it does to our bodies. We’ve talked about this before.  I also told him, quite convincingly, that the cakes we make at home are much more delicious than what you can buy at the store. Though I’m not entirely sure those chemical cocktails couldn’t work their sinister magic on his impressionable tastebuds and convince him, at least momentarily, that they were indeed more delicious than homemade. But luckily he took my word for it. And with the promise of homemade colored frosting we had a deal.

We had some food coloring left over from a non-edible project, so I used a bit, quite sparingly as you can see (that’s all of three drops in the whole cake). If I’d thought ahead I would have ordered this plant based food coloring. Sam had such a great time making the cake with me, and especially decorating it. It was my first time doing a “real” birthday cake, instead of just a normal dessert with birthday candles plopped on. We even got the special pastry bags and tips!

Even though it looks very much like a “junky” cake, it’s actually pretty close to my typical dessert creations: 100% whole wheat cake and frosting sweetened with honey.  I knew we’d hit a home run though when Sam’s cousin who normally turns his nose up at my healthy desserts, gobbled up his whole slice!  Here’s the recipe, which we’ll likely be using as our go-to birthday cake recipe from now on.  The only thing I’m going to fiddle with is the sweetener for the cake.  I used organic, evaporated cane juice and I’d like to try it with something slightly more virtuous, and less sweetener overall.  Maybe the addition of some sort of fruit puree instead?  This may not be my healthiest dessert recipe, but when faced with a request for a “junky cake,” I think it was definitely the better option!

Print Recipe

“Junky” Birthday Cake


  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil melted
  • 2 1/2 cup whole wheat flour whole wheat pastry flour is nice if you have it
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup butter softened
  • 1/2 cup sucanat
  • 1 1/2 cup evap. cane sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup boiling water


  • 3 sticks butter softened
  • 3 boxes cream cheese softened
  • honey to taste
  • vanilla about 1 tsp



  1. Mix the cocoa and coconut oil into a drizzly paste and set aside.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar.
  3. Add the rest of the wet ingredients, except the sour cream and water.
  4. Mix together the rest of your dry ingredients.
  5. Add the dry flour mixture and the sour cream, alternating about 1/2 cup of each at a time.
  6. Slowly mix in the boiling water.
  7. Divide the batter evenly between two buttered and floured round 9″ cake pans.
  8. Bake at 375°F for just under 25 minutes (err on the side of less done than more, gooey cake is better than dry cake).
  9. Let them cool a bit in the pans, then turn them out onto a cooling rack to finish.


  1. Mix butter and cream cheese together (Gasp! I know!!!)
  2. Add honey, tasting as you go.
  3. Add vanilla. I totally didn’t measure, so just add slowly and taste often.
  4. Don’t let it get too warm or the frosting doesn’t hold it’s shape as well. You can put it in the fridge for a bit if the shapes start becoming less distinct. Just don’t let it get rock hard.

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  • hi. my son asked for the exact same thing!! a junky cake!
    but i need to make it gluten free- what do you think about substituting with a gf mix?

    aliza March 16, 2017 AT 10:57 pm
  • I did make this for her birthday and it was a HUGE hit!!! Thank you so much! :-)

    Stacy @Stacy Makes Cents June 27, 2013 AT 8:19 pm
  • since it’s a chocolate cake I’ve heard prune puree can be used without affecting the chocolate flavor, I’m not a chocolate fan but this might be worth trying out for my nephew who has demanded a “wedding cake”(3 tiered chocolate cake w/ vanilla frosting) for his birthday,

    kasey April 22, 2013 AT 1:54 am
  • This is great, thanks! I pinned it for my daughter’s 4th birthday in June. :-)

    Stacy @Stacy Makes Cents March 5, 2013 AT 11:28 am
  • What a beautiful cake! I like the pastel color and the ingredients that are all natural. I also really like that I can print your recipe. I’m not eating wheat yet but it will be there when I’m ready. Thanks for sharing.

    Julie Drigot March 5, 2013 AT 8:24 am
  • I love this post. Our daughter is allergic to peanuts so we can’t buy the “junky cakes”, even if we wanted to. Which we do not! I was lucky enough to have a homemade cake for my birthdays, and now we try to do the same. Will definitely give this recipe a try. I had wanted to try the plant based food colouring, and had forgotten about it, will have to order and give it a try.

    Kim March 5, 2013 AT 7:46 am

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