A light and fluffy healthy smash cake with no butter, no oil, and no sugar. Most importantly (since this cake is meant to make a big mess on baby’s first birthday), this cake just requires five ingredients.
And just like that, our baby girl turned one. We wanted the classic smash cake photo on her first birthday, but every recipe I found seemed overly complicated with fruit purees and a long list of ingredients. Fortunately, I develop recipes for a living, so to the kitchen I went! And came out many tests later with this little gem – an angel food-inspired healthy smash cake that is light, fluffy, and made with just egg whites, cake flour, cream of tartar, pure vanilla extract, and heavy cream (for topping).
The reality is that a smash cake is just for the baby, so it doesn’t need to be fussy. Make or buy a regular cake for the adults (I served my favorite Chocolate Bundt Cake), but give the birthday girl or boy this little sugar-free birthday cake. He or she will make a glorious mess and you won’t have to worry about baby’s first sugar crash. (Scroll down for all of the June’s messy “smash” photos!)
By definition, a smash cake is little. This one bakes in a 5-inch springform pan. The pan seems like a one-trick pony, but I’ve been using mine all summer long to make this cake (with the addition of some sugar) as a perfectly-sized dessert for our family of five.
If you only use the pan once, just pass it on to someone else who might be making a smash cake for their own baby’s first birthday.
Ingredients for Angel Food Smash Cake
One of the best things about this recipe is that it has very few ingredients. All you need is:
- Egg Whites – Egg whites are the foundation of this light and fluffy cake. Separate the egg whites and egg yolks carefully to be sure no yolks are in the mix. (Don’t want to waste those leftover yolks? Use them to make lemon curd.)
- Cake Flour – Cake flour has a lower protein content than all-purpose flour, so it creates more tender baked goods. You want your angel food cake to be light and fluffy, and cake flour will help you get there. Don’t skip this ingredient. (And that extra cake flour? Store it in the freezer and later you can use it to make the infamous New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies.)
- Cream of Tartar – This acidic powder helps to stabilize egg whites so they stay light and fluffy as they bake. Don’t skip it.
- Pure Vanilla Extract – This will contribute a light vanilla flavor to the cake. Feel free to skip this ingredient if you’d prefer to keep things simple.
- Heavy Cream – Heavy cream (or whipping cream) is whipped into a light topping for this cake. This makes a great, unsweetened, “frosting” that leads to wonderful messiness for photos.
Sugar in Baby’s First Birthday Cake
Many people prefer not to give their baby sugar on their first birthday. There’s no reason to add sugar to a smash cake, since most babies will smash the cake and make a fun, photograph-friendly mess without the taste of sugar.
The basic recipe below is for a sugar-free cake which tastes like unsweetened light, fluffy white bread. If you’re okay with a small amount of sugar, you’ll find measurements for adding it. Adding the optional sugar makes this a cake that any dessert-loving adult would also love.
Do you need cream of tartar in angel food cake?
Don’t skip cream of tartar in angel food cake. The cake will rise higher with cream of tartar and will give it that light and fluffy texture that is so unique to angel food cake.
Okay, so let’s talk about how to make this cake!
Step 1: Separate Egg Whites and Egg Yolks
You just need egg whites for this cake. It’s important to carefully separate the egg whites and egg yolks. If any egg yolk finds its way into the mixture, the egg whites won’t form the soft peaks you need in order to give the cake its light, fluffy texture.
Step 2: Beat Egg Whites into Soft, Fluffy Peaks
This is the most important step (and the one I get the most questions about!). Combine the egg whites with cream of tartar and pure vanilla extract and then beat them using a hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. The egg whites need to form soft, fluffy peaks. This should take 3 to 4 minutes of beating on medium-high, but don’t worry so much about the time. Focus on how the egg whites look. When they are properly mixed, the entire mixture will be opaque, white, and evenly fluffy throughout. Look for soft peaks that rise out of the mixture when you lift the beaters out and tip over on themselves at the top.
Step 3: Fold in Cake Flour
Gently dust the top of the egg whites with cake flour. Many larger angel food cake recipes have you sift the flour before adding it, but in the small amounts used for this cake, there’s no need to take that extra step. Just sprinkle the flour over top and use a whisk or spatula to gently fold the dry ingredients into the egg whites until evenly combined. Take your time with this step – stirring too hard or fast will compress the egg whites and cause your cake to lose volume.
Step 4: Bake and Invert to Cool
Gently pour the batter into an ungreased 5-inch springform pan. Bake until the top of the cake is light golden brown, about 25 minutes. When the cake comes out of the oven, invert it and cool it upside down. This seems strange but it will help the cake to maintain its height. You can cool it upside down on a cooling rack or just use two small cans or jars to support it.
Reminders: Tips for a Light, Fluffy Angel Food Smash Cake
- Use a regular pan, not one that is labeled as non-stick.
- Do NOT grease the pan. As the cake bakes, the egg whites will rise by clinging to the sides of the pan. You will release it from the pan by running a knife around the edges once it cools.
- Beat the egg whites until soft, fluffy peaks form. Don’t worry so much about the timing, just keep an eye out for opaque, white peaks that stand up and tip over on themselves at the top.
- Gently fold in cake flour. Don’t stir too hard or you’ll compress the air bubbles in the egg whites.
- Cool the cake upside down to allow air to circulate and prevent it from sinking as it cools.
Make Angel Food Cake Ahead
To make this cake ahead, bake it according to the instructions and allow it to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. You can also wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and freeze it for up to 4 months (defrost completely before serving).
“Frosting” for Smash Cake
The “frosting” for this cake is just plain whipped cream made from beating heavy / whipping cream until it is light and fluffy. For an easy (and photo-friendly) way to add the frosting, transfer the whipped cream to a small ziptop / plastic bag. Seal the bag and then cut off one corner. Genty squeeze the whipped cream out over the top of the cake in billowy rounds.
Wait to frost the cake until right before serving.
Congratulations on your baby’s first birthday!!! And big congrats on deciding to make the cake yourself. Check out the comments below for lots of troubleshooting, tips and tricks from me and other readers. Don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments if you need an extra hand as you bake.
Smash Cake Photos
Are you wondering if this little healthy smash cake is first-birthday-girl approved? I think the photos speak for themselves.
- 5-inch springform pan – (Updated June, 2020: Previously I recommended a 6-inch springform pan to bake this cake, but 5-inch springform pans are now more easily available and they lead to a smaller, more narrow cake that is a better size for a little one. The link provided is to the exact pan I now use to make this cake. I recommend this one for best results.) You’ll need a small pan to bake this healthy smash cake. Springform makes it easier to remove the cake after baking. I thought I would just use this little pan once to bake my one-year-old’s sugar-free birthday cake, but I’ve actually used it all summer long to make the version of this cake with sugar. It makes a perfect size cake for each person in our family of five to have a small slice that I top with whipped cream and fresh berries.
- Hand Mixer – The fact that there are people who have (and still do) beat their egg whites by hand never fails to amaze me. Safe to say, I need a mixer to get those whites light and fluffy. This does the job every time.
Healthy Smash Cake for Baby's First Birthday
- 5-inch springform pan
- 1/3 cup Cake Flour
- 3 Tbsp Granulated Sugar (optional; see note)
- 4 Egg Whites, chilled (from large eggs; reserve yolks for another purpose or discard)
- 1/4 tsp Cream of Tartar
- 1/4 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract (optional; adds flavor but is not neccesary)
- 1/3 cup Heavy / Whipping Cream
- 2 tsp Granulated Sugar (optional; see note)
- Fresh Berries (optional)
- Make cake: Preheat oven to 325°F. Set out a 5-inch springform pan. Do NOT grease the pan. Place the springform pan on a sheet pan (just in case any batter spills over the top as it bakes).
- If adding the optional sugar, whisk together cake flour and 3 Tbsp sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Using a hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, combine egg whites, cream of tartar, and vanilla. Beat on medium-high speed until the egg whites form soft, fluffy peaks, 3 to 4 minutes. (Note: This is the most important step in making this cake. Beat the egg whites until the entire mixture is opaque, white, and fluffy throughout. The peaks should stand up straight with a little bit of a curl at the top when you lift the beaters out of the mixture.)
- Sprinkle the cake flour over the top of the egg whites. Use a whisk or spatula to gently fold the flour mixture in, being careful not to compress the fluffy egg whites.
- Pour the bater into the springform pan. (Note: Fill the pan with batter to just below the top. Discard any leftover batter.)
- Bake until cake is set and the top is a light golden brown, 23 to 25 minutes.
- Remove cake from oven and invert over a cooling rack or two glasses / cans. Allow cake to cool completely upside down (for at least 1 hour).
- Run a knife around the edges of the cake to gently release it from the pan.
- Make whipped cream: Using a hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine cream with 2 tsp sugar (if using). Beat cream on medium-high until light, fluffy, and firm enough to spread over the top of a cake, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Just before serving (and when the cake is completely cool), spoon whipped cream over top of cake. (Note: If you want an even more photo-friendly topping, you can transfer the whipped cream to a small ziptop / plastic bag. Seal the bag and then cut off one corner. Genty squeeze the whipped cream out over the top of the cake in billowy rounds.)
- Top the cake with fresh berries, if you'd like. Serve!
Second only to the smash cake, June’s favorite thing about her birthday was the balloons. She played with them all day long. (So did her big sisters.)
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