A light and fluffy healthy smash cake with no butter, no oil, and no sugar. Most importantly (since this cake will hopefully be smashed into a big mess on baby’s first birthday), this cake is easy to make – with only 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, unusual ingredients, or fussy techniques. 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 the 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 6-inch springform pan. It 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.
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 baby’s 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, follow the directions provided. Adding the optional sugar amounts listed makes a cake that any dessert-loving adult would also love.
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:
- Granulated Sugar – As mentioned above, I’ve given the measurements for a small addition of sugar if you’d like to include it or if you’re making this for something other than a baby’s first birthday cake. Even though many classic angel food cake recipes require superfine sugar (or sugar that you’ve pulsed in a food processor) to give them a lighter, finer texture, this cake is small and doesn’t need as much lift as a larger cake – regular granulated sugar works just fine.
- Cake Flour – Cake flour has a lower protein content than all-purpose flour, which means that cake flour creates softer, 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 New York Times’ best-ever Chocolate Chip Cookies)
- Egg Whites – Beaten egg whites are the foundation and key ingredient of this light and fluffy cake. Separate the egg whites and egg yolks carefully to be sure no yolks are in the mix. If you have leftover yolks, make lemon curd (it would be great served over the cake)!
- Pure Vanilla Extract – Make sure it is “pure vanilla extract” and not vanilla-flavored. This will contribute most of the flavor to the cake.
- Cream of Tartar – This acidic ingredient helps to stabilize egg whites so they stay light and fluffy as they bake. Don’t skip it.
- Heavy Cream – Heavy (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.
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 later.
- Beat the egg whites until medium peaks form – do NOT overbeat – the peaks should be white, opaque, and should gently fall over when you pull the beater out of the whites (see photo below).
- Cool the cake upside down (prop up the sides of the pan on cans or jars) to allow air to circulate and prevent it from sinking as it cools.
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.
How to Make the Cake Ahead
This cake can easily be made ahead. Bake and cool the cake completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. You can also wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and then foil and freeze it for up to 6 months (defrost completely before serving).
Smash Cake Photos
Are you wondering if this little healthy smash cake is first-birthday-girl approved? I think the photos speak for themselves.
- 6-inch Springform Pan – 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 serving for each person in our family of five.
- 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
- 3 tbsp Granulated Sugar (optional; see note)
- 1/3 cup Cake Flour
- 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
- 1/3 cup Heavy / Whipping Cream
- 2 tsp Granulated Sugar (optional; see note)
- Fresh Berries
- Make cake: Preheat oven to 325°F. Set out a 6-inch springform pan (note: you can also bake this in a loaf pan). Do NOT grease the pan. Place the pan on a sheet pan (just in case any batter leaks out / spills over).
- In a small bowl, whisk together sugar (portion for the cake) and cake flour. 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 speed until medium peaks form (the peaks should lift and then fall over on themselves when you pull the beater out of the mixture), about 2 minutes.
- Dust the top of the egg whites with the sugar / flour mixture. Use a spatula to gently fold the flour mixture in, being careful not to compress the fluffy egg whites.
- Gently pour the mixture into the springform pan. (There should be at least 1-inch of space from the top of the batter to the top of the pan so that the cake has room to rise.)
- Bake cake: Bake until cake is set and the top is a light golden brown, 25 to 27 minutes.Remove from oven and invert over a cooling rack. 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. Cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
- Make whipped cream: Using a hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine cream and sugar (portion for the whipped cream). Beat on medium-high until light, fluffy, and firm enough to spread over the top of a cake (do not overmix), about 3 minutes.
- Just before serving, spoon whipped cream over top of cake. Add fresh berries.
Second only to the smash cake, June’s favorite thing about her birthday had to be the balloons! She played with them all day long. (So did her big sisters.)
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