I really wanted a cake that would be delicious, as natural and organic as possible, dye-free and low in sugar. It seemed that I couldn't have my cake and eat it, too. My friend Karen, an amazing baker and pie-maker extraordinaire, was going to make the cake but things got complicated with her shop and had to cancel, so I had a week to get the perfect cake made!
I went to Whole Foods and to our two local health food stores but no store had natural food dyes at the time and even if they had them I knew they cost approximately $20 a pop! And so my kitchen became a lab for four days as I tinkered with our juicer to make perfect colors.
I also found a fantastic recipe for vegan fondant out of ricemellow (vegan marshmallow paste) and organic powdered sugar.
I know you must be thinking that it doesn't sound like the fondant was low-sugar, and it wasn't but I figured the kids at the party probably weren't going to eat much fondant anyways. So why go through the trouble of making the fondant dye-free? Because I prefer sugar over chemical dyes any day of the week. They just freak me out!
The downside to using natural dyes is that you can't ever get Elmo to look as red as you want him to, it won't happen! He'll be pastel Elmo but as long as baby girl doesn't mind I'll continue making pastel colors.
Red: I juiced beets in our awesome juicer and then boiled it for just a little while. Be very careful! Stand over it the entire time as it will happen very fast. Then when it cooled I mixed it with a bit of coconut oil to mix it in with the fondant.
Green: easiest color! Juiced spinach (Don't boil! It doesn't improve like the beet juice did!) but it gives a nice green color. I've heard you can also just buy chlorophyll at the health food store and use that instead.
Yellow: I first used turmeric dissolved in water but it was too runny, so I threw that batch out, read more about turmeric, found out as I suspected, that it's fat soluble, so I mixed into warm coconut oil and was very pleased!
Blue: I boiled red cabbages and found a great blue hue but it was too runny and when mixed with the fondant it looked gray and made the fondant too liquid and sticky. Decided against using that color.
Orange: carrots! It's always fun to juice carrots. Although the juice was a bit too watery and the boiled down trick didn't work. Fortunately I only needed a little bit of orange for the cake. \
Homemade Vegan fondant:
(I promise you will have ingredients leftover)
-12 oz coconut oil
-A tub of ricemellow creme
-Half a pound of powdered sugar
Oil hands and work surface thoroughly, no need to measure, but if you must then, get about a tablespoon of ricemellow. Place on one hand and add lots of powdered sugar with the other hand. It helps if the powdered sugar is in a bowl you can reach into. Also place some oil in a bowl so you can dip your hands as you work the mixture in your hand and on the surface. Mix sugar into the sticky ricemellow until it stops sticking and it becomes a malleable paste (this can easily take five minutes! Do not despair!)
Once you make it you can separate it to color it.
Make a small ball with some fondant, flatten it and add a few drops of color and work it in. The humidity of the natural dye will probably make the fondant sticky again so feel free to add more powdered sugar, which will make the color paler and will force you to add more natural dye, and on and on you will continue this cycle until you find the compromise between color and texture.
The oily dyes (turmeric) work better because they're not watery (spinach) and you can achieve vibrant color without changing the texture that much. Also, the more sugar you use, the harder the paste will become and the easier it will be to shape it!
Now that you have your colored fondant you can shape it!
To make the caterpillar I used the biggest ball of fondant and colored it green, then rolled the ball out into a caterpillar shape and used a blunt knife to make the sections. I used a bit of the red and yellow fondant to make the face.
I made one apple out of red and green fondant.
Two pears out of green fondant, three plums out of red fondant mixed with green and I may have even used some coffee drops!?
I can't remember now but I was trying to achieve a plum color! Also four strawberries out of red and green for the tops, and five oranges out of the orange fondant mixed with the red (beet) fondant and yellow fondant.
I was a bit worried that I was limited by the colors but once I shaped the strawberries different from the apples it didn't matter that they were the exact same color. I even used a toothpick to make tiny little dots on the oranges.
Every piece of decoration froze well on a cookie sheet covered with wrap. An hour before the party I took them out of the freezer and popped them out of the plastic wrap and placed them on the frosted cake. Ta-dah!
The cake breakdown: Bottom layer was two vegan chocolate cakes (12" diameter) with chocolate ganache (non vegan) in between them. The top tier was a vegan apple spice cake (9" diameter). The cakes were made a couple of days before the party and frozen to make decorating easier. The frosting was buttercream frosting also made from scratch.
And although my plan was to make the entire cake vegan as possible I forgot to use coconut oil for the frosting and coconut milk for the ganache on the actual day! The day of the party I only made the frosting, the ganache and decorated the cake.