Los Angeles Times – Cat Wellington wants to save the planet with chocolate birthday cake. Not the kind that's loaded with eggs and slathered with rich buttercream frosting, but an organic vegan version for kids who have food allergies or other special dietary needs.
Undeterred by the seeming paradox that healthful chocolate cake can still be the life of the party, the Santa Barbara resident launched an alternative cake-mix business, Sweetie Cakes Co., about seven months ago. She distributes her certified organic, vegan and fair-trade mixes and frostings (the latter designation ensures that farmers and suppliers receive a fair wage) through her website and the Isla Vista Food Co-op. She's also talking with representatives at Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Trader Joe's and Gelson's about the possibility of selling her products.
"For me, it's a win-win adventure," Wellington says. "I'm trying to protect our ecosystem, and that's the whole philosophy of organic. And I want to help kids."
Especially kids who have food allergies. Wellington didn't realize she was allergic to dairy products and eggs until four years ago. (No wonder, she says, all those birthday cakes she ate as a youngster upset her stomach.) So she decided to tweak a traditional chocolate cake recipe and create a dessert that she and her twin sister, Beth, who also has food allergies, could enjoy.
The result was a success, and on their 45th birthday last year, Wellington recalls, "I said, 'Let's make it into a mix and available for other people. I want to make it really easy.' "
It certainly is. Her three chocolate cake mixes (one gluten-free, one sugar-free and one "regular") come in plain brown paper bags that resemble children's lunch sacks and require only the addition of oil and water. The regular chocolate isn't actually "regular" because it's dairy- and egg-free. She's currently working on a chocolate-chai version.
As for the ingredients, "I'm really, really picky," Wellington says. The gluten-free mix, for instance, contains organic brown rice flour, garbanzo bean flour and tapioca flour as substitutes for wheat. Her two chocolate frostings use powdered evaporated cane juice as the sweetener.
The gluten-free cake has a dense, brownie-like taste and texture. The batter has an oily smell, which mostly fades during baking. The regular version, containing organic unbleached baking flour, more closely resembles a typical cake in taste and smell. The frosting, meanwhile, is as sweet and silky as any homemade variety, especially if non-vegans use butter instead of margarine as Wellington suggests.
But do the cakes have fewer calories than the decadent ones we love so much? Surprise: Not really. Wellington's are about 250 calories per slice; a comparable slice of devil's food cake made with a Pillsbury's mix is 260. Still, in an unscientific survey, the Sweetie Cakes versions competed favorably—in calories and taste—with other organic and gluten-free chocolate cake mixes on the market.
For Wellington, they're simply a sweet dream come true.
Visit and shop Sweetiecakes at www.sweetiecakesco.com
Photograph by Ray Kachatorian; Food and Prop Stylist Karen Gillingham; Article by Leilah Bernstein; Reprinted with the permission of Cat Wellington