First Birthday Cake

First birthday cake with mashed banana, orange juice, and maple

Our little man turned one earlier this month so of course, I made him a cake.

My birthday dessert policy is simple: pick what you want, and I'll make it. This applies to anyone old enough to have an opinion (I've made my husband a cheesecake and friend a coconut cake in past years), but since Henry isn't talking just yet, I decided on a festive, mini-sized, and mostly wholesome cake to celebrate.

There are a lot of things we could discuss in this post. How fast the year has flown by. How different life is. How my capacity to exercise/write/cook/read/etc. has changed. How I no longer fit into my skinny jeans from two years ago. How I've completely altered my self-imposed expectations surrounding my writing life. How watching my son pick up pieces of homemade food with his own two hands is utterly satisfying. (And when he says mmmmm, with a smirk and a twinkle in his eye, it's one of my favorite things.) How I've been more sentimental than usual recalling the hot summer months at the end of my pregnancy last year, because, as I mentioned, the year has flown by.


Birthday Cupcakes (photo by Tawny Alipoon)

The truth is, in some ways I feel enormously settled into our new lives. But when your to-do list is long and ideas spark quicker than you can act on them, it sparks conversations about what's really important, how valuable my time is, and where to devote my energy. I've been managing to navigate this period of my life in large part due to Essentialism, a book I read this past spring. The general premise is simple: less but better.

1st Birthday Cake

It requires you to take a look at what's really happening and see where you can make changes. It means fewer events on the calendar. It means donating clothes you don't wear. It means letting magazine renewals lapse and hitting unsubscribe to old newsletters. It means saying no to activities that don't provide value. It means resting more.

It also means on a sunny October day, I spent more time enjoying the moment than worrying about all the details. Sure, I ran around in the morning to pick up cupcakes and set up the tables and blow up balloons. But once the party started, I was right there watching my son laugh and play, completely joyful and grateful to be celebrating this milestone.

That's what's really essential, isn't it?

The rest, well, I'll get to it eventually.


As first birthday cakes go, this one is relatively wholesome. Instead of granulated sugar, the cake is lightly sweetened with maple syrup and orange juice, and the mashed banana gives it a very banana bread-type feel. I riffed on this gem of a recipe from The Faux Martha.

A few weeks before the party, I tried Melissa's recipe as-written to make sure it worked in my pans and was the size I wanted. For the day-of, I doubled the recipe and baked 4 cake layers in individual, 4 1/2-inch springform pans (similar version here). I wanted a thicker smear of frosting, plus an extra cake layer just in case something went wrong during baking or assembly. To serve, I placed the cake on top of a 6-inch cake board

Makes 1 triple layer, 4.5-inch cake, with extra, just in case

For the cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup spelt flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cinnamon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup whole milk
2 eggs
1 small ripe banana

For the frosting
16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
4 to 6 tablespoons maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of four 4.5-inch springform pans with parchment paper. Whisk the flours, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the maple syrup, orange juice, milk, eggs, and whisk until combined. Mash the banana in a small bowl, then add it to the wet ingredients and incorporate with a wooden spoon.

Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Evenly distribute between the four pans, and place them on a sheet pan.

Bake for 16 to 18 minutes*, or until the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool completely before assembling. (*This timing worked with Melissa's original recipe, but when I doubled it and had thicker cake layers, I found my cakes needed a bit more time, closer to 25 minutes. Just check on them periodically until they're done.)

To make the frosting, beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add in one tablespoon of maple syrup at a time, until the sweetness suits your palate. 

To assemble, remove the cooled cakes and place one layer on the bottom of a cake board. If needed, slice through the tops with a serrated knife to make the tops even. Add a thin layer of frosting and stack the additional cake layers, inverted (so the bottom and flattest side is up), on top, and add more frosting. Repeat with final layer, then frost the outside of the cake.

Note: I did a light crumb coat first and let the cake chill in the fridge for 30 minutes before finishing, but Melissa's "crumb coat" also looks adorable if that's the look you want! Finish with sprinkles, candles, or other festive decorations.

Photos captured by Tawny Alipoon