It’s no secret we get a kick out of making not-so-healthy things a bit healthier. It’s also no secret we like to celebrate, and we’re fans of the occasional indulgence. Greatist's second birthday — that’s today! — is no exception. We hope you’ll celebrate the healthy way right along with us, whether that means making a healthier cake, picking a healthier drink, or fitting in a few bodyweight exercises before heading out to party. No matter your choice, we’ve got the resources you need. Here are 20 of our favorite healthier ways to make a cake to celebrate any occasion.
Before we get to some of our favorite recipes, here are a few of our favorite tips on how to make any cake (or sweet bread) recipe a little bit healthier.
Healthier Cake Tips
- Applesauce is your friend. This old lunchbox favorite makes a great substitute for sugar or fat when baking a cake (just don’t try to replace both at the same time…). When subbing for sugar, applesauce can be used as a replacement in a 1:1 ratio — just be sure to reduce the amount of milk, water, or other liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup for every cup of applesauce added. To cut down on oil or butter, start by replacing half of the fat with applesauce (for example, a recipe using 1 cup oil would be reduced to ½ cup oil and ½ cup applesauce).
- Swap white flour for something a bit healthier. Skip white flour for something healthier, whether it’s whole-wheat flour, nut flour, or a mix of a few different types. White, or “all-purpose” flour is processed in a way that removes the bran (the outer layer of the wheat grain) and germ of the wheat, taking away all the healthy stuff like fiber.
- Slim down the toppings. If you’re already chowing down on cake, there’s no need to top it with more refined sugar! Instead of traditional frosting and candy toppings, try frosting with something lighter, such as fresh whipped cream (or coconut whipped cream!) or meringue. Instead of sprinkles or candy, top with fresh fruit or antioxidant-rich dark chocolate.
- Cut down on fat to save unnecessary calories. In addition to applesauce, there are a number of easy and healthy recipe substitutions to help cut back on unnecessary added fat in all kinds of baking recipes. (Not that fat is unhealthy, just that, why add extra if you don’t need to? Save your fat allowance for that hunk of Brie cheese in the fridge!) One of our favorite substitutes is mashed banana. Just one cup of mashed banana works perfectly in place of 1 cup of butter or oil (just be prepared for a big banana flavor kick, too). For chocolate cake, ¾ cup prunes pureed with ¼ cup boiling water makes another great substitute for butter (seriously!).
1. Carrot Cake
This healthier carrot cake recipe cuts out the sugar, white flour, and excess butter in favor of healthier substitutions like dates, whole-wheat flour, and bananas. Add in a healthy dose of carrots, coconut, walnuts, and raisins, and you’ve got a perfectly textured cake with zero added sugar. And you don’t need to pass on the cream cheese frosting, either — this one calls for cream cheese sweetened with honey and lime juice.
2. Healthier German Chocolate Cake
Moderation is still key with this semi-decadent recipe. The classic recipe gets a healthier twist by subbing in a natural sugar alternative in the actual cake, and soy milk and coconut milk in the frosting.
3. Flourless Chocolate Cake
There’s no flour in this simple chocolate cake, but that doesn’t make it any less decadent. You only need a few ingredients, too, nearly all of which pack a nutritional punch: baking chocolate, eggs, butter or coconut oil, cocoa powder, and honey.
4. Banana Snack Cake
Any cake that can count as a snack gets an A+ in our book. A combo of whole-wheat and corn flour give this loaf cake a nice crumby texture, while stevia, ripe bananas, and almond butter lend just the right amount of sweetness.
5. Flourless Tangerine Cake
This recipe takes three tangerines — the whole things — and turns ‘em into smooth, citrusy puree that turns the resulting cake a festive shade of yellow-orange. Sugar, almond meal, and eggs make up the rest of the cake for a lightly sweet, super-citrus flavored cake perfect for a spring or summer celebration. We imagine it would be to die for with a drizzle of dark chocolate. (Yum!)
6. Whole-Wheat Chocolate-Zucchini Cake
We promise you won’t be able to taste the zucchini or recognize the whole-wheat flour in this tender and delicious cake recipe. In addition to these two wholesome main ingredients, the cake gets its sweetness from a bit of honey and applesauce, and its unique flavor from cinnamon, cardamom, and cocoa powder.
7. Fruit-Only Tiered “Cake”
This “cake” is the ultimate healthier choice for celebrating. Spoiler alert: There is no actual cake! But there’s still loads of deliciousness. You’re going to need some serious fruit peeling and knife skills to pull this one off!
8. Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Jar Cakes
This sweet potato-based cake makes for a gorgeous display when studded with dark chocolate chips! Plus, the toppings are completely customizable: choose whipped cream and chocolate chips, or fresh fruit and Greek yogurt — neither will be more than delicious!
9. Cookies and Cream Greek Yogurt Cake
Cookies and cream is one of those iconic flavors that perfectly satisfy any sweet tooth. This recipe takes the guilt out of the occasional indulgence in cookies-and-cream goodness by including whole-wheat flour and Greek yogurt.
10. Deep-Dish Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cake
We know, it’s hard to believe a recipe with a title like that could be a (semi) healthier choice. The crust is made from hemp seeds, dates, flax seeds, and cacao powder; the filling is all frozen bananas, dates, cashews, coconut oil, water, cacao powder, and nut butter. This is one cake that’s sure to fulfill that sweet tooth while also providing nutritional value.
11. Persimmon Bundt Cakes
Fall and winter are the prime seasons to bake fresh persimmons into these little bundt cakes. When ripe, the fruits’ texture is similar to apricots or plums, and they have a slight cinnamon or clove flavor. The fruit itself lends these 200-calorie mini cakes a healthy dose of fiber, while ginger, lemon juice, and unsweetened applesauce give them a fresh flavor without all the added sugar.
12. Beet Seed and Blood Orange Cake
Beets, and blood oranges, and mixed seeds, oh my! Grated fresh red beets give this cake some texture, nutrients, and color, while the blood orange lends its strong citrusy flavor and golden raisins and seeds stud the cake for a hint of sweetness and crunch. We imagine this would be great topped with a dollop of honey-sweetened Greek yogurt!
13. Dark Chocolate Orange Cake
Chocolate and orange — a flavor match made in heaven. This festive cake uses triple sec (an orange-flavored liqueur) and orange juice to add a fruity flavor to the chocolate, egg, cocoa powder, sugar, and cornstarch cake base. This cake might not use any fat, but it is still pretty sugar-heavy, so stop yourself at one slice.
14. Harvest Cake
This veggie-packed cake is perfect for those without a strong sweet tooth. Carrots, zucchini, beets, walnuts, and raisons give it a great carrot cake-like texture, while the goat cheese frosting is a great cross between sweet and savory that’s just a little more tart than the typical cream cheese frosting.
15. Shocking-Ingredients Chocolate Cake
We’re going to go out on a limb here and mention this cake’s strangest ingredient: cauliflower! Don’t’ stop reading yet. Combined with the wet ingredients and pulsed through a food processor, cauliflower helps give this cake a crumby, cakey texture. Plus, you get the health benefits of cauliflower (like cancer-fighting glucosinolates, and high levels of fiber and vitamin C) and while eating dessert! Top with a nut-butter frosting for some delicious, healthy fats.
16. Lemon Chia Seed Cake
Bananas, chia, and a mix of coconut and millet flour form the base of this wholesome-looking cake. Lemon juice and zest give it a familiar flavor, too. It’s great as-is as a sugar-free snack, or as a dessert when topped with cream cheese frosting or fresh whipped cream.
17. Whole-Wheat Apple Cake
With four apples, whole-wheat flour, and chia seeds, this cake is delicious and nutritious. Butter, milk, and an egg give it a nice cakey texture, while vanilla extract and evaporated cane juice lend some sweetness.
18. Dark Chocolate Date Cake with Pecans
Packed with dates, cocoa powder, and ginger, this is one flavorful cake that’s sure to impress. Protein-rich ricotta cheese, a mix of gluten-free flours, and chunks of toasted pecans give it a nice dense texture that lies somewhere between a normal cake and a chocolate torte.
19. Blueberry Layer Cake
There are blueberries in every phase of this cake, from the batter, to the filling, to the topping. Blueberry-tastic! Paired with whole-grain, gluten-free flours and a creamy cream cheese frosting, this cake’s just sweet enough for dessert, but can also pass as breakfast or a snack.
20. Watermelon "Cake"
Okay, there’s technically no cake here — but a big hunk of watermelon is the perfect stand-in in this recipe, especially during warmer weather. Frost it with whipped coconut cream and top with roasted almonds and fresh fruit, and you have a fiber-filled, super-fresh healthier cake on the table.
What’s your favorite healthier take on cake? Share with us in the comments below or start a conversation over in our Greatist #foodlover community forum!