Mmmm there’s no better treat than a birthday cake! Just thinking of the sweet, fluffy confection puts me in the mind to celebrate. Sure, a chicken will pretty much eat anything, including birthday cake, I’m sure! But where we crave sugar, they go gaga for corn. While we love that scent of vanilla and chocolate, they seem a little more motivated by seeds and protein-rich yogurt. Why not treat them on this special day with something special? Inspired by a few discussions on BackyardChickens.com, to come up with an birthday cake equivalent for the hens in our life. It’s time to bake a hatchday cake!
Chickens don’t really like or need any additional sugar, so a regular cake recipe wouldn’t really be appropriate. One thing they definitely do like, if not need, is corn! So I used an Alton Brown recipe as a base for my cake, adapting “Cornbread, No Chaser” from his fantastic cookbook, I’m Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking. It’s a great place to start because his is already unsweetened, so I just reduced the salt, replaced most of the vegetable oil with flax seed meal and pumpkin puree (applesauce would work well too) and then threw in a ton of extra tidbits that I know our girls like.
Prep your pans. Alton’s cornbread recipe calls for a cast iron skillet, but that’s not as fun to decorate, so I adapted it to two 6″ mini cake pans. They’re deeper than a skillet, so lining them with parchment is key to popping the cakes out when they’re done baking. Don’t skip this step or you’ll have crumbled layers!
Mix together your dry stuff, and your wet stuff, then combine. Carrot cake was a close second for a base, so I brought grated carrots to this recipe to make it a little more interesting and nutritious, and adding it now coats the pieces in flour so they suspend in the final mixture better. Zucchini would probably be great too.
Did you know applesauce and flax seed meal are both adequate substitutions for oil? Even in baking for humans. It’s a great way to healthy up a recipe a little bit, although it can result in a slightly denser product. Neat trick, hippies!
Once the wet and dry are just mixed together, throw in pretty much the whole pantry: organic oats, millet, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, diced dried apricots, whatever you have on hand, up to about a cup total.
Other ideas might be mashed banana, diced apples, chopped nuts, spinach, steamed winter squash (whatever’s in season!), dried mealworms if you’re so inclined to bring them into your kitchen…
Mix it real good… or at least just until it comes together.
Spread the batter evenly between your pans. Mmm close-up! Look at all that goodness.
Pop ’em in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Keep an eye on ’em! They could go faster, depending on the pans you use.
With any luck, they’ll rise just like regular cake or cornbread, so hopefully you didn’t over-fill the pans.
Ooooh delicious seeds and nuts and fruity bits.
Remove the cakes from the pans and let them cool. Really do this part! Otherwise you’ll end up with melted yogurt frosting everywhere.
Okay, now it’s time to employ just one expert cake-making skill! This isn’t as hard as it looks, especially with a small layer like this. Just take a bread knife and skim off the top domed portion of each layer. Save that bit for later, or if you’re like me, sneak a taste. Ew no sugar, little salt, it’s gross! The chickies are going to love it.
See how nice and flat it is now? Much easier to stack and frost. No sliding melty-cake. And you get to see all the tasty morsels up close.
Mmm yogurt. Try not to eat this all yourself. I usually buy Straus full fat yogurt, which our ladies love, but I was worried it wouldn’t be thick enough so I went with Fage which was recommended on the BYC forums. It’s a little chalky for my taste (must be the missing fat!) but it doesn’t have any weird thickeners (how?!) and the chickens seemed to like it just the same so I guess it’s all good.
Start with the top layer…a generous amount will help keep the crumbs under control.
Stack and smear. Flipping the top layer upside-down helps too.
And… smooth and beautify. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
But it will be anyway! Break out the decorations. Just make sure they’re all edible and safe or too big to fit down a chicken gullet.
Those wiggly-looking green things are dried calendula, I swear – but some curly wormies would be welcome too, I’m sure.
No matter what you do, how gorgeous your creation is, they’ll be suspicious at first. But they’ll come around. It’s fun to see who’s most adventurous and attacks first. Don’t forget to capture the moment! Happy Hatchday!
1- 1/4 cups cornmeal
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 small carrots, grated
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup flaxseed meal (yum omega-3s!)
1/4 cup pumpkin puree, applesauce or other fruit puree
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup or so of mix-ins your girls love; I used:
- 8-10 dried unsweetened apricots, diced
- Handful of rolled oats
- Handful of millet
- Handful of sunflower seeds
- Tablespoon or so sesame seeds
Butter or cooking spray for greasing the pans
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (No fruit or vanilla flavors, even if you like the color! Too much sugar.)
Edible toppings for decorating; I used:
- Handful of dried calendula petals
- 2-3 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1/2 pint strawberries, sliced
- Sprinkle of unsweetened shredded coconut
- Sprinkle of mealworms, if your girls need extra persuasion to take a nibble
Preheat the oven to 450º F.
Prepare two 6″ cake pans (or equivalent alternative pan, maybe a single 8″ or 9″) by greasing all sides then then lining the bottom with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and grated carrot. In another bowl, whisk together oil, flaxseed meal, puree and eggs. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients. Add the milk and stir just enough to incorporate. Add your mix-ins (you can eyeball these) and stir to incorporate. If it becomes too dry, add a splash of extra milk, but the key is to not overload with extras so much that it compromises the structure of the cornbread.
Divide the batter between your two pans and smooth the tops. Place the pans on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the surface starts to crack and the cornbread is golden brown. (Adjust the time depending on your cake pan size.)
Invert a serving plate over the top of one pan and flip the whole thing – the cornbread should fall right out. Peel off the parchment paper and discard, then repeat with the other pan. Set the cakes aside to cool completely on a baking rack. Don’t attempt to frost when the cakes are still warm or you’ll have a mess!
Once the cakes are cool, use a long bread knife to cut the rounded top off each layer so you have two flat surfaces to stack. Reserve the trimmings for some other treat occasion.
Place the bottom layer on a cake stand or plate. Use a spatula to spread 1/4 cup of the yogurt over the flat surface, to the edges. Stack the next layer and frost its top with another 1/4 cup of the yogurt. Use the remaining yogurt to frost the sides and smooth out the top. If you have trouble with crumbs, try applying a thin layer of yogurt first to “seal” them in, then go back with a more generous swipe.
Decorate the cake as you wish! I trimmed the bottom edges with sliced strawberries turned pointy side up, and ringed the top with dried calendula petals and sesame seeds. If you use a candle, remember not to light it, and remove it if anyone tries to take a nibble.