Train Birthday Cake- Food Coloring Free, Gluten Free, Vegan (and Gluten Free Vegan Sugar Cookies Recipe)

I can't believe that my son Lee is already 5 years old! Holy cow- that means I've been a mom already for 5 whole years! I mean, in a way it feels like I've been a mom forever since my "momhood" is such a huge part of my life (not to mention feeling it was forever ago that I was able to go to the bathroom in peace), but at the same time, so often, when people ask me how old I am, I am just about ready to slip out "18" because, in many ways, I still feel like I'm that young. (I became a mom at 19.)
In honor of Lee's birthday, we threw him a birthday party today for his friends. (Ike had a birthday party last week.) Lee requested that I make him a train themed birthday party, specifically Thomas the Tank Engine.

Now, the thing is, Thomas the Tank Engine is really cute and all, but he's bright blue. And as much as I'd love to comply with his request and make him a Thomas the Tank Engine birthday cake, our home is free of food coloring, and I don't know how to make blue frosting naturally.
"Is it ok if I make you a Percy or Henry birthday cake?" I asked him, since Percy and Henry (from the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends series) are green, and I knew just how to make green frosting.
"Yea, that's fine, Mommy."

So, I attempted to make a cute Thomas the Tank Engine cake for the train themed party, and while my cake wasn't a beautiful work of art, it definitely scored me big Mommy points with Lee. He was so thrilled to have the cake, that it almost didn't matter that my creation looked far from perfect.

So, the reason my cake wasn't perfect was because I did an awful lot of experimenting to get it. My cake was:
Gluten Free
Oat Free
Egg Free
Dairy Free
Processed Food Free
Margarine Free
Food Coloring Free...

Tough job to do all that, but fortunately I managed.

I have to say that I get inspired by my mom when it comes to cake making- she typically would make us cute birthday cakes in all sorts of shapes, like firetrucks, cars, trains, airplanes, etc... But, as she said today, I "take it up a notch" because she used food coloring, margarine, and all sorts of candies and such to decorate the cakes, not to mention using gluten and eggs... So, its a challenge to fill in mom's shoes, even with those requirements of mine.

So, how did I do it?

First, I made a vanilla cake. I'd share the recipe here, only I played around with the recipe to try to get a vanilla vegan gluten free cake, and while it tasted good, it didn't rise much, and the texture was kind of funny... Which is why my train was so short! But either way, here's what the cake looked like.

To make the face for the train and the wheels, I wouldn't be able to use Oreos as my mom would, so instead, I found a recipe for vegan sugar cookies, which I then changed up a ton and used to make these.

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup white sugar/xylitol/sucanat
1 cup gluten free all purpose flour mix or wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 pinch ground vanilla
6-8 teaspoons water

1. Mix the peanut butter and the sugar.

2. Mix the rest of the ingredients other than the water, and then add to the peanut butter mixture.

3. Add the water, one teaspoon at a time, until you get a workable dough that doesn't crumble when you shape it.

4. Make a large circle for a face, and a whole bunch of little circles for the wheels. Decorate the face as desired. I used pumpkin seeds for the eyes and half a cashew for the mouth.

5. Bake at 350 until just starting to brown, about 10 minutes.

To make my green frosting, I took coconut oil, and refrigerated it until it was solid, as it currently is liquid at room temperature in my house, as it is so warm.

I whipped it up and mashed it up as best as I could, and then added a bunch of homemade powdered sugar (sugar stuck in the coffee grinder- this can be made healthier by doing the same with xylitol or sucanat) and mixed it in. I also added a drop of lemon juice.

To get the green color, I added green spirulina powder and a drop of turmeric to make it yellower.

I added this a bit at a time until it became the color green that I wanted.

I made black frosting basically the same way. Coconut oil, powdered sugar, and cocoa powder.

I also made a pipable chocolate frosting for decoration, using a technique similar to making chocolate sprinkles, only I just piped the frosting directly onto the cookies and the cakes to make wagon wheels instead of on a tray to dry as I would have if I were making sprinkles.

I then lined my tray with aluminum foil to make it prettier as the tray was pretty ugly, but you can skip this step if you want.

I cut the cake into three main parts- two long, one short, to make my train, with another little bit at the back as a train car. I needed to make this cake three layers because it was so dense as it hadn't risen, but had it risen, I only would have needed two layers, one shorter, one longer.

I positioned the cake as I wanted it to be, so I'd see what I was working with.
Just a tip- lay two pieces of parchment paper under the cake, slightly overlapping in the middle, and sticking out the edges. You'll frost the cake, then remove these pieces, leaving the tray free of any frosting drips.

I frosted the bottom layer of the cake chocolate/brown, and put a layer of chocolate frosting on top of it. I then added another layer, and frosted it in green, then put another layer on that, and frosted that in green.

I added some decoration in black frosting at the top, and added a smoke stack made from a frosting covered cookie by sticking it in the cake. I made the car in the back by covering the scraps with chocolate frosting, and then giving it green frosting on top to be the "equipment being delivered in the freight car".

I added the face and the wheels to the cake with frosting. I should have made the wheels smaller so I could put more wheels per side, as right now the cake looks more like a car. Oh well.

When finished, carefully pull the parchment paper out from both sides to expose the tray and clean up any messes.

If you're wondering what other games/activities we played at the party...

1. The kids all made a giant human train and ran around the yard...

2. The kids each became trains and were told to collect as many different types of "cargo" from the ground as possible. (Leaves, sticks, rocks, etc... are each a different "type of cargo", and the kids with the most types of cargo after 2 minutes wins.)

3. The kids were given a pile of blocks and a small little platform (an upside down container). The blocks were cargo, and the platform was the train platform. They were tasked to see how many items of cargo they could place on the platform at once without any falling off.

4. We were going to play "chugga chugga choo choo" (train version of duck duck goose) but didn't get around to it.

Great party!

Everyone loved the cake! Not a single drop left.

Do you have pretty/cute cakes for birthday parties? Do you make your cakes or buy them? What is the fanciest type of cake you've had/made at a birthday party? 
Have you ever attempted to make a cute birthday cake without any food coloring/with a bunch of dietary restrictions? Were you successful?

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Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal

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