On Groaning Cakes and the best laid plans
I am reading The Birth House. Again.
Ever since my first semester of midwifery school when I chose it for a class assignment, I seem to pick it up in the fall more years not. It's fair to say it's my favourite novel of all time. (Thank you Ami McKay!) It's very hygge, and birthy, and also political, but in a historical way that won't be too draining to be a book you'll want to tuck into bed with at night.
It was The Birth House that introduced me to groaning cakes.
"What is a groaning cake?" you might ask, and it's a fair question. It's not really something you see at your local bakery. As Ami (I'm referring to her in a colloquial way as if we're friends, though we're really only Facebook friends because she kindly accepted my request as a fan) explains, the delicious smell of this cake being baked in the presence of someone in labour is said to help ease their pain. It's also believed that "if a mother breaks the eggs while she’s aching, her labour won’t last as long." What speaks to my nutritionist mind is the part about the dark molasses, fruit and spices helping someone to power through long labour, or provide strength after the birth.
I made a request in my own birth plan that we bake a groaning cake while I laboured at home, but somehow between the flurry of early-contraction excitement, and then the stunning pain that followed that had me unwilling to be anywhere but the bathtub, it slipped off my radar. So, last week, when I knew my neighbour was labouring next door to bring her own wee November daughter earthside (welcome Margot Rose!), I couldn't help having her on my mind all day. I decided I'd distract myself by baking a groaning cake for her. I shared it on Facebook and Instagram at the time, and a few of you asked for the recipe, so who am I not to oblige?
The recipe at the back of Ami's book and on her site is inspiring. But if you know about me and food, you know that I am inclined to adapt most recipes I lay my eyes on for one reason or another. In this case I wanted to make it gluten- and refined-sugar-free, so here's what I came up with:
Make this for a labouring or newly postpartum friend, during your own labour, or for brunch or tea any day. Oat flour (and the lack of gluten) gives this loaf a delicate crumb. I chose oats because they promote lactation and soothe the nerves. The flour is easy to make by grinding rolled or steel-cut oats in a high-powered blender, though gluten-free oat flour is also becoming more widely available in stores. Make sure your wet ingredients - the eggs, maple syrup, and molasses are at room temperature so that the melted coconut oil doesn't seize up when you combine them.
Serve this loaf plain, with organic butter, or topped with homemade plum butter, as I did for my neighbours last week! (This recipe also works for to make muffins - perhaps about 18 of them? You'd want to reduce the baking time to about 22-25 minutes.)
3 cups oat flour (see note above)
1 tbsp. xanthan gum
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. grey sea salt or pink Himalayan salt
1 medium apple, grated
3 organic eggs, whisked (or try ½ cup filtered water + 3 tbsp ground flax seeds mixed to make a glop)
¾ cup maple syrup
½ cup melted unrefined coconut oil
¼ cup organic blackstrap molasses
1 tsp. almond extract (optional)
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
¾ cup organic raisins, or finely chopped unsulphured apricots or pitted dates
zest of 1 organic orange
Preheat your oven to 350oF.
Whisk together the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder and soda, spices and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the apple just until all the grated bits are coated in flour. Pour in the eggs, syrup, oil and molasses, and mix just until all the flour has been absorbed. Fold in the nuts, dried fruit and zest.
Portion the batter evenly into 2 oiled and parchment-lined baking pans (medium loaf pans work well, but I've also used round cake pans).
Bake for about 45 minutes, until the top is domed and no longer shiny, and a small knife inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean. Allow to cool before covering. Keeps overnight on the counter, or store in the fridge or freezer if it needs to last longer.
If you'd like to have more confidence when it comes to whole foods baking, or are looking for support in creating a hygge birth or postpartum plan, I do all those things! Please don't hesitate to reach out.