CakeGranted, the blank canvas of the birthday cake allows for personalization: race cars for the little boy, beach scenes for the sunbather . . . all with lots of room for writing something special. Some bakers can even convert a photo into a remarkably similar, icing version that covers the surface of a round or sheet cake.

But bakers and birthday celebrants can get tired of the same old birthday cake. Who says a sense of festivity can’t be derived from brownies, tortes, trifles and pies? These desserts can be easily personalized and, with a few special trimmings, ratcheted up to full-on party level in their own right.

Bigger, Bolder Alternatives to Birthday Cake

Trifle:  This dessert in a glass, pedestaled bowl highlights colorful layers of cake, pudding, cream, fruit and chocolate. The surface is firm enough to hold candles. Serve in dishes using a big spoon.

Mass of Mousse in a Trifle Dish:  Big crowd coming? Quadruple your favorite mousse recipe, top with whipped cream, chocolate shavings and raspberries. Sparklers in the top rather than candles? Now that’s special.

Healthy Alternatives: 

Fresh Fruit Pies with Whole Wheat or Nut Crust: While still around 300 calories per slice, fresh fruit pie at least contains 20% of an adult’s daily Vitamin C requirement per serving. Mixing fruit like peaches and raspberries or strawberries and rhubarb can keep the flavors from getting cloying. Choose fresh fruit baskets in season for maximum flavor. Avoid canned fruit and never buy fruit in syrup. Some health conscious bakers replace up to ½ of the sugar called for in the recipe, adding vanilla, nutmeg or cinnamon to boost flavor.

A lot of healthy goodness can go down in a pie crust. Partially replace (up to half) butter and saturated and trans fat ingredients with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, like apple sauce or fruit puree. Although debate rages about the safety of canola oil, nutritionists at the Mayo Clinic claim that it’s very low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat and is therefore a healthy and safe choice when it comes to oils.

Pie crusts made from nuts or whole wheat graham crackers create a more nutritious crust as well.

Angel Food Cake:  Kill the icing, drizzle fruit puree instead. A little chocolate sauce or shavings pulls it all together. What about chocolate angel food cake instead?  Cocoa powder converts this fluffy dessert into a chocolate delivery system. Topped with strawberries and low-fat whipped cream, it can be a stunning sight lit with birthday candles.

When There Will Be Dozens of Guests

Donut cake:  Break out your Thanksgiving platter and get ready to stack. Three dozen donuts stacked in increasingly smaller circles form a pyramid. If it just looks like a pile of donuts, drizzle icing or fruit puree, sweeping the donut mountain with dramatic strokes. Sprinkles, raspberries, small candies or chocolate chips further unify. Ring the bottom rather than the top with candles to allow for more room. You can also step the candles up and down the sides like a staircase. Go ahead: make your masterpiece.

Cookie CakeCupcakes, Brownies and Other Gourmet Desserts:  Cake toppers aren’t just for big cakes anymore. Martha Stewart and other vendors create smaller versions for cupcakes, and bakers have been using them on tarts, brownies and more. How to do the candle blow? Just fill a pan or platter with these individual confections, insert candles and carry to the table. By avoiding the cutting a cake requires, you won’t miss the photo opportunities.

Trending these days are chocolate covered brownie pops. Ideal for small children, the brownie pops’ sticks keep small hands (and upholstery, curtains, faces) clean. More, they’re often decorated in whimsical patterns children delight in. Look for coupons to cut the price when you want to order or send brownie pops online.


Bedazzle at Birthdays with Cake Alternatives

The bottom line on a birthday dessert is that it has to be special for the special day. Resort to confections you don’t use often. Candle choices, too, reflect the extra care put into the birthday planning. There are soccer ball candles, wiggly candles and you can even get a musical spinning birthday candle for five dollars on Don’t forget the confetti with names on it. All of these things help to personalize the dessert, so that the birthday boy or girl, man, woman or dog knows you care enough to make it remarkable.