The Paleo Perspective on Babycakes NYC™

It was the last full day of school for my two boys (yes, school ends late around here) Taking advantage of the time, I trekked into New York City for a little fun on my own. One of my stops was a bakery I first visited last summer: Babycakes NYC™. Found on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Babycakes Bakery serves

“all-natural, organic and delicious alternatives free from the common allergens: wheat, gluten, dairy, casein and eggs. Rest assured, all sweeteners have been chosen responsibly and used sparingly. White sugar will never be found in our bakery, nor will we ever use toxic chemical sweeteners. Instead, most products are sweetened with agave nectar—a natural syrup from a cactus which is low on the glycemia index and often a safe alternative to most non-insulin dependant diabetics. Occasionally, unprocessed and unrefined sugar is used in certain goods, although sparingly.”

As someone with food allergies and intolerances, as well as some strong preferences, I greatly appreciate owner Erin McKenna’s vision. She set out to create a bakery that would serve, not a “vegan” cupcake, but a delicious cupcake that just happens to be vegan. I love that.

Let’s take a peek inside and learn a little more about Babycakes.

The interior of the small bakery was charming.

Why is there a cash register sitting on a bench? Oh, just because it’s cool? Okay, I’m down with that.

Here’s a look at their drink sign. Notice you can order a sarsaparilla soda (cool) as well as Kombucha (very cool).

My drink choice, to go with a gluten-free cupcake, was one of the Stumptown Coffee Roaster’s Cold Brews. They put it in a cup for me so I could add some cream. Even though I have been a big fan of Stumptown Coffee for several years, this was the first time trying the unsweetened Cold Brew but it was amazing (good thing since it was $4!) – nice and strong with caramel notes. Highly recommend.

The dedication to their vision is evident throughout the bakery. Here’s the enormous wall sign:

The Good News

So the good news is Babycakes offers some delicious vegan cupcakes, donuts and cakes. They have gluten-free and spelt (not gluten-free) options. They do not use white sugar and they avoid soy products which, as someone who loathes soy, I certainly appreciate. If you have an egg allergy you need not fear a cupcake here. There are no artificial food dyes, no trans fats, no artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup either.

Because the FDA has labeled coconut as a tree nut, Babycakes Bakery is unable to claim to be a “nut free” facility due to their use of coconut oil. They also use Bob’s Red Mill Flours which are not made in a nut free facility. Unless you have a severe nut allergy or an allergy to coconut, I think you could feel fairly safe eating a treat from Babycakes.

In my own baking, due to major dietary restrictions, I have had to do a lot of experimenting in order to come up with great treat recipes. It takes a lot of creativity and resourcefulness to make delicious desserts without using wheat flour, eggs or dairy. Thus Ms. McKenna garners my respect.

HOWEVER, there are a few problems….

The Not-So-Good News

This gluten-free chocolate cupcake is gorgeous, is it not?

I would love to believe eating this cupcake is, at least, a healthier alternative. In the case of someone with a gluten allergy it is definitely better than eating something chock full of gluten. However, the not-so-good news might be considered bad news if you follow the paleo diet. Some of the ingredients used to create the popular cupcakes and donuts are less than optimal and some are downright unacceptable. For instance, there is a heavy reliance on garbanzo fava bean flours in the gluten-free offerings. Canola oil, a highly processed industrial seed oil, is used in many recipes as well. Agave, which is considered low-glycemic, is not really a healthier alternative given its negative effect on insulin.

But it’s so pretty…

Here are the ingredients for the gluten-free chocolate cupcake:

CAKE: Agave, garbanzo fava bean flour, canola oil, unsweetened cocoa powder, pear, brown rice flour, potato starch, vanilla extract, arrowroot, baking powder (sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate, corn starch, monocalcium phosphate), kosher salt, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), xanthan gum

FROSTING: brown rice starch , corn starch, tapioca starch, cold pressed coconut oil, agave nectar, rice milk, coconut milk, coconut flour, lemon extract, calcium carbonate (vegan) , sea salt, xanthan gum, guar gum, inulin, vitamins c, e, b6, a, folic acid, and vitamin b12

My oldest son has a legume allergy as well as a nut allergy. While I would feel fairly safe with the nut situation I could never feed him a cupcake from Babycakes based on their use of garbanzo fava bean flour. It is in almost everything. Guar gum, found in several recipes, is also a bean derivative that causes problems for some folks. Babycakes also uses a lot of spelt for their cupcakes. Spelt may be easier on digestion than wheat flour but it is NOT gluten-free so the bakery has to be careful to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. And anyone with a gluten intolerance should steer clear of spelt.

Paleo Spirit Verdict on Babycakes

Overall I thought the cupcakes were decent. The gluten-free chocolate cupcake was moist and chocolatey and the frosting was good. My youngest son scarfed, in nothing flat, the vanilla cupcake with strawberry icing I brought home for him. (That boy can eat!) Personally, I thought it was rather dry and tasted more like a corn muffin. G’s brownie cupcake with chocolate frosting was tasty – especially the frosting. But it was sweeter than I generally prefer.

Obviously you can’t please all the people all the time. This bakery is dedicated to providing products with higher quality ingredients that are vegan-friendly. And they definitely succeed in that area. If your major concern is avoidance of gluten, you don’t have a legume allergy and you are willing to accept a few less-than-optimal ingredients for a tasty treat on occasion, then Babycakes Bakery might be an option.

The higher quality ingredients make these bakery products more expensive than most. I would not mind paying a premium for a high-quality cupcake but, unfortunately, Babycakes falls a bit short for me. I prefer to make my own paleo treats for the rare times that I do indulge. And I long for the day when there are more options for healthier treats with paleo-friendly ingredients on the market. Who knows, maybe I’ll open my own bakery! Any investors out there? :-)

For more information about Babycakes NYC check out their website and their nutrition/ingredient information.

For some paleo treat alternatives check here for a few Paleo Spirit Dessert Recipes.

What do you think? Have you tried Babycakes? How do you feel about their use of some less-than-ideal ingredients?

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19 thoughts on “The Paleo Perspective on Babycakes NYC™

  1. Great post!

    It perfectly highlights the problem we see with trends like gluten-free foods. They focus on removing the offensive ingredient and nothing else, and they rely on industrial stabilizers and questionable ingredients because they don’t want to miss out on their precious cupcakes.

    I’m of two minds. On the one hand, I get not wanting to feel like a pariah, especially from the perspective of a parent. On the other, foods like the ones from Babycakes aren’t much removed from what sits in a Hostess package on the shelf at the Circle K. I find it laughable that they advertise how they research ingredients and yet include things like canola oil and agave syrup.

    But I know I’m preaching to the choir here. :) And if I’m being really honest, I would be grateful to have the option to occasionally have a treat that wasn’t chock full o’ gluten.

    • I forgot to mention that treats like this also don’t address the food addiction we have in our culture. It continues the idea that these foods are acceptable on a regular basis. I watched my in-laws recently eat a fry bread appetizer doused in honey and then get a dessert crepe loaded with custard and Nutella, and there’s just zero understanding what they’re bombarding their bodies with. And they’re beginning to have real health issues. *Sigh*

    • Great comment Karen. I am NOT a fan of typical “gluten-free” foods. In the case of desserts/treats I make a slight exception for the rare times that I eat them. If I am eating good foods the vast majority of the time I see little wrong with eating a treat now and then. The deal-breaker for me is gluten. But you are right about what is passing for “healthful” these days. I think it does give a bit of a false sense of security. Not that anyone really thinks a cupcake is especially good for them but it is easier to rationalize consumption in larger quantities (perhaps) if you believe it is much better than the “Hostess package on the shelf at the Circle K.”

  2. Great, honest review! I don’t live in or near NY, but if I could, I’d probably visit Babycakes! It would at least give me some options whereas other bakeries give me none! I am gluten intolerant as well as someone who avoids dairy (although I am loving some raw cream in my coffee as of late!) I also stick to the Paleo diet as much as possible, although my Kryptonite is “safe” starches, such as almond flour, coconut flour, tapioca…etc) The fact they use canola oil is a huge turnoff for me. I don’t understand why they just wouldn’t use coconut oil in everything?? The bean flours don’t bother me except that they aren’t Paleo. There’s a brand of gluten free cookie I LOVE that uses bean flour and it usually doesn’t bother me.

    There’s a bakery in my area called Bellyhugs and she uses coconut and almond flour in all her baked goods. Her treats and sweets are DELICIOUS but also cost an arm and a leg. I can make some of them myself…but sometimes you just want to stop somewhere and get a doughnut!

    If I go to NYC which I plan to soon, I would definitely stop by Babycakes for maybe one cupcake and a coffee.

    :)

    • Mmm, raw cream…. sigh. It is unavailable in my state!

      Bellyhugs sounds interesting. I love coconut flour – it is so under-appreciated IMHO. They obviously can’t claim nut-free status due to the almond flour but neither can Babycakes. I can see how their treats would cost more. Eggs, high quality butter, coconut oil, nut flours, etc… it’s all very expensive. But I’ll bet there’s a market because, as you point out, sometimes you just want to BUY a doughnut!

  3. I visit NYC a lot, and my dear friends there live in the East Village, within spitting distance of Babycakes – i first went there right after i got off gluten, but before i went Paleo. I thought their cupcakes were yummy, but now i’d count it as part of my 20% “off-plan” that i allow myself. So, that is to say, delicious and gluten free, but not Paleo.

    • Hi Caroline,
      It’s definitely a fun place to visit and enjoy. (And I like that part of the City) I’m sure I will take my boys there again when we’re in New York. Knowing more about the ingredients makes me put them on the “off-plan” list as you say. Even treats that are “paleo” are still a little off-plan I just feel better about eating them.

  4. I tend to avoid all products that have any kind of sugar – and most baked goods in general. If I need to sweeten anything, I will typically use a fruit such as apple, date, banana, grapes, raisins etc. I would not claim to be a Paleo Expert, but I know what has worked for me over the 13 months that I have been living the Paleo Lifestyle, and I have absolutely no desire to jeopardize the 90 lb weight loss that I have experienced.

    Everyone is an island unto themselves, and should experiment to find out what works. I just don’t think we will see commercial entities selling confectionaries entirely embrace the Paleo Diet – there are just too few customers at present.

    • You’re probably right. The markup of any baked goods that use high quality “paleo” ingredients (pastured eggs, coconut oil, etc) would make them very expensive. There might be a market in certain places. But for now we’re probably better off making our own. And hopefully we are not eating them so frequently that it would make it necessary to have a commercial product available.

      Congratulations on the 90 pound weight loss. That is an amazing achievement.

  5. Thanks for the great post! My husband and I are trying to follow the Paleo diet, and I had been wondering about Babycakes for a while now. I do some paleo baking at home, but it really would be wonderful to have the option to stop somewhere and pick up treats (as another commenter said) that you knew wouldn’t totally wreck you. Someday!

  6. Have you tried TuLu’s Gluten Free bakery in the East Village area? In my opinion much better than Babycakes. Although I agree with y’all that its a definite occasional treat, not part of a paleo diet, it sure is nice to get a red velvet cupcake that won’t destroy me every now and then.

  7. Babycakes famously uses coconut oil in everything they make. You should alter your statement about their usage of canola oil, which I agree should be avoided. But coconut oil is just great for you!

  8. I heard Erin McKenna speak at a Gluten Intolerance Group conference when I first went gluten free. Her cookies are delicious! I admire her for taking her vision and, with no prior baking experience, making it a reality. No question that her bakery is an allergy friendly place. She makes no claims for health or paleo. They are simply a safe treat for people with certain allergies and dietary preferences.

    If you want a paleo treat, try Sun in Bloom in Brooklyn. Delicious!

  9. Agave has such an awful chemical taste to me. Destroys the taste of anything in it. I don’t understand how some people like it.

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