Vegan Birthday Cake

For Funk’s birthday, his only request was a cake with candles. He’s easy to please. His birthday weekend fell within our families’ Mother’s Day BBQ so I planned to bake a cake to bring to the party. My standard go-to cake or cupcake recipe is 1 box of prepared vanilla cake mix (despite being loaded with sugar, it is dairy-free mix and easy to use) plus one can of pumpkin puree. That’s it! No eggs, no oil, just cake mix and pumpkin, baked according to the package directions. You can’t taste the pumpkin (though my aunt, who hates pumpkin, said she could tell it was in there) and you’re giving the sugary cake a nutrient boost with fiber and vitamin A. Win, win!

I wanted to make a double layer cake, and incorrectly assumed one box of mix would be enough for two round cake pans. But after combining the mix with the pumpkin and filling one pan, I realized I needed to get to the store for more mix and pumpkin. Stat. I zipped out of my apartment, oven still preheating (that was probably a dumb move to leave the apartment with the oven on, huh?) and ran – literally – into Trader Joe’s. Thankfully it’s only a block away! Would you believe it? Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell canned pumpkin in the spring. No canned sweet potatoes either. Darn.

So I picked up a cake mix box, and a can of chickpeas, and hoped for the best as I sprinted back home.

Chickpeas are much thicker than canned pumpkin, so I pureed the cake mix with the chickpeas and a splash of almond milk in the Vitamix for a few minutes until it was the same consistency as the pumpkin version. I did several finger lickin’ batter taste tests and thought they were delicious.

After spreading the batter in my second cake pan, I baked the pumpkin and chickpea cakes in the oven and stood by to watch when they began to brown. It was much less time than the box called for, but then, my oven is consistently at 500 degrees. Voila!

vegan pumpkin cake

With pumpkin

vegan chickpea cake

With chickpeas

vegan birthday cake

After letting the cakes cool overnight, I stacked them and spread a layer of strawberry jam in between. Then I prepared the “buttercream” frosting using about three cups (12oz) of powdered sugar, which I beat with a hand mixer with 4oz of softened coconut oil and about two tablespoons of hot water that I added in as I mixed. Truth be told, I used the Trader Joe’s vanilla frosting mix, which really is just a box of powdered sugar (for the same price) but took the measuring out of it. The oil made the frosting awfully slippery (as you can see it dripping in the photo) but set nicely in the fridge overnight and wound up with a consistency almost like ganache. Which = amazing. And it had a slight coconut flavor.

vegan coconut frosting

I wouldn’t tell anyone what was in the cake until after they tried it. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut, and know that everyone already expects me to modify recipes in a healthy way. Funk’s dad was my ultimate litmus test, and he loved it! He was not happy when I told him there was a vegetable and beans in his cake, but he ate it anyway. Funk too, and the rest of the crowd. In fact, we had some leftover slices and Funk swore the pumpkin layer “got better with age.” Like a fine wine? It is so incredibly moist!

I think this is the best cake I’ve ever created, er, modified with the help of Trader Joe’s vanilla cake and frosting mix. It’s insanely easy to make with some healthy ingredients tucked in.


vegan birthday cake

Pssst…Are you going to this year’s Food for Your Whole Life symposium in NYC on June 3-4? I’ll be there and am looking forward to meeting so many health-savvy people! The registration info is here, and my write-up on the symposium from two years ago is here. Let me know if I’ll see you there!


  1. Farida
    Posted May 29, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    This is really cool 🙂 pumpkin is naturally sweet? but chickpeas,,oh u r creative ! Thanks for sharing

  2. Posted May 30, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    I’ve heard of black beans in brownies, but I’m intrigued by the idea of using chickpeas in cake! With the added protein, that means it’s super healthy right? Like, I could eat 5 slices at once and it would be okay? 🙂

  3. Janel
    Posted June 1, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Oh yes, super healthy and RD approved. Have 2 slices, at minimum 😉

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