I got a reader email asking for help sorting out a special birthday cake, which prompted me to make this surprisingly simple coconut caramel cake the other day, and let's just say that glossy caramel is my absolute favorite part.
I say surprisingly simple, yet I was really scratching my head there for a moment, as in this case I was asked how to make a cake using only a handful of ingredients...
This birthday cake request was for a 2 year-old nephew who has FPIES, which makes cake-crafting a big challenge.
Truthfully it was my first time hearing of FPIES (Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome), but after looking it up briefly I completely understood the difficulty -- severe allergic reactions to difficult-to-diagnose foods is never easy to deal with, but I can only imagine how challenging and stressful that could be for infants and their parents, especially around an event like a birthday party -- probably the last place where you want to start experimenting with new foods and introducing new ingredients...
The thing with FPIES is that the ingredient allergy can be vastly different from person to person. In this particular case the allowed ingredients list was tiny. Like barely there... only a handful of products to work with :o
The short approved list included:
- Carrots, apples, quinoa, coconut products (for all these products the key was that while variants of them could be used they needed to be pure and with no additives). Enjoy life chocolate chips are a-ok too.
- There is apparently a type of baking powder that might be ok and something called neocate nutra, available at a pharmacy and used as a binder, but I've never heard of it so gave that item a pass..
- Also red lentil pasta and cheeta puffs, but those didn't sound very cake-able to me :) .. Otherwise this is it -- that's all there is on this kid's menu!
I thought to see if I could just make do with what's there, rather than seeking to expand the list any further. My thinking was -- let's find a way to keep it simple, safe, delicious, and child-approved...
Though I was given a practical range of 5 types of foods to work with, I actually only used one for this whole cake. Yep, this cake is entirely made up from coconut -- top to bottom. Surprise!
When I read coconut on that list, and that things like coconut flakes, flour, sugar, syrup, mana, oil, milk and cream were all ok so long as they had no additives, I knew I was in business. It's such a versatile ingredient that I find can really conjure up magical things -- like this whole birthday cake that someone with seemingly zero cake hope could now enjoy.
So coconut was used here as the cake base, the thickener, the sweetener, the moistener, the binder, the frosting, the caramel. No added flavors or spices whatsoever. But you'd never know it. All you'll know is that you're about to treat yourself to some caramel cake goodness...
Surprise the second: this cake is not baked! It's raw.
It looks and tastes pretty close to a baked cake (though the cake part is a bit more "delicate"), but requires no-baking whatsoever. I decided to go that route because of the uncertainty surrounding the permissible baking powder / soda in this case, the strange sounding other binder I already forgot the name of..., and also the fact that if you're going to bake a gluten-free cake you typically need a bit more than just quinoa and coconut flours to make a good texture happen.
I have a lot of experience making unbaked cake-like things out of just coconut flour, so I thought it was a better way of handling this one. I actually absolutely love how it turned out. Very moist, very delicate, very cake-crumb-like in texture. Just process, shape, freeze briefly, then frost. No fuss, all the cake.
My husband, upon seeing it, said I really need to rename the blog to something like the unconventional "shaper" or "molder" or "blender", then "decorator" ...or something :) . No objections on my end, tbh. Just thinking outside the box and all is good so long as everyone has cake.
So we mostly covered the cake part, which is essentially just coconut flour, coconut sugar, and a bit of coconut cream, manna, and syrup. The coconut sugar and nectar (syrup) in the cake base impart a naturally mild caramel-y flavor.
Now let's get to the frosting. In the photo below is an "undressed" or mid-making side shot of the cake. I played around with different ways to style the cake, including making funny little cake dough balls out of the cake base mixture, piping out various shapes on and around the cake, padding the sides of the cake with large coconut chips, and also with shredded coconut. Yep, this cake has been through a lot of "costume" changes. In the end I settled on a mostly "naked" cake with a nice layer of caramel sauce, but just wanted to share / show a working version and ideas I've tried for inspiration.
Ok, last but not least, the caramel sauce -- it's what makes the cake, in case you haven't guessed it. So good, so delicious, decadent, and so just 1 ingredient: coconut syrup (aka coconut blossom nectar; not junky coconut-flavored syrup!). This stuff is liquid gold. I actually used this Aussie brand I got to sample out and it's absolutely amazing, but I don't think it's available in North America. Luckily something like this would work equally well (actually there are lots of options on Amazon or at health food shops, including a raw version if you wanted to go full raw here, although I find the flavor of the raw syrup a bit more molasses-like somehow, at least from this brand).
So there you go: one seemingly impossible birthday cake, made up entirely of just coconut flour, sugar, manna, cream, and syrup. No gluten, grains, added oils, refined sugars, dairy, binders, starches, etc. And for all that, it tastes unbelievably good.
Caramel Coconut Cake
Delish, unique no-bake cake that uses only one food item -- coconut! Perfect for coconut lovers or restricted diets. Vegan, gluten-free, no refined sugar.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Total Time: 30 minutes
- Yield: 6" cake
- Category: Cake
- Method: No-Bake
- Cuisine: Dessert
- 2 ½ cups coconut cream (I used nearly two 400ml cans chilled overnight, but removed ½ a cup of cream from one of them for use in the frosting first)*
- 2 cups coconut flour
- 1 ½ cups coconut palm sugar
- ¼ cup coconut manna (also known as coconut butter)
- ¼ cup coconut syrup (can also use coconut blossom nectar)
- ¼ cup water
- 1 ½ cups coconut manna
- ½ cup coconut cream (only the firm layer that you get at the top of the can after chilling it overnight in the fridge)
- ¼ cup coconut syrup
- about ⅓ cup coconut syrup
- Place all cake ingredients in a food processor and process into a uniform fine crumb mixture. Test to see if you can roll a bit into a ball with your hands (to see if it sticks together) -- if too wet, add a tiny bit more coconut flour, and if too dry, add a tiny bit more water or coconut milk, then process again.
- Take about 2 tablespoon of this mixture and roll into a ball, set aside and repeat 5 more times (to make 6 balls). Place those in a parchment-lined container and freeze while working on the rest of the cake.
- Line a 6" round cake pan (or 6" springform pan, or any dish of a similar size) with parchment paper along base and sides. Transfer the remaining cake base mixture into the pan and press down as much as possible to compact. I used the back of a spoon at first, then covered the cake with a sheet of parchment and pressed down even more using a flat-bottomed object to compact the cake as much as possible and level out the top. Freeze the cake for about 1 hour (or longer).
- To make the frosting, first read the notes below for additional tips**. When ready, blend all frosting ingredients into a smooth consistency. Then bring it to the right temperature for frosting texture.
- When ready to frost, remove cake from the freezer and carefully un-mold out of the pan and parchment paper, and transfer to a serving plate. Remove a bit of the frosting into a pipping bag if you want to make shapes, otherwise frost cake top and sides as desired. Decorate with finishing touches of choice (with the frozen cake balls, piped swirls, pressing shredded coconut into the sides, etc.). Then drizzle the top of the cake with coconut syrup. Freeze the cake for another 30 mins to fully set, then serve. If not intending to serve straight away, keep the cake refrigerated (or freeze then thaw out gently to a sliceable consistency). Enjoy!
*My coconut cream was completely additive and gum-free as per the recipe request, though feel free to use whatever brand you like.
**This frosting is made up of coconut cream, coconut manna, and coconut syrup blended together. One thing that's a little tricky is that the coconut manna, which is what gives the frosting its sturdiness and which is what makes it lend itself to piping so well, is a bit temperature-temperamental.
What I mean by that is that it firms up when it touches anything cold and softens when warmed up. The coconut cream in this frosting came from a can of pure coconut cream (no guar gum or additives, as requested) which I chilled overnight in the fridge so that more of the solid cream separates and comes to the top in the process (I used the remainder of the can for the cake). What that means though is that after separating the ½ cup cream needed from the chilled can the substance was cold. So I then had to let it warm up to room temp for a bit before tossing it in the blender with the coconut manna so that its coldness doesn't make the whole thing in the blender firm up and not blend through.
Once blended my frosting was on the soft / fluffy side -- perfect if you just wanted to spread some frosting on something, but if you wanted to pipe it then it needed to chill a bit. I chilled it in the fridge for 15-20 mins and then stirred it up and it was at the perfect temperature to frost and pipe at that point.
So basically, you can control the softness / firmness of the frosting by chilling then stirring, or lightly warming up / bringing to room temp depending on how soft or firm you want it. The consistency can vary a lot depending on your room temperature, etc. so just adjust as needed based on what you're experiencing as you go.
One other thing on that note is that even when the frosting is on the soft side, because you'll be frosting a frozen cake it will firm up / set quite quickly upon contact with the cake. So try and get the smoothness / texture you want in as quick of a go as you can (don't worry, you have a few minutes!), as otherwise it will become firmer and a bit more challenging to spread. A quick tip to fix that in case you need to adjust something once it set is to warm up your spreading spatula a little before making adjustments (run under hot water for a bit to warm it up, then wipe dry and frost).
Would it be possible to substitute almond flour for the coconut flour? My two year old (FPIES to 13 foods) reacts so severely to cross contamination with his many allergens that we have not found a safe brand of coconut flour despite coconut being a “safe” food.
Hi Kasey, oh shucks! That's tough. Unfortunately no, the coconut flour is essential here because it's super absorbent and is what gives the cake texture and binds it all together. Almond flour is not absorbent by comparison so it'll just be a sort of wet crumbly affair rather than something that resembles a cake. What are the ingredients you're able to use (besides other coconut products and almond flour)? If you give me a list I can see if there are any other recipes I've got that might work for you.
Cassidy Alexa says
Could this be made into cupcakes?
Hi Cassidy, I think you might have a hard time getting them out of the cupcake pan, unless you use silicone liners. Otherwise It can definitely work in mini form.
Whitney Arthur says
Hello my son also has fpies and coconut is a safe! I am going to try to use his a aroy coconut milk chilled and just use the cream. If you think that would work can you estimate how many containers it would take? They are 250ml.
Also do you think cupcakes is an option for this receipe? If so how long would they last in the freezer?
I think this is a wonderful option for his birthday but also just to have as a treat!
Sorry for the delayed reply. I hope it's not too late for your son's birthday party.
Each brand produces a slightly different amount of cream, so it's hard to say with certainty. I'm guessing you'll probably need about 3-4 cans.
Cupcakes are definitely an option. It can be kept frozen (covered) for 3-4 months.
Happy birthday to your little one :)
This is absolutely amazing. I'm sure many allergy mamas, like me, would be more than happy to pay you for recipe formulation!! Is that something you're interested in????
Hi Jenny. Thanks so much -- I'm so happy recipes like these are helpful.
At the moment I don't have the ability to do specific recipe formulation projects in a consistent manner. But sometimes time + requests like this + ideas align and cake can happen :)
Thank you so much for this recipe! My daughter has been begging for a pink cake for her 4th birthday. She also has FPIES and has more than 20+ triggers. Coconut is thankfully a great safe for her. And her newest food pass is dragon fruit. We found some freeze dried pink dragon fruit and we mixed some of the powder in to the "batter" and frosting and sure enough she had a lovely pink cake! While definitely not as artfully frosted as yours, I did have a 4 year old that insisted on helping, all of the cake was eaten by the end of the party!
Brittany, I'm so happy to hear the cake worked out well for your daughter's birthday! Picturing the pink cake put a smile on my face :) Thank you for sharing.
Hi Audrey. My son has FPIES and coconut is one of his few safes. I would like to make this for his birthday in a couple of months, but I am having trouble finding "clean" versions of some of the ingredients. I saw the Amazon link for Coconut Manna. I know where to find coconut flour. All the coconut cream I have found has guar gum, and we haven't trialed that yet. Not sure where to find the coconut palm sugar or syrup. Any suggestions? Or better yet, do you make and ship to Texas?! :) Thank you so much for the inspiring blog! My soon to be 2 year old will get a smash cake!!!!
Hi Stephanie -- yay for birthday cake potential! :)
So in terms of products, the coconut cream I used is the kind that comes in a can. There's typically a light and regular version of canned coconut milk, and then there's cream which just has a slightly higher content of the good thick stuff you can find in a chilled can of regular milk. So worst comes to worst, if you can't find canned coconut cream, get a bunch of cans of regular coconut milk and then chill them overnight so that the thick stuff comes to the top and just use that.
That said, I checked out Amazon and you're right, many brands on there use guar gum. But here are a few options I've seen that should work fine:
That said, I've never bought coconut cream from Amazon as it's available locally in the health food section of the grocery store here, so I suspect you might be able to find a guar-free version in person as well somewhere in Texas :)
The coconut palm sugar I usually use is by Wholesome!, but there are other versions of coconut palm sugar on amazon as well, like this one, or this one, for example.
For the coconut syrup, there are some links for recommendations up above the recipe in the post.
Happy "baking" :)
Hi Audrey. I have made the cake base, but I let it completely freeze. Is this a problem? How long do I let the cake set at room temp or in the fridge to thaw prior to frosting? And prior to serving? Thanks in advance! The party is this weekend, and I am so looking forward to serving my little boy his first cake!
Hi Stephanie, I'm sorry I wasn't able to answer your question in time -- I hope it worked out for the party. And happy birthday to your little one :)
Freezing the cake fully is not a problem at all. Just thaw it out when ready (until it's sliceable) and serve. Depending on how hot it is where you are, that can take anywhere between 15-30 mins. Or can leave in the fridge overnight if not in a rush.
It worked. Even better, he actually ate it!! Thank You!!!!
Aw, that is definitely awesome! :)
Hi Audrey! I'm thinking of making this cake for my daughter's birthday (she also has FPIES) but can't yet do coconut sugar or coconut syrup. Could I substitute fruit puree (e.g., strawberry or apple) for those ingredients? I assume I would need to also increase the coconut flour to account for the added wetness. Any other thoughts?
Is there another liquid sweetener that works, like for example date syrup, maple syrup, or rice syrup? If so, I'd go with those as they'll give the cake the right amount of sweetness, since fruit purees are never as sweet.
Another option is to use fruit jam. I did something similar in this blackberry coconut cake recipe (the cake base layer) for example with the jam. I still used some maple syrup for added sweetness, but if you have to omit, I'd think the jam would work better than just a puree.
If both of those are out, and fruit puree is the only option, I'd probably use a banana puree or a mango puree (if those are an option) as they're a bit sweeter. In this case, if you're not increasing the amount of sweetener, then no need to add more flour, but if you are, then definitely yes.
One other option, if you're daughter is ok to use any kind of dry sugar then you can add some of that in along with a small amount of fruit puree to add sweetness to the cake.
Hope these suggestions help :)
Elisa Ferreira says
You are a real kitchen master! I absolutely love your entire blog and how you show and prove that alimentary restrictions are not necessarily bad, hard, or "it must be awfull to live with it".
Hundreds of congratulations, and always keep up the good work.
And I wonder, do you have these recipes being translated? I feel like translating all this to portuguese, to expand the knowledge. Let me know if you are interested! #GoVegan
Thank you very much -- really appreciate your kind comment :)
Thank you for the offer to help -- I currently don't have the capacity / resources to host recipes online in multiple languages, but hopefully one day in the future that can happen too. However, I'm working on my print book at the moment, which will first be released in Canada and then globally and at that point I'll look into translating it, so maybe when it comes time to Portuguese and I have any questions I'll be in touch :)
Natalie | Feasting on Fruit says
Coconut is amazing. Like I've known that for a while now, but seriously THIS is the ultimate proof. And you are amazing too with these tricky challenges, that's pretty evident here too! Ha I love just reading that ingredient list...hmm I see a theme here? You know that I too love the magical baked-like-but-actually-no-bake texture magic coconut flour can give to little bite-sized treats, but I never thought to expand that concept to an entire cake. It is beautiful and birthday perfect and that caramel is the definition of drool-worthy? But I think maybe it needs a single cheese puff on top...just for garnish?
Haha, now that's a tempting idea with the cheese puff there ? -- you are the best!
Actually re-reading the post again I was thinking, I bet there's a way to cake with lentil pasta too ? That's where the whole no limits, no labels concept gets outside the box and fun happens ;)
Bahaha, the cheese puff is awesome. His safe is "Cheecha puff" which is actually just a little puff made from potatoes. But cheese puffs would add some nice color!!! ?
I am the mom of this little boy. Let me start by saying, having a recipe for a birthday cake means more than I can even tell you. This is amazing!!!! Thank you so much! I have shared this is a few circles of mama's with similar stories to ours. I will tell you now, anyone who has coconut as a safe will be SO happy to see this. ?
That's awesome, Pam :) I'm so happy this can work for your little man. I hope his birthday is a blast. And thank you so much for sharing.
Yep, that is a real coconut cake with all those ingredients.
Great photography too.
Thanks so much, Marc! :)
Wow! I am beyond impressed - and this is definitely your kind of challenge ;) The cake is magical! I bet this child had the most special birthday ever =)
Thanks Ashley! :) I hope it will be.