The other day I was asked by a blog reader for some ideas for her son's first birthday party -- she needed a healthier cake themed blue, white, and gold, and something that would satisfy a large crowd of picky eaters. So I set aside the weird veggies, and came up with a very respectable raw blueberry cashew cheesecake, but also thought to try something baked as an option... and so this classic-tasting cashew vanilla birthday cake was born.
Gluten-free, dairy-free, no eggs, and no refined sugar, but tastes just like a classic vanilla birthday cake. I mean JUST LIKE IT. In fact, my extremely picky husband said this tastes like the kind of cake you get at a kid's bowling alley birthday party -- apparently this is a compliment, he's assured me :)
Now originally I was thinking this white texas sheet cake could be an option. It's another classic cake that everyone loves -- gluten-free / dairy-free, etc. But it was made with EB fake butter, which I'm ok with for an occasional treat, but since the request was for a "healthier" cake, I thought I'd better leave that out. So instead this lovely vanilla cake needs no butter or oils and yet is so moist, and has this paradoxical delicate-yet-sturdy thing going on -- thanks to cashew butter!
As you can see in the pic above, I reshaped it into a layer cake and it worked a treat. The cake base, once cooled, also makes a great cut-out cake for those looking to make a special shaped dessert.
Now this frosting. If you like frosting--this one is incredible! It emerged from the ingredients I had on hand, since going to a store that carried anything remotely relevant wasn't in the cards for the next few weeks. Luckily, it turned out perfectly, and is probably my first truly WHITE dairy / refined sugar-free frosting.
I wanted to show you the top of the cake above -- the top forms a slight crust and is a bit cracked -- that is normal. The thin "crust" slices through quite easily and makes frosting a breeze. The cake underneath it though is very delicate and dainty. And once frosted, you'll see no cracks whatsoever, so worry not.
The frosting needs a bit of good timing to make it work. Once blended, it will be soft. Not ideal for frosting with straight away (unless you're just doing a layered whip-filled cake, in which case it works straight away). To get a smooth set frosting you'll have to chill it for at least an hour or longer until it's at a good, more firm, spreadable consistency. You don't want it to be too firm though as that will make spreading hard -- so just thaw it out a little if you leave it in the fridge too long. Once frosted though, you're in smooth sailing territory and it'll stay put quite nicely.
I actually froze mine ahead of time and then just thawed it out when I was ready to work with it. Just don't microwave it (or if you do, make sure it's gently) because coconut butter tends to burn VERY easily.
A few notes on substitutions:
For a nut-free cake, go with the original texas sheet cake idea.
For a soy-free frosting, use some pre-soaked raw cashews instead. You'll definitely need a power blender for the recipe to work (I had to use my tamper for the Vitamix), but with some patience it'll happen :) You could also use this chocolate frosting instead.Print
Classic Cashew Vanilla Birthday Cake
A gluten-free, vegan vanilla birthday cake recipe with a thick layer of dairy-free vanilla frosting.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Total Time: 30 minutes
- Yield: 8x8 cake
- Category: Cake
- Method: Baked
- Cuisine: Dessert
- ¼ cup almond milk (or another plant milk)
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup maple syrup (or agave, coconut nectar, etc.)
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- ½ tsp pure almond extract (or orange blossom water)
- ¾ cup white rice flour
- ½ cup tapioca starch
- 6 tbsp sweet sticky rice flour/glutinous rice flour
- ½ tsp guar gum
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- dash of salt
- ½ cup cashew butter
- ½ cup boiling water
- 12 oz / 240 gr extra firm silken tofu (I used Mori-Nu)
- ½ cup coconut butter, softened
- 1 cup agave or maple syrup
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp almond extract (or orange blossom water)
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
- Fresh blueberries, dried edible blue cornflower petals
- Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Oil an 8x8 square cake pan. Set aside.
- In a small bowl combine the plant milk with vinegar and set aside, allowing it to curdle a little while working on next step.
- Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bow. Add in all liquid cake ingredients, including the almond vinegar mixture, and mix everything thoroughly to combine.
- In a separate bowl combine the cashew butter with the boiled water and stir to thin out and dissolve the cashew butter. Add this to the cake batter and mix everything to combine. Pour the batter into prepared cake pan.
- Bake in a preheated oven for approximately 40-45 mins (until the top is nicely golden and a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out completely dry). Remove from oven and cool on a cooling rack completely before proceeding to frost.
- While the cake is baking, prepare the frosting by combining all the ingredients except for shredded coconut in a power blender until completely smooth. Add in shredded coconut and mix once more (use the vitamix tamper to help you along, or pause to scrape sides and keep blending until the coconut is incorporated). Transfer into a glass container and refrigerate until cake is ready to be frosted (or for at least 1-2 hours to let it firm up). Once ready, frost cake, decorate with blueberries and flower petals and serve!
Just wanted to share that I experimented and made this divine cake into the perfect tres leches cake by subbing the almond extract for more vanilla (or coconut) extract. While still warm, I poked holes through to the bottom and bathed it in a mix of coconut milk, condensed coconut milk, and almond milk, then let it sit refrigerated overnight. Serving it with coconut whipped cream, lime zest, and toasted unsweetened coconut was absolute perfection! I hope to perhaps use this for a trifle as well soon. One note to share, I found raw cashew butter rather than roasted cashew butter to be best here, as roasted cashew butter, on my first attempt, imparted a more bold and caramel body that was too heavy for this angelic creation. I’m so excited to experiment further- the texture and taste of this was absolutely delicious!!
Hi Gigi. Wow, that tres leches variation sounds incredible! Thanks for the feedback and for the tip re: raw cashew butter too.
Could I sub all or any of the maple syrup with liquid stevia?
Hi Cristina. Yes, you can, but it would impact the flavor naturally. So if you're able, I'd leave some of the maple syrup in and just cut it down with some stevia. But go with whatever works best for you :)
Would agave be best if I’d like to capture a more yellow cake color and whiter frosting? I love using pure maple syrup however am wondering if it would discolor the cake or frosting ultimately. Also, would raw coconut butter work here? Just checking in before making this beauty!
Hi Eugenie. I think agave would work just as well here, so if you're more inclined -- go for it :) I didn't find a big difference between using the two personally in this case. Raw coconut butter would work great here. Enjoy :)
This will be my birthday cake in March! That bowling alley cake comment has me laughing so, so hard- I was sold just reading that line. Nothing like a cake tasting identical to a beloved, nostalgic, childhood treat yet reborn to a state of health and grace. All of your creations are simply elegant, beautiful, and divine. I treasure your blog…
Thanks so much, Gigi! :) I hope it lives up to its name haha. Believe it or not, I've actually never had a bowling alley birthday cake growing up!
Haha, neither have I but I imagine it being identical to a local grocery store’s birthday cake, which I haven’t had since childhood. You wondering if the bowling alley birthday cake comment was an actual compliment had me rolling with laughter- why yes, a true compliment it is indeed! Can’t wait to be transported baking this- Cheers again to you!!
What a great idea! Can’t believe I have never thought of making cake with cashew + vanilla! Truly a delicious one!
Thanks Richa! It's a good combo :)
Hi Audrey! I made this cake today and it’s delicious! I wanted to make a small cake for my son’s first birthday and then a cake for everyone else to share. I doubled the recipe to ensure I had enough and I have too much now...not a bad problem to have :) can this be frozen and then thawed and frosted at a later date? Thank you for all of your delicious recipes!
Hi Ingrid, sorry for the delayed reply. I'm glad you enjoyed the recipe and I agree -- too much cake is a good problem to have :)
I've not tried freezing it to be honest, but I feel like it should be fine. If you gave that a try, would love to hear how it worked out.
Andrea Webb says
Hi there! I'm so excited to try this recipe. Since I had to give up gluten, eggs, and cane sugar about a year ago after finding out they were the culprit of years of stomach issues, I have not had success with a cake recipe. Mostly I have just been trying to use traditional cake recipes and subbing out the AP flour for GF AP flour, cane sugar for coconut sugar, and eggs for Ener-G egg replacer or flax eggs. I've tried multiple times and each time I've been disappointed by a gummy, barely risen cake. Very frustrating considering I was actually a baker by trade a few years ago! I've had a hard time finding a recipe that I can use as-is that looks like a traditional cake, and this one looks like it is, with ingredients I mostly already have and won't give me issues! I will definitely report back after I make this!! :)
Thanks for sharing, Andrea. That can definitely be frustrating. Would love to hear how you go.
With substituting GF flour for AP flour in recipes, I find not all mixes work as well. Some can be dry or a bit dense. My favorite as a 1:1 substitution is by far Pamela's Artisan GF flour. In general, mixes that use sweet sticky rice flour tend to work well.
This cake I know has been a little bit tricky for some of my readers. If you're still on the hunt after this recipe, I can highly recommend giving this recipe a try -- it's simple and a favorite even with the non-gf crowd:
I love vanilla birthday cake so this looks delicious! Can I use Pamela's baking and pancake mix instead of buying all of the different ingredients you list ? If so, how much would I use?
Hi Kathy, I've never tried the baking and pancake mix personally (I've only used Pamela's Artisan mix in the past). By different ingredients I assume you mean these the rice flour, tapioca starch, and glutinous rice flour, and guar gum?
The reason there's a chance it would turn out a bit different is that the ratios of ingredients are different in the Pamela's mix I've used to the ratios in this recipe -- not by much, but sometimes that's enough to alter a gluten-free recipe. I think overall though it's worth trying in a pinch (and I'd love to hear how it turns out if you do). I have a feeling it should work -- my experience with Pamela's Artisan mix has been great so far overall.
If you try it, I'd use 1 1/2 cups + 2 tbsp (to replace the rice flour, tapioca, glutinous rice flour, and guar gum).
This cake looks beautiful! Does the frosting taste like coconut?
Thanks Hannah :)
I'd say yes, it's not mega-coconutty (if you're looking for something for a coconut theme), but you can definitely taste it.
Morgan Mendel says
Hey! I'm just working on this recipe now, but I made the frosting and it tastes really tofu-y... Any suggestions?
Hey Morgan, what a bummer it didn't turn out.. :o What kind of tofu did you use? And did you change anything in the ingredients? You definitely shouldn't be able to taste the tofu... Only thing I can recommend to save the frosting at this stage is adding more of the other ingredients to balance the flavor out (until it tastes right).
Hi there! This recipe(as well as all of your other ones :) looks really yummy but i can't seem to move past the maple syrup! That's a lot and i can't really afford to buy that much maple syrup :( Would i be able to use sugar instead? Hope to hear from you! Thank you again!
Hi Renae. This recipe was designed for liquid sugar, but it doesn't have to be maple syrup. You can use agave, brown rice syrup, coconut nectar, cane syrup (if you're ok with sugar), etc. -- whatever is available to you locally. Usually if I can't find maple syrup I go for agave since they are comparable in sweetness levels. Otherwise if you add in a dry sweetener (regular sugar) the consistency / recipe balance would be very different (since you're adding a lot of "dry" matter and taking away a lot of thick liquid.
I would love to make this beautiful cake for my son's 1st birthday as well! We are not gluten-free, but I like to limt my family's intake. However, we are abroad right now, and many of the ingredients this recipes calls for are either unavailable or just too pricey. So I'm going to attempt the cake using whole wheat or spelt flour. But I was wondering if I could sub the coconut butter in the frosting blend with raw cashews and coconut oil? Do you think this would work?
Hi Zakiya. I think raw cashews and coconut oil could work. Just something to take into account when decorating: in my experience with a cashew / coconut frosting -- it comes out a little runnier / not as fluffy. It's still good though, but won't look the same as the frosting pictured here.
Ok. Thank you so much for your response!
Thank you so much for responding so quickly, Audrey! My son will be so pleased.
You're welcome :)
is best to serve immediately with this frosting or can i use in a layered cake that is being delivered 2 hrs away
Hi Kel. It should hold up fine if you want to deliver it. I would chill the bag though on the way. The frosting is quite sturdy (not melty), but I think the cake would still fare best if kept chilled. I usually place my cakes for transport in a cake carrier / container and pack it into a sealable lined cooler bag (or just any bag if cake is too tall / big for my cooler bags), with an ice pack underneath and an ice pack on top. That does the trick.
Linda Farris says
Dear Audrey, I am going to attempt your lovely cake for my brother. Should I bake this the day of his birthday, the day before or even 2 days before? If I can bake it early, I am assuming I would just refrigerate and bring to room temp for serving? Thanks for your help! Your creations are beautiful!
Hi Linda. Thank you! Yes, I'd refrigerate the cake as you suggested. It's best made a day before. It was great on day 3 as well, but I think it's best fresher.
Is there anything to use in place of the guar gum for the dry cake? Or can it be left out and still achieve a similar consistency as it would made to recipe?
Hi Lee. I'm not sure you could leave it out entirely. I've tried it without once with a modified version of this cake and it didn't come out as planned -- I'm not sure if it was due to leaving out the guar gum or because of another change I made though.
You could replace it with an equal amount of xantham gum. Or you could try substituting with psyllium husk -- you'll need to experiment with the quantity though. I'd start with 1 tbsp and see how that turns out. If you try that or something else, I'd love to hear how it works out.
Alison @Food by Mars says
This is so so pretty, Audrey. Love the colors, flavors and that texture looks perfect. XO
Thanks Alison. I'm remaking this one today again. Sometimes being inspired with a reader in mind brings out the best in my cake deco / creative efforts :)
Bethany @ athletic avocado says
Im SWOONING over this birthday cake perfection! Literally all I need on my b-day!
Thank you Bethany! I loved this cake so much. I had on the agenda to make it again today but ran out of time... tomorrow is another day :)
Your page is amazing. All the food looks so delicious and had me drawling. I will deffo be making some of these beauty's. Yum yum. X
Thanks so much, Ange! Enjoy the recipes :)
Hi there! I made this on Friday and it tastes amazing with the almond extract. Absolutely amazing.
The only issue was it was pretty grainy. . which I think is the brown rice flour. Is there a way to eliminate the graininess? Also, I had no coconut butter so I used some coconut oil and shredded coconut.. . .unfortunately, that didn't set up like I would have liked. But it tasted amazing as well. The whole dense cake experience was so fantastic and special for my boyfriends birthday. Thank you so very much.
If you could lead me to a less grainy flour, I would appreciate it!
Thanks so much for the lovely feedback! So happy you both liked it. As for the grittiness... Did you change anything in the cake recipe part? If not, then I'd have to say it usually does come down to gritty rice flour... You can buy a superfine rice flour (King Arthur makes a great one) or find a local brand of a more finely ground one instead (that's what I do). The sweet sticky rice flour helps as well -- did you use that?
Hey again, Lisa. So... I have a follow up. I remade the cake last night with almond butter and in smaller pans and ended up with a rather grainy cake. When I read your comment initially because my cake with the cashew butter was no-where near grainy. In fact it was soft, springy, very moist. So I thought maybe the flour you used was coarse? But having experienced the almond butter dry and grainy cake I'm now wondering if yours turned out something like that for other reasons...? Can you let me know, if you get a chance, whether you used cashew butter? And if so, was it creamy or dry? How long did you bake it for? What pan size you used? It would be super helpful.
macro calculator says
Such birthday cake. Much delicious! I can't wait to try this. Thank you for the recipe!
Happy to share -- enjoy it! :)
Yummie, looks fantastic, spongy and delicate too due to the beautiful decoration of yours - love it!!! Already thinking of all the variations possible :-D. I love your work, you have amazing ideas and everything looks so beautiful.
greets from Tyrol :-)
Aw, thank you very much. And yes, VARIATIONS :) I'm really struggling holding myself from baking a few more versions because we have so much cake to work through here :D
Oh Audrey this is just beautiful. I was just about to make the cake but I have no guar gum and keep forgetting to buy it! :0 I was going to use a different frosting because I typically try to avoid soy, but this is just gorgeous that I am going to have to try silken for the first time!!
Aw, shucks about the guar. Hope you get to try it out though :) -- with whatever frosting. It's good with chocolate :) or just a regular coconut whip.
Audrey, we have made this cake so many times now and so yum it is. With my oven, the best results are always a smaller tin. We even made blueberry and lemon zest cupcakes with the mix and they were devine, I'll email you a pic! :)
Yay, Tina!! I'm so happy you're still going strong with the baking :) Can't wait to see the pic. I love this cake in the smaller batches as well. Blueberry lemon sounds great -- I should give that a try; it's been a while since I made a blueberry lemon baked treat.
Hi Audrey, I was wondering if this would work with wheat flour instead of the flour combo since I'm not gluten-free? It looks delicious!
I'm pretty sure it should work just fine. Let me know if you try it -- I'd love to hear how it goes since I can't test it myself...
Incredible! Such a perfect looking birthday cake! That icing! Nice work, Audrey! :)
Thanks so much, Melissa! :)
Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine says
Nix the tofu and make this for my 20th birthday in June...okay? Good ;) Hahahaha! YUM!!! And so gorgeous!
Ha, I always knew you were a Gemini! :)
Natalie | Feasting on Fruit says
This looks so conventional, I'm a little shocked! The ingredients are still rather special, but that dreamy white on white look resembles the classic cake so much. And I very much appreciate your generous frosting style, that thick layer is just the way I like it. The frosting is so perfectly white too, silken tofu and coconut butter--I never would've thought of that pair. Now I want to rewind march so it can be my birthday again :)
I know -- I love frosting. First thing my husband did is wipe it all off :D He's the opposite. That's why we get along ;)
I'm with Natalie...Let's pretend it's still my birthday too, and you can bring some of this over! :) It looks amazing. <3
Hehe. I wish I could deliver you some (along with your coat :o)! We're having cake overload here the last few weeks :)
Wuau!, it looks so delicious! OMG!
Thank you Evelyn! :)