When my little sister (also named Rachel — my daughter is her namesake) was about eight years old, she went along with my mother to visit a little girl from church who was in the hospital. (The child had been very ill, but was on the mend and would have a full recovery.) Apparently the child looked painfully thin to my sister, because Rachel took one look at her then announced to my mother and all standing around the sick bed, “They just need to give that girl some CAKE!”
From that day forward, whenever anyone announced they were feeling poorly, someone in my family would inevitably advise, “All you need is some CAKE!”
I can see why my little sister thought cake would cure anything that ailed a body. My mother was a champion cake-baker back in the 70’s before she had to get serious about cutting out sugar for her health. Most Saturdays would find her frosting a homemade coconut or Italian Creme or carrot cake. We kids would salivate around the kitchen counter in anticipation. We would eat the cake in small slivers, because our theory was that three thin slices had less calories than one thick slice.
One of the cakes Mother made frequently was called Wacky Cake (some call it Depression Cake) because the ingredients were always on hand (it does not have any milk, butter or eggs) and you simply stir it up in a bowl (no mixer). You don’t even have to grease the pan. My brother always requested this cake for his birthday with a simple vanilla icing.
My husband had out-patient surgery this morning, and after I made him a healthy vegetable stew, I remembered my sister’s advice and decided give him some cake! In searching for vegan-friendly desserts for Mother’s Day this weekend, I remembered Mom’s old stand-by, Wacky Cake. My favorite cake is German Chocolate so I created a vegan-friendly coconut-“butter”-almond frosting for this cake, but used chopped almonds instead, to give it a bit more crunch. Success!! Though I cannot claim that this cake is healthy, it is delicious, and it is vegan. I couldn’t resist eating a piece of it while still warm, moist and falling apart. Heavenly. If you have vegans in your family, or anyone who cannot eat dairy or eggs, this is a wonderful recipe for a special occasion, and both the cake and the frosting are super easy.
Vegan Chocolate Coconut Almond Cake
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 c. chopped almonds (I used food processor)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix flour, sugar, and cocoa powder and baking soda with a wire whisk. All the rest of the ingredients and whisk again. Pour in an ungreased 9 by 11 inch pan. Spread evenly. Sprinkle with chopped almonds. (The almonds on top will naturally “toast” and give the cake a delightful extra layer of crunch under the frosting.)
Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until wooden pick comes out clean. While cake is baking, make frosting below. While cake is warm prick all over with a fork and pour frosting over all.
Coconut Almond Icing
1/2 cup organic coconut milk (If the coconut milk has separated in the can, use mostly the cream that rises to the top of the can.)
1/3 c. Earth Balance butter
1/2 cup organic sugar
3/4 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
1/2 c. chopped almonds
Mix all of the above, except coconut and almonds, together in a saucepan. Bring to boil and while stirring, boil for a full minute. Take off heat. Add coconut and almonds. Pour over cake and spread evenly. Serve warm, room temp or cold! It is delicious anyway you slice and serve it.
One warm day when my daughter Rachel was about fourteen, she bounced in the kitchen and said, “Mom, you have GOT to get the recipe for this cake called ‘Refreshing Cake’ that Cricket’s mom made today. It was cold and full of fruit and not too sweet, and creamy… and I want it for my birthday cake.”
Cricket was one of Rachel’s best friends, and luckily her mom was the sweet-natured recipe-sharing sort, so her recipe for “Refreshing Cake” (made with cake mix, eggs, pudding mix, a cup of oil, canned fruit and Cool Whip) showed up not only at birthdays, but was our go-to Spring and Summer dessert for family gatherings.
Then Rachel grew up, married, and became a vegan, bravely waving good-bye to many of her favorite desserts made with lots of dairy and eggs.
I, too, became more health conscious in my own way. I grew up in the 70’s when our collective moms (prompted by TV and the health advice de jour) stocked the kitchen with the latest new-fangled foods: Fresca, Tang (Why drink OJ from an actual orange when you can drink orange flavored sugar water?), margarine, IMO (A sour cream substitute. What those initials stood for is still a government secret.), saccharine, Mellorine (an artificial ice cream that melted into tile grout) and Cool Whip, that luscious tub full of hydrogenated oil and air!
We were a generation of kids raised on NASA and chemicals, basically eating astronaut food.
(I must hasten to add that my mother turned into something of a health nut in the decade of the 80’s, and has remained healthily and happily so ever since.)
But somewhere along the way to adulthood, I tasted real butter and ice cream (Blue Bell), promptly fell in love with the real McCoys, and began cooking with all things “natural.”
Now recipes with “artificial food” ingredients leave a slight chemical aftertaste in my mouth, not to mention an ache in my tummy.
But with the coming of Spring, visions of that moist pineapple and Mandarin orange cake, with its pineapple-whippy-pudding frosting started dancing in my head again. Along with the thought, “I wonder if I could create a ‘real food’ vegan-friendly version of this cake that doesn’t taste like fruit flavored mashed tofu and lentils?”
I’m pleased to say that with a quick trip for a couple of specialty items at Whole Foods, I produced a Refreshing Cake that is not only chemical free, organic and vegan… it tastes better than the original to me. No weird aftertaste, no achy tummy. Just a pure “real food” moist, yummy cake.
It would also make a great make-ahead cake for Easter lunch or dinner. A little preview tip: two cans of whole full fat coconut milk will need to go in your fridge overnight before making the recipe. This allows the “cream” to solidify and rise to the top so you can skim it off and whip it!
Becky’s Refreshing Mandarin Orange and Pineapple Cake
Serves 9 to 12, depending on size of pieces
Dr. Oetker’s Organic Vanilla Cake Mix, (This mix has no dairy or eggs in the mix, so if you don’t add any, it can be vegan.)
4 eggs (Vegans use egg-replacer equal to 4 eggs. You can click on link for recipe or buy “egg-replacer” in a box at most health food stores.)
1/2 c. coconut oil
1/2 c. applesauce (you may also use another 1/2 c. of canola or coconut oil instead, but applesauce makes it lighter in calories)
1 11 ounce can Mandarin Oranges with juice
2 16 oz. cans full-fat coconut milk, chilled overnight in fridge. (You will only use the coconut cream that rises to the top.) If you prefer dairy, you can use 1 c. whipping cream instead. Or 1 can of coconut cream and 1/2 c. whipping cream combined which is what I use most often as it seems to render the best of both!
1/2 c. vegan vanilla pudding mix (I used about half a package of Mori Nu vanilla pudding mix. If you aren’t vegan you can use any 3 1/2 oz. package of instant vanilla pudding mix.)
1 28 ounce can crushed pineapple, drained
1/4 c. raw organic sugar or agave nectar
2 t. good vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
To make the cake, mix the organic cake mix with eggs or egg-replacer of your choice, coconut oil and applesauce. When thoroughly blended, fold in mandarin oranges with juice, breaking gently as you stir. Pour batter into an 11 by 13 inch pan and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and cake springs back to touch in the middle. Cool and refrigerate until cool to the touch before frosting.
Using an electric mixer, whip the coconut cream as you would cream until it has the consistency of whipped cream. (Or if you prefer to use dairy, whip 1 c of heavy cream. I often use half coconut cream and have whipping cream.) Add 1/2 c. of vegan pudding mix (save rest for another cake, another day:) and continue to beat. Add vanilla and 1/4 c organic sugar or agave. Fold in the can of well-drained can of pineapple. ( Really squeeze the juice out, pushing pineapple against the colander holes.) Keep in fridge until you are ready to frost. If frosting feels too thick, add a little pineapple juice until it has the consistency of easy-to-spread, slightly stiff, whipped cream. If too thin, let it set in fridge for up to an hour and it should thicken.
When the cake is chilled, frost with coconut-cream-pineapple frosting. You may want to garnish with a little flaked coconut. Cover with plastic wrap and keep in fridge until you are ready to serve. I think this cake tastes even better the next day or two as flavors have a chance to chill and mingle.