Vanilla-lemon cake with coconut cream cheese frosting.

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Ohhhhh yeahhhh. Last weekend I hosted a big family gathering at my house, and even though I wasn’t in charge of dessert, I selfishly decided to make a little vegan cake so Evan and I would have something to enjoy with our coffee. I’m really not much of a baker, but this turned out so beautifully! It was delicious, too.

OK, so…let’s get my confession out of the way first: I used a mix for the cake part. Yes. I know that baking an actual yellow cake from scratch is not difficult, but we had a box of nice, all-natural cake mix in the pantry already and this was a last-minute plan, so there you go. No shame.

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The mix called for adding water and melted margarine. I subtracted a teaspoon of water and added a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, and substituted melted coconut oil for the margarine. I love baking with coconut oil! I divided the batter in half, then baked two layers using an 8×2″ Wilton heart pan.

I knew if I waited until the morning to bake them I wouldn’t have enough time to let both layers cool completely before frosting, so I played it safe. I left the cakes on the counter until bedtime, then wrapped them in parchment and foil and refrigerated them overnight. First thing the next morning, I took them out again so they’d come to room temperature.

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FROSTING. Holy hell, this frosting. It’s so good. I wasn’t sure if it was going to come out right so I didn’t think to take pictures until I’d already started putting it on the cake, but it made exactly the right amount to frost two small layers or one standard.

Coconut cream cheese frosting (vegan)
Adapted from this recipe / Enough for two small layers or one standard (or 12 cupcakes)

1 cup powdered sugar (confectioners’ sugar/icing sugar)
1/2 cup coconut oil (must be solid/cool)
2 tbsp almond milk
3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt

Put everything in a food processor for 1-2 minutes, or until everything is well-blended and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate.

After about 30 minutes, mix up the frosting with a fork. It’s going to feel like it’s too runny to work as cake frosting, but don’t worry—once the coconut oil cools and re-solidifies, it’ll be perfect. You just have to periodically mix it as it cools so you wind up with a fluffy end result. I mixed it up every 15 minutes or so for about two hours because I was in the kitchen doing other stuff anyway, but I think it would be fine if you wait a little longer than that. Just make sure it stays in the fridge long enough to be cold and fluff it up every now and then. I left it overnight, then took it out first thing in the morning. After it had warmed on the counter for about half an hour and I gave it another fork-mixing, it was PERFECT.

Note: Taste the frosting, but do not eat all of the frosting with a spoon (even though you’ll want to).

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I prefer the dome-topped look when it comes to homemade cakes, so I only de-domed the bottom layer (then I ate the discarded dome for breakfast, naturally). It’s really easy to do that with a regular serrated bread knife—just get down at eye level and go slowly. Small pieces of parchment paper under the perimeter of the cake will make it easier to transfer the layers to your serving plate after frosting.

(That gorgeous cutting board was made by Ariele Alasko, by the way! It was my and Evan’s Hanukkah gift to each other, and it’s right at home in our kitchen.)

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I am by no means knowledgeable about cake decorating, but the most important thing I’ve learned is to do what’s called a “crumb coat” before frosting the cake completely. It does take more time, but it’s worth it. Spread a very thin layer of frosting across the top and sides using a light hand. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, it just has to lightly coat everything. Put the cake in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes after doing your crumb coat. This will seal the cake surface and prevent crumbs from finding their way into the frosting while you’re doing the real decorating! It works so well and makes a huge difference.

You’ll want to put the frosting back in the fridge, too, if it’s starting to feel a little loose. Don’t let it get so hard that you can’t spread it, of course, just keep an eye on things. If you’re working in a hot kitchen or during the summertime, you’ll definitely need to let the frosting cool down while your crumb coat sets.

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Ah! All decorated! I am not very good at this part of cake-making, but I don’t really care. As much as I admire the artistry of beautifully-decorated cakes, I like to keep things simple. I don’t have any special tools, I just used the back of a wide soup spoon. The sides of the cake were looking a little uneven, so I pressed on some shredded coconut. Carefully transfer to a plate, slide out the parchment, and you’re done.

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Ta-da! The cake sliced cleanly and with minimal crumbling, and it’s a miracle I managed to take these photos at all. My family was all crowded into the kitchen while I barked, “DON’T TOUCH THE CAKE, I HAVE TO TAKE PICTURES FOR MY BLOG!” My brother made rabbit ears behind it.

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SO YUMMY. It might actually be the best cake I’ve ever eaten. It’s definitely the best cake I’ve ever made, and even though I used a mix, I’m still pretty proud. The addition of coconut oil produced a dense but moist cake, almost like a pound cake. That frosting, though—it’s amazing stuff. I want to make another batch for carrot cake! I love that it really tasted like cream cheese frosting without relying on packaged vegan cream cheese. Heavenly.

Most importantly, everyone at my house from young children to grandparents thought the cake was delicious! There really is nothing that makes me happier than feeding people I love.

26 comments
  1. Sarah SMar 30, 20145:50 am

    This looks great – I’m definitely trying this. I love that you used coconut oil. My daughter has to avoid dairy, but lots of recipes then call for stuff like margarine or soy based products, like you mentioned, and those aren’t things I want to eat either.

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  2. CristinaMar 30, 20149:18 am

    This looks delicious! Definitely bookmarking to try out later.

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  3. Maria @ sustainable aestheticsMar 30, 201411:27 am

    That looks so good! It’s nice that you ‘admitted’ to using a box mix, I do that often for time saving purposes and always feel slightly guilty about it. I love the heart shaped pan, makes look a little more special.

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  4. StefanieMar 30, 201411:33 am

    Beautiful. I’ve been using coconut oil on my skin for ages now, but haven’t tried it for cooking/baking yet. The frosting looks great.

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  5. rebMar 30, 201411:34 am

    the cake looks good! on a side note, I don’t know if anyone has directed you to this yet, but have you seen Amber’s tutorial on a geometric floor at Wills Casa? It’s totally the floor pattern of your dreams, and you’re right that tape seems easier!!
    http://www.willscasa.com/2014/03/how-to-paint-concrete-floors-geometric/

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    Anna @ D16 /

    Gorgeous! Yeah, that’s pretty much how I imagined it working with the tape. :)

  6. rebMar 30, 201411:40 am

    oh and also, those plates are amazing!!!

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  7. Looks delicious. And you’ll get no judgements from me regarding using a cake mix. In fact, I know a pastry chef that uses a boxed cake mix for making cakes at home.

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  8. karenMar 30, 20141:40 pm

    Oh, goodness, that looks wonderful. And thank you so much for the link to Cherrybrook Kitchen – I’m always on the hunt for peanut/tree nut free stuff as I have a severly allergic kiddo!!!

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  9. JulesMar 30, 20142:27 pm

    I love my cakes ice-cold out of the fridge. If you like faintly bitter and not too sweet, you should veganize the Guinness chocolate cake I make. That cake is AMAZING (it’s by Nigella Lawson, she of the ageless, bouncy breasts) and uses cream cheese frosting.

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  10. MonicaMar 30, 20145:44 pm

    Yay! Another Anna Recipe to love. The cake looks so delicious. Thanks for the crumb coat tip!!!

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  11. HeidiMar 30, 201411:27 pm

    The cake sounds delicious, but the real reason I’m commenting is last night I had a dream about you! I was visiting your house, and you had to go somewhere. You asked me to help out by putting little sweater jackets on Fritz and Bruno before you left, so in my dream I was struggling with your pups, trying to get tiny little dog sweaters buttoned on. So…that’s weird.

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  12. LouiseMar 31, 20143:23 am

    That cake is going to be the first thing I make when I finally get out of dorms (and have access to a kitchen that isn’t completely disgusting).

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  13. Jade Sheldon-BurnsedMar 31, 201412:03 pm

    Yep, making this immediately…

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  14. cyrieMar 31, 20143:55 pm

    i am so excited to make a gluten free version of this! how on earth did you keep from eating the frosting with a spoon!? drool.

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    Anna @ D16 /

    Well, I may have eaten some

  15. CateMar 31, 20149:46 pm

    Yum. And looks amazing! Love the photo with the plate. (“Oh, this old thing?”)

    On an unrelated note, have to mention — you recommended a Miele vaccum. It arrived this afternoon. I can’t stop vacuuming! Is this why you clean so much, ha? It is such a pleasure to use. (My sister bought it for us as a wedding present — we got married in 2009!)

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  16. Alex - Hydrangea GirlApr 2, 201410:58 am

    This sounds insane. My husband and I aren’t vegans, but we’re always curious to try out foods that are less dairy packed and that icing sounds like a dream. Not to mention we are mahoosive fans of anything lemon. You mentioned trying it out on carrot cake – that’s what I immediately thought! We love carrot cake so much that it was our wedding cake. That’s how serious we are about fruit and vegetable based cakes. Get in my face.

    xx A

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    Anna @ D16 /

    I’ve only been dairy-free for about 4 years now, so I have a loooooong history of frosting-eating of all kinds behind me. ;) And yeah, carrot is the BEST THING. Also banana bread. And zucchini bread!

  17. deniseApr 3, 20148:40 pm

    Some thoughts for others who might want to recreate this yumminess –

    I tried out this recipe yesterday to bring to a ladies gathering. I used a Betty Crocker yellow cake mix instead of a fancy all-natural cake mix, though. Doe any one know if the volume of batter varies between these two brands? I ask because 1 tsp of lemon juice did not add any appreciable lemon flavor to the finished product (not that this is exactly a big study, I unscientifically polled the 5 girls who ate the cake, and none of them tasted lemon. They just thought it was regular yellow cake). I’m thinking maybe if the Betty Crocker mix made a lot more cake, then you might have to increase the lemon if you want to taste a hint of it in the batter?

    My other reason for suspecting the BC mix made too much cake was that the frosting, as prepared, was no where near enough to frost the cake. I had to double it to cover the cake (including only a very thin frosting layer in the middle). Other than these issues, the cake was a hit and everyone loved the frosting! Thanks for sharing the recipe, it was cool to explore coconut oil as a fat. I had never baked with it before.

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    Anna @ D16 /

    Hi Denise, I’m sorry for the cake differences! I really don’t know anything about Betty Crocker cake mix (at least not any time in recent history). Based on what you’re saying about the quantity of frosting vs. cake, though, I’m guessing that yes—the volume must be different. The amount of frosting in the recipe should be enough to frost one small, two-layer cake (like the one in my post), or a single layer from a standard round cake pan.

    Anna @ D16 /

    Hi again, yeah, I just checked the Betty Crocker box online, and it makes two standard layers from one box—so double what I made here. There’s a note in my post about the quantity right before the ingredients list, but I’ll put it in bold so it’s more apparent. :)

  18. julieApr 8, 20146:15 pm

    OOOH this looks yummy!!! I want to try it but not too sure where I would get a vegan cake mix here in the UK. Do you know a good recipe you could recommend?

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    Anna @ D16 /

    Hi Julie, the cake part of this cupcake recipe will work perfectly—it’s just the right amount for the quantity of frosting, too:
    http://www.theppk.com/2010/11/vanilla-bean-cupcakes-with-chocolate-ganache/

    (Substitute coconut oil for the canola oil, if possible!!)

  19. karlApr 9, 20142:20 pm

    what is this? 1/4 cup or 1/4 teaspoon or 1/4 lemon?
    you recipe above just says: 1/4 lemon juice
    thanks can’t wait to try it!

    [Reply]

    Anna @ D16 /

    Oops, sorry! Something obviously went awry there—that should be 1/4 tsp lemon juice in the frosting. :)

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