Pumpkin Spice Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

Pumpkin Cake

Many exciting things of the nuptial variety have been happening in our families over the past few months: one of my cousins got married, two of my other cousins got engaged, and we finally received the call from my sister-in-law Amy telling us that her boyfriend had proposed! (Sorry for using the word “finally”, Jeff, but we knew you were the dude since, like, the day we met you, so we’ve all been waiting. 😉 ) Their wedding planning is well underway, and Chris and I are excited and honored to have been asked to be members of the wedding party.

I was also incredibly honored when my mother-in-law asked me to make a cake for Amy and Jeff’s engagement party. Chris’ aunt, a seasoned baker, would be making a regular cake already. We have a fairly significant list of dietary restrictions in our group, though, so I was tasked with producing a vegan, gluten-free, soy-free cake as well.

No problemo!

(Hindsight being 20/20, this cake should and could have been nut-free also, but I made it using homemade cashew milk. Apologies to the nut-free cousins!)

After a few inquiries as to what the guests of honor might enjoy, I decided on a season-appropriate pumpkin spice cake with a hint of cardamom and a vanilla buttercream frosting. Sound good? It really was. But before I get into how good this cake is, let me first tell you that this is apparently (thankfully) a forgiving recipe.

The evening before the party I slid my two 9-inch cake pans into the oven, set a timer, and went about my business. At roughly T-7 minutes to go, I peered into the oven and noticed that the middle of each cake was still looking pretty wet and flat. I’d been testing the recipe using single layers and figured maybe it just needed an extra five minutes or so with two pans in the oven. About five minutes passed and I was surprised to see that cakes didn’t look any different, which was when I noticed…that the oven was off.

Roman has this adorable little habit of turning the oven off on me. Most of the time I’m there to catch it and can turn it right back on. This time I missed it, and when I went to set it back to 350 degrees, I was dismayed to find that it had already cooled off to something in the neighborhood of 180—which meant it had been off for a while. Once the oven came up to temperature, the cakes still needed a full 15 minutes before they felt firm enough to come out.

I was so nervous that end result would be horribly dense, more brownie-like than cake, or just plain weird. I wanted this cake to be good, mostly because it was intended for a special celebration for two people that I care for, but also, I’ll admit, because it was going to be the vegan, gluten-free, soy-free cake at the party. I wanted it to hold it’s own, and, if the oven mishap spoiled it, I didn’t want anyone to think the cake wasn’t very good because it was vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free. There would be no way to tell for sure if it had turned out okay until we cut into it, so I debated making another. Ultimately I just didn’t have time.

And apparently (thankfully) this is a forgiving recipe.

Pumpkin Spice Cake for A&J w slice

The cake turned out great. It was moist and flavorful and it was only a matter of minutes before people began commenting, incredulous that it was free of anything. Some of the uncles were hesitant to try it (What could it possibly be made of? they mused.), but my fabulous sister-in-law marched over and cut them each a slice. I’m told that they had no problem polishing it off.

As our party was leaving the restaurant, the manager popped out and confessed that she and the staff, curious, had taken a slice to try for themselves. Everyone loved it. “It’s not fat and sugar free too, is it?” she asked me jokingly. I was happy to tell her that, actually, the cake itself was totally oil-free. Cue wide-eyed wow-stare.

I once saw a t-shirt somewhere that said: “Anything you can eat, I can eat vegan.” And it’s true. It’s becoming more and more true every day. Sure, a lot of the time being vegan is about kale (at least for me), but it can also be about really delicious, decadent (even gluten- and soy-free!) cake. I think we can all agree on cake.

And all of us who know them definitely agree on Jeff and Amy. They’re awesome people individually and so great together.  We couldn’t be more excited for these two and can’t wait to celebrate their big day with them this time next year!

Pumpkin cake 2

Pumpkin Spice Cake
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Vegan, Gluten-Free, Oil-Free, Soy-Free Option, Nut-Free Option

This cake is moist and light, but still has some heft, just like you want from a pumpkin spice cake. It's really decadent made as a layer cake with frosting, but if you halve the cake recipe and leave it bare, it can also hold its own as a pretty reasonable snack cake.
Yield: 2 9-inch cakes
  • 2 tablespoons flax meal
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup millet flour
  • 1 cup brown rice flour
  • ½ cup tapioca starch
  • ½ cup potato starch (or arrowroot flour)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons xanthan gum
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
  • 1 cup plain, unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 ½ cups sucanat (raw or regular sugar are fine as well)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup plant milk
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flax meal and water. Set aside for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it forms a thick gel.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of two 9-inch round non-stick cake pans with circles of parchment paper.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, xanthan gum, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the applesauce and sucanat to combine. Whisk in the flax gel. Add the vanilla extract and pumpkin puree and stir until totally blended. Gently whisk in the plant milk.
  5. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and whisk until just combined.
  6. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cakes feel firm in the center and a toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Cool cakes completely before frosting.
Soy-Free Option: Choose a plant milk other than soy.

Nut-Free Option: Choose a plant milk that doesn't contain nuts.

Gluten Option?: I haven't personally tried this, but I write my gluten-free recipes to mimic regular flour, proportionally by volume. If you don't need to avoid gluten, this recipe should work if you replace the GF flours and xanthan gum with 3 cups of regular flour. If you try it out, let me know!

Vanilla Buttercream
Prep time
Total time
Vegan, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free, Soy-Free Option

This buttercream frosting is sweet, fluffy, and flavorful--perfect for finishing off nearly any cake. The addition of a little salt and vinegar helps to enhance the flavor and cut the sweetness just a smidge.
Yield: enough frosting for a 2-layer 9" cake
  • 1 cup Earth Balance buttery spread
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 3 cups confectioner’s sugar (see Notes)
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Place the Earth Balance and shortening in a large medium-sized mixing bowl. Use a hand mixer to to lightly beat them together for a few seconds.
  2. Begin adding the confectioner's sugar a little at a time, mixing to incorporate well after each addition.
  3. After adding roughly half of the sugar, mix in the salt, vinegar, and vanilla extract.
  4. Beat in the remaining sugar, still adding a little at at time. Continue to whip the frosting for a few moments more until light and fluffy.
  5. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.
The measurements for the confectioner's sugar are unsifted; simply scoop and level each cup with a finger.

Soy-Free Option: Use soy-free Earth Balance and palm shortening.



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