Contrary to popular belief, vegan desserts can actually taste good—just ask teen baking phenom Clara Polito. The 19-year-old chef has been serving up sweet treats since the ripe age of 12, when she made a name for herself presenting at food shows and selling her creative treats at punk rock concerts—seriously, could she be any cooler?—before ultimately going pro with her eponymous Los Angeles baking company.
Here, Polito offers up a recipe for her vegan-friendly coconut cake. "I always thought coconut cake was such a vegan cop out, but I got over that when I realized coconut cake is a classic flavor across the whole dang board," she writes in her new cookbook, Clara Cakes: Delicious and Simple Vegan Desserts for Everyone ($15; amazon.com). "I don't know how, but coconut products have a way of imbuing any dessert with a melt-in-your-mouth quality."
Lucky for us, you don't have to be an adolescent entrepreneur to nail this simple recipe. Keep reading for the full breakdown, and if you happen to be in New York City on March 23, be sure to stop by Polito's book launch in Brookyn's Dumbo neighborhood.
Clara's Coconut Cake
2 cups flaked coconut
½ cup melted coconut oil
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup canned coconut milk, room temperature (not solid; heat in saucepan and whisk if solid)
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup vegan butter, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
5 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ tablespoon coconut vinegar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup solid coconut oil (store in refrigerator for a couple hours before use if it's hot outside)
½ cup shortening
2-2½ cups powdered sugar
1 splash of soy milk
How to Make It
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, toss together the coconut flakes, ¼ cup melted coconut oil, and ½ teaspoon salt, making sure the flakes are completely coated in the oil.
3. Spread the flakes over the parchment paper evenly and put in oven. Stir the coconut every couple of minutes to ensure the flakes bake evenly, about 7-8 minutes.
4. Let cool on pan, don’t remove from pan until you need them for the cake since they get nice and crunchy on the pan. Before adding to cake batter, soak up excess oil with a paper towel.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Trace a 9-inch round cake pan on parchment paper with a pencil. Cut the circle out. Coat the cake pan with nonstick spray and flour and place parchment paper circle on top.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the coconut milk and vinegar until foamy. Set aside while preparing the next steps.
3. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and ¼ teaspoon salt.
4. Using an electric mixer, mix ¼ cup butter, ¼ cup melted coconut oil, and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.
5. Add 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract to the butter and sugar mixture.
6. Add the dry ingredients and the coconut milk vinegar to the butter. Mix on medium speed until no large clumps remain. Mix in the coconut flakes.
7. Bake cake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when poked in the center of the cake.
8. To take the cake out, place a cooling rack on top of cake so the tiny legs are sticking up and not towards the cake, then flip the cooling rack and pan altogether, place on a surface, and remove the cake pan and parchment paper, slowly. Allow to fully cool before frosting. Use coconut frosting for both filling and frosting.
*Makes one 9-inch cake layer. Double recipe for complete cake!
1. On medium speed using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, blend the coconut oil, ¼ cup butter, and shortening together until light and creamy.
2. Add the powdered sugar until thoroughly mixed.
3. Add in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and the soymilk. Mix until light and fluffy.
*Makes enough frosting for one 9-inch cake layer. Triple recipe for 2-layer frosting and filling.