Pumpkin and Chocolate Layer Birthday Cake

November 27, 2016

It was my birthday on Wednesday. I'm 25 now,  and my age has started to show a little bit this year in the form of a sprinkling of white hairs and the beginnings of crows feet. I panicked when I first found the white hairs, especially because I thought I was a few years away from that, but I've gotten used to it now. All I can do is take care of myself and wear sunscreen, and the rest is genetics, right? I'm not sure if sunscreen matters quite as much here since it's never sunny but I'm wearing in anyway. The Christmas markets started this week too and all the decorations are up around the city now, and it's cute and kitschy and very German. I started a praktikum, kind of like an internship, at a pottery studio earlier this week as a trial period to see if the master potter hires me on for a six month term or not. I'm mostly doing my own work and in the process of opening up an online store (!) and I'll keep you updated about that at it progresses. So far I've been making a lot of ceramic mushroom tree ornaments and I'm in love. 

This is my third birthday cake since starting this blog. A fun thing about doing these posts around the same time every year is seeing how my photography has changed over time (thankfully for the better) especially since I've starting dedicating more time to taking pictures. Last year my family showed up while I was trying to take pictures of the cake - you can see my brother's-in-law hand in the first image for that recipe. The first time, I shot on a white coffee table with a sheet of white paper behind to try to get a seamless background. Graham took a peek and called it sad looking, but if you want to see it, you can find it here. They're both good recipes but I think this is by far the best one yet. 

I had planned to do a four-layer cake, and you still could use this recipe to do that if you have smaller cake pans. Mine are the standard 26cm / 10 inch and I think to get the type of tall layers I wanted it'd have to be an 8 inch pan or smaller. You could double the recipe and make four cakes in total but it'd be enormous if you did that, because it's a big cake as is. It's very pretty with just the two layers, though, and much easier to do. I wanted to add coconut whipped cream to the mix but the craziest thing happened when I was whipping it. My cream turned into butter! I have no idea how it happened but if I can replicate it I'll share it here. I still haven't found a brand of canned coconut milk that makes good whipped cream in Germany. If you have any suggestions, please let me know! They don't seem to behave the same way. If you want to make coconut whipped cream, it would be a nice addition to this cake, especially between the two layers after the glaze has been added.


This cake wasn't very enthusiastically received by my family at first. I guess pumpkin isn't used as much for sweet recipes here as it is at home, and isn't as widely used overall. Pumpkins originated in the Americas (the oldest evidence is in central America, although they were also extensively grown further north) and unlike tomatoes they don't seem to have become as much of a staple here. It doesn't help that hokkaido is virtually the only variety available. My aunts were skeptical of a pumpkin cake, my youngest cousin outright refused to eat it or the pumpkin cinnamon buns, and my omi thinks the only thing you can make with pumpkin, really, is soup. Everyone except my pokemon obsessed cousin had at least one piece after a little convincing and they loved it, but next time I might just say it's cinnamon and forget to tell them about the vegetable hiding in there. 

There's a (coconut) milk chocolate glaze poured over both of the cake layers, which is delicious, but will make a huge mess if you're not careful. I wrote a tip below for an easier way to glaze the cake without as much chocolate going everywhere. The cake layers aren't tooth achingly sweet but the glaze adds a little extra bit of sweetness that makes it into more of a celebration dessert. If you can't find physalis to top it with, try some toasted nuts instead or simply glaze it. I think this would be a beautiful cake for the holidays, especially if you added some Christmas spices like nutmeg and cardamom. The chocolate cake is a good basic recipe that could be adapted in a number of ways on its own.

If you bake both of the layers at the same time, try to have them on the same rack if you can so that they bake evenly. The chocolate cake cooks a little bit faster anyway though so it doesn't matter too much. I've chosen to use all sifted or light spelt for the layers, but you could do half whole and half light if that floats your boat. This is one of the few times I won't use whole grain flour and I think that's fine. It's still vegan, low in sugar, and uses healthy fats and real, whole food ingredients, because it wouldn't be one of my recipes if it was full of junk, right?

There are plenty of notes at the bottom of this recipe with possible substitutions and tips, so make sure to read those before starting to make the cake. It seems like a lot of recipe but you don't have to cream sugar with butter or any of that shit so it doesn't take as much time as you'd think. Plus, you don't have to spread icing!




Pumpkin and Chocolate Layer Birthday Cake
Makes a large layer cake


Pumpkin Cinnamon Layer

2 1/2 cups sifted (light/630 type) spelt flour

1/2 cup coconut sugar*
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder
Pinch salt
1 cup non-dairy milk*
3/4 cup pumpkin puree*
1/2 cup olive oil*

Preheat your oven to 180C / 350F and grease a 26cm / 10 inch springform pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt. Whisk to break up any clumps.

In a smaller bowl, whisk the milk, pumpkin puree, and olive oil until thoroughly mixed and there is no separation between the liquids.

Add the liquid mixture to the larger bowl and gently whisk until just combined. Don't over mix. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until light gold and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted. Cool for ten minutes before removing the sides of the the pan, and then cool completely on a rack.

Chocolate Cake

2 cups sifted (light/630 type) spelt flour

3/4 cup coconut sugar
1/2 cup natural cocoa powder*
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder
Pinch salt
1 1/2 cups non-dairy milk
1/2 cup olive oil

Preheat your oven to 180 C / 350F and grease a 26cm / 10 inch springform pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, vanilla, and salt.

In a medium bowl, combine the milk and olive oil, whisking until fully incorporated. Add this to the flour mixture and gently whisk until just mixed.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the edges start to pull away from the pan and a toothpick doesn't have crumbs sticking to it when inserted into the cake. Cool for ten minutes before removing the sides of the the pan, and then cool completely on a rack.

Milk Chocolate Glaze

1 400 ml can of full-fat coconut milk

200 grams dark chocolate*
2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder
Pinch salt

Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place it in a heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan on medium, heat the coconut milk until it comes to a simmer.

Pour the hot coconut milk over the chocolate and let it sit before five minutes. Add the maple syrup, vanilla, and salt, and whisk until a smooth chocolate sauce forms.

Place the bowl in the freezer for thirty minutes to an hour, or until just warm, and then whisk again. You don't want it to set up completely because then it won't be pourable. If it does set (for example if you leave it in the fridge overnight), you can either use it as a chocolate icing or gently reheat it over a water bath.

To assemble the cake, cut the dome off the top of the chocolate layer, then eat it. Put the chocolate cake onto a pan base or plate (see the tip below) and pour a little less than half the glaze over it, from the centre. It will move outwards on its own. Place the pumpkin cake onto the chocolate layer and pour glaze over to cover the top and drip down the sides. You may have some glaze left over, but I'm sure you can find another use for it. Place physalis* onto the top of the cake, opening the paper layer to make little wings.

Tips:
• In hindsight I suggest have the cake on the base of a springform, on a cooling rack, with a bowl or plate underneath to catch the extra chocolate that drips off the cake when you pour it. You can see the huge chocolate mess I ended up with here from pouring it on after setting everything up.

Notes:
1. You can use raw sugar in place of coconut sugar (I've tried it with something called vollkorn rohrzucker, which is a finer grained, darker coloured raw sugar) and it will work well.
2. I used homemade oat milk (it's so cheap!) but you could use almond or whatever other milk you have on hand. Canned coconut milk won't work but most non-dairy milks you buy in a carton will.
3. You can use canned pumpkin puree, but it's really easy to roast a pumpkin - just cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and bake at 200C cut side down until you can pierce the skin with a fork. I used a hokkaido which is a little dryer than a sugar pie pumpkin.
4. You can use a different light tasting oil, like grape seed, in place of the olive oil. Don't use coconut oil as the cakes will become too dense as they cool.
5. Don't bother with raw cacao since you're baking it anyway - natural cocoa powder is much less expensive and tastes great in cake.
6. Make sure you use bar chocolate, because chocolate chips have additives to keep them from melting too much. Most dark chocolates won't have milk in them, but just look at the ingredients if you're making this for someone who can't have milk products. 

I think that's a record for the number of notes for a recipe! Happy baking!

10 comments on "Pumpkin and Chocolate Layer Birthday Cake"
  1. Happy 25! This looks like a lovely way to celebrate. <3

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  2. Happy belated birthday Alex!!! Wow, this cake is absolutely stunning! And I swear your photography is getting better and better every day. These shots are beautiful! xx

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    1. Thank you, dear Sophie! You're too sweet!

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  3. This is definitely my kind of cake! Yum! As for the sunscreeen, be careful with that as it blocks your natural absorption of vitamin D from the sun and can lead to long-term health issues. More is not always best ;)

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    1. :) thanks Gabrielle! I know, there are some issues associated with it - I have photo dermatitis (hyper sensitivity to sunlight) and burn really easily now because I take st. john's wort for depression, so sunscreen is a must! I take vitamin d supplements daily though and try to get sun whenever possible without sunscreen if I can. It's the only side effect I have, though, so that's a good thing!

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  4. Happy Birthday, love! As always, your photos are absolutely stunning. The recipe sounds delicious as well. Take it from someone in their 30's (yep!) I can definitely tell you sunscreen is really important (even when it's cloudy) and eating nutritious food absolutely makes a difference! Haha. :) I hope you enjoyed your day!

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    1. Thank you Justine! Wow, I would never have guessed you were in your 30s, I thought you were younger than me! <3

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  5. Pretty cake! And I love that you're into pottery- I've been eyeing a class nearby as it is something I would love to try. Once your online store is up and running, do share the link. Oh and- happy belated birthday! :)

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    1. Thanks Hilary! I think it's so rewarding to do things like pottery, and really get to see results that you can use. Thank you :)

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