I didn't set out to make a cake. I set out to make banana bread—and wholesome banana bread, at that. It was 11 a.m. on a Saturday, and I'm pleased to report (fine, humble brag) that I'd just completed a workout. I was feeling virtuous and unstoppable, like the kind of people I always see smiling in yogurt commercials. The kind of people who, I suspect, wouldn't turn a blind eye as a large bunch of bananas purchased a week ago turned into something resembling a gnarled knot of tree branches.
These people, I realized as I took a spin through my pantry and fridge, also might've had the foresight to get the other ingredients needed for wholesome banana bread. Like wheat flour, eggs, Greek yogurt, and maybe a handful of dark chocolate chips.
With a sigh that made me look more like someone in a painful-rash commercial, I took stock of what I did have, and started pulling out measuring cups and a mixing bowl. There were a few items with promise: almond flour, aka, finely ground almonds, leftover from recent experiments with aquafaba macarons. Almond butter, aka, even more finely ground almonds. I'd never used almond butter for baking, but I suspected it could help to bind the other ingredients as well as contribute a nutty texture and a moist, dense crumb (my favorite when it comes to banana bread). Either that, or it'd do the opposite and turn the whole thing to soft, hopeless mush. I had coconut oil, which I've used before in lieu of butter. And as always, I had a large box of Dutch-processed cocoa, which I'll put in anything from plain vanilla yogurt (pudding in a pinch!) to chocolate baked goods to coconut butter.
I'll skip to the punchline: I was as shocked as you probably are at the degree to which the resulting "bread" was delightfully tender, chocolatey and dense, and chock-full of banana. The almond butter and coconut oil worked some sort of textural magic, resulting in a super moist crumb that, coupled with the deep chocolate background, was downright fudgy. With its low, round shape and festive decor, what I'd produced was decidedly more of a cross between a cake and brownie than a bread. I didn't mind one bit.
With only ingredients I use regularly for breakfast—almonds, bananas, coconut oil, a bit of maple syrup—plus a few other innocuous ones, like unsweetened cocoa and baking powder, it dawned on me: I'd accidentally made a vegan cake. With no gluten, no grain. And no refined sugar.
Like any well-adjusted adult—right?—I set out to get the people close to me to admit they loved a cake with no butter or sugar.
"What is this?" my sister Clementine—a noted sweets fiend and eschewer of all things dubbed "okay for you"—asked, her mouth full of cake, when she called the next day. She was, she told me, hunched over on a street corner, scarfing it down like a rabid animal. She'd snuck a little sample on her walk home from work, and unable to make it all the way to her apartment before polishing it off, had taken up temporary residence between a crosswalk and a construction site. I explained, gleefully: a banana-brownie cake that happened to be vegan, gluten-free, and refined-sugar-free. A cake she could eat for breakfast without concern.
She paused as she considered whether to spit it out and run to the nearest patisserie for an emergency sensory reboot via pain au chocolat.
"It's just so good," she said, sounding baffled. I could hear her take another bite as she ended the call in a daze.
The next day, Clementine reached back out with a text message: "Could I have the recipe?"
Like someone so organized, I could star in a series of yogurt commercials, I wrote it out immediately and sent it to her that very same afternoon:
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
- 2 cups almond flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 3/4 cup almond butter, unsweetened (if oil is separated, stir to combine before using)
- 1/2 cup maple syrup, plus more for drizzling
- 1 3/4 cups roughly mashed bananas (about 4 bananas), divided, plus one whole banana
- 1 pinch flaky salt
Can't Get Enough Cake? We've Got You.
Do you have any favorite desserts that just so happen to be vegan? Let us know in the comments.