Vegan Gluten Free Happy Birthday Cake

by Maria Theresa Maggi on October 22, 2018

Impromptu Carob Raspberry Coconut Gluten Free Birthday Cake

I’m not celebrating anybody’s birthday this week. But sometimes it’s nice to remember a special occasion, or pretend there is one when there isn’t. It conjures up those feelings a special occasion brings, the ones that make us feel grateful for each other and for how we have made it through good times and bad.

Special occasions are often meticulously planned in advance, but my favorite ones are unlikely and spontaneous. I consider it a special occasion when the ocean, possessing the power of several thunderclaps with each set of waves that break, leaves a tiny translucent shell that fits on the tip of my finger in full and perfect form, amidst millions of others shattered to smithereens:

A special occasion happened just this morning on our walk when I looked across a driveway we were about to walk past and saw a blur of something dark brown gently waving a golden shield. Taking a few steps closer revealed it was actually a little ground squirrel intensely nibbling on a mushroom cap so big it covered his entire body.

"Squirrel Nibbling Mushroom," quick memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

“Squirrel Nibbling Mushroom,” quick memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

Oh, how those little jaws worked! The dogs and I were quite close but it was so busy it only continued on eating its “giant potato chip” as we walked by. I laughed my way up the hill, thinking about how much fun it will be to tell my neighbor who warned me not to leave my mushroom finds outside overnight because the squirrels will come and snack on them that I serendipitously caught one in the act.

A special occasion is also when it’s almost midnight on my son’s 33rd birthday, but it isn’t midnight yet, and he’s driven out at the last minute (since my daughter-in-law had to be away) to celebrate the end of it with me, and he’s waited to eat until he arrived, and now, standing before a cake lighted with 3 candles, I  get to watch him carefully consider a wish in silence before blowing them out, and my heart gets so full it could burst.

My Mom always had a song for everything, and one of her favorites was “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake,” She loved to burst into this goofy song when she was happy to see us or she wanted to make us laugh about making a big deal out of something. I didn’t sing this song, but I did call him the morning of his birthday, following another of my Mom’s family traditions, belting out “Happy Birthday,” before saying hello. We had a nice talk, and I read him a poem from my first book about the day he was born. Later on, I just had a feeling, so I messaged him that if he felt like it after work, he was welcome to come out to the coast for some  flatbread pizza and cake. I knew I could throw together some  flatbread pizzas and put this cake in the oven in the two hours it would take him to get here if he decided to take me up on the open invitation. That dewy eyed moment watching his heartfelt private consideration of a wish came after he’d made me laugh so hard I couldn’t get through singing happy birthday while holding the cake. I’d asked him earlier, with comical eagerness,  if anyone had sung happy birthday to him at work, and he said (with his characteristic dry sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye) “Yes, Mom, every single person in the company called me on the phone and sang me happy birthday!” The thought of my eagerness to know if anyone else had sung to him and the ridiculous fantasy image of everyone doing exactly as I had done made me laugh so hard I couldn’t get through the song again, which he thought was so adorable, he filmed me nearly peeing my pants trying to get the song out and not drop the cake and set the kitchen on fire.

This cake is an adaptation of The Full Helping’s Vegan Dark Chocolate Pear Cake;  somewhere along the way, based on what I had on hand and other dietary requirements I follow. it became Vegan Carob Raspberry (or Huckleberry) (or Blueberry) Coconut Cake.

If you can eat chocolate in large amounts and you don’t mind using oil, I highly recommend the original recipe. But if, like me, you need to keep chocolate to an absolute minimum even on a special occasion, you shouldn’t eat gluten, you don’t have a pear, avocado oil or even a springform pan in the kitchen, you can still make a great tasting oil free cake, and create your own special occasion.

Vegan Carob Raspberry Coconut Cake


  • 1½ cups gluten free flour blend (I used 1/2 cup quinoa flour, 1/2 cup sorghum flour and 1/2 cup potato starch or tapioca starch)*
  • ½ cup carob powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt (or even just a pinch)
  • just a sprinkle of ginger and a small sprinkle of clove—to add body to the carob powder
  • maple syrup, about ½ cup plus a tbs or 2—to taste– or 1/2 cup homemade date paste
  • ⅔ cup cold water
  • 1/3 cup of plain cashew yogurt. I have used Forager brand, which is very good and not sweet– or a mixture of ground golden flax and coconut milk to equal 1/3 cup
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • additionally, I put a sprinkle of vanilla extract in—all these little adds give depth to the carob
  • about ¼ cup of cooked Japanese sweet potato, which I mashed into the liquid ingredients
  • and about ¾ cup of frozen raspberries, defrosted for top in place of pears
  • I used about 2 tbs of Enjoy Life vegan chocolate chips and a sprinkling of dried coconut
  • about two tbs of coconut
  • optional: a sprinkle of coconut sugar (I’ve forgotten it many times and it’s fine without it)



  1. Preheat your oven to 350F and rub a pie plate with a little peanut butter.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, carob powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and other spices.
  3. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the syrup or date paste, water, yogurt or flax meal and coconut milk mixture, and vinegar. Add in the mashed Japanese sweet potato to the wet ingredients, then add that mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk or mix to combine thoroughly.  You should have a fudgey, spreadable batter. Pour/spread the batter into the pie plate. Top with the frozen berries,  coconut and chocolate chips
  4. Transfer the cake to the oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until the top is rounded and set. Remove it from the oven. Allow it to cool for at least an hour before serving.


*You can use the same amount of a trusted GF, all purpose flour blend. If you’re mixing your own, remember the rule of thumb is 2 parts gluten free flours and one part starch (potato, tapioca, arrowroot).

To make date paste, simply pit dates and let them sit in the required water for about 15 minutes, then process water and dates in the food processor. This might mean you need to add a little more liquid to the batter if it ends up too thick. Orange juice is also nice in place of the water or for part of it.

The reason I did not use carob chips: they are made with palm oil, and alas, that is an oil Dr. Swank has written is bad for those of us with MS. Plus it’s not often sustainably produced. And I had the Enjoy Life chips in the freezer from some cookies I made last summer. The ingredients in them are all okay for me, so a little chocolate in that form is not devastating. And plus it was just expedient. I’m sure you could make an all chocolate version of this with cocoa powder, but I wanted to be able to eat the cake comfortably and too much chocolate gives me restless legs at night.

You may have noticed the instructions for making this cake are a bit improvisational. It’s about getting it sweet enough without sugar if you opt not to use the maple syrup (the dates and Japanese sweet potato help with that) and rich enough without oil. Play around. If you don’t have raspberries, blueberries or huckleberries work well, and cinnamon goes well with them–or pears, as in the original recipe.

You may also notice if you look closely that there are a few huckleberries in with the raspberries on top of the cake in the recipe photo. They grow on my patio and I couldn’t resist. You may also notice that there’s no picture of the whole cake.  That’s because we’d eaten a third of it before I thought to take one, but on the bright side you can see the dense texture of the cake.

A long long time ago one morning in April when I was ten years old, I tried wishing Christmas into our living room. I crept slowly down the hall, willing with all my might to see a tree lit up and decorated with tinsel and ornaments, presents underneath. But when I got there, my vision had not materialized. In the 52 years since that disappointing morning, I’ve learned that making an ordinary day a special occasion doesn’t have to be so impossible. I’ve come to think of the process of baking itself as special. I call it the cake making zone–a place in which I take just enough time to immerse myself in the alchemy of creating a treat. Even if you don’t have a birthday coming up or it isn’t Christmas, you can still make an occasion of trying this adaptable, forgiving cake.  Maybe light some candles on it when you’re all done, just because, or invite a friend over to share it–and make a heartfelt wish.

Maria (moonwatcher)


Leave a Comment

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Veronica October 26, 2018 at 2:00 pm

You’re always so creative in your cooking and baking! It’s been so long since you’ve shared a recipe, and this is a good one to come back with. 🙂 I love your squirrel drawing! They are ridiculously adorable. I’ve learned that I can’t put any kind of fall decor out (squash, pumpkins, etc) without knowing the squirrels and other critters will most definitely nibble on them and eventually take them away (I have a video of a squirrel grabbing one of those tiny pumpkins and hauling ass up the redwood tree in my yard- I had to laugh), so I buy some just for them. 🙂 Anyway, I’m glad you got to celebrate your son’s birthday with him! And I agree – sometimes baking something special on a random day is just what’s needed. xoxo


2 Maria Theresa Maggi October 29, 2018 at 3:33 pm

Thanks Veronica! I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe and that you loved the squirrel drawing! It still makes me smile to look at it and remember him. I laughed at your squirrel stories. Yes, they carry things away around here too, or poke seeds in my pots they forget about and then they sprout! They are funny (and sometimes annoying). I like your approach of getting them their own tiny pumpkins! 🙂 Here’s to laughing at squirrels and random baking! 🙂 xoxo


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