Vegan No Oil Lemon Cake (for Rachel)

by Maria Theresa Maggi on April 10, 2020

Vegan No Oil Lemon Cake for blog

Maybe it was in response to the surprise of a large organic lemon inside the box of organic produce I ordered from Gathering Together Farm a couple of weeks ago, or maybe it was the approach of the Easter Holiday. Maybe it was the kind of memory my thoughts turn to when I spend a lot of time alone and miss my loved ones. It could have been all of these things that found me daydreaming about my grandmother’s lemon jello cake as I walked down an empty street in my neighborhood with Cotton early one gray morning.

The cake was a simple hack combining yellow cake mix and lemon jello mix, with eggs and oil and maybe even milk. It was baked in a square pan, and when it was warm from the oven, it would be poked all across the top with the tines of a fork so a mixture of fresh lemon juice and powdered sugar could be poured on top of it. The result was this tart lemony but very sweet liquid-saturated cake,  and the lemon jello mix in the batter made it as bright yellow as a baby chick.

Even though it wasn’t chocolate, I loved that cake. The memory of it as a child and a time  earlier in my adult life when I made and shared it at the Easter holiday with my son and boyfriend and a few of my poetry writing students was so vivid in my mind I could smell and taste it and feel us all sitting at the picnic table under the trees in the backyard. But it’s one of those old recipes so full of sugar that no matter how I adapted it I just couldn’t see how in the world I could come close to it and still keep my much needed teeth intact.

A few days after my vivid early morning daydream about this cake my friend Rachel posted a photo of a recipe for a lemon cake she was baking that evening after a day of grueling research into Covid-19 territorry for her job as a freelance science writer. I loved the image of the recipe on the slightly curved printed page in the photo and as I read through it I realized it was a “from scratch” version of my grandmother’s lemon jello hack. I commented that it reminded me of my grandmother’s cake and Rachel asked if I could make it. I said that I couldn’t eat such things anymore but it was sure nice to remember them and to read about someone else doing it.

Then I noticed that the name of the cookbook Rachel’s recipe came from was The Wooden Spoon Cookbook. I took that to mean that none of the recipes in the book required fancy equipment like a mixer. Suddenly I had at least one point of affinity with the sensibility of the recipe. I decided to take another look at the ingredients. Then I decided to save the recipe and look at other vegan cakes I’ve made and other vegan square snack cake recipes to see what might be possible. Then I remembered I still had that big old beautiful organic lemon, and that the lovely peel from that could be put right into the cake batter, as Rachel’s cookbook called for. The cake recipe itself only called for 2 teaspoons of lemon juice to be put into the milk, and the rest went to the lemon sauce. Suddenly I had the epiphany that I could make a delicious lemon sauce with the date paste I had made that was in the fridge and maybe a little maple syrup. I new it would give that kind of lemonade taste I remember and I decided it was worth a shot. It wouldn’t be bright yellow (because no jello mix with yellow food coloring) but it might evoke that tart sweet magic I was longing to taste again.

I am grateful to Rachel for taking the time to share what she was baking as comfort and solace in her own home that evening, and how, though I had thought it would remain a memory, by the next day I was actually plotting how I could make a healthier cake that still evoked that lemony magic from my childhood.

We’re losing so much and so many so fast right now that I think a dive into the past where such change was unimaginable is a natural way to seek comfort. I know my daydreams of “before,” whether more recent or long ago, are especially vivid. But I also remind myself that this simple “wooden spoon” technique shared with friends on social media is also a way of creating an intimate bridge between what was and what is now, and the unknown of what will be. I’m grateful for the sunniness of the memory and even more grateful I can taste that memory in this new vegan and relatively low fat and low sugar version, and that it also connects me to my friend Rachel far away, who baked and ate a similar cake, and ultimately inspired me to bake mine. Comfort food really can help maintain or even restore the continuity I long for, even as I accept we are in the throes of unprecedented change. I cut this cake up into little squares, now frozen in the freezer, and I take one out when I want to be reminded of the sweetness of the past and the delicious promise of what is possible in the future we create, even when limitations abound.

Vegan No Oil Lemon Cake

Vegan No Oil Lemon Cake for blog

dry ingredients:

2/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup of sorghum flour
1/3 cup white rice flour
1/3 cup millet flour
1/3 cup quinoa flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
pinch of psyllium powder
grated lemon peel from one organic lemon

wet ingredients:

1 flax egg made with 1 tbs ground golden flax, 3 tbs aquafaba
1/3 cup applesauce
1 cup soy milk plus 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
up to 1/3 more aqua faba
1 tsp of vanilla extract

lemon icing:

juice of one large organic lemon
1/4 cup of date paste or to taste
1 tbs of maple syrup or to taste
1/2 tsp of almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350. Rub a square baking pan with a little tahini.

In a smaller bowl, make a flax egg with 1 tbs of golden ground flax seeds and 3 tbs of aqua faba. If you don’t have aquafaba (chickpea cooking liquid) then you can use water or non-dairy milk. Let it sit for about ten minutes.

In the meantime mix the dry ingredients in a larger bowl and whisk together with a fork.

Then add the rest of the liquid ingredients to the flax egg mixture and stir together. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir (with a wooden spoon) into a thick batter. If you need a little more liquid add a little more aquafaba or non-dairy milk.

Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes until skewer comes out clean at the center.

While the cake is baking, mix together the ingredients for the lemon icing. When the cake comes out of the oven, pick it all over the top with the tines of a fork, and then drizzle the icing over the top of the cake. Let cool. Enjoy!

Note: I started baking gluten free long before there were store bought vegan flour mixes available, so I usually have a variety of different flours in my freezer for when I want to bake, but if it’s easier for you to use a gluten free flour mix such as the one Bob’s Red Mill makes, just use two cups of that. If you don’t need to be gluten free you can try this with regular baking flour.

Happy Spring, Friends. Stay healthy. Honor life. Love fiercely. Live compassionately. And have a little vegan cake when you need to.

Maria (moonwatcher)

Leave a Comment

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Susan Wright April 11, 2020 at 9:10 am

this looks great thank you


2 Maria Theresa Maggi April 11, 2020 at 10:38 am

You’re welcome Susan! 🙂


3 Johnnye Denman April 11, 2020 at 7:33 pm

Happy Easter, Maria, and thank you for sharing your lemon cake with us. I can smell the lemon!


4 Maria Theresa Maggi April 12, 2020 at 8:43 am

Thanks JR! Glad you could smell the lemon! 🙂


5 Gena April 14, 2020 at 4:40 am

Cake!!! I will always have a slice when I need to, friend, and hope you will too 🙂 This one looks lovely.


6 Maria Theresa Maggi April 16, 2020 at 10:27 am

Thank you Gena, I sure appreciate that coming from a true cake appreciator!! xoxo


7 Veronica April 14, 2020 at 10:16 am

Yum! I love lemon cake! Throw some blueberries in there… 😉 I love how you were able to make that memory into a reality, with only a little creativity. I’ve got a couple lemon trees, and a lemon cake sounds pretty good right about now! That’s if the rats haven’t eaten all the lemons 😉 xoxo


8 Maria Theresa Maggi April 16, 2020 at 10:27 am

Hey Veronica, blueberries, that’s a cool idea! Lucky you have lemon trees–omg I didn’t know rats like to eat lemons! I learn something new every day. xoxo


9 Veronica April 17, 2020 at 10:40 am

Yeah – specifically the pith of the lemon… I go out to the tree and look up to find perfectly peeled lemons still hanging on the tree, with all the rind in strips like sprinkles on the ground… All the pith gone. it’s so weird! 🙂


10 Amelia May 24, 2020 at 4:56 pm

Thanks so much for this recipe! A few questions:

1.When you substitute regular flour, do you still need the potato starch, or is that considered part of the flour mixture that is being replace?

2. Also, would whole wheat flour work? How about oat flour?

3. Would another plant milk, like oat milk, work?


11 Maria Theresa Maggi May 24, 2020 at 10:40 pm

Hi Amelia, these are good questions! If you substitute a glutinous flour there’s no need for the potato starch. The amount of regular flour should equal the total of gluten free flours and starch combined. You could use whole wheat flour but I think that would make the texture very dense. I’d consider doing half white and half whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour. You could use oat flour–again, the texture might be a little different, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. You can use any plant milk you like. I like soy the best in my baked goods. Hope this helps!


Previous post:

Next post: