I won’t soon forget the first time I ever nailed my vegan olive oil cake recipe; it was one of the first things I baked after moving back to Colorado from San Francisco. It was rosemary-scented and chocolate-studded, and it popped out of the oven perky, confident, cakey and yet so sturdy that I didn’t think twice about stuffing it in my backpack for an upcoming trip to Montana. It’s been my go-to travel cake recipe since. So, when we first started talking about recipes that would be just as suitable for jersey pockets as for enjoying with a cup of something warm (or cold) after a long bike ride, it quickly went on the “must-have list.”
In the months since, versions of this cake have become the most cult-worthy of offerings in our pastry case. Not the coconut and chocolate bars, not the chocolate chip cookies: everyone, everyone loves vegan cake. Since that first high-altitude baking experience, I’ve changed the recipe around to accommodate the seasons, my tastes, and what’s on hand. The version we have on offer always at the clubhouse is one of my favorite cakes in the entire world, spiced with ginger and cinnamon, flecked with sweet, bright carrots, and crusted with earthy black sesame seeds. Not everyone loves a savory-ish carrot cake, but it seems that everyone DOES love this Apple + Walnut Spice version we started offering up early this fall. Always the cakes feature great olive oil, though, and always – it’s vegan.
This is the most surprising part about the cake, which makes me beam; hungry cyclists come in, order a slice, and pop a bite in their mouths (having already started eating the cake with their eyes.) THEN they ask “what is this! It’s so buttery!” To which the answer from the staff is “there is no butter! it’s VEGAN!” I beam from behind my computer, listening as the transaction unfolds, and as enthusiastic little yelps of joy swirl around the pastry case, mixing with the crumbs falling to the floor and the muffled-mouthful conversations about cake that ensue. We’re all pretty stoked about how delicious a cake made without butter or eggs can be, and how sturdy it is in our pockets when we stuff it in there for a bike ride. (Even if lots of us like butter and eggs.)
In this little vegan cake that everyone loves, shredded apples bake right into the tender cake and crunchy walnuts pock through the crumb. The spices hint at fall and winter warmth without being so thick you couldn’t enjoy this little cake as a slice of Indian Summer, and the sesame seeds that crust up the top are just earthy and exotic enough not to make this your gramma’s spice cake. We’ve since pulled this version of it from the menu to make room for more festive flavors (like gingerbread!) and there have been a lot of requests (from vegans and non-vegans alike) to bring it back already. I promise it will return next fall when incredible apples return to our markets, but in the meantime, I wanted to share the recipe.
A couple of notes here. First, on apples: you’re going to want to use a food processor to shred the apples. Once you have all the apples shredded, squeeze them out VERY well to extract as much juice as possible (save it for another purpose – this is a pretty good one!) Too much juice and you’ll end up with a goopy cake.
Next, on olive oil. Believe it or not, olive oils do all have different flavors so choose a great one here because the flavor of the oil will come through the cake.
Lastly, here at altitude, I bake these cakes in a 385°F oven for about 1.5 hours. In the recipe below, I indicate 375°F because I think the bake time/temp may have everything to do with my weird oven. Give your own oven a whirl and remember that the cakes are done when a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Here’s a little High Altitude Baking guide if you’re curious how you may want to adapt the recipe to suit your location (or your oven!)
The cake is sturdy enough and celebratory enough you could send them to a friend as a holiday gift in the mail (choose express shipping!) or carry it in a bike bag to a festive soirée…but my favorite way to eat them is by the slice, straight from my pocket.
- 2 cups unbleached white flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp fine grain sea salt
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/2 cup applesauce
- 1/3 cup almond milk
- 2” piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 8oz shredded fuji apples, squeezed VERY WELL to remove juice
- 1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil or unflavored oil
- 3 Tbsp white sesame seeds
- Preheat the oven to 375F degrees, then oil and flour an 8’inch loaf pan (or line with parchment!)
- Whisk the dry ingredients (flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder) in a large bowl, then set aside.
- In another large bowl, combine the apples, almond milk, vanilla, ginger, sugars, and apple sauce. Combine with a rubber spatula. Add the walnuts and mix to incorporate.
- Add the dry ingredients to the apple mixture in three stages, folding gently to combine until the flour is completely incorporated. Add the oil, and mix again until the mixture is smooth and there aren’t any little pockets of oil remaining!
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan, sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake for 1-1.5 hours, until a toothpick or skewer comes out clean!