I wanted to create a cake that embraced the season and its rich flavors. Bold gingerbread, sweet pears, a little caramel sauce swizzled over the top to bring it all together. Something that would work well as a mid-morning snack cake alongside a perfectly brewed cup of coffee, but would also be well-received by all as a special occasion dessert (Thanksgiving, anyone?)
Initially, I thought of a few go-to vegan baking ingredients. Flax eggs. Almond milk. Coconut oil. But then my mind turned to one of my very favorite cakes, a cake I enjoyed often growing up, a cake I had no idea was vegan until a few years ago. It's a rich, moist chocolate number called Wacky Cake, though growing up, we called it Crazy Cake - and we always enjoyed it with a dollop of whipped cream. So much for being vegan.
Wacky Cake was reportedly created during the Great Depression, when staples such as eggs and milk were in short supply. Enterprising cooks dreamed up a cake that utilized vinegar and baking soda instead, creating bubbles that help the cake to rise.
I thought I'd borrow that naturally vegan cake's formula for this gingerbread version. Other than omitting the cocoa, of course, I also swapped the typical vegetable oil for, yes, coconut oil. Brown sugar and molasses give this cake that signature rich mahogany hue; a generous hand with the spices adds loads of flavor. And then, of course, pear chunks, and quite a few of them.
I'm super excited about this recipe, in part because just like the inspiration cake, I really believe no one would ever know it's vegan. Which is something you can't necessarily say about some vegan baked goods. It's excellent shortly after it comes out of the oven - drizzled with caramel sauce or not - but it's even better after a day or two, when the flavors really get a chance to meld. This is one of those cakes that gets moister the longer it hangs out.
And then, let's eat cake.
For the Gingerbread Pear Bundt Cake:
- ½ cup coconut oil melted + a little more for greasing the pan
- 3 cups whole wheat pastry flour white whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 ½ cups warm water
- 1 ½ cups dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup molasses not blackstrap
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 medium pears peeled and diced ½-inch (about 3 cups diced)
- ¼ cup powdered sugar for dusting the top if desired
For the Caramel Sauce:
- 1 cup full-fat coconut milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup water
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease bundt pan with a little coconut oil - 1 or 2 teaspoons - and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted coconut oil, water, brown sugar, molasses, vinegar and vanilla.
- Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Use a whisk to mix the batter together just until combined. The batter will be rather loose and wet. Fold in the pears.
- Pour batter into the bundt pan and bake until the cake begins to pull away from the edges slightly and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out nearly dry, 45 to 60 minutes.
- Let cool for 5 minutes then use a knife to carefully loosen any stuck sides. Invert cake over a wire rack and lift off the pan. Let cake cool completely.
- Carefully transfer cooled cake to platter or cake plate and dust with powdered sugar, if desired.
- While the cake cools, make the caramel sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, vanilla and salt. Set aside.
- Add the sugar and water to a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir just to combine, but do not stir after that! Allow mixture to come to a boil and watch it carefully. After about 6 minutes, the mixture will start to turn golden, then light brown, and it will smell like caramel. As soon as it has turned brown, slowly pour in the coconut milk mixture. The caramel will bubble enthusiastically at first. If the sugar hardens around the whisk, don't worry, this is normal - just keep stirring and it will dissolve. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the caramel sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes.
- Slice cake and put on plates. Drizzle individual servings with the caramel sauce. Serve.