Vegan Rose and Pistachio Cake

(jump to recipe)

As much as I love vegan cake recipes, many times they involve strange ingredients (like flax eggs instead of regular eggs, or things like tapioca starch, and so forth). It’s most likely my ignorance on the matter because folks make wonders with these things, but my problem with them is the fact that they are substitutions, and not organically vegan.

I usually draw the line at using an extra banana or two instead of eggs in a banana-based baked good, like a banana bread, or a double chocolate banana bread, or pancakes and waffles, but beyond that I don’t find it appealing at least at this point. Which is why I was so happy to find this inherently vegan cake recipe in a handout I got at a cooking class somewhere in the Caribbean, and then spotted a variation of it on smitten kitchen!

This recipe couldn’t be simpler if it tried, with ingredients you most likely have in your kitchen. It’s practically one-bowl, doesn’t require any special equipment, and is more of a canvas for many different flavor combinations, as long as they are somewhat compatible with the coconut flavor.

Growing up, one of the treats my mom made for my sister and I was this “special milk”: it was essentially plain whole milk warmed up with rose essence, and every time mom made it, I almost forgot how much I hate milk. I’ve always associated the rose flavor with mom’s treats, so during her most recent visit I gave this vegan coconut cake a Rose and Pistachio makeover, complete with warm cardamom and a very special rose petal jam, called Gulkand (available in most Indian or middle-eastern grocery stores, but beware because you will want to add it to everything).

From the top, L-R: flour, sugar, chopped pistachios, baking soda, salt, ground cardamom, vinegar, coconut milk, Gulkand, rose water, dried rose petals (garnish), coconut milk (glaze), coconut oil, confectioners’ sugar (glaze), chopped pistachios (garnish)

The cake just happens to be dairy-free, whole grain (if you make it with whole wheat pastry flour) and eggless, which is a triple whammy in my book, and also my mom’s, since she went completely vegan few years ago.

Onto the cake, it’s as simple as combining all the dry ingredients together, and then the wet ingredients. And then mixing everything together!

When adding chopped nuts, dried fruits or chocolate chips to a cake batter, it’s always better to toss them with a few spoons of flour and add them towards the end. This way they won’t sink to the bottom of the pan, and thus, not burn or stick!

Tossing ingredients such as chopped nuts, dried fruits or chocolate chips in flour before folding them into the batter (at the end) prevents them from sinking to the bottom of the pan and invariably burning or sticking.

Mix all the dry ingredients together, then the wet:

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in 3 stages, so as to incorporate uniformly. The Gulkand is torn into small bits and folded in with chopped pistachios (tossed with a bit of flour), and the batter is oven ready. Pour it into a 8-inch square or 9-inch round cake pan fitted with parchment paper and greased with cooking oil spray.

Adding wet ingredients to dry.
Added Gulkand, and then pistachios tossed with flour to the batter
Pour batter into prepared pan (lined with parchment paper and greased with coconut oil or cooking spray)

Bake until the top is golden brown and cake is completely cooked, about 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Golden brown and fragrant.

Let cake cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 5-10 minutes, and then flip it onto a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way.

To make the cake look more festive, make a quick glaze by whisking together confectioners sugar, rose water and coconut milk.

Pour it over the completely cooled cake, nudging it to the edges with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon.

For extra brownie points, add crushed or finely chopped pistachios on top, and dried rose petals, if you have any!

Ready for it’s close-up

The cake pairs really well with hot cardamom milk tea (even better if you add some grated ginger to the tea) so its perfect for afternoon tea or breakfast/brunch.

With cardamom and ginger milk tea!

You can see that the tossing of chopped pistachios in flour and folding them in last has paid off – the pistachios are evenly dispersed throughout the cake.

Moist crumb despite being eggless, with even distribution of Gulkand and chopped pistachios
Need a screensaver?
As beautiful as it gets.

This cake is infinitely adaptable! Instead of rose and pistachios, you could add candied ginger, raisins and currants soaked in hot rum, and warming spices to make it Christmas-y and holiday-themed, or in 6 months time, add lime zest and pineapple pieces (and rum), to make it into a piña colada cake.

You can take the cake described below and instead of the glaze, frost it with a rose buttercream (use this recipe and add rose water as part of the liquid, along with a pinch or two of cardamom) – I did this not long ago and it was bonkers!

Make it yours.

• Recipe •

Vegan Rose and Pistachio Cake
Adapted from smitten kitchen and a cooking class handout I can no longer locate

Makes 1 8-inch square or 9-inch round cake

1/3 cup (50 grams) toasted chopped pistachios
2 1/3 cups (285 grams) whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour or any combination of the two
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (110 grams) coconut oil, warmed to liquefy but then cooled to room temperature
1 1/2 cups coconut milk (canned, not boxed or lite version)
1/4 cup (30 grams) Gulkand (rose petal jam) torn into chunks (optional)
1 tablespoon plain distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon rose water or 3-4 drops of rose essence/extract

3/4 cup confectioners sugar or icing sugar
1 teaspoon rose water or 1-3 drops of rose essence/extract
1-2 tablespoons coconut milk

2 tablespoons toasted chopped pistachios
1 tablespoon dried rose petals (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees F or 180 degrees C. Line the bottom of 9-inch round or 8-inch square cake pan with a fitted round of parchment paper and coat the bottoms and sides with coconut oil or neutral-flavored cooking spray (vegetable or canola oil-based).

In a small bowl combine chopped pistachios in 1-2 tablespoons flour and set aside.

Whisk together remaining flour, baking soda, salt, ground cardamom and granulated sugar in the bottom of a large mixing bowl.

In a measuring cup, whisk together coconut oil, coconut milk, vinegar and rose water (or essence/extract, if using), and add to dry ingredients in 3 additions. Mix until smooth using a whisk or spatula.

Add Gulkand chunks (if using) and mix well. Finally fold in flour-dusted pistachios.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife inserted into center of the cake comes out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then loosen with a knife or spatula and flip it out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

To make a glaze
When the cake has cooled completely, whisk together 3/4 cup confectioners sugar with rose water (or essence/extract, if using), and 1 to 2 tablespoons of the coconut milk, adding only a teaspoon at a time, until it is smooth and pourable, but not too runny.

To assemble
Gently pour over the cake and nudge to the edges with a knife, spatula or the back of a spoon. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios and dried rose petals (if using).

To store
Unglazed and well-wrapped, the cake will keep for 3-4 days at room temperature. Freeze unglazed for 1-2 months.