This cake has winter written all over it. Festive pomegranate? Check. Garnished with cedar sprigs? Yup. I even had to shake the snow off before bringing them in the house. And as my MIL generously pointed out, the coconut oil buttercream has the slightly imperfect texture of fresh snow.
And this is what I’m really here to talk about, of course: Coconut Oil Buttercream. While vegan butter substitutes are baking wizardry, some of the ingredients (ahem: palm oil) are less than joy-inducing. Homemade butter substitutes like my favourite by Miyoko Schinner can take the place of dairy and commercial substitutes very easily, but their preparation take a few more steps and planning-ahead than I always have the courage to muster. As a dedicated frosting-lover, I wanted to come up with a recipe for a rich and creamy frosting using everyone’s best bud coconut oil.
I’m not going to lie, this frosting is finicky, at least compared to its easy-going palm oil counterpart. It’s kind of like that fun party-girl friend from college – not always stable, but totally worth hanging around (with a little love it’ll work out). I’d recommend using a coconut cream (the thick stuff from the top of a can of refrigerated full fat coconut milk) that has guar gum in it; guar gum is a thickener and stabilizer that gives a little extra courage to this recipe, keeping it from being too oily or thin. You can substitute the pomegranate juice for any pourable non-dairy milk or other fruit juice.
As you can probably imagine if you’ve ever used coconut oil, temperature is important here. Your coconut oil should start off solid and stay semi-solid throughout the mixing process. If your oil starts off rock-hard you may end up with some unincorporated chunks of oil – this can be avoided by creaming the oil really thoroughly at the start, or fixed later by submerging the entire mixing bowl in a sink filled with warm water to melt it a bit, then re-whipping. If your oil is too liquid, it’ll absorb the powdered sugar and you’ll get a bit of a gloopy mess, which can be salvaged with a little time in the fridge to re-set, but it may affect the final texture of your frosting, so I’d err on the side of a firmer oil if you’re worried it’s too liquid.
My kitchen was 65F and the frosting sat quite well at room temperature, and was spreadable and pipeable; if you’re working in a warmer room you’ll want to store the frosting and the final product in the fridge to make sure it holds its shape. If while mixing your frosting looks as if it’s melting or developing an oily sheen, take a quick fridge break so it can firm back up before carrying on.
This may seem like a lot of work, but I really encourage you to try it. It just requires being mindful of the food you’re working with and making adjustments as needed. I gave pretty rough amounts to some of the ingredients in the frosting recipe below, and recommend you start on the lower end and add the individual components as needed, checking the texture and thickness as you go.
The rest of the cake is fairly simple. The pomegranate syrup is not totally necessary, but if keeps the cake moist if you’re not serving it all within a day of making it, and it adds a bright pop to an otherwise mellow, slightly nutty tasting cake. The amounts I give here will provide you with more syrup than you need for this cake – but dang, it’s good in a cocktail. You can halve the recipe if you’d like less, just be sure to watch it so it doesn’t burn.
Vanilla Almond Pomegranate Cake Recipe
Pomegranate Cake Recipe with Coconut Oil Buttercream
For the cake
- 1 1/2 cup unbleached flour
- 1/2 cup almond flour
- 2 tbsp corn starch, arrowroot powder, or potato starch
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 3/4 cup unsweetened soy or almond milk
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 1/3 cup grapeseed oil
- 2 tsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
For the Pomegranate Syrup
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup pomegranate juice
- 1 cup organic cane sugar
For the Coconut Oil Buttercream
- 1 cup coconut oil, room temperature
- 3-5 tbsp coconut cream (from the top of a can of chilled coconut milk)
- 4-5 cup sifted organic confectioner's sugar
- 1-3 tbsp pomegranate juice
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the cake
- Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 3 6" cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, mix together non-dairy milk and lemon juice and let curdle for about 5 minutes. Add the remaining wet ingredients and whisk to combine.
- In a separate bowl, sift together all dry ingredients. Add to wet and stir to combine until no dry flour remains.
- Divvy the batter evenly between prepared cake pans and bake for 22-26 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
For the pomegranate syrup
- Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Bring to a simmer and allow it to stay gently simmering for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until somewhat thickened. Let cool.
For the frosting (see notes above for additional tips)
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream room temperature coconut oil and coconut cream until it reaches a creamy, uniform texture with no granules of oil remaining. If the mixture starts to melt, place it in the fridge for a minute or two, then continue beating.
- Alternate adding a cup of sugar and a tablespoon of each liquid at a time, allowing all the ingredients to be incorporated before continuing. Check the texture and sweetness as you go, and stop adding sugar/liquids once you're satisfied.
- Level your cake layers with a serrated knife so each cake top is level.
- Using a pastry or silicone brush, brush the top of each layer with the pomegranate syrup, not adding so much that the syrup pools at the surface, but enough so that the cake is moist and slightly pink.
- Have your coconut oil frosting at room temperature so it spreads easily (if at any time it gets too wet/oily, place it back in the fridge, or you may need to add more sugar to get it thick enough). Frost cake as you usually would, placing frosting on each layer and all over the surface. To get a smoother surface, run a metal offset spatula or dough scraper under hot water until the metal warms, wipe dry, then run over frosting to smooth.
- Store cake in the fridge, removing to room temperature 5-10 minutes before serving.