Thom’s birthday cake: Vanilla bean + black raspberry-lucuma cake with salted pretzel crumbs

Thom's birthday cake

Despite the chilly temperatures and cloudy skies, the second week of December has always been my favorite time of the year (well, since meeting Thom, anyway). I could tell you it’s because it’s Thom’s birthday and try to explain how excited I get when I finally get to start testing his cake or when his birthday gift actually arrives.. but really it’s because it was this time eight years ago that I first encountered my now-husband who was then a total stranger I only knew as the handsome man back in men’s shoes (the older women in my department loved giving long-winded nicknames to all the dudes in the store). I remember it like it was yesterday. What I was wearing. The hunger pang in my stomach. And the vision of walking into the break room to see the well dressed, majestic being from men’s shoes shoving the last meatless breakfast sandwich into his face. The only way I could think to react to that situation was to call him an asshole (because 19 year old me had even less of a filter than 27 year old me), and so I did. And when he told me that wasn’t a very nice thing to say to a stranger who just had a birthday, I gave him a half smile and walked away.

Thankfully, me calling him an asshole (a day after his birthday) didn’t deter him from asking me on a date or introducing me to his friends and family. Or asking me to move across the country and then, eventually, to be his wife. Because here we are today, nearly a decade later, doing the damn thing. And you’ll be pleased to know I only sometimes call him an asshole (though, unlike that day in the break room, I rarely ever mean it).

But enough about that and onto the cake.

It all started in Peru, when I discovered that Thom had a mild obsession with all things lucuma-flavored. Lucuma candies. Lucuma ice cream. Lucuma cream pie. LUCUMA EVERYTHING. So I bought enough bags of the powdered variety to ensure there wouldn’t be a lucuma dessert shortage when we arrived back home. It was on the return flight that I decided he’d have lucuma-flavored something for his birthday. And then that I also decided that I’d pair it with black raspberries because Thom is even more obsessed with those than he is with lucuma. Throw in the fact that the dude can’t really stand frosting (he always scrapes it off) and I knew immediately that I’d try my hand at making his cake Momofuku-style – complete with sweet lucuma cream, black raspberry swirl (coconut oil) frosting, and pretzel crumbs (because I’ve got a mild pretzel/baking obsession) (seen here and here). And although I wanted the layers to be something other than boring vanilla, I decided it was the only option so as not to detract from all the other deliciousness happening between them.

So there was an epic cake. And a kind of epic gift (though, sadly, not as epic as years prior). And a totally mellow celebration because that’s all Thom ever wants on his big day: to sleep in and maybe eat breakfast from bed and play video games until his eyes fall out and eat so much good food that there’s hardly any room for dessert.

Oh, and to not be called an asshole.

PS – RDVE shipped out on Tuesday and if you got more than one bottle, it likely shipped priority and will be arriving soon. Also? Thanks for always supporting my little vanilla endeavor. I love knowing that stuff is getting put to good use in your kitchens.
PPS – All those homemade (and delicious) gift ideas I shared at my event at the Container Store can be found over here. For those of you who came: THANKS SO MUCH. Meeting you guys in real life is kinda/sorta the best.

Vanilla bean cake layersSalted pretzel crumbsBlack raspberry swirl frostingThom's birthday cakeMore pretzelsMessyThom's birthday cakeThom's birthday cakeMore messThom's birthday cakeThom's birthday cakeThom's birthday cake

Notes: This cake isn’t nearly as scary as all the components suggest. Do yourself a favor and scroll to the bottom of the recipe and watch the video of Christina Tosi (who inspired the assembly-style of the cake with her layered Milk Bar-beauties) assembling the cake, and I’m sure you’ll feel considerably more confident going into it. If not, you can make the cake in individual Weck jars (which is what I wound up doing with the leftover cake scraps). If you don’t have cake flour, you can make your own by replacing 2 tablespoons of flour with 2 tablespoons of potato starch, for each cup of flour. Just make sure you sift it twice. Be sure to use a can of full fat coconut milk with a stabilizer in it (mine uses guar gum), as it’s what gives the lucuma sweet cream the proper consistency. If you’re not familiar with lucuma powder, it has a flavor similar to that of maple syrup. Thom prefers a more prominent lucuma flavor, so I added the full 4 tablespoons (though 2 gives a great flavor, as well). If you’re not down with lucuma (or spending $15 on a bag), simply omit it and replace the almond milk with maple syrup.

Thom’s birthday cake one year ago. Thom’s birthday cake two years ago.


Salted pretzel crumbs
6 tablespoons (74g) cane sugar
1/2 cup (66g) unbleached cake flour
1/4 teaspoon (1g) baking powder
1/8 teaspoon (1g) fine sea salt
1/4 cup (20g) crushed salted pretzels

3 tablespoons (38g) refined coconut oil, melted (but not hot)
1 tablespoon (14g) unsweetened almond milk, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon (2g) pure vanilla extract

Lucuma sweet cream
1 can (13.5 oz) full fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight
1/4 cup (52g) cane sugar
2-4 tablespoons (18-36g) lucuma powder

Small pinch of turmeric, for color (optional)
Pinch of vanilla sea salt
3 tablespoons (36g) unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon (11g) refined coconut oil

Vanilla bean cake batter
2 1/4 cups (315g) unbleached cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (6g) baking powder
3/4 teaspoon (5g) fine sea salt
1/2 cup (100g) refined coconut oil, melted (but not hot)
1 cup (204g) cane sugar
2 teaspoons (8g) pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean powder
1 1/2 cups (305g) original soy creamer, room temperature

Black raspberry swirl frosting
3/4 cup (150g) refined coconut oil, melted (but not hot)
3 cups (342g) powdered can sugar

1/2 cup (160g) black raspberry preserves, room temperature

To soak
Unsweetened vanilla almond milk

The night before you plan to assemble the cake, make the salted pretzel crumbs. Preheat the oven to 300˚F and line a large baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, and crushed pretzels; set aside. Combine the coconut oil, almond milk, and vanilla extract, in a small bowl, then drizzle it over the flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon, gently stir/fold in the liquid. Pour the crumbs onto the prepared baking sheet and press into larger crumbs, if desired. Bake at 300˚F for 22-24 minutes then allow to cool on baking sheet. Once cool, store at room temperature in an air tight container. Will keep in the freezer for at least one week.

You should also prepare the lucuma sweet cream the night (or a few days) before so that you have one less thing to worry about when you’re assembling the cake. Start by opening the can of coconut milk and scooping the thick, white layer of cream off the top (it should be about 200g of cream) (if considerably less you’ll want to scrap the almond milk) and put it in a small saucepan set over medium heat. In a small bowl, whisk together the cane sugar, lucuma powder, sea salt, and turmeric (if using), then whisk into the melted coconut cream. If the mixture is clumpy, whisk vigorously for 10-15 seconds. Bring the mixture to a light boil, stir for 10-15 seconds, then remove from heat and stir in the almond milk and coconut oil, if using (it’ll help the cream set up quicker once the cake is assembled). Store sweet cream in an air tight container (I don’t let it cool) in the refrigerator. Will keep for up to three days.

Once you’re ready to assemble the cake, preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line the bottom of a 9×12″ cake pan with parchment paper and spray with oil; set aside. In a small mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and sea salt; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oil, sugar, and vanilla extract. Alternate between adding the creamer and flour mixture to the sugar mixture; add one third of the creamer, followed by half of the flour and repeat the process ending with the creamer. Whisk batter just until combined and few (if any) clumps remain (but don’t whisk too much or else you’ll overwork the gluten). Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and level with the back of a spoon, then tap the pan on the counter to release any trapped air bubbles. Bake at 350˚F for 22-24 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, prepare the frosting by adding the powdered cane sugar to a large mixing bowl. Create a well in the center and pour in the coconut oil and vanilla extract, then mix with a wooden spoon or hand mixer (on high speed), until smooth and creamy (the frosting will be thick, FYI). Cover the frosting until you’re ready to assemble the cake. Once you’re ready, give the frosting a good stir (in the event your house is so warm parts of it melted) then, using a butter knife, swirl in the jam (make sure it’s room temperature or else your frosting will harden and that makes it pretty difficult to assemble the cake).

To assemble the cake, go watch this video because it’s the one thing that made it ridiculously easy for me to throw it together. Long story short: cake, soak, sweet cream, crunch, frosting, repeat. Once assembled, freeze for at least six hours then thaw, at room temperature, for about an hour. If you freeze it for longer than one day (it’ll keep frozen for up to one week), let it thaw in the fridge overnight. EASY PEASY. You got this.

Yield: 10 slices

Thom's birthday present


  • Reply grace 10 December 2015 at 8:12 AM

    a masterpiece!

  • Reply David Wolfe 10 December 2015 at 8:15 AM

    So I’m wondering about a few thing . . . It’s beautiful, but how did it taste? Could you use the Goya frozen lucuma pulp they sell at Latin groceries instead of powder for the cream and, if so, how would you change the preparation? Would it be a better lucuma flavor than the powder?

  • Reply Rebecca 10 December 2015 at 8:19 AM

    Such a cute story! And a lovely looking cake!

  • Reply Madeline | madeline marie 10 December 2015 at 8:46 AM

    I love your cute love story! Isn’t it sometimes weird how we meet our future spouses? My husband and I started dating when I was 17, and I never thought in the world we would end up getting married, and here we are, almost 3 years later! : )

    Love this cake too–so colorful and sounds delicious!

  • Reply Shelly @ Vegetarian 'Ventures 10 December 2015 at 8:47 AM

    Oh my! Everything about this post – that cake, you two meeting, Thom’s modest bday agenda. Love love love it! I made Christina’s bday cake recipe once and you are so right about the assembly not being as scary as it looks. I definitely watched all her videos for a week straight before making it though, just in case! : p

  • Reply Katrina 10 December 2015 at 10:24 AM

    I loved reading the story of how you and Thom met! I bet calling him an asshole got him thinking about how awesome you simply MUST be in real life…or at least that you had some serious sass. When I met Paul (legit the day of) I told him that his hat was ugly and probably didn’t fit him properly because his head was so large. We laugh about it now…but he genuinely thought I was a total insane loudmouth. ANYWAY, I’m 100% with you on this cake – it’s gorgeous! And so effing creative. I’ve never heard of lucuma before so I’ll need to check that out. Hugs!! xx

  • Reply Clem @ The Vegan Cookie Fairy 10 December 2015 at 10:26 AM

    Gorgeous! And kinda genius, I think :) He’s a lucky man for sure!

    And btw I’m loving your new website!

  • Reply Eve 10 December 2015 at 12:26 PM

    Wow, this cake looks spectacular, I wish this was my birthday cake! x

  • Reply cynthia 10 December 2015 at 1:26 PM

    As most of your Thom stories do, this made me smile SO big. And how beautiful is this cake?! I couldn’t believe it was already time for another Thom birthday cake when this popped up in my newsfeed but I’m SO pumped it is. So gorgeous, and this post is so lovely, as always. <3

    (P.S. That moment when you open your cupboard for your RDVE and discover that you have wayyyyy less than you thought even though you only use it for special guests and that moment is not within the 10 minutes before it sold out? WOE. I'm counting down until June!!!!)
    (P.P.S. I just learned what lucuma is thanks to this post!)

  • Reply Kim 10 December 2015 at 1:56 PM

    I want this cake so bad.

  • Reply Sarah // The Sugar Hit 10 December 2015 at 4:08 PM

    Your photos and stories slay me, every.dang.time. This cake looks amazing, even if I am but an uneducated Australian girl who had to go google Lucuma! Unusual flavours and badass combos are why I can’t stop visiting your site.

  • Reply Abby 10 December 2015 at 6:58 PM

    love it love it love it.

    i need to get my lucuma powder on, apparently.

  • Reply Patty Adams 11 December 2015 at 2:28 AM

    I bet Thom was very lucky when you gave him this cake. So sweet of you for putting up this cake with all his favorite stuff on it. He’s one lucky guy to have you.

  • Reply Brooke @ Chocolate and Marrow 11 December 2015 at 9:16 AM

    This is just about the cutest first meet story ever! Mostly because it begins with one person calling the other an asshole…always a great start to a relationship ;) ;)

    And THIS CAKE. I was wowed when I saw it on IG. Even more now. It’s kind of epic. Thom is a lucky man! And I had no idea what lacuma was but now if/when I go to Peru, I’m going to seek it out. Gorgeous!!

  • Reply Emily 11 December 2015 at 9:27 AM

    Oh my goodness- how gorgeous. Maybe next year my Ryan will get a homemade one like this instead of the one I bought him at whole foods this year. This is everything a birthday cake should be!

  • Reply dixya | food, pleasure, and health 11 December 2015 at 12:06 PM

    Thom is a lucky lucky man…. i have no idea what lucuma is so i will ask google for help in a bit..but your post as always makes me smile :) hope Thom was able to sleep in and eat a ton of food :)

  • Reply Randle 11 December 2015 at 1:08 PM

    I was just getting ready to say goodbye to my Momofuku Milkbar cookbook after becoming vegan last year, but you’ve given me new hope about tweaking the recipes to work for me! And I had no idea lucuma tasted like maple syrup! I’ve only had it in a cacao blend I get from the farmers market and always assumed it was something like maca. Can’t wait to taste it now that I know!

  • Reply Simone Anne 11 December 2015 at 2:25 PM

    Wow, she does make that look incredibly easy! I never make cakes, but I love your snacks so I think I’m going to have to try one this holiday. How do I decide between this and your wedding cake?! Tough questions, Ashlae, tough questions.

    Anyways, love your little love story and love that you’re a very wonderful asshole. Glad you guys ended up together.

    Happy solstice! ;)


  • Reply Anna 11 December 2015 at 6:34 PM

    Ashlae! This cake is gorgeous! I can’t believe it’s vegan.

  • Reply Jayme | holly & flora 11 December 2015 at 9:22 PM

    Ashlae. Stop it right now. This cake is absolute insanity. I love the thought you put behind it and the story surrounding it. Much birthday love to Thom!! It was great to finally, albeit briefly, meet him last Saturday. You did such a stand-up job! You’re going to laugh at me right now, but you know the jar of cookie mix I took home from the event {thank you, by the way!}? I have eaten all of the chocolate off the top of it! Don’t worry – I won’t be downing the flour and sugar separately, deconstructed-style! HA! I am SO ashamed of myself – no – actually, I’m cracking myself up because that is SO something I’d do. I love this cake beyond measure, and I would love to meet up and throw down some baking and cocktail-making one of these days. And tell me where you got these baking pans? Big hugs to you and Thom!

  • Reply Erika 12 December 2015 at 7:59 AM

    I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. I love momofuku cakes and your vegan, superfood-ed version sounds freaking fantastic. Sign. Me. Up. And I looove hearing about your + Thom’s <3 story. Cutest thing <333333

  • Reply Chanelle 12 December 2015 at 10:06 PM

    This is so beautiful, you’re a dream Ashlae!

  • Reply Becca | Spices and Spatulas 13 December 2015 at 8:19 AM

    Absolutely GORGEOUS, lady! I’ve been tempted to try the Tosi cake technique for a while, but always chicken out. I think it’s really time to face my fears! Xo

  • Reply Jennifer Farley 14 December 2015 at 8:56 AM

    This cake is perfection. Christina Tosi has always been one of my pastry chef crushes, and I love her techniques. I would love to try this cake! (and I love your story, haha)

  • Reply Allysia 14 December 2015 at 9:41 AM

    D’awww, what a nice story, even the asshole part. :) You’re a birthday cake genie, this is straight-up gourmet style! It looks amazing. I’ve never had lucuma but suddenly feel as though I’m missing out on something important, lol

  • Reply Lynn | The Road to Honey 16 December 2015 at 7:52 AM

    The story about yours and Tom’s meeting is awesome and rings home to how my hubby and I met.

    But holy canolli! This cake! It is such a stunner. I have been meaning to try my hand at making a Momofuku style cake but it can be so intimidating. Your cake is reminding me how visually stunning they are. . .and that it is high time I go off my arse and give it a try.

  • Reply genevieve @ gratitude & greens 19 December 2015 at 7:56 AM

    This cake is fucking incredible. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Thom is such a lucky dude!!! I am such a Christina Tosi fan, even though I’ve never made any of her stuff. This cake is beautiful and I’m going to send it to my boyfriend now so he can make it for my birthday next year, ha. HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY THOM!

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