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 layers
Salted pretzel crumbs
Black raspberry swirl frosting
Thom's birthday cake
More pretzels
Thom's birthday cake
Thom's birthday cake
More mess
Thom's birthday cake
Thom's birthday cake
Thom'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.


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

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

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

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

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 9x12" 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