Vanilla Layer Cake with Dark Chocolate Frosting (Nut-Free and Makes Great Cupcakes Too!)

November 26, 2012 in Categories: , by

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I decorated my daughter’s birthday cupcakes with purple M&Ms (which are not paleo!)

Of all of my cake recipes, this is my favorite so far.  The cake flavor and texture is fabulous and what better (or more classic) way to top a vanilla cake than with a light and fluffy dark chocolate frosting (you can also skip the whipping step for a more ganache-like texture).  You can definitely serve this cake to non-paleo company (I just did at my daughter’s third birthday party and everyone loved it!).

I have made this cake both as a layer cake and as cupcakes.  It works very well either way.  A note on frosting:  I actually like to make a 1.5X batch of this frosting for a three-layer cake, but I’m a big fan of Pollyanna style cakes, piled high with light creamy frosting (anyone else love that movie as a kid?).  I wrote the recipe this way because it’s a perfect quantity for the cupcakes, and if you aren’t too generous with the amount of frosting in between layers (or if you prefer using something like raspberry jam).  The first time I made this cake, I used the frosting unwhipped.  I definitely prefer the texture whipped, but thought I would include both options.  You can control how sweet the frosting is by how dark of chocolate you use.  I used semisweet for my daughter’s cupcakes but 80% for my husband’s birthday cake.  Just remember that adding palm shortening to the chocolate will dilute the sweetness.

This recipe makes three 8” or 9” round layers or makes 24 cupcakes (this would probably work as a sheet cake too, but you’ll have to experiment with the cooking time).

Yes, this recipe calls for a whole lot of eggs.  No, it is not a typo.  No, it does not make for an eggy cake.  Trust me on this one.


Vanilla Layer Cake with Dark Chocolate Frosting

Prep Time: 20 minutes + frosting preparation

Cook Time: 20-30 minutes

Yields: 1 cake or 24 cupcakes

Ingredients (Whipped Dark Chocolate Frosting):

  1. Melt chocolate and palm shortening together on the stove top or in the microwave, being careful not to burn.  Mix to completely combine.
  2. Let cool to room temperature (this takes several hours, but you can hurry it up in the fridge).  Use as is, or:
  3. Whip frosting in a standing mixer with whisk attachment for 3-4 minutes until light and fluffy.

Ingredients (Vanilla Cake):

  1.  Prepare cake pans or muffin pans.
    • If using round cake pans:  trace the bottom of the pan on a piece of wax paper and cut out the circle (3 of them, actually).  Grease the pan with palm shortening, lay the wax paper circle over the bottom and then grease the wax paper.  Add a little arrowroot powder (1-2 Tbsp) to the pan and tap and swish around the pan to coat (discard any leftover after then pan is coated).  Repeat with the other two cake pans.
    • If you are using muffin pans for cupcakes: line each muffin cup with a paper liner or silicone muffin cup liner.  I think you could probably grease and flour each muffin cup if you wanted to, but I haven’t tried so I can’t vouch for how cleanly the cupcakes would come out.
  2. Preheat oven to 350F.
  3. Beat eggs in the bowl of a standing mixer for 1 minute.  Add honey, palm shortening, coconut oil, and vanilla.  Slice vanilla bean open lengthwise with a sharp knife.  Scrape the seeds out of each half of the pod with your knife and add to the batter.  Beat to combine (don’t worry if they don’t really come together yet).
  4. In a separate bowl, combine arrowroot powder, sifted coconut flour, baking soda and salt.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients.  Beat on high for 1-2 minutes, until batter is smooth.  Allow batter to sit for 1-2 minutes to thicken.
  5. Pour batter into prepared cake pans, dividing evenly.  Use a rubber spatula to spread batter out to the edges.  If making cupcakes, fill each liner approximately 2/3 full.
  6. Stagger cake pans or muffin pans in the oven.  Bake round layers for 27-28 minutes, until starting to turn golden brown on top and a toothpick poked in the middle comes out clean.  Cupcakes only take about 22 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven and let cake pans cool on a wire rack completely before removing from pan.  Cupcakes can be removed from the muffin pans earlier.
  8. To remove cake layers from round cake pans, first run a knife around the edge of the cake.  Put your hand over the top of the cake and invert the pan.  The cake should fall into your hand (if not, try putting the pan upside down on a cutting board and tap the bottom gently).  Put a plate or cutting board where the pan used to be and flip back right side up.  Voila!
  9. Now it’s time to frost!  The frosting doesn’t pipe that well, but you can if you want to (it tends to melt with the heat of your hand, but if you can work quickly, go for it!).  If you’re frosting cupcakes, just spread a nice dollop over the top with a pastry knife.  If your frosting a layer cake, place layer one on your serving dish, add some frosting and spread it over the top of the layer, add another cake layer, repeat with the frosting, add the last cake layer.  Use the rest of the frosting to coat the top and the sides.
  10. Enjoy!!!!



I don’t know much about palm shortening. Is there any reason not to use cool (viz solid) coconut oil in place of it? My birthday is coming right up and i’d love to make this but would prefer not to order any new ingredients. Thanks for all the wonderful recipes!

It can’t be nut free if it has coconut oil on it. My daughter has a tree nut and peanut allergy and coconut is a trigger for the nut allergy. Just an FYI. But it looks delicious!

Although your daughter may allergic to coconut, coconut is not from a tree. Botanically, palms are more of a grass than a tree.

I am on the AIP for myself but do the vast majority of cooking for the rest of the family that is not on AIP. I am really curious about how you manage to do this…For example did you sample this cake recipe that has so many eggs in it? I get really frustrated not being able to sample food that I make for the family to at least get a taste of how the recipe turned out!

Dear Holly,I am om AIP also. I try to prepare paleo for all fam, split it before the end if possible and keep my AIP . I know its the challenge sometimes and we have to work on ourselves.;-( 😉 I believe it pays off in other areas of life also.Good luck!

Just made these as mini cupcakes! Everyone loves them even my Paleo doubters. Not sure if there will be any left by the time the frosting cools. Thank you!

Made this cake for my birthday this past weekend…delicious! The texture was a bit off but I think I messed that up by trying to use a fancy cake pan…note to self…cupcakes are always better 🙂 The frosting is excellent…and potentially my new favorite way to get a bit of chocolate in here and there! Thanks for the great recipes…keep up the great posts 🙂

I made cupcakes with this recipie and used butter per Paleo Moms suggestion (no palm shortening anywhere). First do NOT use paper cups there is so much oil that when it cools they are impossible to get out.
I followed the recipie to the letter (except buuter) and they were okay I don’t think I will serve them to guests. Anyone who says “you can’t tell they are grain free” is just being polite. I think I am not used to grain free baked goods because I have yet to have a recipie that I wanted to either serve to other people or make again.
I think in the future is I need a baked good item I’ll just eat the real thing. Our family has no health issues and are Paleo just because it’s better for you. I think a normal birthday cake (probably made low sugar) will be fine once a year.

I made this cake for my daughter for her 10th birthday. I have to say that I was a bit concerned about putting an entire dozen eggs in one cake! However, the cake did not taste ‘eggy’ at all! The texture is denser than regular cake but my family is getting used to the texture of gluten free baked goods now that we have been mainly Paleo for over a year now. I did use butter in place of the palm shortening and that also contributed to the yum factor of this cake. I frosted it with butter cream cheese frosting because my daughter is only gluten free, not dairy free. Thank you for this great recipe. All my family (Mom, Dad, husband and 4 kids) really liked it!
Also, (really off topic) Sara, are you going to the Paleo fx conference this spring? I am planning on going with my sister and curious if I will be able to meet some of my fav Paleo bloggers? (You being high on the list!)

Hi, Thank you so much for all your hard work that we get to benefit from. I just joined my husband on the paleo lifestyle path a few weeks ago. I have a major sweet tooth and so of course here I am making this cake into cupcakes at 9:41 on a Friday night. Mine does not look like yours. Could it be:

1. The gentleman at the health food store where I shop said the arrow root powder was the same as flour, but its so fine
2. I used a lot of palm oil in the muffin pan because I had no paper cups to line it with
3. I forgot to melt the palm oil before I added it to the wet mix and it sort of remained clumpy throughout the process

My cupcakes are really spongy and dense. The frosting is great and looks like yours though. If you look at the bottom of my cupcakes it looks like someone poked a bunch of holes in them, pretty cool looking actually.

Thanks you for your help. Carmen

I would have made this sooner but was delayed by my search for vanilla bean, which I found at my local health food store, $9.00 for 2. The recipe instructs to melt the coconut oil but not the palm shortening. I melted it because it made sense, though you gave to be careful not to get it too hot, otherwise it could curdle, or cook, the eggs. It turned out great, in my opinion, but I will be the only one eating it as my husband is very sensitive to textures, and this has a different texture; almost like that of dense cornbread. Could it be that I shouldn’t have melted the palm shortening? My eggs did not curdle, though.
I found it to be very tasty, but unless I come up with several paleo friends, I probably won’t make again.

Are Madagascar vanilla beans typically dried in the spice section?

Plan to make this for my daughter’s birthday in a couple weeks 🙂

have you ever tried subbing a gelatin “egg” for the eggs? My son and I do not tolerate eggs, and I can’t find a cake/cupcake recipe without eggs (and ideally without almond flour). Thanks!

Palm shortening, butter, ghee and lard are all pretty interchangeable. Sweet potato starch or tapioca would be good substitutes for arrowroot. I’m not familiar enough with rice or spelt flour to know if the chemistry would work with them.

I’m sensitive to honey. Can I sub maple syrup or coconut nectar for the honey in the cake? I want to make this (or the spice layer cake) for my best friend’s birthday and don’t have the time to do a trial. Besides, I’d hate to waste all those eggs if it didn’t work! Thanks!

Sarah has not made this recipe in a 9X13 pan, but you can certainly try. You will probably have to experiment with the cooking time. Let us know how it turns out! — Tamar, Sarah’s assistant

Can you sub the arrowroot flour for tapioca flour? Thanks! Thought I’d ask first before I “waste” 12 eggs ; )

Coconut oil can be replaced with any other cooking fat, like lard, ghee, or palm shortening. Coconut flour is very difficult to substitute because of its unique properties. You can read more about Paleo flours here: and might enjoy this coconut-free recipe: – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

You might try replacing the bittersweet chocolate with coconut oil and carob powder mixed to make a bar, an AIP-friendly (in moderation) chocolate substitute. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

Hi I cant use any starch which means no arrowroot, tapioca or sweet potato flour for me what can use in its place please?

There aren’t many great subs for arrowroot, just tapioca. I suppose you could try cocoa powder for a chocolate cake, or whatever nut flour you like, but I can’t say how that would come out. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

Sarah does recommend making her recipes exactly as written for the best results. This recipe has not been kitchen tested as a bundt cake, but I think it might be worth a try. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

Hi Paleo Mom,
I made this cake yesterday and the part that was edible was delicious. I did half of your recipe and substituted the palm shortening for butter and honey for maple syrup. I used a 9″ round pan. When it baked the sides rose higher than the middle and the bottom didn’t cook all the way. Was I suppose to mix it again after letting it sit? I really wanted it to work.

It’s hard to say what might have gone wrong. In my experience, most of Sarah’s baked goods will puff up a little on the sides during cooking, resulting in the outside being a little more cooked than the inside, and usually flatten again when cooled. Sarah recommends making her recipes exactly as written for the best results. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

Recipe looks great. My son is allergic to egg. Thoughts on subbing out the egg? Would you use energ egg replacer or something like applesauce? Looks good minus the eggs for him. Thanks!

This is delicious looking. I noticed that there is no acid component in the recipe to make Carbon Dioxide with the baking soda. What makes this cake rise?

This is the first recipe that has not worked for me, ever! So disappointed because I can tell from what I got that this would be so yummy. I subbed maple syrup for honey but did everything else exactly as in the recipe. The batter never really came together. The shortening was clumpy. Is it supposed to be melted first? Finally just baked what I had hoping the shortening would melt so as they warmed up. You can tell by looking and tasting them that the batter separated further during baking. The shortening/oil actually came out of the muffin cups, covered my pans and ran into the oven. There is a layer that is mainly egg and another that is cake like. I’d be interested on any opinions on what happened. I want to make these for my daughter to bring to school but hate to put all the ingredients into another trial without an idea of what to change!

I made a half batch of these with my daughter yesterday- 12 eggs seemed like too many just in case the recipe didn’t turn out. The only thing I changed was that I subbed out the palm shortening for butter, and I didn’t have any vanilla beans, so only used extract. When we finished putting the batter together, I was worried, because it was so thin and runny, not like flour cake batter at all. But I put them in a cupcake pan and baked them for the allotted 22 minutes, and when they came out…they were perfect! I frosted them with a chocolate/butter/cream cheese mixture and they are delicious. This is the very first paleo baked item that has actually turned out well for me. The texture was nice and moist and soft. The only difference between mine and your picture, was mine came out much whiter than yours. Wonder why that was? Anyway, thanks for a great recipe. We will be doing a whole batch again today and putting half in the freezer for school lunches.

Hi I made this recipe as cupcakes for my son’s bday party tomorrow. Going to wait until tomorrow to frost, but how do I store the cupcakes tonight? Thanks!

Made this for our family bdays. It looked beautiful. However, overall it only came out just ok, the cakes all fell, leaving two layers, a light cakelike one atop a thick, dense one. I feel like the problem was not blending it well enough. My stand mixer didn’t seem to have the oomph to do it thoroughly, in hindsight I should have put it in my Ninja blender. The taste was a bit coconutty for me too, although you could taste the vanilla. I think this would have decent texture if well blended, making it go far in being accepted in non-paleo settings.

Are Palm Oil and Palm Shortening the same thing? I can’t find an answer anywhere & you can not find palm shortening in my area but I do have palm oil. Thanks!

Oh no! I had a total baking/birthday disaster. The cake rose completely lopsided, crazy and as high as a souffle. On the top looked like a cake. I left it to cool on wire racks at midnight and early the next morning when I flipped it out of the cool pans, the bottom of the cake looked disgusting/gelatinous. The bottom wasn’t even flat; it had several canyons running through it. I had to cut off the bottom half of the cake and all of the edges to get down to something that resembled cake texture. I did substitute maple syrup for honey and tapioca for arrowroot. And it tasted too sweet to me. Anyway, due to imminent kiddie birthday party that day, I whipped up a packaged GF baking mix (high carb). Given how my daughter and I feel, we are both better off low carb. So, what could have gone wrong with the paleo cake?

Would you recommend this cake be eaten the same day it is made, or can the texture hold up over night, or even longer? TIA ☺️

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