One day I found a cake on the kitchen floor, partially eaten, with two little paw prints indented into the heavenly frosting. It was disappointing and adorable all at once. Adorable for obvious reasons, and disappointing because there was my favorite cake in all the world, wasted. But this is how irresistible it was—even my cat couldn’t keep her paws off.
No, it wasn’t fancy red velvet from Sweet Lady Jane. It was Trader Joe’s Chantilly Cream Vanilla Bean Mini Sheet Cake, which is (was) like my Holy Grail. Ever since I went vegan, I had to break up with my chantilly-cream-vanilla-bean dream—but I never stopped loving it. So, I had to figure out a way to have my cake and eat it, too, without butter or eggs.
I went to Trader Joe’s to see if I could hack it. The ingredients in their boxed vanilla cake mix are totally vegan, but it’s made on shared equipment with milk and eggs. For me, this isn’t really an issue since the actual product doesn’t use ingredients from animal agriculture, but I know some vegans are definitely not down. If that’s the case, find another vanilla cake mix you like—just check the ingredients list and make sure none of these are on there, and that there are no indications that the product was made on the same equipment as dairy or eggs.
As for the eggs called for in the recipe on the box, no problem—I’d sub in flax eggs. Here’s the formula:
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed + 3 tablespoons water = 1 egg
Let it sit for five minutes and it’s good to go. Trust me, it works! Sometimes you just have to increase your baking time a little to make sure everything binds.
OK, got the cake part covered, but what about the frosting? Here’s where it gets a little complicated. The simplest option I could find at TJ’s to make a vanilla buttercream frosting is Earth Balance Organic Vegan Butter. But even though no cows were harmed in making it, the No. 1 ingredient on the list is an oil blend that consists of palm fruit, a commodity that’s responsible for major deforestation and wildlife habitat destruction in Southeast Asia (to make room for palm oil plantations).
It’s kind of a lose-lose, but knowing is half the battle. I know that Earth Balance claims it uses sustainable palm oil and is working toward sourcing that adheres to high standards for environmental conservation and human rights, but there’s just not enough transparency in place, and I’m not sure if and when that will change. To be honest, I won’t buy Earth Balance Vegan Butter again, so I’d love to hear your suggestions for more sustainable alternatives. (Please don’t say coconut oil, though—I’m not a fan.) I might just try making my own vegan butter next time.
Anyway, pretty much every food has some sort of adverse environmental or social impact so don’t beat yourself up over it. It’s a tough choice to eat ethically, and it’s a perpetual learning experience, but it’s all worth it. Plus, it’s kinda fun to figure it all out as you go.
So without further ado, here’s my vegan version of Trader Joe’s Chantilly Cream Vanilla Bean Mini Sheet Cake. Not gonna lie—it’s not quite the same as the original but I promise you it’s amazing! And you won’t believe it’s not butter.
Vanilla Mini Sheet Cake With Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
For the cake
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
6 tablespoons water
½ cup vegan butter, melted
1 cup cold almond milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 package Trader Joe’s Vanilla Cake Mix
For the frosting
½ cup vegan butter, softened
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ½ cups powdered sugar
Splash almond milk
Bake the cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
To make flax “eggs,” in a large mixing bowl, combine ground flaxseed and water and let sit 5 minutes.
Lightly grease 8x8x2 pan with vegan butter.
Whisk flax egg thoroughly, then whisk in vegan butter, then almond milk, and vanilla extract.
Add cake mix and whisk until batter is smooth. Pour batter evenly into pan.
Bake 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool 20 minutes.
Make the frosting
In a medium mixing bowl, beat vegan butter until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and mix.
Mix in powdered sugar ½ cup at a time until thick and creamy. Add splash of almond milk to thin slightly.
Frost the cake. Refrigerate for 1 hour, then enjoy!