Clara Polito, also known as Clara Cakes, is only 19 years old, but she's been baking for over seven years. And when you bake that much, eating cake for breakfast isn't out of the question. "Yeah, especially when I was making this cookbook," she laughed in an interview. "I took a lot of the dessert photos, so I would have at least half a cake around, so I’d be like, 'OK, I guess this is breakfast.'" The cookbook in question is Clara Cakes: Delicious and Simple Vegan Desserts for Everyone!, forthcoming from powerHouse Books, and it's full of dozens of recipes for plant-based pies, cookies, frostings, and, of course, cakes.
Though Polito takes her politics seriously—"I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if it weren’t for becoming vegan," she writes in the book—she doesn't actively advertise that her desserts are vegan. "First, I wasn’t into the idea of being vegan," she admitted, despite growing up in a vegetarian household. "Then I just educated myself more about why I would be vegan and different factory farm cases that I had read about and that’s what really made me start not eating eggs or dairy." She finally made the switch to vegan at 14, shortly after her mom did, and started baking and selling her baked goods at punk shows in and around Los Angeles.
She quickly became known for her so-called "Inception Cookies" at these shows, which, she explains, often tricked people—and not just because they were secretly vegan. "People buy what they think is just a giant chocolate chip cookie, walk away from the table, bite into it, and make some sorta pleasantly surprised face when they discover the harmony of the Oreo and chocolate chip cookie all in one package," she writes." Then, they turn around, point at the cookie, and give me a thumbs up."
Each recipe in this book comes with these types of loving details, about her life in L.A., her family, the DIY punk scene in which she came up. "There’s a story attached to every recipe," Polito explained, "and I think with most people, you connect with food over memories." The chocolate and ricotta cheesecake with a pine nut and white cornmeal crust, for instance, is a vegan take on her favorite Italian dessert. (The ricotta is vegan, of course, made by blending cashews and almonds and some lemon.) The breakfast cake was inspired by a bowl of corn flakes with bananas and milk—"or soy milk, in my case," she added.
And this banana breakfast cake, which comes stuffed with maple pudding and smothered in a not-too-sweet yet still dense maple frosting, is probably the best way to eat cake for breakfast. Polito does have some tips for anyone who wants to attempt this recipe at home. "The corn flakes, just make sure they’re cooked long enough, and they’re nice and crunchy. And let them cool completely before you put them on the cake, so they’re not soggy or anything." As for the bananas? "You have to buy ahead of time, you really need to have close-to-brown bananas or with brown speckles," Polito insists. "It’s best for baking because all the sugar is ready for you, and the flavor’s way more prominent."
For Polito, though, this cookbook is only the start. "I dream about a lot of things. I would definitely like a shop, another cookbook, a baking show, just everything. Everything all in one." Just like this breakfast cake.
Note: If you're making a two-layered breakfast cake, double the amount of ingredients Banana Cake Batter and Maple Frosting.
Clara Cakes' Breakfast Cake
- Yields: 12 cupcakes, or 1 9-inch cake
For the Banana Cake Batter
For the Maple Milk Pudding
For the Caramelized Corn Flakes
For the Maple Frosting
Make the Banana Cake. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Trace a 9-inch round cake pan on parchment paper with a pencil. Cut the circle out. Coat the cake pan with nonstick spray and flour and place parchment paper circle on top.
In a blender, mix a banana on medium speed until smooth and liquify.
Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a medium sized bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the butter, banana, soy milk, and extracts.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts.
Add batter to the cake pan. Bake cake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when poked in the center of the cake. To take the cake out, place a cooling rack on top of cake so the tiny legs are sticking up and not towards the cake, then flip the cooling rack and pan altogether, place on a surface, and remove the cake pan and parchment paper, slowly. Allow to fully cool before frosting.
Make the Maple Milk Pudding. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt.
Whisk in the coconut milk and soy milk over medium heat.
Stir constantly until the mixture is thick and pudding-like. Turn off heat and whisk in vanilla extract, maple extract, and butter until combined.
Transfer to a bowl and put plastic wrap directly on the entire surface of pudding. This prevents pudding skin from forming. Store in refrigerator.
Make the Caramelized Corn Flakes. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, carefully toss the corn flakes with the brown sugar, 1/4 cup cornmeal, flour, and butter.
Spread the corn flakes evenly on the baking pan and dust remaining cornmeal over them.
Bake for about 5 minutes, stirring every once in awhile to ensure they cook evenly.
Take tray out, stir up the flakes, and let them sit on the baking pan to harden up more.
Make the Maple Frosting. Using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, blend the butter and shortening together until light and creamy, on medium speed.
Add the maple syrup. Mix until it’s well incorporated. Scrape the sides really well.
Add the powdered sugar until thoroughly mixed.
Add in the vanilla extract, and, if using, the maple extract and blend on high speed. Mix until light and fluffy. The maple syrup in this may cause the frosting to melt faster, so make sure to keep refrigerated.
Construct the Breakfast Cake. Cakes are cooled! Pudding is chilled! Frosting is whipped! S’gooooo! Place one of the cakes either directly on a plate that you would like to serve it on, or place on a round cake board.
Spread the pudding mixture on top of the cake layer, leaving about a 2—3 inch border without pudding so that it doesn’t spill out. If the pudding seems to thick when you pull it out, add in some soy milk and stir together really well.
Place the other cake layer right on top of the pudding layer, pressing down lightly.
Frost a thin layer of frosting around the cake, then on top of the cake. Store cake in fridge for thirty minutes to firm up.
Frost cake completely. When you’re happy with your frosting job, sprinkle caramelizes cornflakes all over the whole cake. You might have to use two hands to get them to stick to the sides. It all comes together in the end, I promise!