Chickpea Chocolate Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Icing

Chickpea chocolate cake

So . . . I’m pretty sure “chickpea” and “beet” are not two words you typically see in a birthday cake recipe. But what makes this recipe so interesting is that it looks and tastes like a totally normal chocolate birthday cake!

I baked this cake for Lydia’s third birthday this last weekend, and no one could tell there was anything unusual going on. In fact, our guests raved about how moist and chocolatey it was, and asked for the recipe. It’s dense but springy and rich. It’s a little less sweet than conventional or store-bought cakes, but that was intentional — I usually find birthday cake WAY too sweet, and I didn’t want to serve a really sugary dessert to our tiny guests.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was looking for a cake recipe that was somewhat nutritious, not too sugary, and didn’t contain artificial food dyes, which can make children (and adults) cray-cray. This one fit the bill perfectly.

Update 2017: I have now made this cake four years in a row, and it’s been a hit every time. I’ve learned how to frost a cake better, and have tried other colours. You’ll see photos from several cakes here, starting with my first attempt.

birthday cake

A Note About the Cake:

The recipe originates from and is full of odd ingredients. I’ve made it many times over the years and have always been happy with it. I’ve doubled it here to make it a double-layer cake.

This cake happens to be grain-free and gluten-free (if you use the right ingredients), even though we don’t generally eat gluten-free. I just think we typically eat too many grains in general, so it’s always advantageous to cut back when we can. Thanks to the chick peas and eggs, it’s quite high in protein.

It works out really well for a double-layer cake because it has a flat top — they stack on top of one another beautifully.

If you just want a single-layer cake for a casual gathering, halve the recipe, add a handful of chocolate chips, and serve with homemade maple-sweetened whipped cream. Decadence without damaging your body.

A Note About the Icing:

I got this recipe from Joy the Baker, but I cut the sugar in half. It was still PLENTY sweet. And I boiled the beet rather than roasting it, since I only needed one. The beet flavour doesn’t come through at all — just the lovely magenta colour. Who needs FD&C Red No. 40, anyway?

On the the recipe!

birthday cake slice

Chickpea Chocolate Cake

  • 2 cans chick peas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans), or 4 cups home-cooked
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups orange juice (or pineapple)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup coconut palm sugar (or other granulated sugar)
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1 1/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda

Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, and line the bottoms with cut circles of parchment paper to make sure your cakes come out nice and easy. Preheat oven to 350.

Blend the chick peas and 4 of the eggs in a large blender or food processor until smooth. Then mix in all the rest of the ingredients until well blended. (They may not all fit in your blender at once. You may need to transfer to your mixer bowl and beat it with your mixer, after the beans are blended smooth.) Batter will be very runny, but don’t fret — it’ll fluff up like magic when you bake it.

Pour batter into prepared cake pans.

Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, or until top is firm and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove cakes from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Invert cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting and assembling the cake. Carefully peel off the parchment paper.

Meanwhile, wash your food processor, because you’ll need it for your icing.

Beet Cream Cheese Icing

  • 1 small beet
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar (preferably corn-free)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or seeds of one vanilla bean
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp milk

Wash and trim the beet, and boil in a small pot of water until you can easily pierce it with a fork, about 10 minutes. Remove from water and allow to cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, peel it and grate it with a microplaner or the finest grating plane on a box grater. Measure out 2-3 Tbsp for the icing; eat or discard the rest.

Meanwhile, add butter, cream cheese and icing sugar to the bowl of your food processor, and blend until smooth. Stop and scrape down the bowl as necessary.  Add vanilla, lemon juice, and salt, and blend it in.

Next, you want to colour your icing by blending in your grated beet. I find the best way to do this is to first blend it into a small amount of your icing separately, then add it back. Remove a few tablespoons of your prepared icing into a small blender/food processor/coffee grinder (I use my Magic Bullet), along with the shredded beet and milk. Blend until smooth, and you have a deep, rich magenta icing. Then add it back to the rest of your icing and blend until mixed.

Refrigerate the frosting for 30 minutes before frosting the cooled cakes.

Updated to add: for a fancier cake with more decoration, make 1 1/2 batches of icing. You can then colour the extra icing a different colour, and use it to pipe on decorations of your choice.

(For the pictured cake, I made 1 1/2 batches of icing and coloured all of it with the beet, but then removed some and added some natural blue spirulina powder to make purple. Get creative! I’ll add some photos of other cakes I’ve done with other natural colours at the bottom of the post.)

chick pea chocolate cake with beet cream cheese icing - grain-free birthday cake with natural color

Assembling the Cake:

Place one layer of cake on a cake stand or plate.  Top with a generous amount of pink frosting and spread evenly.  Place the other cake on top of the frosting.  Top with more frosting.  Work frosting onto the sides of the cake until evenly covered.

If you’ve made extra icing in another colour, pipe it on with a cake decorating kit.

Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving, to make the cake easier to slice.

chick pea chocolate cake with beet cream cheese icing

For her fifth birthday, my daughter requested a green and blue cake, so I did 1 1/2 batches of the icing, without the beet. For the blue, I used blue spirulina powder. For the green, I added a tsp of turmeric. You can’t taste either. (I was still learning how to frost a cake, though, so the execution isn’t fantastic. The kids were still impressed.)

grain-free cake with natural colours


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  1. I am definitely making this!
    Marissa recently posted..Storm ArthurMy Profile

  2. PepperReed says:

    That looks AWESOME! Def going to try this. Thanks for the recipe and review.

  3. Yay! Thank you! I am totally skeptical but will definitely give your cake a try. I love the care you give to a cake like this. It makes it special.

    I just got back from visiting in-laws. Lovely people but totally different food values. They filled my children up with processed crackers and sweets and veggie oils and it made me cringe. Just a week earlier I had carefully picked out a cupcake recipe for my daughter’s first birthday. It was her first real helping of dessert and her first real taste of grains. It was dessert, but I tried to give it some redeeming qualities. It surprised me when visiting my in-laws how someone else could use sweets with such abandon.

    I can’t wait to try your recipe!

  4. That is fascinating! And the cream cheese icing turned out a very pretty color. Great job! I’ll be saving your version on Pinterest :-)
    hillary lodge recently posted..Kitchen ConfessionalMy Profile

  5. So excited! I can’t wait to try this, I make homemade cakes like this too! I’m so not into store bought cakes either, thank you for sharing this recipe!

  6. I’m not a cake person, and prefer flourless cakes anyway, but the chickpea variation sounds interesting!

    And I assume the beets are just to make the icing pink, and if you would prefer white icing anyway you can just leave them out? Mmm, cream cheese frosting.

  7. I loved the idea of a frosting without food coloring. It was easy enough to make, but, I am afraid it didn’t turn out. It looks “flakey” and even after cooling in the fridge it was quite runny. I used it for my daughters birthday cupcakes to make owls and everything I put on the frosting started to fall off. I hope the fair in the fridge well over night. I don’t think I will use the recipe again.

  8. Christiana says:

    I made this cake for my daughter’s first birthday today (different frosting, though). It was SO amazing. Super easy to whip up and absolutely delicious. Everyone raved. Thanks a lot!

  9. Thanks for this. Made it for my 2-year-old’s b-day and it was DELICIOUS. One of the best cakes I’ve ever had.

  10. Hi Kathleen,
    Do you think I would be able to use a 6 inch cake pan for this recipe?


  11. I’m sorry, I forgot to mention that I am halving the recipe! Would I be able to use one 6 inch cake pan if halving the recipe?



  1. […] Chickpea Chocolate Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Icing by Kathleen Quiring at Becoming Peculiar […]

  2. […] finally, a gluten-free chocolate cake recipe with pink frosting — Chickpea Chocolate Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Icing. Who doesn’t need chocolate […]

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