Growing up, my mother always made special cakes for my birthday — cakes so good-looking that I’m sure all of my friends wished they had a mother like mine. Usually this involved copious amounts of painstakingly applied frosting, and, if I was really lucky, some decorative sugar cubes. But my 7th birthday party was a little bit different.

The afternoon was probably planned out down to the minute with games and face painting and so on, but all I really remember is the cake. When everyone gathered around the table and sang “Happy Birthday,” drool already forming at the corners of their sugar-starved mouths, my mother came out of the kitchen empty-handed and seized the flower pot at the center of the table.

I don’t know how she was able to point a camera and serve cake at the same time, but somehow, somewhere in my family’s photo albums, there is photographic evidence of a half dozen 7-year-olds looking simultaneously horrified and mesmerized as she used a gardening spade to spoon slimy dirt into cups and passed them around the table. Thusly we were introduced to the delicious, unabashedly American splendor that is dirt cake.

I don’t know whose twisted idea it was to prank a roomful of innocent and trusting 7-year-olds, but in retrospect, maybe it was that party that cemented my lifelong love of a good prank. Granted, had I had it my way, someone probably would’ve ended up crying before I let on that it was just a joke … so maybe it was good that my mother chose a more toned down route. Anyway, as you can imagine, this cake concept translates well into Halloween — just use gravestones instead of fake flowers, and you’ve got a graveyard! Excellent.

I follow the same recipe my mother did, but use vegan ingredients instead. A few notes on the cream mixture. If you aren’t making your pudding from scratch, double-check that the store-bought stuff you find is vegan. Mimiccreme’s boxed “Healthy Top” holds up awesomely in this, but I used canned soy whipped cream once to no ill effect (other than to my wallet. Oof!).

Decorate this however you see fit — use frosting to decorate cookie tombstones, bury small toy people and plastic (or candy) body parts, make ghosts out of vegan marshmallows, or have a slimy green hand clawing its way through the dirt.

 

Dirt Cake
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
 
Ingredients
  • 3.5 cups vegan vanilla pudding
  • 1 c powdered sugar
  • ¼ c vegan margarine
  • 8 oz. vegan cream cheese
  • 1 package chocolate cream-filled sandwich cookies
  • 8 oz. vegan whipped cream
  • 5 oz vegan gummy worms
  • gravestone-shaped cookies or other creepy decorative items, optional
Instructions
  1. Prepare pudding as directed; chill until cold and fully set.
  2. Cream the powdered sugar, margarine and cream cheese.
  3. Fold in pudding and whipped cream.
  4. Fold in gummy worms.
  5. In a food processor, pulse cookies into crumbs.
  6. In bottom of a clean flower pot or clear bowl, alternately layer pudding mixture and crumbs, starting and ending with crumbs.
  7. Decorate as desired.
Notes
I make 1.5 batches of my vegan vanilla pudding recipe, but you can use instant pudding mix if you prefer. Just aim for 3.5 cups of liquid.