Climate Disaster Cake (Episode 1)


To me, birthday cake means chocolate cake with big frosting swirls and a smattering of rainbow sprinkles. And there are few other foods I take as much for granted. There’ll always be birthday cake. Right? But… what if the climate crisis changed that? 

In this inaugural episode of The Sustainable Baker podcast, we explored how climate change is going to affect the foods we eat – interviewing the brilliant professor and author of the book The Fate of Food Amanda Little.

One of my favorite food books of the past few years.

And we learned from Amanda that some of the most climate-vulnerable crops are “delicious foods” like coffee, chocolate, and spices – which all happen to be ingredients in chocolate cake. Quel horreur! 

Naturally, after I learned this, I needed to know what birthday cake a few decades further into the climate crisis might taste like. So I came up with a recipe for a “Climate Disaster Cake” – adapted from food blogger Kate Wood’s chocolate cake recipe by swapping wheat flour for buckwheat flour, and cocoa powder for carob powder, and removing coffee and vanilla entirely. 

I hosted a side-by-side cake test, and fed Kate Wood’s scrumptious chocolate cake to my friends alongside the climate disaster cake. And, well, if you listened to the episode, you know how it went down. For me, the Climate Disaster Cake is really fascinating to try alongside a normal chocolate cake. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat it on its own. But some people disagreed rather strongly, and loved it! 

The two cakes, during their first recorded taste test. Towel to protect recording equipment from frosting.
The recipe variations.
Buckwheat is the key ingredient in soba noodles and lots of gluten-free baking.

Now, if you’d like, it can be your turn. This side-by-side climate taste test was quite the riveting (even divisive!) dinner party construct. If you’d like to host your own taste test, feel free to make the climate disaster cake recipe below. 

(1) The ‘control’ chocolate cake – you can use food blogger Kate Wood’s reliably scrumptious chocolate cake. I paired it with Add a Pinch’s chocolate buttercream frosting.

(2) The Climate Disaster Cake – my climate-crisis translation of Kate’s chocolate cake. The recipe follows.

Climate Disaster Cake


(Adapted from Kate Wood’s chocolate cake. It intentionally omits coffee and vanilla; swaps cocoa powder for carob powder; and swaps AP flour for the more climate-resilient buckwheat flour.) 


  • 270g buckwheat flour
  • 450g sugar
  • 60g carob powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons cornstarch 
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 3 eggs (180-200g), room temperature
  • 300mL buttermilk, room temperature
  • 180 mL water
  • 120 mL vegetable oil (I use avocado or canola)


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 3 (8”) round cake pans with cooking oil and line the bottom with parchment rounds. 
  • In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients and whisk until combined. 
  • In another bowl, combine all wet ingredients, and add to the bowl of dry ingredients. 
  • Whisk well for 1-2 minutes, scraping down bowl well periodically. 
  • Pour batter equally among three pans (use a scale if you’d like to be really persnickety 🙂 )
  • Place in the oven and bake 25-30 minutes, until toothpick comes out of cake clean. 
  • Allow to cool in pans 30 minutes, then remove from pans to continue cooling on racks. Buckwheat cake stays fresh up to 3 days if frosted.
A disaster cake, a normal cake, and one Mount Rainier in the distance
Art by Megan Woodruff

Episode Summary

What would a chocolate birthday cake taste like without… chocolate? Well, the climate crisis may force us to find out. Because while the food system has been driving climate change, now climate change is biting back – and delicious foods are at risk, including the key ingredients in chocolate cake. Host Caroline Saunders digs in, interviewing the author of The Fate of Food Amanda Little, and even baking a “Climate Disaster Cake” that may be the centerpiece at birthday parties in the future. Listen below.