Cake is meant for special occasions, but sometimes you just have to bake one just because.
I’ve made plenty of cakes, good ones, so-so ones, a few failures. My first génoise (that’s a fancy French term for an Italian sponge cake) was absolutely perfect. As a young student in pastry class, this first attempt was mere beginner’s luck. I must have followed the recipe exactly. It came out golden, fluffy, light and everything the ideal sponge cake should be. My instructor marveled at the dome of buttery golden perfection and exclaimed, “It’s perfect! Now, do it again.”
But the second sponge cake did not rise so beautifully, nor was it anything like the first. It did not resemble that perfect génoise. Instead, as I explained to my pastry instructor, it was closer to resembling matzoh.
Cakes can be easy, sure. I made a few heavenly chocolate layer cakes (before my vegan baking escapades) using mayonnaise of all things, and honestly, it was a magical ingredient. As awful as mayonnaise sounds in chocolate cake, it worked wonders.
Every year I bake coconut cake for my sweetheart’s birthday, because it’s his favorite. Coconut milk is another miracle worker for cake, and coconut cream frosting is definitely a good thing. Besides, when it comes to decorating, coconut flakes are the messiest but look great all over the frosting, and a simple orchid on top of the coconut cake is really all you need after that.
A few of my total failures: cornmeal cake, olive oil cake, lemon cake. I loved the idea of these cakes more than the reality. They were dry, crumbly, flavorless. I don’t know where I went wrong.
My youngest daughter and I love reading a book called The Seven Silly Eaters. The premise of the story begins with a mom who sweetly attempts to feed all of her picky children a different “favorite” food: One child wants warm milk, not hot nor cold. Another child has to be fed “soft and squishy homemade bread” while another only eats applesauce. One child demands pink lemonade on the daily. One twin only wants poached eggs while the other twin wants only fried eggs. The mom has more babies and a knack for birthing picky eaters. The madness of feeding each picky eater their specific food drives their mom to utter exhaustion. Then her birthday comes and something special happens: the kids accidentally bake a cake.
Back in pastry class, I’d whip up a raspberry Charlotte from scratch. I was also pretty good at making traditional French fruit tarts. But cakes were special. And I must say, sinking a fork into five layers of my own homemade tiramisu cake felt quite triumphant. I even went all out and made my own chocolate curls to top the cake from a large slab of chocolate.
Of course, as I had children, I’d bake their birthday cakes or make cupcakes. During one pregnancy, I baked cupcakes whenever the craving struck, and I’d eat them warm and fresh, right out of the oven. I just wanted the cake without frosting.
Craving some cake now? Try this vegan chocolate cake recipe:
- • 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) unsweetened almond milk
- • 2 tsp white or apple cider vinegar
- • 1 1/4 cups (307 g) unsweetened applesauce
- • 1/2 cup (120 ml) strong brewed coffee
- • 2/3 cup (160 ml) melted coconut oil
- • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- • 2 cups + 2 tbsp (320 g) whole wheat pastry flour (or unbleached all-purpose flour)
- • 1 1/3 cups (266 g) organic cane sugar
- • 1 cup (96 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
- • 2 tsp baking soda
- • 1 tsp baking powder
- • 1/4 tsp salt
- • 1 cup (16 Tbsp or 224 g) vegan butter, softened (try Miyoko's Kitchen brand)
- • 2 1/2 - 3 cups (280-336 g) powdered sugar
- • 2/3 cup (63 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
- • 1/4 cup (30 g) dairy-free semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
- • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1) Preheat oven to 350°F (176 C) and lightly spray 2 8" inch round cake pans or one large rectangular pan with nonstick spray. Dust with cocoa powder, shake out the excess and set aside.
- 2) Mix the almond milk and vinegar in a large mixing bowl. Allow it to set a few minutes. Add the oil, coffee, vanilla extract, and applesauce and beat until foamy.
- 3) Add the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a sifter. Sift the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients while mixing with a hand-held or standing mixer. If you don’t have a sifter, just mix the dry ingredients in another bowl and add to the wet mixture while beating. Beat until smooth. Taste and adjust sweetness as needed, adding more sugar if desired.
- 4) Divide batter evenly between your 2 cake pans or rectangular pan.
- 5) Bake 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely before frosting.
- 6) Prepare frosting by beating together all ingredients until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar in small amounts until you reach your desired consistency and sweetness. If it becomes too thick, add more almond milk. If it's too thin, add more cocoa powder or powdered sugar.
- 7) When the cake is cool, frost with buttercream frosting in thick layers between the top and bottom layers (if doing a 2-layer cake).
- 8) Serve and enjoy!