This rich and decadent vegan chocolate cake is an easy one-bowl recipe. A moist and soft chocolate sponge with deliciously fudgy chocolate icing.
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A rich vegan chocolate cake has been a bit of a glaring omission from my Vegan Baking Recipe Index for some time now. So when my youngest requested chocolate cake for his birthday this year it seemed like the perfect time to get experimenting with a showstopping chocolate layer cake.
The sponge itself is soft, moist and chocolatey. If you have time to follow the instructions in the recipe to leave it in an airtight tin overnight before icing it, that makes a huge difference to how soft and moist the finished cake turns out. I've used my standard light vegan sponge method (much-loved in my Coffee & Walnut and Red Velvet cakes), using oil for softness, and vegan yoghurt and milk to replace eggs.
But in fact the best thing about the cake is that it is a vehicle for this quite incredible decadent and fudgy icing. I would usually make a standard vegan buttercream with some cocoa powder added as a quick-fix chocolate icing. But I wanted something a bit more 'wow' for this special cake.
I browsed and tested a lot of chocolate icing recipes but eventually settled on a vegan-ised version of Nigella's Chocolate Fudge Icing as the basis for this one. It contains quite a lot of melted dark chocolate, which makes it very rich but it also firms up quite a bit as the chocolate 'sets' so makes this a very easy cake to slice and serve without falling to pieces or oozing everywhere.
This really is a delicious cake - perfect for celebrations or special events, or just as good as a weekend teatime treat. And I know I say this a lot, but.... no-one will EVER guess it is vegan, I promise.
What you need to make your Vegan Chocolate Cake
Self-raising flour is used here plus extra baking powder, as the cake batter needs an extra lift without the use of eggs. This works really well, just make sure you follow the instructions to give the cake tins a good strong bash on the work surface just before putting them in the oven, to bring air bubbles to the surface.
If you don't have any self-raising flour to hand, you can use plain flour and add 4tsp baking powder to it, (and then a further 2tsp as listed in the recipe).
Cocoa powder Use a good quality unsweetened cocoa powder for a rich, chocolatey flavour and dark colour. Always check the ingredients to make sure it is pure cocoa powder and not hot chocolate powder with added milk.
Dairy-free milk I always use soya milk in baking, as it has a higher protein content so is a better substitute for eggs. But if you don't like soya, an oat or almond milk will work well too. Make sure your plant milk is unsweetened - your cake will be sweet enough already!
Dairy-free yoghurt Similarly, use an unsweetened vegan yoghurt - I use soya for the same reason, but a good quality oat or coconut yoghurt will also work fine.
Oil I use sunflower oil, but any flavourless oil will be fine here - rapeseed or vegetable work well too.
Vanilla extract This adds a lovely edge to the flavour of your cake, but don't panic if you don't have any to hand - it is fine to leave it out.
Icing sugar I really don't enjoy sifting things and avoid it wherever I can, but I really do recommend sifting the icing sugar here, or it is almost impossible to get rid of those little lumps.
Dairy-free margarine Use a good quality block margarine here, (not a tub of spread) - my favourites are Flora's Plant Butter, Naturli block, or Stork block margarine (tubs of Stork are not vegan, but the block margarine is, so just be careful to find the right one.
Dark chocolate Use a good quality dark chocolate or cooking chocolate here. And as always, do check labels as some contain small amounts of milk or buttermilk. Cadbury's Bournville chocolate is vegan - widely available, a decent price and great for baking.
Whilst you don't need a food mixer for the cake mix itself, (just a large bowl and a good spatula or spoon will do fine), the icing does really benefit from a good beat in a mixer or with an electric whisk.
A good hand whisk like this one from Morphy Richards *at under £13 will definitely do the job, and will spare your arm from an awful lot of beating by hand.
But a good food mixer, although quite a big investment, really does make a huge difference for very light and fluffy cakes, buttercreams, and also kneading bread or pizza dough, whisking plant cream or aquafaba, and anything else that needs a lot of power. I have this KMix by Kenwood* which is £289 and worth every penny - I've had it for over 10 years now and it is really good quality.
The only other bit of kit that makes a difference is decent cake tins. I love my loose-bottomed tins from Lakeland* - pleasingly heavy, and nothing ever seems to stick.
Variations on your Vegan Chocolate Cake
You can use this basic recipe to make a variety of vegan chocolate cakes:
- Chocolate Cupcakes This quantity of cake mix will make a huge batch of cupcakes - 18 large or even more small fairy cakes - so you may wish to scale down the recipe a bit! But they are totally delicious and a lovely way to enjoy this rich chocolate sponge.
- Chocolate Traybake You can make this in a large greased and lined rectangular cake tin to make one huge traybake - perfect for feeding a crowd.
- Mini Chocolate Layer Cakes I love these made in my Mini Sandwich Tin from Lakeland* to make little individual chocolate cakes - perfect for a fancy afternoon tea with vegan cheese scones and cucumber sandwiches. Again the quantities will be huge so scale down the quantities for a batch of 12.
Freezing or Storing your Vegan Chocolate Cake
These vegan chocolate sponges freeze really well, so you can make them ahead of time then just defrost when needed. Separate the sponges with a sheet of baking parchment or baking paper, then place in an airtight container or wrap tightly so air can't get in.
The lovely rich chocolate icing doesn't, however, freeze well I'm afraid so you will have to make that at the time you're serving the cake.
The perfect vegan Birthday Cake
This vegan chocolate cake makes a brilliant vegan Birthday Cake, partly because it is just so decadent, moist and delicious, (whilst secretly easy to make).
But mostly because it is pretty robust so transports easily, holds candles well, and doesn't crumble when sliced. That's largely down to the icing which 'sets' a little as the melted chocolate cools, so it is still fluffy and melt-in-the-mouth, but not as soft and squishy as a standard buttercream.
I've recently used this vegan chocolate cake as a Batman Cake for a 4th birthday, and it works really well for covering in fondant icing.
The chocolate icing is sturdy enough to create a perfectly smooth base for your rolled fondant and decorations.
Vegan in 15 Cookbook
There are plenty of similarly quick and easy recipes in my new book, ‘Vegan in 15'*.
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Vegan Chocolate Cake
For the cake:
- 400 g self-raising flour
- 50 g cocoa powder
- 240 g caster sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 250 ml unsweetened dairy-free milk
- 200 g unsweetened dairy-free yoghurt
- 160 ml sunflower or rapeseed oil
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the icing:
- 220 g icing sugar
- 200 g dairy-free block margarine
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 140 g dark chocolate plus a little extra for decoration, (check it is dairy-free).
For the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4.
- Grease and line two 23cm / 9 inch cake tins with baking parchment or greaseproof paper.
- Sift the flour and cocoa powder into a large bowl.
- Add the caster sugar, baking powder and salt.
- In a jug, measure the dairy-free milk, dairy-free yoghurt, oil and vanilla extract.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients, and mix well until the batter is smooth.
- Divide the cake batter between the two cake tins, then give then a good firm bash down onto your work surface - this brings any of the air bubbles that are already forming due to the baking powder to come to the surface, which will give your cake a much more uniform texture.
- Bake the cakes for 20-22 minutes, until an inserted knife or skewer comes out clean. Leave them to cool in the tins for a few minutes, then turn them out of the tin and when they are completely cool, peel the baking parchment off the bottom.
- If at all possible, at this point it hugely improves the texture of your cakes if you store them overnight in an airtight tin or container. This brings a lot of the moisture from the cakes to the outer edge, and makes the sponge incredibly soft. If you don't have time to do this don't worry, your cake will still taste delicious, but do make sure it is absolutely 100% cool before spreading with icing.
To make the icing:
- Sift the icing sugar into a food mixer or large bowl. Add the dairy-free margarine and vanilla extract and beat until soft and fluffy.
- Melt the dark chocolate in the microwave (in short 20 second blasts, mixing between each blast), or in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Set aside to cool for a few minutes. Meanwhile, get your cakes ready on the plate you will be icing them on.
- Mix the chocolate into the icing, beating well.
- Immediately spread one third of the icing over the bottom layer of the cake.
- Place the second cake on top then spread the remaining icing over the top of the cake.
- To make the chocolate decorations, use a potato peeler to scrape off little rolls from the remaining dark chocolate, and gently scatter over the cake.
I'm linking this recipe with the CookBlogShare challenge, hosted this week by the lovely Peachicks Bakery.