This vegan chocolate cake is my childhood cake. It’s cheap and simple, so I made it a lot. And I still do. It contains: flour, sugar, cocoa powder, canola oil, vanilla essence, baking soda and vinegar.
Seriously – cheaper than chips and it comes together in a single bowl. No fancy ingredients like ‘eggs’ and no special equipment like ‘a beater’.
And I still make it because it’s just a good cake – especially with the tweaks I’ve made to the original recipe.Jump to Recipe
My vegan chocolate cake recipe is not vegan by design. The original recipe is called ‘Crazy Cake’ because it’s ‘crazy’ to have a cake without traditional en-richening ingredients (eggs, milk, butter), and with barely enough baking soda to raise it. That’s where the vinegar comes in – it puffs up the baking soda like science lesson ‘volcanoes’.
If you’re from Australia or New Zealand, you’ll recognise Crazy Cake as a Dame Alison Holst recipe. Her Big Red Book taught me how to cook, and while some recipes did not hold up past the rubicon of the millennium, I still make modified Crazy Cake.
Turns out it’s the ‘weird’ lack of butter that gives this vegan chocolate cake its tender texture.
In Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (the book, not the TV show), Samin Nosrat lays out the science under a section entitled Tender Cakes:
For years, I was disappointed by almost every single cake I tasted, whether I’d baked it myself or ordered it in a restaurant or bakery. I dreamed of a cake that was moist yet flavourful. So many cakes were one or the other: store-bought cake mixes yielded the texture I was after, but were relatively flavourless, and cakes from fancy patisseries were rich in flavour, but often dry or dense. I figured it was an either-or situation. And I resigned myself to it.
Then I tasted a chocolate birthday cake so moist and rich that I nearly fainted from delight. For days, that slice of cake haunted me, so I begged my friend for the recipe. … I noticed it was made with oil and water rather than butter.
There was something to these oil cakes. I flipped through my mental recipe box and realised that many of my favourite cakes, including classic carrot cake and olive oil cake, are made with oil instead of butter. Even cake mixes, which produce the ideal texture I’d been trying to emulate, direct you to add oil. What is it about oil that yields such moist cakes?
Science holds the answer. Oil efficiently coats flour proteins and prevents strong gluten networks from forming, much like soft butter does in shortbread. Gluten development requires water, so this oil barrier significantly inhibits gluten formation, leading to a tender, rather than chewy texture. As an added bonus, less gluten means more water in the batter, and ultimately a moister cake.
This is a perfect everyday cake with a little icing sugar dusted over the top. This vegan cake can veer towards the dry side: fix that issue by brushing it with simple syrup while still warm.
When I made this cake recently for a friend’s birthday (attended by two vegans and one dairy-free person), I made this a little more special, basically with styling:
Ready for the recipe?
Other recipes have more detail about the vegan chocolate ganache. But basically: gently heat full-fat coconut cream (I used half a tin) and add dark chocolate (I used about a 250g block). Mix to melt the chocolate and make sure everything is smooth. Pop in the fridge to get it to the right, spreadable consistency.
If you are using edible flowers, google them carefully and wash them well. And pop them off before eating, just in case. I used red geranium – which happen to be the birthday girl’s favourite. I added a couple of flowers from my oxalis, and a single nasturtium flower.
Let me know if you try this vegan chocolate cake – its my favourite!
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A cake recipe so delicious, no one will ever suspect its vegan.
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I'm a kiwi living in Geneva. Knititng and crochet are just two of my passions! Read more about me. or working with me.