Oct 18, 2011

Vegan chocolate cake with dark chocolate frosting

This is the story of a cake gone horribly wrong…and yet wonderfully right.

I was going to a dinner party and wanted to  impress everyone with my vegan chocolate layer cake.  However, I was impatient and didn’t wait long enough for the cake to cool. So when I went to place the top layer on the bottom one, all hell broke loose. The middle part had stuck to the pan, causing the center of the cake be a bit sunken. Worst of all, the layer broke apart as I tried to transfer it. Some of it fell off in big chunks…I literally had to piece it together on top of the bottom layer. It was one hot mess of a cake.

Now, normally I would get downright panicked over this turn of events. Luckily, my friend Janet was with me. She had a great sense of humor and had me laughing instead of crying.  I smeared frosting over the whole thing, and even though there were big holes and it was ugly as sin, I decided to take it to the dinner party anyway. People may have laughed when I brought the pitiful thing to the table. But the crowd’s snickers soon turned to cries of joy as they tasted it.

This isn’t just one of the best vegan cakes I’ve ever  made, it’s one of my favorite cakes of any kind. The cake itself is tender and richly dark, with a subtle coffee undertone. The recipe is a slight variation on “Wacky Cake“, which dates back to the 1940s. The frosting takes the humble cake to a whole new level of sophistication – it’s pure chocolate heaven. I got the idea from a ganache recipe on The Tasty Nest. Combining chocolate, maple syrup and non-dairy milk is a brilliant idea. This frosting makes me wonder why anyone makes the buttercream kind at all. A lovely variation is to use raspberry jam between the two layers of the cake, and use all of the frosting on the top and sides.

Words of wisdom: cool your cake completely and  use parchment paper on the bottom of your pan so it doesn’t stick. Or, make this as a single-layer cake in a 9×13″ pan and avoid the layer stress altogether. Either way,  you will be very happy.

Though it’s vegan, this cake is still a splurge, with white flour and lots of sugar. Consider it a special occasion dessert!

Vegan Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Frosting

For the cake:

3 cups unbleached white flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (the better quality, the better your cake will be)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup organic canola oil
1 cup cold brewed coffee
1 cup cold water (or more coffee)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cider vinegar

For the ganache:

3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
6 ounces 72% dark chocolate (Sharffen Berger bittersweet is great here)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted

For optional raspberry filling:

1/4 cup raspberry preserves

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with cooking oil spray, then place a circle of parchment paper in each pan and spray again.

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and sugar into a mixing bowl. In another bowl, mix the oil, water, coffee and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix with a spoon just until combined. Add the vinegar and stir just until it’s evenly distributed in the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes, or until it springs back when lightly touched in the middle. Set aside to cool.

Place frosting ingredients in a small pot, heat gently and stir until the chocolate is totally melted.  Cool until it’s the right texture for spreading. If it seems too runny, put it in the freezer for a few minutes.

When the cakes have cooled, put a serving plate on the pan and and carefully invert. Remove the parchment paper. Spread a small amount of frosting (or the raspberry jam) over the top. Place a flat plate on the pan containing the second layer, invert and remove the parchment. Repeat the process with another plate so the rounded side is up.  Transfer it onto the bottom layer. Spread the frosting over the top and sides of the cake.

Serve immediately or leave lightly covered at room temperature and serve later or the next day.

Serves 8

Hope you’ll let your friends know about this great cake! Show me some button love, below.

See more recipes: Baked goods and desserts, Vegan


  • Pam

    amazing! i must try to make it myself even though i’m not a vegan and i love butter fat.

  • That looks so rich, moist and sinful!! I am going to make this the next time to impress guests with vegan baking! lol… I love hearing all those ” i can’t believe there are no eggs and butter in it!!” :)

  • I wish I could eat a piece of that right now. Looks so good!

  • Mary Flora

    This sounds wonderful. I have been avidly reading your blog since I discovered it in May. My husband had a quadruple bypass three years ago and his bad cholesterol was not responding to medication. I was searching for truly low fat and low salt recipes. We lowered his count 14 points in 3 months. Thanks for this site!!!

  • […] whatwouldcathyeat.com for the whole recipe. Posted in: Recipe   Tags: chocolate cake, maple syrup recipe, Vegan […]

  • Janet

    I can vouch for this scrumdillyicious cake. Great photo, too, shows the luscious crumb.

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Hi Mary, I love hearing that my blog is helping people with heart disease. I know there aren’t a lot of resources out there for interesting heart-healthy cooking. Glad you found me, and I hope your husband is doing well.

  • Charles Lee

    Why do you choose canola oil? Dr. Essellstyn (my hero!) says don’t use it . . .

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    I use only organic canola oil, which is produced in a different way than regular canola. So I feel it is a heart healthy choice. There is a lot of misinformation floating around about oils, so everyone should make their own decision on this – it’s a tricky area. You can substitute macadamia nut oil or high-oleic safflower oil if you’d like.

  • what a wonderful yummy chocolate cake! I’ll try your recipe <3 I also nominated you for the "Liebster Award" over at my blog: http://anchorsandfeathers.blogspot.com/2011/10/liebster-award.html

  • Tamara WINAWER

    what flour would u use to go gluten free with this? almond flour maybe? my guy is gluten-casein-dairy-peanut-egg free… but he does love dark chocolate :)

  • whatwouldcathyeat
  • Chocolicious! Although that’s not a word but there is no word that can describe how delicious and tasty this treat is. I bet nobody can resist this unique and enticing dish.

  • Thanks for mentioning my blog in your post :) I got a few hits from it :) Now I will have to try the cake recipe :)

  • Sophia

    WHat would happen if you were to substitute the flour for whole wheat pastry flour? I am new at this and I assume it would not rise very well? If I were to add yogurt, like in your Cherry Pecan Muffins, would this help if I were to use whole wheat pastry flour?

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    I know that half regular and half whole wheat pastry works ok. You could try all wwp. I wouldn’t add yogurt.

  • Hello! This vegan chocolate cake was a huge success!
    My husband & friends loved it so much!
    I used 2 cups of coconut blossom sugar to make it more healthy & less sweet!

    You have a very cool foodblog!
    Many greetings from a foodie from Belgium! :)

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    I’m so glad you loved the cake. And it’s thrilling to have fans in Belgium!

  • Maya

    Thanks so much for this great recipe! I made it for my family for Christmas. While my parents are vegan, most of my other family members are not. However, it went over very well with everyone and I was told it could “pass for a regular chocolate cake”. Though this implies that a vegan cake is somehow “abnormal”, I always consider it a compliment when non-vegans enjoy my baked treats. Thanks again! :)

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    That’s awesome, Maya!

  • MV

    Hi !
    I don’t like coffee, can I use something else instead ?

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    It should work fine with water. But know that I hate coffee and I love this cake. You cannot really taste the coffee, it’s super subtle.

  • Andrea

    Oh my goodness… This was one of THE BEST cakes I’ve ever made!!!!!!! I made it for my vegan roommates and it was devoured in seconds. Thank you for this recipe!!!!

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Great to hear, Andrea! I’m glad this one is catching on. Next time you make it, try using a cup of Guinness in place of half the water and coffee. It’s a great variation.

  • This is cake is so delicious it’s insane. I made it a few weeks ago and it’s probably the first chocolate cake I’ve ever made (vegan or not) that turned out perfect. Thank you for being a goddess.

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    My cake has fans. Love it.

  • Greta

    I made this cake last night and served it to a friend today. It’s delicious and extremely easy. Thanks a lot!

  • Kayleen Smith

    Im trying out some vegan recipes and lovin the look of this recipe! Its very approachable and doesnt have a bunch of ingredients that are difficult to find or extremely expensive… im kind of “vegan on a budget” and need to avoid recipes that ask for all sorts of specialty ingredients! This seems perfect! making it tomorrow!

  • […] Vegan Chocolate Cake from What Would Cathy Eat? […]

  • This looks incredibly rich and delicious! I love that you put coffee in it, that’s such a great idea

  • […] Vegan chocolate layer cake from What Would Cathy Eat? (not GF, includes white sugar) […]

  • SourOrchid

    I forgot to get coffee!! I noticed that you said Guinness would work well In place of, any other you may suggest using? I have a couple bottles of Richards dark in my fridge at the moment.
    Also, how will rice milk stand up in place for the almond milk. My mom has a nut and soy allergy and I am making this cake for her birthday.

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Hi SourOrchid, I’ve never tried another beer but I can’t imagine it would be a problem. Also, rice milk will be fine in place of almond milk. Let me know how it turns out!

  • Very nice cake! and vegan too!

  • SourOrchid

    I have now made this cake twice. Once I used rickards dark, today I used Stella, both turned out amazing!! I preferred the Stella over the rickards dark. Also, the rice milk was fine in substitution of the almond milk.
    Today I made the ganache with semi-sweet bakers chocolate and three squares of Lindt 99% dark chocolate. I forgot to put the icing sugar in but it was perfect without.
    I also converted this recipe into cupcakes (makes 2 dozen large and 2 dozen mini) baked for 16 minutes.
    This is such an amazing recipe!! Thanks for sharing!

  • Fida

    Hey Cathy,

    Loved the blog, amazing work! :) Was wondering if I’d have to alter the sweetness of the cake if I didn’t require the frosting. Would appreciate if you could reply soon as I might bake this tomorrow. Thank you!

  • Hi Fida. If you don’t use frosting, the cake should be fine, as it already has a lot of sugar. But I recommend sprinkling the top with some powdered sugar.

  • Nicole

    I dabble in a bit of cake decorating, and a friend has asked me to make a vegan cake for their birthday… Does this cake rise at all? How tall is the end product (approx). I want to give them just as big a cake as my regular recipes make, but i am concerned about the size… thank. (looks amazing by the way!!!)

  • Hi Nicole. It’s not a tall riser (in fact, sometimes the middle sinks a bit), so probably not what you want for your decorating purpose. But it iS delicious!

  • Nicole

    Trial run here we come ha ha… looks too yummy not to try it!

  • Trevor

    Very nice cake! I loved it so much! But somehow I figured out vegan cakes are more of an acquired taste. I love it more than a non-vegan cake! But my guest didn’t really know how to appreciate it. But my girlfriend is vegan so I’ll make this for a birthday. Thanks so much! Lots of love, Trevor.

  • Isabella

    I made this cake today and it was fantastic! I am so impressed with how you put ingredients togeter. I find a lot of vegan baking recipes rely on heavily processed products like earth balance, etc. You use wholesome ingredients and the end product is decadent and delicious. The ganache is especially magical. Thank you for sharing your wonderful recipes!:)

  • Awesome, Isabella. Now you should try my other hocolat cake, the one with the hazelnut ganache!

  • Colin

    made this today. Really really great. Thank you

  • Dear Cathy, I made this for the Thai vegan festival, and it is excellent. I used 100% cacao mass and 60% cacao dark chocolate for the frosting and rice milk instead of almond milk. Thank you for posting. Cheers, Elaine Ps I live in Bangkok.

  • […] cupcakes were luscious. I used my forever go-to recipe from What Would Cathy Eat? and made a chocolate “buttercream” icing using aristocrat […]

  • kafeen

    Hey Cathy!
    This recipe looks delicious! I want to try it out, I love baking more than anything to the point where I made it into a career! What is cold brew coffee if you don’t mind me asking. It would help a lot because I do want to make this for my family for Christmas.

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Hi Kafeen. I just meant a regular cup of coffee, but cooled down!

  • […] weekend I made these leaves to go on a hazelnut brown butter cake from Smitten Kitchen with this vegan chocolate ganache. I baked mini cakes in 1-cup ramekins (1/2 cup of batter in each), and used 2 layers for each […]

  • Suzanne

    this is very similar to the single layer cake from Molly Katzen, “6-Minute Chocolate Cake”. very quick to make spur of the moment, whether or not company’s coming. It’s my ‘go to’ recipe for quick and outstanding every time.

  • […] dark chocolate ganache recipe is from this recipe. We used Montezuma’s Very Dark chocolate, ‘cos they’re ethical, but I imagine […]

  • I have made this several times. Sprouted spelt flour and coconut sugar are excellent subs. I also use powdered coconut milk rather than the powdered sugar to thicken up the ganache. :)

  • essy

    Thank you so much for this recipe! I am going to surprise my mum with this homemade gift this weekend.. just wanna ask, is there any substitute to canola oil?

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Hi Essy. Lately I’ve been using high-oleic safflower oil. It could also be interesting with macadamia nut oil, but I have not tried that!

  • Katie

    I just tried it and it was absolutely delicious and perfect! 😀 I changed the recipe a bit though. I can’t have caffeine because it makes me shaky so instead of 1 cup coffee and 1 cup water I used 2 cups of coconut milk … and I used sunflower oil because that was the only oil I had at home. Also, when you combine the coconut milk & oil in a bowl and whisk it, the coconut milk somehow acts as an emulsifier, creating a smooth, creamy fluid. Really cool :)

  • […] Vegan chocolate layer cake from What Would Cathy Eat? (not GF, includes white sugar) […]

  • SourOrchid

    This is such an amazing recipe. I have posted on here before raving about it, and I still feel this way years later.
    It is the only chocolate cake recipe that I use, as it accommodates my mothers nut, dairy and soy allergies, as well as my father in laws heart health (and people are always pleasantly surprised when I tell them its vegan)
    While I do like to add and exchange things to the cake so it alters the flavour I have never played around with the ganache (typically I make cupcakes and have only made the ganache twice). How do you feel it would hold up if I replaced the almond milk with more coffee or beer? I feel like it wouldn’t set the right way.
    Has anyone ever tried something different that worked well with the ganache?

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    I’m so glad you like the cake! I don’t think you should make a substitution in that ganache. However, I do urge you to try my other chocolate cake recipe, which is maybe even better…well, different and equally great! Be sure to use the two-cake method I describe rather than trying to cut one cake into layers! https://www.whatwouldcathyeat.com/2010/10/vegan-chocolate-cake-with-chocolate-hazelnut-ganache/

  • I’m going to make this for Valentine’s day and excited about it. Will send a photo!

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