Monday, August 27, 2012

Baking Essentials: Vegan Chocolate Cake

It was a hot and moist day, when I made my mother's birthday cake for an Ice Cream Social Birthday Party this past July. Besides the oppressive heat, there were a few new challenges to meet for Mom's birthday this year.

 Recently, Mom was diagnosed with congestive heart failure; and in the interest of helping her manage that, I'd like to make sure that treats and goodies on special occasions are still special, but not lethal. It's easy to say, "Just this one day will be fine," but those holidays and treats add up. I want to be able to make many more momentous cakes for my mother, so I decided to start immediately with the more healthful alternatives.

 Some in my family were off dairy, for the time being, which is fine with me. There were also small children, and people of all ages, to please.

 Luckily, I had just the cake! It's been in my repertoire for ages, and when Mom requested a dark chocolate cake (she always wants chocolate for her b-day), I knew I had the perfect choice. It's a far cry from the ludicrously rich layer cake I did for Mother's Day; but it has been a reliable company cake for years. It's divinely dark and moist, looks chic, and takes well to any fancying up you might want.

 Plus it's the second simplest chocolate cake to make in the world. You can even mix it in the pan, but I go the extra step and use a bowl. Most versions of this recipe also tell you not to grease the pan, but I have since the second time I made this, because it comes out of the pan better (duh).

 I first found it in Moosewood Cooks at Home, and have since seen many versions, called by different names. They got it from House & Garden magazine in 1976, under the fairly accurate name of Six Minute Chocolate Cake. That's prep time, not baking time. But still, a quick cake, which just happens to be lusciously vegan, and to work well with olive oil, which I prefer to vegetable or canola oil for most uses.

 A few things: It's a light, liquidy batter, so if you want to add chip or nuts of any kind, make them small-- mini-chips, finely chopped nuts, dried cherries chopped very fine-- and sprinkle them over the top just before baking. They'll mix in on their own. The batter is just too light to support heavier items, and those that are mixed in will fall to the bottom, making the cake stick and likely come out of the pan in a broken, messy state.

The lightness makes icing, (if desired), rather than frosting, a better bet, though honestly I tend to serve it with a sauce or fruit couli, or some coffee granita on the side. Killer combo, to me.

 Don't be afraid to change the flavor profile-- if you add chopped nuts or chopped, dried cherries, you might want to lessen the vanilla and add a drop of almond extract. I've also made this with a Mexican Chocolate-inspired spice blend of cinnamon, coriander and ancho chile powder (Penzey's has a good one) and even hotter, cayenne.

 Or try a nice pumpkin pie spice blend, or just ginger, with some finely diced candied ginger on top. Mint extract is a good choice, too, and then you can serve it with a scoop of something cold and vanilla-y, like Tofutti, and a mint leaf garnish, for an elegant presentation.

 This is dark chocolate we're dealing with, so the options are almost limitless. Tweak as desired.

 One last detail: for a chic looking plated dessert,  make this in four or five giant muffin cups-- plan on four, but depending on size, you may get five. You can serve it on whichever side is the prettiest, I like upside down, which makes it look not at all like a cupcake, but more of a restaurant-style personal dessert cake. My average yield is four big cupcakes and a smaller greased ramekin-- cook's treat!

 For my mother's birthday party, I doubled the recipe and made it in my lasagna pan-- the equivalent of a 13x9 oblong pan, or two 9-inch round pans. It doubled flawlessly, and when turned over and iced, looked very glossy and pretty, with a cold cherry puree on the side.

Vegan Deep Chocolate Cake

1 1/2 C unbleached flour

1/3 C unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 C sugar *

1/2 C oil ( I like olive, but you may use canola or vegetable oil)

1 C cold water or cooled brewed coffee

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 Tbsp vinegar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square or 9-inch round baking pan, or other pans as suggested above.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and sugar. Set aside.

In a 2-cup measuring cup, measure and mix together the oil, water or coffee, and vanilla. Pour into dry ingredients and mix the batter with a fork or small whisk, till smooth.

Add vinegar to batter and stir quickly; there will be pale swirls in the batter where the vinegar and bakign soda are reacting. Stir just until vinegar is evenly distributed throughout the batter, and pour into prepared pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or about 20 minutes for cupcakes. The cake is done when you can press a finger very lightly to the middle and it springs back, is dry and set on top, and the cake has pulled away slightly from the sides of the pan. Cool in pan on a wire rack at least 15 minutes.

 Serve as suggested above; this cake is very good chilled, too.

 *Tops Markets, and Trader Joe's, both carry Florida Crystals brand sugar, a light turbinado sugar processed without bone char. Beet sugar, although it has a higher glycemic index, is also standardly processed without bone char, and is cheaper than cane sugar. It's the kind you see in every grocery store, that isn't marked as cane, but just as Granulated Sugar.

 Peace, Mari

No comments:

Post a Comment