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Old 12-05-2003, 03:48 PM   #1
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Perfect vegan chocolate cake?

I haven't tried this recipe, but it looks interesting. Skip the article if you don't want to read dumb remarks about veganism by the omni chefs involved.

Cook's Illustrated challenged to make THE PERFECT VEGAN CHOCOLATE CAKE

Saturday, November 29, 2003 -- BROOKLINE

CHRISTOPHER Kimball doesn't have much sympathy for the woes of vegan bakers.

As the guiding force behind Cook's Illustrated magazine and the America's Test Kitchen public television series, he's more familiar with the troubles of ricotta-stuffed calzones and the blunders of buttery blueberry pancakes.

So it shouldn't have surprised me that he harrumphed when I recently complained to him of the difficulty of baking vegan cakes that don't crumble.

''That's why God invented eggs,'' he said dryly.

Yet my dilemma must have intrigued him, for he ultimately accepted a challenge to set his staff to work on creating the perfect vegan chocolate cake, complete with frosting.

Two months, 31 tests, 101 cakes and 23 batches of frosting later, we had a winner.

But in true Cook's fashion, getting from dare to done was a path littered with rubbery, tasteless cakes, butter substitutes that refused to melt, and even a few pureed beets.

The Cook's crew produces roughly 40 exhaustively tested self-proclaimed ''perfect'' recipes a month. They are the obsessive-compulsive people of the culinary world, making a recipe hundreds of times to get it just right.

Though their recipes generally are vegetarian or vegan only if the perfect version of those dishes would naturally be so, their somewhat fanatical nature made them ideal for this challenge.

Kimball delegated the heavy lifting to Erin McMurrer, director of his test kitchen and vegan neophyte. She confessed she initially wasn't overjoyed by the prospect, though she later warmed to life without eggs.

''I was scared. I was making something with ingredients I had never handled,'' she said recently at Cook's test kitchen in Brookline, where I'd been invited to taste the finished product.

One of the toughest parts was ''fighting the urge to toss an egg in for moisture or whip some cream in,'' she said. ''The urge to use dairy came up every day.''

As with every Cook's master recipe, McMurrer started with research to define her parameters. No eggs and no dairy were obvious, but what about refined flours and sugars? Many vegans also prefer the whole wheat-rice syrup route.

As tempting as it was to see if she could produce a completely healthy whole-grain chocolate cake, I gave her a break. Even vegans should allow some sin in their diet. Even Cook's cooks have their limits.

Following her research, McMurrer baked eight test recipes to get a sense for what she wanted. One of them was my own, which I had developed with a pastry chef. She hesitated at first, but I urged honesty as to how it fared.

''Offensive, rubbery texture,'' McMurrer said, reading from the comment cards of taste testers. ''The frosting was sour and hideous. Texture isn't bad. Frosting is awful.''


Now with a better understanding of just how bad most vegan cakes can be, McMurrer launched into a dizzying array of tests to fine-tune the best of the eight.

She started with a search for the best dairy milk alternative, baking batches using alternatives ranging from vanilla and chocolate soy milks to water and coconut milk. The coconut milk won, but for good measure she tested again, light versus regular.

Sorting out the best egg substitute took four batches - silken tofu, blanched silken tofu blended with oil, unblanched silken tofu blended with oil, and commercial egg substitute powder.

No fewer than four tests and 14 cakes were needed for McMurrer to determine the best mix of cocoa powders and chocolate. Then she got a little whacky, at least by Cook's standards.

''Just for the fun of it, we decided to omit all the cocoa. We added the 4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate and to improve the texture we added a banana,'' she said. ''The result was nobody wanted a chocolate banana cake.''

On to fat, and the frustrating realization that many vegan butters and margarines don't melt.

''This was a really gross one,'' she said of tests involving nine oils.

When it came to sugars, she got whacky again. Test 19, Part E involved 6 ounces of canned beets pureed and combined with 6 ounces of light brown sugar.

''Actually, it wasn't that bad,'' said Rebecca Hays, another Cook's tester who helped McMurrer. ''It gives a little bit of a strange color to the cake.'' It also didn't win.

The day I arrived to taste the finished product, McMurrer greeted me with two bowls of frosting. Just one more test, she promised. Both tasted fine to me, but the critical Cook's crew had plenty of complaints.

That, of course, prompted more tests.

''We're going to test again to make sure the age of the coffee didn't affect the bitterness,'' she explained, noting the coffee in the frosting had been brewed 30 minutes before it was used.

Though McMurrer and Hays had grown fond of the cake testing, it was clear their fellow testers were tired of having vegan chocolate cakes shoved at them. Hays acknowledged having to sometimes beg people to take a bite.

''The main frustration was getting people over the idea that this was a vegan cake,'' McMurrer explained.

But McMurrer had no trouble getting over it. She fell in love with it. In fact, she liked it so much she insists on yet another test. Soon she will pit her vegan creation against the magazine's perfect chock-full-of-dairy chocolate cake.

''This cake is just so good, you would never know it's vegan,'' McMurrer said.

That's what they all say. I've tasted way too many vegan desserts that purport to taste like the real thing but more closely resemble cardboard. Dessert shouldn't feel like penance, and vegan sweets too often do.

McMurrer served me a slim slice. It certainly looked good, with a deep chocolate color and moist crumb. Taste? Outstanding. She was right - this chocolate cake holds its own against conventional ones.

My only complaint? She was awfully stingy in her slice; I could have eaten half the cake!


Where the meticulous testers found specific brand-name products worked best in baking the ''perfect'' cake, those product names are given in parenthesis in the ingredient list.

Vegan Chocolate Cake With Creamy Chocolate Frosting

(Preparation 3 hours, 1 hour active)

For the cake:

1 2/3 cups natural large-crystal cane sugar (testers preferred Sugar in the Raw)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup oat flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

I cup Dutch-processed cocoa (testers preferred Scharffen Berger Natural Cocoa Powder)

I cup natural cocoa

1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 cup hot brewed coffee

1 cup light coconut milk

2 tablespoons cider or white wine vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup vegan butter substitute (testers used Spectrum Spread)

For the frosting:

Two 10-ounce packages vegan or other semisweet chocolate chips (testers used Tropical Source)

1/2 cup hot brewed coffee

4 tablespoons boiling water

1/2 cup light coconut milk

4 ounces silken tofu

To make the cake:

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 F. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

Process sugar in a food processor to a fine powder, 30 to 40 seconds. Sift sugar, flours, baking soda and salt into a large bowl, then whisk to combine.

Combine cocoas and chocolate in a large bowl and cover with hot coffee; whisk until smooth.

Combine coconut milk, vinegar and vanilla in large measuring cup. Place vegan butter substitute in a medium bowl. Add coconut milk mixture in two additions, whisking until smooth after each.

Add vegan butter-coconut milk mixture to the chocolate mixture and whisk to combine, then add this mixture to dry ingredients and fold gently with rubber spatula until just incorporated and no streaks of flour remain.

Divide batter evenly between cake pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, switching position of and rotating pans after 12 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours.

To make the frosting:

Place chocolate chips in a medium bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Pour hot coffee and boiling water over chips, then whisk until smooth. Whisk in coconut milk until incorporated.

Process chocolate mixture and tofu in food processor until smooth and combined, 10 to 15 seconds, scraping down bowl once or twice.

Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until cool and texture resembles firm cream cheese, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. (If mixture has chilled for longer and is very stiff, let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.)

Transfer cooled chocolate mixture to the bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Whip mixture at high speed until fluffy, mousse-like, and the mixture forms medium stiff peaks, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.

To assemble, invert cakes from their pans. Spread a dab of frosting in center of a cardboard round cut slightly larger than a cake. Place one cake, centered, on the cardboard round. The frosting helps hold it in place.

Using an icing spatula, spread about 1 cup frosting evenly onto the top of the first cake. Place the second cake on top of frosted bottom layer and spread about 1 cup frosting on top. Cover sides of cake with remaining frosting.

Last edited by Rosemary : 12-05-2003 at 05:13 PM.
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Old 12-05-2003, 04:37 PM   #2
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Mmm... this sounds good. But, in the recipe section, what does "1D" mean? I hope it's not 10 cups of sugar!

I do wish that people (especially cooks) wouldn't automatically assume that vegan food/dessert as inherently gross or second-rate. I've found that if people don't know a dessert is vegan they eat it with gusto (an no complaints)... but if they know it's vegan they sometimes won't even try it. It's their loss, but it's frustrating nontheless.
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Old 12-05-2003, 05:14 PM   #3
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What a lot of ingredients and a lot of bother.

Here is a vegan chocolate cake that I have been making for more than 40 years it is delicious, easy and it is a family favorite:

Cockeyed cake

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar (I use Florida Crystals)
3 tablespoons coco
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons oil (I use canola)
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl with a wire wisk or sifter.
make 3 holes or wells in the dry ingredients and put the oil in one, the vinegar in another, and the vanilla extract in the third. Pour the cold water over the top of the whole thing and mix until moistened. pour into a 8"x8" greased and floured pan and bake for about 30 minutes.
frost when cooled with your favorite frosting. I sometimes sprinkle cocolate chips over the batter in the pan before baking and get instant frosting with no work.

I make chocolate frosting with organic powdered sugar, cocoa, salt, vanilla and Earth Balance. I don't measure.

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Old 12-05-2003, 05:15 PM   #4
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I googled around a bit--it's supposed to be 1 2/3 (one and two thirds) cups of sugar.
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Old 12-05-2003, 06:09 PM   #5
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vinegar in cake? eep! Have to admit I've never tried it, but seeing as it's just to get the soda to work I'd rather use a fruit acid like lemon juice or cream of tartar.
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Old 12-05-2003, 06:55 PM   #6
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sounds like a lotta research went into this cake!
i'll have to try it when i get FANCY!
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Old 12-05-2003, 07:17 PM   #7
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Originally posted by dropscone
vinegar in cake? eep! Have to admit I've never tried it, but seeing as it's just to get the soda to work I'd rather use a fruit acid like lemon juice or cream of tartar.
I use vinegar in my banana bread and you can't taste it at all.
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Old 12-05-2003, 07:18 PM   #8
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Yum! Thanks, sheila! (But what is cockeyed about your cake?) I'll have to have a cake tasting party... including the two above and my own (current) favorite recipe, posted below. I've never gotten around to frosting this cake--it disappears too quickly. Sorry I can't credit it properly, but I can say it is D-lish! Let the battle of the chocolate cake recipes begin!

(Serves 8)

cup soft soy margarine
1 Tablespoon vinegar (or lemon juice)
1 cup soy milk
1-2/3 cups all-purpose white flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1- cups sweetener
1- teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Ener-G Egg Replacer
cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
cup water

Put vinegar in cup and add soy milk. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 round layer pans, 8" x 1-1/2", with Pam, or slightly oil and flour.

Place flour, cocoa, sweetner, baking soda, and salt in large bowl of electric mixer, and mix together well with spoon. Mix Ener-G Egg Replacer and cup water until smooth. Add margarine, vanilla, soured soy milk, cup water, and mixed egg replacer to dry ingredients in bowl. Beat with electric mixer for 3 minutes at medium speed, scraping bowl frequently. Pour into prepared pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes at 350 degrees, or until wooden toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in pans for 5 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on cake rack. Frost as desired.
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Old 06-15-2005, 03:12 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Emiloid
Let the battle of the chocolate cake recipes begin!

I have one! And it is sooooooooooooooo good!! Simple to make and really moist too. (From "The Everyday Vegan" - Dreena Burton)

Chocolate Cake

2 c. unbleached flour all purpose flour
1/2 c. cocoa powder
2t. baking soda
1-1/2 c. unrefined sugar
1-3/4 c. water (or espresso if you don't mind caffeine)
2 T. seasoned rice vinegar (you really can't taste it)
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. mocha extract (or more vanilla)
1/4 c. canola oil

Preheat oven to 350*F. Sift flour, cocoa, and baking soda then add in sugar and salt. Mix well. Stir in water (or coffee), vinegar and vanilla. Add in canola oil as the mixture starts to come together, stir until just well combined. Pour into 2 round or square cake pans or into a lightly oiled 12"x19" rimmed cooking sheet (I've not tried that yet though). Gently tap pans on countertop to remove any air and to even out the batter more. Bake for 17-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on cooling rack. If using cooking sheet, once the cake is cool, cut into 3 equal rectangular pieces, along the longest edge of cake.


2 - 349g pkgs of silken firm or silken extra-firm tofu, patted dry
1/4 c. maple syrup
2 t. vanilla extract
1-3/4 c. (generous) chocolate chips

Combine tofu with maple syrup and vanilla and puree in food processor until very smooth, scraping down the bowl a couple of times. In a saucepan over boiling water, melt chocolate chips, then while pureeing tofu mixture, pour in melted chocolate. Puree until very smooth and consistent. Transfer to a container to refrigerate until completely cool, at least several hours (the icing will thicken a lot once cooled). Spread the icing on the cake layers, then refrigerate the cake for at least a couple of hours, to set.

I usually double the cake recipe to make a really high cake. I've made the icing only once and wasn't OVERLY impressed with it (it was decent), so if you have a favourite icing, use it; I usually don't even bother with icing because the cake is gone so fast anyway.

This cake has fooled all sorts of omnis with no complaints. Even my mom now prefers this cake to my grandmothers' sour cream chocolate cake (and let me tell you, it's a family tradition and favourite to make her cake), because it's so easy to make and really really yummy!
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Old 06-16-2005, 09:59 AM   #10
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I have a super-easy cake, we called it Chocolate Beaver Cake (it's from a beaver rescue group)

1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda

Mix these ingredients in a bowl then add:

1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cold water

Mix all together, pour into ungreased baking pan and bake 35 minutes

Chocolate Ganache

3/4 cup soymilk, almond or rice milk
1/4 cup vegan margarine

Melt in bowl over double boiler then add

12oz (1 bag) vegan semi-sweet chocolate chips

Whisk until the chocolate chips are melted

Let the cake and ganache cool, once the cake is cook-pour the ganache over and refrigerate.

Please visit the Vegan Twins
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Old 06-16-2005, 11:21 AM   #11
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Hands down Kreeli's vegan chocolate cake

Originally Posted by
Unbelievable Vegan Chocolate Cake

(With chocolate or peanut butter frosting)

This cake is a beautiful thing; moist and dense; every bit as sinful tasting as any non-vegan chocolate cake could be. It is also extremely easy to make.

2 cups sugar (I've used unrefined brown sugar, and beet sugar, successfully)
1 3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
Equivalent of 2 eggs
1 c. soy or nut milk
1/2 c. vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. boiling water

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch round
baking pans or one 9 x 13 square baking pan.

Combine all dry ingredients in large bowl. Add egg sub., soy or nut milk, oil and vanilla. Beat for 2 minutes on medium speed. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin).

Pour into pans and bake for 30-35 minutes (round pans) and 35 to 40 minutes for the square pan.
Chocolate Frosting

1 stick (1/2 c.) vegan margarine (I really don't think oil will work in this)
2/3 c. cocoa
3 c. powdered sugar
1/3 c. soy or nut milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Melt margarine'. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating on medium speed to spreading consistency. Add more milk, if needed. Add vanilla. Makes enough to frost a round 9" layered cake or one 9" x 13" square cake.
Peanut Butter Frosting

1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 cup vegan margarine
2-3 cups icing sugar
dash of sea salt
2-3 tbsp soy milk

Place all ingredients in a bowl and beat until smooth. Chill for a half an hour before icing the cake (and make sure you cake is completely cooled). Should make enough for two round 8 or 9 layers or one 9x13 sheet cake.

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Old 07-28-2005, 10:35 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Emiloid
(Serves 8)

cup soft soy margarine
1 Tablespoon vinegar (or lemon juice)
1 cup soy milk
1-2/3 cups all-purpose white flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1- cups sweetener
1- teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Ener-G Egg Replacer
cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
cup water

Put vinegar in cup and add soy milk. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 round layer pans, 8" x 1-1/2", with Pam, or slightly oil and flour.

Does any math nerd (herbi/spastiscastic/mason, I'm looking at you) know what factor I would need to multiply the ingredients against in order to fill 2, 9" pans, instead of the 8" the recipe has.

I *tried* (for about 5 minutes) to do some volume measurements and convert it to "cups" but then I gave up because, hey, I'm dumb.
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Old 07-28-2005, 10:38 PM   #13
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You could just make flatter cakes...?

eta: I actually never use a particular pan size, so it should work no matter what. You just need to check on the cakes sooner if you use a shallower pan. Do the toothpick test or whatever. It'll be fine. On the other hand, you will need slightly more frosting that usual if you make a flatter cake.
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Old 07-28-2005, 10:46 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Emiloid
You could just make flatter cakes...?

That would be cheating. I did that before,they aren't as fluffy and nice.
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Old 07-29-2005, 01:57 AM   #15
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Volume of a cylinder=pi*r^2*h
Two 8" cake pans = 2(pi*4^2*1.5) = 48pi (in^3)
Two 9" cake pans = 2(pi*4.5^2*1.5) = 60.75pi (in^3)
Factor you're looking for = 60.75/48 = 1.27

An easy way to do it would be to add every ingredient, then add a quarter to it. 1/2 cup margarine becomes 5/8 cup margarine. I cup soy milk becomes 1.25 cups soy milk. Etc.
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