My employer (we don’t like the word boss) Rhonda’s birthday is today and this year has been pretty insane. An integral staff member had a baby and is no longer with the team, we’re being audited, are short-staffed during the holiday season, we’re dealing with some structural damage and flooding in our building, and my help will be less available in January, as I’m going back to school. Sigh!! I might not still be with the store next December, and called up some of our favorite clients, former staff, and current teammates to get them together for a surprise party, because some good times were evidently needed!
When I actually use recipes (usually when baking!), it’s fun to start with a basic idea and then find ways to adapt it to my own needs. I changed up a favorite vegan chocolate cake by substituting an ingredient, adding another, upping the amount for two of them, and the results were spongy, moist, chewy, and even softer the next day if kept covered. They were also low-fat, with added fiber, but don’t tell anyone, shhhh! I didn’t take pictures of the entire process this time, but the instructions are super easy to follow. I often bake this cake in a 9-inch round pan, then fill and cover it with chocolate pudding and strawberry slices. Mmm!!
I used a buttercream frosting on top, which is not vegan (and especially not low-fat, ha ha!), but Rhonda (who is vegetarian) and I talk about icing recipes from different bakeries and agree that real butter is the way to go, if you eat it. I was throwing the ingredients together at 1 AM the night before (while in my underwear) and cursing massive amounts at the ratio of sugar/cocoa to wet/creamy ingredients that had been specified and started improvising. My tips for avoiding late-night and chilled-glute frustration are included. Let’s start with #1: Wear an apron over your pants, so you don’t have to strip down when food gets all over them.
Vegan Chocolate Cake/Cupcakes
Makes 1 medium-sized cake/loaf or 10-ish cupcakes, depending on how much you fill the muffin cups. Instructions for both are included. Note that the ingredients are colour coded (pink are dry, brown are wet) so that they’re easier to find/keep together/eventually combine. They’re also in bold so you don’t have to squint at the bright, skinny letters.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar (white, granulated)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/8 tsp baking soda (don’t take it from the fridge, and make sure it isn’t old!)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp finely ground flax seed
1/3 cup applesauce or yummy, cinamon-ny apple/pear butter with a liiittle water stirred in
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp white vinegar or lemon juice
1 cup water (room temperature)
Before you begin, when measuring out powdery ingredients like cocoa or flour, stir them around a little bit first with a spoon or chopstick, then gently spoon them into your measuring tool and level off the top of your cup/spoon or else you might pack in too much due to things settling in the bag/container, which could result in drier food. Yikes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit, after moving the rack you plan to use to the center of the oven.
Grab a muffin pan/cake pan/loaf pan and either
a) fill with muffin cups
b) spray with non-stick cooking spray
c) grease and dust with cocoa powder (tap it around, dump the excess)
d) line with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. My favorite way to make sure that they’re lump-free is to get a noodle-strainer set over it, pop everything into it, and then gently shake or tap it until everything has passed through (mash up any bumpy bits through the strainer with the bottom of a ladle), then stir together until it all looks uniform.
Get all the wet ingredients in a bowl. Mix!
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and fold with a spatula juuuuust until smooth (you don’t want to over-stir and develop gluten that makes it tough).
Quickly pour it into your muffin/cake/loaf pan, what have you. If you’re doing cupcakes, fill the cups about 3/4 of the way full. If there are any empty cups in the pan, take the paper liners out and fill them with water about 2/3 of the way so that the pan doesn’t overheat and burn everything.
FYI about the batter: Don’t leave this stuff sitting around, the acid (vinegar/lemon juice) and baking soda are reacting to puff up the cake. Remember that volcano from science class? It didn’t go off all day long! Yes, baking is like chemistry.
Put your goodies in the oven!
If making cupcakes, check them at 20 minutes. They might need up to 25, depending on your oven, and you’ll know they’re ready when a toothpick can get inserted and come out clean. I’ve taken some out that were a little soft in the middle before, because I wanted them to be and since there are no eggs involved, food poisoning was not a concern.
If doing a cake/loaf, check it at about 40 minutes. It may need 45.
Immediately put your pan onto a cooling rack.
Some people have done this recipe with mashed-up, moist (old!) bananas instead of the applesauce to make a chocolate banana batter, which does also sound good.
“Bloody $#@&ing hell!” Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
The name says it all: This is what I get for following someone else’s instructions. Makes enough to cover about 24 cupcakes if you like wimpy amounts on top, or 10-ish decadent treats and maybe even doodle on top of some cookies and whatever else is in the fridge. Now, it might sound counter-intuitive to use unsalted butter then add salt, but I like to be able to adjust sodium levels from the get-go, because the salt is just supposed to boost the other tastes, like sugary sweetness and cocoa-y bitterness.
I pre-sifted the ingredients because I was using a whisk (shallow bowl!), but if you’re using a large bowl with a hand-mixer or a stand-mixer, you can just keep it on and mix it until they’re all gone. Depending on the weather, your geographic location, and how thick you want the frosting to be, amounts will vary. It’s cold and humid, I live in Vancouver, not a hot climate like India, and I’ve included numbers here for some pretty thick and ridiculously rich, chocolatey goodness.
5 1/2 tbsp softened butter (unsalted)
1 tiiiny pinch salt (you can add more gradually if you like)
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (start with 2/3 of a cup)
2 1/2 cups confectioner’s/icing sugar (start with 2 cups)
3 tbsp boiling water (or black coffee if you want to have mocha frosting…have extra of either sitting nearby in a kettle/French press!)
If you want, add a few drops of extract, for even more flavour. Chocolate mint? Chocolate coconut? Chocolate orange? Oh yes!
In a large bowl, beat the butter with a whisk or electric hand mixer (or use your stand mixer, lucky duck!) until it becomes fluffy and creamy.
Add in the salt and cocoa. It’s going to start getting thick, so add the boiling water and extract, if you choose.
Incorporate the sugar.
Check: Is the icing the consistency that you want? The recipe that I followed started with 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 1/2 cup of cocoa, which is why it didn’t work out. I was going for loopy patterns and a thick topping, which is why this recipe is pasty and leaves peaks. It’s very fudge-y. If you want it thinner (a soupy glaze!), start adding more water/coffee, 1 teaspoon at a time. If you want thicker icing, decide whether you want it to be even more chocolate-y or sweeter, and add the cocoa or sugar accordingly. The numbers I provided are estimates, because at one point I just started powdered ingredients in and whisking until it was perfect. So I suppose that frosting tip #2 is always have extra ingredients with you, just in case.
Frosting tip #3 is to have extra cupcakes, parchment paper, or things that you can test your frosting skills on, unless you plan on using a spoon to scoop it on top and smoosh it around. I was using a piping bag with a star tip for the first time and am lucky to have steady hands! A chef friend of mine gives me pretend-angry glares, teasing that I have a natural touch for these things. At least I think he’s pretending to be angry.
Tip #4: Have some fun with presentation! They don’t have to look all the same, and you can squiggle fun patterns or put different stuff on top. I used the coconut flakes and pink sugar, as well as finely grated Callebaut dark chocolate.
Tip #5 is probably the most important. Have a safe way to transport these babies because after all this hard work, you will be pretty mad if they end up on the sidewalk. I had to take the bus and kept them in the muffin pan, with wooden skewers poked into them, holding cling wrap around them as a giant shield (keeping away dirt, debris, and hungry bus passengers). Cupcake carriers (like little trunks) do exist, but unless you make them all the time, they’re kind of expensive and take up a lot of room in the kitchen. And if they’re surprise treats, make sure they’re kept somewhere that is both safe and un-findable. I had to spend an hour thinking about hiding spots in the store!
If I could give a tip #6, it would be to make sure you own a dishwasher, or get someone else to clean up for you. It may help if you bribe them with cupcakes. The person who would do the cleanup, not a dishwasher salesperson. Don’t try that.
Whew! Eat well!