As those around her add more vegan food to their diet, Amy Cooke-Hodgson decided to pick up the challenge of making a delicious vegan cake. Nailed it.
It seems everyone around me is dropping like flies. And when I say dropping like flies, I mean becoming a vegan, or at least a ‘veggan’ (a vegan who eats eggs), or someone who has meat- and dairy-free days during the week or someone who hatches their own chickpeas.
Me? I couldn’t, not possibly, not even a remote chance. I love meat – I have a fabulous set of canine teeth designed for the job. And I adore dairy in all its forms, particularly yoghurt and ice cream and butter and cheeeeese and cream and andandand…
Having said that, it’s not that I don’t enjoy vegetables or care about our earth and how we share it (I mean after all, I did study Gaia Theory at university and desperately wanted to earth-mother James Lovelock’s children) so the increasing number of my friends flocking to the ‘goody-two-shoes’ side has got me thinking about how I can create changes (small though they may be) to make more ethical and healthier food choices.
And being a baker, I thought I’d start with a cake recipe. The challenge, though, was to bake something that was equally as delicious as one of my ‘normal’ recipes. I mean it’s all well and good if you’ve minced your aubergine, spiralised your sweetcorn and woven your salad leaves into a basket in time with the dawn chorus, but if the thing tastes like the contents of a hoover bag – far worse than having a soggy bottom – in my mind, it’s a failure.
I set about investigating chocolate cake recipes; cocoa hides a myriad of sins so it’s the perfect place to start when creating a recipe sans all the good stuff. It’s not too tricky to replace butter/margarine in sponge mixtures but finding an alternative for eggs…
I thought I’d vomit just reading some of the suggestions (I just didn’t fancy silken tofu or tomato paste in my cake). But what I finally came up with made a perfectly delicious, light, moist chocolate cake ready for its topping.
Ah, the topping. Now I’m stuck. How can you make buttercream without butter or cream or cheese or cream cheese? Well, a little bit of research led me to the fruit of vegan choice – the avocado – and an idea to use natural sweeteners to mask the savoury aspect of its flavour.
The result was quite literally disgusting. I checked with my housemates; it wasn’t just me, it really was gross. But with a little tweaking and relying on my store cupboard favourite, icing sugar (fair trade of course), I managed to make a paste good enough to complement the sponge.
These cakes are genuinely as pleasing (if not more, dare I admit) than my usual chocolate sponge recipe. I didn’t fill them with anything but I think they’d also taste delicious with a little raspberry jam centre. Just spoon out a little of the sponge centre while still warm (keep the middles), wait for the sponge to cool before adding a teaspoon of your favourite raspberry jam into the well and then popping back the sponge centres to hide the surprise. You could use fresh raspberries on the top to decorate.
I’ve also given an alternative to the avocado topping, which may please your palate but takes slightly more preparation.
If you have any suggestions for variations on this recipe, please do tweet me @amycookehodgson.
Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes with chocolate avocado ‘buttercream’
For the sponge:
1 tsp cider vinegar
250ml/1 cup almond milk
150g/¾ cup caster sugar
¼ tsp sea salt
2 tsp vanilla essence
140g/1 cup plain flour
80ml/⅓ cup rapeseed oil
½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
30g/½ cup cocoa powder
Handful of chopped nuts (optional – you could use hazelnuts, pecans or almonds)
For the ‘buttercream’:
2 ripe avocados
1 tsp vanilla essence
3 tbsp maple syrup/golden syrup/honey/agave syrup
150g–200g icing sugar (Billingtons is the most easily sourced vegan icing sugar)
Preheat the oven to 175°C fan/350°F. Line a cupcake tin with 12 paper cups.
Mix together the almond milk and apple cider vinegar, and leave for a few minutes so the milk curdles. It’ll smell a bit funny – don’t panic. Beat the sugar, oil, and vanilla into the milk mixture until everything is combined and dissolved.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet until smooth. It looks a bit sloppy – don’t panic. If you’re using chopped nuts, mix them in at this point.
Divide the batter evenly between the 12 cupcake cases. Bake for 18-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and after a few minutes, move the cupcakes to a cooling rack. (I took mine out at 18 minutes and let them bake for a couple of minutes longer in their tin before putting on a cooling rack.)
Add the cocoa powder, maple syrup (or syrup of choice) and vanilla, and puree until smooth. (If you want, you can substitute the vanilla for a couple of drops of booze, e.g. Amaretto, especially if you’ve used chopped nuts in the sponge.)
Slowly add the icing sugar a tablespoon at a time and stir. You may want more or less sugar depending on your taste.
Wait for the sponge to cool completely before frosting and decorating.
55g soya margarine
3 tbsp soya or almond milk
200g icing sugar
30g cocoa powder
Place the margarine, milk, icing sugar and cocoa in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (a bain marie). Stir well until the icing is smooth and glossy. Remove it from the heat and let it cool completely before using to ice your cakes.
Happy vegan baking!
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Amy is an actor, improviser and singer currently appearing in award-winning improv show Austentatious. You can also visit her Etsy shop: www.etsy.com/uk/shop/RowleyandCooke