This sponge cake is pure indulgence; beautifully light, incredibly moist and deeply chocolatey, and perfectly paired with a luxurious, silky smooth whipped chocolate ganache icing. You’d never guess that it’s vegan and gluten-free!
I have had an unintentionally long break from blogging, but I am back, I am refreshed (sort of), and I definitely still love cake.
This is currently my go-to chocolate cake recipe. It has taken years to find a recipe that pleases everyone in my family; vegans, vegetarians, the gluten-intolerant and carnivores alike. This recipe not only ticks all of the dietary boxes, it ticks all the ‘what makes a really good cake’ boxes. It is a cake that I have chosen to make even when I know there are no gluten-free cake-recipients, because it’s just really good cake.
Gluten-free flour: I use a gluten-free plain flour blend which makes up the bulk of the cake. The lack of gluten means that these types of flours tend to create more crumbly and dry bakes. They can also have a distinctive sandy texture (largely a result of the use of rice flour), but this can be ameliorated with the use of other ingredients, such as:
Ground almonds: These are really useful in gluten-free baking, as they produce a light, crumb-like texture. They also add a little moisture due to their high fat content. For nut allergy sufferers, oats ground to a flour-like texture can have a similar effect.
Cocoa powder: I’m not one to use chocolate sparingly, and plenty of this is required for that rich, bitter chocolate flavour.
Raising agents: Baking powder and bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) both create the lovely rise that you want in a cake. They react to heat, but also to liquid and vinegar. This is why the wet and dry ingredients are added together at the last minute, otherwise most of the raising chemicals will be used up before your cake gets to the oven.
Xantham gum: This may be an unfamiliar ingredient, especially if gluten-free baking is new to you. Xantham gum is a thickener, that helps bind all of the ingredients together. It can be really useful to prevent your cake from crumbling to pieces once out of the oven, in the absence of eggs and gluten. You can find it in larger supermarkets, health food shops, or online.
Salt: Adds flavour and can enhance the sweetness of chocolate.
Non-dairy milk and vinegar: Non-dairy milk provides moisture, and adding vinegar causes it to curdle, creating a vegan alternative to buttermilk. When added to the dry ingredients, the vinegar will react with bicarb, helping the cake to rise.
Oil: Almost all cakes require some sort of fat, and oil can add more moisture and softness to a cake than butter. Use a light, mild-flavoured oil such as vegetable, sunflower, rapeseed, light olive, or canola.
Sugar: Brings the sweetness, balances the bitterness of the cocoa powder and adds some moisture. I like to use a golden caster sugar, but regular caster or even granulated would be fine.
Vanilla extract: Adds a beautiful extra layer of flavour. Try to use a good quality extract if you can.
Hot strong coffee: Adding hot or boiling water to a chocolate cake can result in added softness and smoothness (I also have a theory that it causes the xantham gum to thicken more quickly, helping it to bind everything together). The cake won’t taste of coffee, but it does add extra depth of flavour. You can use regular coffee or decaf, or a coffee replacer. When I say strong, I mean roughly double strength, so use half the amount of water (or double the amount of coffee) as you normally would. You could also just use boiling water if you prefer.
For the icing, I’ve gone for a whipped chocolate ganache. This is less sweet than standard icing or buttercream, and only has two ingredients – chocolate and coconut milk, plus an optional little pinch of salt to enhance the flavour. These form a silky smooth ganache which can be whipped to create a lighter, aerated ganache icing.
For the chocolate sponge cake:
- With gluten-free and vegan cakes, it’s important to mix the wet and dry ingredients separately, then combine them at the last minute. This prevents the raising agents from losing their potency before the batter gets to the oven.
- A loose-bottomed baking tin is great but not essential. Another baking tin, or oven-proof dish of a similar size will also work fine, but it’s a good idea to put grease-proof paper around the sides of the tin to make it easier to turn out.
- The coffee (or water) needs to be piping hot before you add it to the batter. If you brew the coffee beforehand, or use a caffetiere, you might want to pop it in the microwave for a few seconds before adding it.
- For a layer cake, I would increase the ingredients by half (e.g. 90g flour becomes 135g), and split the mixture between two 20cm round cake tins.
- This cake is quite delicate, especially while it’s still hot, so handle very carefully as you remove it from the baking tin.
For the chocolate ganache icing:
- I prefer to use dark chocolate with 50–60% cocoa content. If you only have 70% or higher, you can add some vegan white chocolate to sweeten it e.g. try using 150g of 70% dark chocolate and 50g white chocolate.
- Make sure that you use full fat coconut milk. ‘Light’ coconut milk won’t have enough fat for the ganache to whip up properly.
- If you still have lumps in your ganache after stirring everything together, either place the bowl over a pan of steaming hot water and stir until all the lumps have dissolved, or pop in the microwave for a few seconds at a time, stirring in between, until the ganache is silky smooth.
- If your ganache splits, try adding a drop of warm non-dairy milk, or alcohol, and whisk thoroughly.
- The ganache will take about an hour to set, but if you want to speed things up, transfer it to a wide and shallow dish before putting it in the fridge.
For the final touches:
- The easiest way to ice the cake is to dollop all of the ganache on top, and use the back of a spoon or a palette knife to carefully spread it towards the edges. Because the cake is quite delicate, if you’re too rough or spread the ganache to thinly, you’re likely to bring bits of cake up into the ganache icing.
- The cake is a best stored in an air-tight container in the fridge and should last for up to 3 days. You can also freeze the cake, without the icing, for up to a month.
Please let me know if you give this recipe a try! You can comment below or find me on Instagram @clarecooksvegan.
Ultimate Vegan and Gluten-free Chocolate Cake with Whipped Ganache Icing
A deliciously light and moist chocolate cake, and perfectly paired with a luxurious, whipped chocolate ganache icing. You'd never guess it's vegan and gluten-free!
For a layer cake, increase the quantity of ingredients by 50% and use two 20cm round baking tins.
For the chocolate cake:
- 200ml non-dairy milk (I like oat or soya)
- 1 tbsp cider vinegar
- 90g gluten-free flour
- 45g cocoa powder
- ¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
- 1½ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp xantham gum
- 90g ground almonds*
- ¼ tsp salt
- 90ml light oil (e.g. vegetable, sunflower, light olive)
- 150g caster sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 100ml hot strong coffee**
For the whipped ganache icing:
- 200g vegan dark chocolate (somewhere between 50-60% cocoa solids***)
- 120ml full-fat coconut milk
- pinch of salt (optional)
- Pre-heat the oven to 170C fan. Grease a 20cm square (or equivalent size) baking tin and line the base with grease-proof paper.
- In a large measuring jug, measure 200ml non-dairy milk and stir in 1 tbsp vinegar. Set aside for the milk to curdle.
- In a large mixing bowl, sieve 90g gluten-free flour, 45g cocoa powder, ¾ tsp bicarb, 1½ tsp baking powder and ¼ tsp xantham gum. Add 90g ground almonds and ¼ tsp salt, and whisk everything together.
- To the milk mixture, add 90ml oil, 150g caster sugar, and 2 tsp vanilla extract, and stir to combine.
- Brew the coffee. You can use instant, decaf, coffee replacer, filter etc. but you want it to be roughly double the usual strength and piping hot.
- Working quickly, whisk the milk mixture into the dry ingredients until there are no raw lumps of flour, then pour in 100ml of hot coffee. Whisk vigorously until you have a smooth, loose batter. Pour into the baking tin, and bake for 35–40 minutes, until the cake has shrunk away from the sides of the tin a skewer comes out clean.
- While the cake is baking, make a start on the ganache. Very finely chop 200g dark chocolate (or a mixture of dark and white – see notes) and place in a heat-proof bowl. Put 120ml coconut milk in a small saucepan over a medium-high heat, until it’s steaming hot but just shy of boiling. Pour the milk over the chopped chocolate and let sit for 5 minutes, then stir vigorously until you have a smooth, glossy mixture. Stir in a pinch of salt if you like, then refrigerate until completely set.
- Once baked, leave the cake in the tin for 10 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely (it will be quite delicate especially before it’s cool). Once it has completely cooled, remove the set ganache from the fridge and use a hand whisk to break it up and whip it (for about 30 seconds to a minute). It won’t dramatically increase in volume but should become aerated and turn a little paler, and be just about spreadable. Tip all of the ganache on top of the cake, and gently spread to the corners until you have an even layer of icing.
- Slice into 12 pieces (or a number of your choosing) and serve immediately, or keep in an sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
*For a nut-free option, try replacing the ground almonds with 90g of oats (gf if necessary), ground to a flour-like texture.
**You can use regular coffee, decaf, instant, or a coffee replacer, but you want it to be about twice normal strength e.g. if you’d usually use a teaspoon of instant in a mug, use two, or half the amount of water.
***Dark chocolate with a lower cocoa percentage will mean a sweeter ganache. Often we only have 70% dark chocolate or higher in the house, so I mix in some vegan white chocolate to sweeten the ganache and increase the fat content. For this ganache I would use 150g 70% dark and 50g vegan white chocolate. The method is exactly the same.