Oh, I love birthdays. In fact, I think birthdays are why I love cake. It's the people, the ritual, the gestures, the hope and reverence and silliness and joy that make it. It's pouring all of that energy into a single moment, turning the lights out, silencing the room, and putting all eyes on the birthday boy or girl. You bring the cake out, and everyone oohs and aahs. It's rarely perfect, but only you know that. Maybe it's lopsided, maybe you smudged the frosting, maybe the candles are melting too fast, but it's somehow the embodiment of love. You sing, you watch a wish, you clap your hands, and you cut the cake and share a slice in celebration and family and a sort of simplicity that you can count on year after year after year.
Cake is kind of special, especially when it's homemade.
And when it came time to create Cake in a Crate's signature chocolate cake, I went straight to a real expert: Andy's mom Laura, or Lou, for short.
Lou has three boys, and the way they speak of her homemade chocolate cake (and her knack for birthdays) is legendary. I remember the first time I tasted Lou's chocolate cake myself, and my goodness it's true. I've never had a chocolate cake so moist and so, well, chocolatey. Never. I had to learn the secret, which Lou was happy to share: add boiling water, to further dissolve the mixture and create a cake that is moist and balanced as can be. I set to work.
I cut the eggs, switched the sugar, and swapped in Bob’s flour blend, adding almond flour as an homage to the late great Julia Child. Still, veganizing a recipe isn't always the easiest thing in the world, and I was dealing with fickle coconut oil in place of sweet butter. So I decided to use dark chocolate bits and combine all liquid ingredients in a double boiler until they were creamy as can be. Stir into the dry ingredients, and there it was. A two-bowl cake inspired by Lou's and meant for making birthdays just a little more magical and homemade.
Chocolate cake as we know it dates back to two major makers, Conrad Van Houten, who first extracted fat from cacao beans in the 1820s to create the first mechanically-produced chocolate, and Rodolphe Lindt, the Swiss chocolatier who developed the first bar of baking chocolate. It became wildly popular in this country thanks to the World War II baking mixes of Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker, which led to an explosion in homemade and semi-homemade chocolate cakes that are familiar to us today.
As for birthday cake and candles and all that, just thank the Greeks for putting candles in sweet cakes to honor the gods, the Germans for celebrating "the light of life" in much the same way, and the Hill sisters of Louisville, Kentucky for inventing the American birthday song in 1893.
- I use an all-purpose flour blend made of gafava, sorghum, and tapioca flours and potato starch. The addition of blanched almond flour gives the cake great crumb, and its natural oils add to the overall moisture. Make sure you use blanched, as its superfine quality blends right into the other flours and makes for the smoothest cake.
- Maple syrup is a great neutral sweetener for chocolate cakes, plus it's about as plant-based as you can get.
- To match the super-chocolatey taste of Lou's, I used a lot of chocolate. One cup for the cake, and one cup for the frosting. No regrets.
- As always... who needs 'em? Melted chocolate (see above) replaces a yolks + cocoa combination.
- In a quest for a frosting as smooth as Lou's chocolate buttercream, I sweetened up our 68% dark chocolate bits with some maple syrup, added a few ingredients to cream and fluff it up, and threw the whole thing in a blender. A few seconds later, I had a creamy, gorgeous frosting for the ages. If you'd like yours firmer, pop it in the fridge or freezer for a bit. The coconut oil's unique melting point helps it change states quickly.
PREP TIME: 30 minutes
BAKE TIME: 18-25 minutes
ASSEMBLY TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES one 8" round cake or 12 cupcakes
1 1/4 c Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Flour (gafava flour, sorghum flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, guar gum)
1/4 tsp guar gum
2/3 c almond flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 c chocolate bits
2/3 c maple syrup
1/3 c coconut oil
1 c almond milk
1 c chocolate bits
1/4 c almond milk
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 c arrowroot flour
Preheat oven to 350F. Line bottom and sides of cake pan with parchment paper. Alternatively, you may coat the pan with oil.
In a large bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, guar gum, almond flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Create a double boiler over a saucepan on low heat and whisk vanilla, chocolate, maple syrup, coconut oil, and almond milk until chocolate has melted. Remove from heat. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Careful not to overstir, as this may create bubbles in the batter. Tap pan against countertop to set batter.
Pour batter into loaf pan and bake for 18 minutes for cupcakes, 25 minutes for one 8" cake, or until cake passes the toothpick test. Remove and place pan on cooling rack for 30 minutes. Then remove cake from pan and continue to cool for 30 minutes or more.
4 CREATE FROSTING
Create a double boiler over a saucepan on low heat and whisk chocolate, maple syrup, and almond milk until combined. Remove from heat and whisk in coconut oil until very smooth. Refrigerate for 15 minutes, or until just cooled. Using a mixer or whisk, whip frosting with arrowroot.
5 FROST CAKE
Frost cake with knife or spatula as desired. To pipe icing, spoon into frosting bag and cool in freezer until desired consistency is reached.
6 TOP & SERVE
Top with cake decorations, candles, sprinkles, fruit, or flowers. Serve with confetti and a happy birthday song.