I entered this cake into my first baking contest at thekitchn.com’s bittersweet baking contest and was thrilled when it chosen by the editors as a finalist! Dorie Greenspan, James Beard award winning author of books on legends such as Julia Child, Daniel Boulud, Pierre Herme etc., was among the judges. As it that weren’t awe-inspiring in and of itself, I was ecstatic when I read her comments:
“I’ve never set out to make anything specifically vegan, but this recipe is so well done that I wanted to try it: it makes a convincing case as a delicious, multi-textured cake; the fact that it’s vegan might be a bonus, but it’s not the cake’s sole virtue. My guess is that the cake’s tri-part chocolate components and its polished looks will capture the imaginations of other ambitious bakers.”
Speaking of authors, pioneering pasty chef Fran Costigan
, whose vegan baking class I took last year at ICE
and whose cake recipe I used as a basis for this cake, also had this to say: “…thank you for taking what you learned and creating a masterpiece that reflects your creativity and skill”.
It’s admittedly a great leap in style from my previous cakes but I’ve been trying to take steps towards a healthier lifestyle, including exploring alternative cake recipes. I am not a vegan by any means, but I find vegan baking techniques appealing for their absence of cholesterol-laden ingredients such as butter, eggs and milk. I also wanted to make it aesthetically appealing, as I know many people might be wary of vegan baking. I shared the cake with coworkers/neighbors and they could not believe it was a vegan cake, even after tasting it!
The recipe is an experimental, culinary collage culled from various photos and recipes. The assembly process is vaguely that of a French style gateaux, the inspiration for its physical appearance and components comes from epicurious.com, the cake recipe is adapted from a class I took with Fran Costigan. The cake incorporates bittersweet chocolate on three levels and layers: cake, mousse filling, and ganache. It has a hint of coffee flavor, with espresso powder as an ingredient, and is laced with hazelnuts and orange zest. This is a rather involved cake, but can by all means be simplified. Either the mousse or the cake frosted with ganache can be eaten on its own.
2 12 ounce boxes silken firm tofu (such as Mori Nu)
10 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons agave (or maple syrup)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup maple syrup, grade A, dark amber
1 cup soy milk
1 teaspoon espresso powder dissolved in 2 teaspoons of water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
4 ounces finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, skins removed, chopped
8 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 cup soy creamer
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier
Candied orange zest
Whole hazelnuts, toasted, skins removed
Chocolate transfer sheet
Melt chocolate 10 ounces of chocolate over double boiler. Drain water from tofu. Place tofu, agave/maple syrup and melted chocolate in food processor and mix until well combined and smooth. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to firm. (This turned out to be very rich and dense. I think I would add some soy milk next time).
Prepare candied orange zest, if making your own:
I did end up making my own, and it was well worth it in the end. The zest added a really lovely crunch and citrus element, not to mention a lovely color contrast to the dark chocolate. I adapted a recipe from here:
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
peel of one orange
Using a vegetable peeler, peel strips from orange, avoiding the white pith. Julienne the orange peel into matchstick size pieces. Place zest in saucepan, pour water over it and bring to a boil. Drain and repeat. Yes, repeat – it’s supposed to reduce the bitterness. Remove from water and dry onto paper towel. Place sugar and 1/4 cup of water in a saucepan and let simmer for about 10 minutes (leave it alone – no need to stir at all). Add the strips and watch closely until strips are translucent (I probably left mine on the heat longer than I should have, but it still tasted great). Remove strips with a fork and cool onto parchment or waxed paper. While I didn’t have any left over, this can be stored in an airtight container for up to one week. Also, keep it stored in the container and decorate when ready to serve. If you leave the candied strips on the cake overnight, the sugar will absorb moisture and lose some of its brittle-like quality.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 9×3″ cake pan and line with parchment paper. Toast hazelnuts for 8-10 minutes (watch carefully) and rub with kitchen towel to remove skin. Chop and set aside.
Sift dry ingredients into a bowl and stir with a whisk. Stir in chocolate, orange zest and hazelnuts. Mix wet ingredients and whisk until well combined. Pour wet into dry ingredients and mix until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cake tester/toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Invert the pan onto the wire rack, peel off parchment paper, invert again and let cool completely.
Bring soy creamer just until boiling. Pour over chopped chocolate and let sit for minute. Stir slowly until chocolate is melted.
I used a bottomless 8×2 inch cake ring as a mold. I’m sure there are alternative ways of assembling this (such as using a springform pan), but this method is what I came up at the time. I cut out the cake to fit inside the ring, using the ring as a guide.
Then I filled it with mousse. Make sure you press mousse to the edges (which I didn’t do). I left a little room on top for the ganache. Pour ganache and move the cake around to allow it to flow to the sides in order to cover the surface of the top. Let the ganache set in the refrigerator. Once set, remove the cake from the ring (you should have a support under the cake, such as a cardboard circle).
Top with chocolate shavings, candied orange zest, and hazelnuts. Now you could stop here and end up with exposed sides of cake, mousse and ganache, but since I didn’t press the mousse all the way to the edges, and had some gaps where the cake and mousse met, I spread ganache on the sides, as well. I thought it needed something else, so I used some chocolate transfer sheets I had on hand to decorate the sides. A chocolate transfer sheet is a plastic sheet imprinted with a pattern made with cocoa butter (which I think is by-product of the cocoa bean and therefore still vegan [Fran Costigan did indeed confirm that transfer sheets were vegan - thanks!]). I melted chocolate and spread it over the sheet in a thin layer with an offset spatula. Before the chocolate fully set, I cut triangular shapes in the chocolate. Once set, I peeled the chocolate from the sheet and was left with triangular shards of chocolate imprinted with the cocoa design. I then arranged my chocolate triangles onto the sides of the cake and finally called it done!
I’ll be experimenting with this cake a bit (I’ve already received request to make this again for an upcoming event). It was indeed labor intensive but I had fun and learned quite a bit every step of the way. For more info on vegan baking, ppk has some essential info on substitutes for eggs, dairy, butter, etc. Fran Costigan’s More Great Good Dairy-Free Desserts Naturally and Moscowitz/Romero’s Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World are also great resources on vegan baking, recipes and inspiration.