Upside-down Vegan Chocolate Birthday Cake with Vegan Coconut Cream Ganache

After much stress and tears I think I have finally settled upon a vegan cake and vegan ganache that is both structurally sound and tasty. I tried coconut milk beverage, canned coconut milk, soy milk, and finally, coconut cream in two different varieties. I have also tried different ratios of nondairy milk to chocolate. I was sure that coconut cream would be the answer since it comes closest to the fat content of heavy cream. However the first can of coconut cream I bought was a Goya product which was labeled cream of coconut but honestly I’m not sure what relationship it has to coconut cream. It did not perform well at all with the chocolate. It acted more like an oil than anything else. So after some research I settled upon Thai Kitchen coconut cream which performed the way I expected a cream would.

I used a ratio of 2.5:1 chocolate to coconut cream. I used the coconut cream straight out of the can and I did not get rid of the coconut water. The ganache set up beautifully although it took a little bit longer than usual to get it to the right consistency for frosting.

The cake recipe for this vegan cake was out of the book, “Modern Vegan Baking” which I have used before. I like the flavors in this cookbook however the measurements seem to be off. Specifically for this recipe I had to double the batch in order to get enough for two 8″ x 2″ cake pans. I also modified the recipe a little bit by using coffee instead of just plain hot water.

For the filling I mixed in some raspberry preserves with the ganache. I did not torte these cakes because I wasn’t sure how stable they would be. I left them as 2-inch layers. I think that was ultimately a good decision.

Now let’s get to the fun part which is the construction of this wacky cake. I got the idea for this cake design from this great Online Cake Decorating Classes“>Craftsy class, “Industry Secrets for the Savvy Decorator.” However DH  constructed the stand for me and the idea to use a threaded rod instead of a wooden dowel was all him. Now I will say that it was a lot more wobbly than I expected (not the cake or the stand but the rod) because the threaded rod he used would bend a little bit but it was definitely not going to break. So the wobbliness just made a little bit more fun. I would advise however to do things a little bit differently than I did. I used an MDF board on the top part of the stand with half-inch foamcore hot glued to the MDF board and then my acrylic cake board hot glued to the foam core. The only thing that started to come apart a little bit was the acrylic cake board from the foam core because the hot glue started to crack apart but only after a 20 minute car ride. I should’ve thought better and used an MDF cake board or even a cardboard cake board on which to stack my cakes. Other than that the cake stand turned out beautifully.

So we started with a wooden base with a hole drilled in it and a nut buried in the bottom then a washer and another nut on the top.

The threaded rod went through the bottom 1/4-inch MDF board with another nut and washer on the bottom and on the top.

Cardboard or MDF cake board hot glued to a 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch foam core (to bury the washer) which is hot glued to the bottom 1/4-inch MDF board would be the best way to construct the top part of this stand.

Three 2-inch vegan chocolate mud cake layers with raspberry vegan ganache for filling.

The cake was covered with Satin Ice fondant tinted with Wilton golden yellow.


Vegan Tiered Cake

Our bishop was coming for a special visit to our church and I knew I had to plan a special cake.  I baked all the cakes off for my 3 tiered cake and then found out he changed plans and was coming …during period of fasting.  I was so frustrated –God forgive me– and then I thought about chucking the whole project, and then I replanned the whole project to be vegan.  A lot of components turned out beautifully.  Some, not so much.  Vegan baking nearly kicked me to the curb this time.  But, I wanted to share what I learned and also document it for myself to learn from my mistakes.  I also wanted to share some love I felt from DH, my mom and my friends at church which  was more important.  This post is dedicated to them. Here is the post-game analysis:

I. The Cakes

I used different cakes in each tier so we will take them one by one.

1st tier (did not survive): I used the recipe for the “Double Vanilla-Bean Birthday Cake”  from this book which uses flax-eggs.  It was a sturdy cake and I enjoyed the taste of the flax seeds but its not for everyone.

3rd tier: The cake was also from this book, “Super-Easy Vanilla Cake.”  Overall I liked this vanilla cake the best.  It was sturdy.  The vanilla was not overwhelmed by the flavor of the flax seeds.

2nd tier: I used Joshua John Russell’s vegan chocolate cake which is available on Craftsy.  It uses vegetable oil.  I like the taste. It is hard to mess up the taste of a chocolate cake especially when paired with ganache.  The texture, due to the vegetable oil, is very moist which makes it difficult for stacking but not impossible.

II. The Fillings

This is how things went south.  You are already dealing with less than ideal structure with vegan cakes so you don’t want to introduce soft fillings on top of that.  Unfortunately, I did.

1st tier (RIP): I used an aquafaba (for those of you who are not familiar with this very cool product — it is the water drained from chickpeas) based SMBC also from “Modern Vegan Baking.” What is not mentioned in the book but is mentioned in the author’s blog (which, of course, I just read now) this vegan SMBC is too soft at room temp so the cake needs to be refrigerated until serving.  Not ideal for a ganache covered cake which you want at room temp. Basically the first tier cracked then collapsed.  You might be wondering why there are only 2 tiers in the picture –more about this in the stacking section.  Also, you would typically have your butter reach room temp before throwing it into SMBC but Earth Balance buttery sticks have a lower melting temp so keep them in the fridge until just before you add it to your vegan meringue.

Do use vegan SMBC when the cake is both filled and frosted with it so that you can keep it refrigerated.

Do not use it as a filling if you plan on keeping the cake at room temp.

2nd tier: I used vegan ganache mixed with raspberry preserves for the filling.  I used soy milk instead of heavy cream for the ganache at a 2:1 ratio of chocolate to soy milk.  This was possibly too stiff because the soy milk does not have enough fat.  Good for stacking the cake but not ideal for spreading.  Next time I will try 1.5:1 ratio of chocolate to soy milk or possibly try coconut cream instead.

3rd tier: I used the vegan SMBC for a dam and then filled with strawberry preserves.  The cake held up but it was just too moist.  I would use a vegan American buttercream instead.

III.  The Frosting

Ganache is my go-to for sturdy cake frostings.  I tried using coconut milk at my usual 2:1 chocolate to cream ratio but it was just too stiff.  I kept having to reheat the ganache to get it on the cake which was just miserable.  It made the cake so difficult to get smooth which led to an inferior finish on the cake.  I will try a different ratio next time or coconut cream instead.

IV.  Decorations

I was actually pretty happy with the decorations

2nd tier: The silicone onlay actually turned out pretty well.  I used this damask mold from Marvelous Molds.  Although the directions say to use cornstarch to prep the mold that did not work at all.  I used shortening brushed into the mold instead and it came out beautifully.

3rd tier: I loved how this turned out.  I used this Wilton mold with yellow fondant and painted the pieces with Spanish gold luster dust.  I hand-cut the Orthodox cross.

The Egg: Rice Krispies treats covered with fondant and more pieces from the Wilton damask mold. I was very proud of this piece in particular.

1st tier (RIP): Its a shame.  I airbrushed it with gold and it was very pretty.  Most people will tell you not to use water-based airbrush colors on ganache.  But I tried making my own airbrush color with luster dust and vodka and it clogged the tip of my airbrush.  So I had to use the water-based and it turned out just fine.

V. The Cake stand: This guy made me very angry.  It could not handle the weight of the cake.  The top tilted.

VI. The Finale: The Stacking aka The Melting Point:

I did not stack the cake until I got to church this morning.  The 1st tier which did not make it was already developing a crack due to the soft filling.  I thought if I did a lot of doweling I could still stack it.  I was wrong.  The cake stand tilted, the bottom tier was being crushed by the weight of the second tier.  I started hyperventilating.  DH was trying to help but my brain was not getting enough oxygen so I could not communicate.  When I realized there was no hope I announced we were sacrificing the bottom tier.  We had to try to get the two top tiers off.  We ended up lifting the top tiers and — while DH was holding them up — scraping the bottom tier off the cake plate and then lowering the 2nd tier (which was now the 1st tier) back down on the cake plate.  Then I had to repair the new bottom tier, clean up the cake plate and try to rebalance the whole thing.  There was chocolate all over the floor, the table and my nose.  DH actually mopped the floor for me while I repaired the cake.  My hands were shaking.  Friends came to reassure me and I had to keep from crying.  OVER A CAKE. I missed mass.  My mother had to take care of my kids.  My husband feared for my mental well-being.  OVER A CAKE.

VII.  The Lesson

It’s just a cake. But, unfortunately, my brain is not wired to accept anything less than my own ridiculous expectations in any venture.  In the end it turned out just fine.  And I felt the love of my friends and family.  I don’t know if this vegan cake saga is concluded but it is taking a nap for now.

Vegan Vanilla Cake with Aquafaba

I just made a cake with bean water.  That’s right — bean water.  Chickpea water to be exact.  Otherwise known as aquafaba.  This recently discovered proteinacious liquid that is derived from chickpeas is being used to replace eggs in the culinary world.  It can be whipped up into a meringue and it can be used as a direct substitute for eggs in cakes.  First, Google aquafaba then come back here and read about the cake I made with it.

Incredible, right? I found it fascinating and unbelievable too.  There are not a lot of recipes out there yet using aquafaba and I really don’t like it when my baking projects fail so I gave this a lot of thought.  A lot.  My routine to and from work is AudioDigest Pediatrics on the way there and Coffee Break Spanish on the way back.   (There is actually a method behind my madness — my mind just cannot take anymore medicine after 5:30PM so I listen to this delightful Scottish professor and his student teach Spanish instead).  I was a lifelong NPR devotee until my husband and I watched “Blacklist” on Netflix and now I find the news questionable at best.  I’m really off topic now.  Back to aquafaba. I turned off the audio in the car on my way home yesterday and thought about aquafaba instead.  It does not have the same protein content that egg whites do so how could it possibly perform the same in an all-white cake?  I was afraid to try.

Thanks to this brave lady who made 18 cakes in one day to find the right egg substitute for her egg-allergic child I conquered my fears.  Husband got me three cans of chickpeas.  I was also armed with Earth’s Balance vegan buttery sticks and soymilk.  We are still in Lent so this was going to be another vegan cake.  Actually, these cakes will be turned into petit fours so stay tuned for the next post.  We shall see if they withstand stacking and icing for petit fours! Or should I say, ya veremos!

All you have to do is drain the liquid from a can of chickpeas — you will get about 200ml of aquafaba.  It is suggested that you agitate the can first.  Two tablespoons of aquafaba will substitute for one egg white.  Three tablespoons aquafaba will substitute for the whole egg.

So, how did it turn out?  First, the rise:  I made one-inch sheet cakes so I could really assess the aquafaba’s contribution to the cake’s rise and structure.  It did not rise the full inch I would have expected from this cake.  It rose to just a titch over 3/4″.  I can live with that.

Second, the texture and flavor: it had a slightly more delicate crumb but the flavor was very good.  I chose unsweetened soymilk for its fat and protein content but you could also use full-fat coconut milk if you don’t mind a little coconut undertones.

I was happier with the stability and taste of this cake than more traditional oil-based vegan cakes.  Overall, I was very impressed.  This is exciting stuff.  I was afraid this aquafaba thing was going to be vegan voodoo but not at all.  Other advantages to using aquafaba over other egg alternatives include the price (you would probably throw that liquid down the drain anyway and now you can use the liquid and the chickpeas!) and the ease of use (as opposed to grinding flax seeds for a flax egg).  It will definitely be my go-to egg substitute from now on.  Let me know what you think …



Vegan Apple Pie

It took me a long time to learn how to make my own pie crust.  It was very frustrating trying different recipes — all promising to be “perfect” and “fool-proof.” I tried vodka, apple cider vinegar, rolling it between parchment paper, pressing it in, you name it.  Then I learned that the trick was not in the recipe but in the technique.  When making pie dough a “minimal touching” approach is best.  The doughs usually have a butter content of around 60% (butter to flour, that is) which means temperature control is key.  The butter needs to stay cool  during the entire process of making the dough.  Also, achieving a flaky crust means maintaining pockets of butter between layers of dough.  When that dough then goes in the oven the steam from the butter “inflates” the layers of dough thereby creating the flakiness.  If you knead that dough or overwork it you are eliminating those precious pockets of butter and essentially creating a mealy cookie dough.  Which is ok if you are making pate sucree but not a flaky pie crust.  So, keep your hands off the dough.  You are just going to gather the dough into a ball then smear it briefly.  That’s it.  Don’t worry if it looks rough.

The other important factor in making pie dough is moving the dough while rolling it. On a well floured surface, start rolling it out into a circle, then pick it up and move it a quarter turn.  Make sure it’s not sticking to the surface by flinging more flour underneath if necessary.  Keep rolling and turning it until you get it to size. If its too warm the fat will start to soften and it will be difficult to roll out.  Put it back in the fridge for a few minutes.  If you have a digital thermometer you are looking for a dough temp of about 60F.  If it is too cold it will start to crack.  Give it another five minutes on the bench.

Let’s talk fat.  The fat has to be well chilled before incorporating it because you will be working it into the flour and that will create heat.  You can do this in the food processor which will be faster. But doing it by hand will give you a better feel for it.  Imagine that every bit of flour needs to be coated with fat but you don’t want the fat pieces to be so small that it just turns into a cookie.  You want to end up with pea-sized and walnut-sized pieces.  I’ll be honest.  I don’t like to use shortening if I don’t have to.  I prefer all butter crusts.  But many, many pie crusts are made with shortening because it is easier to roll out and produces a flakier crust.

No crazy stories before church today except the usual comment — in a falsetto voice that doesn’t sound anything like me — about how long it was supposed to take to bake the pies versus how long it actually took and a bonus comment this week about baking not being the exact science that it is said to be (or some annoying nonsense to that effect).  Since Husband insists on taking some credit for my bakes in some shape or form he will get a nod for the combination of apples he picked for “that perfect contrast of sweet and sour.”  By the way, if you will make a lot of apple pies, tarts, applesauce, etc. I highly recommend you invest in the Kitchenaid spiralizer attachment. 


Vegan Naan

Another dish for the Church’s potluck lunch.  I feel like I’m in the Coptic Lent version of the Great British Bake Off.  This week’s theme was Indian and I originally intended to make vegan gulab jamun which was a disaster.  So I switched to naan and it turned out quite well actually with the substitution of coconut yogurt.  The flavor of ghee is hard to replicate but with a blend of oils you can come pretty close.  You might recall last week’s church bake and the marital troubles that ensued.  Well, we came to an agreement which was pretty fair. I do my baking after the kids go to bed or during the little one’s nap.  So, since baking is essential to my mental health I am perfectly willing to wake up a little earlier on church mornings to get things done.  This weekend I was making both naan and chai for church and when I woke up I realized I didn’t have soy milk.  The little man was already awake at 6:30 AM because he had just gotten a new toy with which he wanted to play.  This posed a dilemma.  Little man likes his cereal as soon as he wakes up and the whole point of this exercise was to avoid waking up the Dad and alerting him to my potential child-neglecting activities while I baked.  Some women hide their shopping.  I hide my baking (much trickier).  I pulled it off though and I have assembled some tips for you in case you face a similar challenge one day:

  1.  Prepare an extra large bowl of cereal for your child so that he is barely finished eating it by the time you get back from the store with the soy milk (or other essential item).  In my case, he actually said, “Wow, Mommy, you were fast!”
  2. If another child wakes up and your baking project starts to run over-time then quickly scramble an egg for second child to make it look like you are a totally dedicated mom who feeds [at least one child] a hot breakfast.
  3. Since you went to the trouble of making 1/3 of your children a hot breakfast you can then ask the Dad  to feed her the hot breakfast .  You then have a few minutes to go back to baking (in my case, making naan).
  4. Now, its your turn again.  Since the naan takes 2-3 minutes to blister on each side you can grab the baby, run upstairs and dress her and then run back downstairs by the time the naan needs to be flipped.  Go ahead and gild the lily.  Put a matching barrette in her hair — it will earn you another point in the awesome Mom tally and also serve as a distraction while you continue baking e.g. “Look how cute she looks!”
  5. By now you have proven how dedicated of a Mom you are to the Dad.  You let him sleep in. You mostly provided breakfast to the kids.  You dressed one of them.  Now you must be the first one in the car so that the illusion of got-it-togetherness is complete and you can thus max out on your points later.  For example, “I let you sleep in this morning, so…”


Vegan Chai

Sometimes I just want to get to the recipe and don’t want to read the long spiel that goes along with it.  So not all of my recipes are going to be accompanied by a story.  Briefly, I got this recipe from an old friend, Chris Suradejvibul, and have been using it for years.  I just adapted it for Lent.  I used a combination of coconut milk and soy milk for mine. You can use what you prefer.   Check out this post for a great description on how to make a large quantity of chai in your instant pot.