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.

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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 Chocolate Orange Marble Cake with Ganache and Candied Orange Peel for Lent

As you may already know I am Coptic Orthodox — an Orthodox Christian from Egypt.  We have one of the more rigorous traditions of fasting especially during Lent.  We adopt a vegan diet during Lent and centuries of this tradition have led to a sort of uber-specialization of vegan recipes among Copts. Now whether or not it is truly a sacrifice to indulge in cakes such as this one during Lent may be debated for another several centuries but, for now at least, sugar is not forsaken during Lent!

Now, let me back up a bit and explain why I made this cake.  The cake itself is one I have made many times and is in my cookbook. My mother made it during Lent when I was younger and I loved the cake, whether I was fasting or not.  But I have never made it with ganache before.  I usually just drizzled it with icing .  Then we started a meal service at the Coptic-American Orthodox church we attend now.

Since we are a small congregation each week the members sign up for a potluck of sorts to provide the lunch after mass.  Well, of course, I was delighted because here was the perfect opportunity to practice baking and experiment with different recipes and also feel like I was contributing somehow.  But, the dilemma.  We are all modern educated mothers with definite ideas on what dessert should look like for our children.   In fact, one of our mothers suggested a “fruit cake” or, essentially, a tower of fruit as dessert.  This became the running joke for a while.  Well, I tried.

But I got carried away.  First I was going to make a naked cake with just a little ganache between layers.  But the edges of the cake were not perfect so it needed a little crumb coat.  And then the crumb coat wasn’t that attractive so it needed a final coat of ganache.  And then it was too plain with just a ganache frosting so it needed a ganache drizzle.

And then since I was using fresh orange juice inside the cake why waste the peel when I could candy it? And then it snowballed.  By the time the cake got to the church the “naked fruit cake” became a fully clothed chocolate cake with candied fruit. And the very children whose mother was most concerned about them having fruit for dessert ended up consuming the candied orange peel en masse.  But it was an amazing cake.

Keep in mind that the ganache drizzle will only retain its shine for about six hours after its poured.  If it starts to lose its shine you can bring it back by patiently running a blow dryer on its coolest warm setting over the cake.  Hold the blow dryer about two feet over the cake and wave it back and forth.  The cake does not need to be refrigerated and the ganache will go completely dull if you do  put it in the fridge.

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