Dairy Free Chocolate Cake

Study tips didn’t seem appropriate for this time of year. As the semester is wrapping up, it’s time to celebrate! If you’re a fan of chocolate like I am, you might appreciate my coconut chocolate pandemic cake, which you can make without any refrigerated ingredients like dairy or eggs. It’s also great for people who are lactose intolerant or who have milk or egg allergies.

This cake has a prominent chocolate flavor and a very delicate texture similar to birthday cake (it’s not fudgy like brownies). It’s not too sweet or heavy, making it easier to digest than traditional cakes. This recipe was adapted from depression cake, a dairy-free cake that was developed during the Great Depression when eggs, butter, and milk were expensive and scarce. My pandemic cake is developed from this version of depression cake (https://chocolatechocolateandmore.com/chocolate-depression-cake), but several similar recipes exist.

When I first made this cake, I was craving chocolate and sweets, and didn’t have ingredients on hand. As someone who grew up baking, I didn’t know if a cake without milk and eggs would work. My pain was flaring pretty badly that day, and there is some research that omega-6s are not great for pain, so I decided to swap regular vegetable oil for coconut. I was really pleased with the flavor and have made this cake several times.

Not only is it possible to make cake without eggs or milk, it’s also possible to bake it in a quality stock pot instead of a cake pan (#triedtoohardtobeaminimalist).

Cake ingredients and supplies:

1.5 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp white vinegar
6 tablespoons coconut oil plus extra for greasing the pan
1 cup water

a 8 or 9 inch baking pan, or quality stock pot of the same diameter

Ingredients and supplies for the optional sauce:

about 1/2 cup of bitter chocolate flakes or chips, plus a little extra (about 73% bitter, which it will say on the package)
a liquid measuring cup and a microwave OR small pot

Directions for the cake:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) Rub butter or oil on the inside of a round 9 inch cake pan (you can also use a good quality 9 inch wide stockpot with a heavy bottom, as long as your pot is 100% metal with no plastic parts).

For people who are vegan or allergic to dairy, use coconut oil or neutral-flavored vegetable oil for this step. It’s just to keep the cake from sticking.

3) Mix all the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda). Whisk this thoroughly to make sure no one gets a mouthful of salt or baking soda.

4) In a liquid measuring cup, measure the water. Add 1 tsp white vinegar to the water and stir.

5) Do not proceed to the next step until you have checked that the oven is ready. Most have a little light that turns on or off when the correct temperature has been reached.

6) Add the coconut oil to the dry ingredients. Don’t stir it yet.

7) Add the vinegar water mixture to the bowl with the dry ingredients and coconut oil (in other words, everything is now in the same bowl). Stir briefly until there are no dry parts.

Do not overmix. If you mix too long, the cake will get tough. The coconut oil might look a little lumpy if your kitchen is cold, but don’t worry about it.

8) Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake pan or stock pot. Using a spatula, smooth the batter so that it covers the bottom of the pan evenly. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but you don’t want some parts of the cake to be really thick and some really thin, because it won’t bake evenly, and you’ll have overcooked and undercooked parts in the same cake.

9) Put on some oven gloves and put the cake in the oven.

10) Immediately set a timer. The cake takes 28 minutes in my oven, but set the alarm for 23 the first time and check it. The cake should look puffed up with a few cracks. If the center looks sunken and soft, it’s still raw, so you’ll want to put it back in the oven. Don’t overbake “just in case” because the cake will be very dry. You want it just cooked.

11) While the cake is baking, you can make the chocolate sauce. If this feels like too much to manage, just focus on the cake and deal with the sauce later.

12) When the cake is baked fully (see step 10 for description) remove it from the oven, making sure to wear your oven gloves to protect your hands. Let the cake cool until it can be handled safely.

Optional bitter chocolate sauce:

This chocolate sauce is my own but is a variation on water ganache. I prefer sauce that is bitter to counteract the sugar in the cake; I find sweet sauce and sweet cake to be cloying. Therefore, this sauce is not great when eaten straight from a spoon but is luscious when drizzled on the cake itself. Feel free to substitute another chocolate sauce recipe if you want something very rich and sweet.

1/2 cup or 100g bittersweet chocolate (about 73% bitter)
water, cream, or coconut milk
a liquid measuring cup or a small pot

This is a basic technique rather than a recipe. I find I add different amounts of water based on my mood.

Add about 1/2 cup of bitter chocolate to a glass measuring cup with 1/4 cup water, cream, or coconut milk. Microwave for about 30 seconds, stir, microwave another 30 seconds, and whisk until smooth. If your microwave is strong, microwave for less time. If you don’t have a microwave and are using a pot on the stove, cook this on the lowest heat you can manage and watch it closely, because chocolate is prone to burning (or be responsible and use a double boiler, but I’m always too lazy).

This should be served slightly warm but keep leftovers in the refrigerator. It will solidify when cold so reheat slightly before using the leftovers.

Feel free to adjust the consistency with more liquid, or make it thicker with more chocolate. This uses about the same amount of chocolate as a standard baking bar. You may have issues getting chocolate chips in this recipe, because they are designed to stay solid when heated (in a cookie, for example).

Baking Tips:

The correct way to measure flour is to lightly spoon it into the measuring cup, then sweep the top of the cup with the back of a butter knife. Do not tap the cup, which compacts the flour, which in turn leads to too much flour in the cake (dry cake).

If you can get a nice brand of cocoa powder like Drost, Ghirardelli, or Cacao Barry, do it. If not, Hershey’s will do. Make sure it is cocoa for baking (don’t confuse it with hot cocoa mix, which has sugar and milk powder in it).

For the chocolate sauce, choose a nice brand of chocolate if you can afford it.

Don’t use oil you have had for years. Oil goes rancid over time. If you are in doubt, smell it and taste it. If it’s unpleasant and off-putting, it might be too old or stored improperly.

Coconut oil is best in this recipe; the cake is bland when made with other oils. That being said, I know some people live with complicated health and diet needs. If you are allergic to coconut or can’t eat it for other reasons, substitute a neutral tasting oil. Examples of neutral tasting oils are sunflower, safflower, vegetable, canola, and rice bran oil. Don’t use peanut or sesame, which are strongly flavored.

Because the flavor of the cake is dependent on the coconut oil, if you swap another oil out of necessity, it will be a bit bland. Therefore, I recommend making chocolate sauce to compensate.

Do not confuse baking soda and baking powder. The strength is totally different. This recipe calls for SODA, which usually comes in an orange box, unless you bought a fancy organic one. The baking soda needs to be reasonably fresh (purchased within the last year and stored away from humidity). If yours is several years old, you can buy a new box for 50 cents or so.

Unless you are an extremely experienced baker, don’t ignore the directions or substitute ingredients. Baking is very precise, and it is dependent on science (temperature, ratios of fats, liquids, sugars and protein, types of sugar, chemical reactions, etc.). I see so many recipe reviews online where people swap most of the ingredients, usually in incorrect ways, and then get angry that it didn’t work. To protect your time and ingredients, follow the recipe as written, at least the first time.

If you are having chronic issues with recipes not turning out correctly, consider buying an oven thermometer to test that your oven is actually baking at the correct temperature (this is especially relevant to those of you who are living in a rental or dorm with a not-so-fancy oven).

I didn’t take this photo, but my cake recipe looks very similar (maybe a little fluffier). I kept craving it late at night when there is no natural light for photography, then I ran out of coconut oil, then my apartment bathroom needed major work due to a water leak. I’ll update this post when I have a great cake photo so you can see the actual result! Image by Pushpak Dsilva.

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