by Christine Vega
Now, I’ve loved chocolate ever since I could remember. Growing up, my mother would make Mexican hot chocolate in the winter – which tastes NOTHING like American hot chocolate. It’s got this strange, gritty taste with hints of cinnamon and spice and warmed milk. I can smell it now, just thinking about it. Christmas wasn’t complete without the thumbprints with the Hershey’s Kiss nestled perfectly inside the indent of that delicious shortbread cookie, covered in powdered sugar. Really, every holiday had some sort of chocolate variation that, while no one openly admits to, they would gravitate towards and definitely in my case, overindulge in its splendor. Birthdays? Give me my chocolate cake. I will gladly get sick on the chocolate frosting.
For many, chocolate is a food to be celebrated. It marks special occasions, it’s in nearly every holiday, and if it isn’t, then it should be. Want to make something fancy? Dip it in chocolate. Are you in a sad/good mood? Get some chocolate (and wine, for me). There’s even a movie dedicated to it…
Chocolate evokes so many memories, either good or bad, for pretty much any person I talk to. I don’t know if I would believe anyone that tells me that they don’t like chocolate; perhaps they just haven’t had the right kind that would knock their socks off.
In an informal Facebook poll, I asked my friends what their favorite chocolate dessert was. Answers varied from dense, drippy cakes, lighter cakes, to mousse, chocolate ganache cheesecake, and more. The winner? My chocolate cake.
I’m not sure, but my friends may be biased.
It wasn’t until both of my kids had a milk allergy (which they thankfully grew out of) that I started tinkering with making food from scratch, just so I knew what was in everything. Control freak? Yes.
I tried various recipes and variations and finally developed the perfect mix. It was vegan (no milk or animal by-products). The best part? I still use the same recipe to this day as a base for all my chocolate cakes. It’s light, airy, moist, and tastes delicious. If I hadn’t mentioned it was vegan (which always draws a bad stigma) you wouldn’t even know. It’s a versatile recipe, you can keep it all vegan, or add a creamy ganache to it, fill it with yummy caramel, add a rich butter cream frosting to it. That’s what I love so much about baking- the options are endless. It’s only limited to what you can think of.
So, I give you my favorite chocolate cake recipe. It’s crazy how simple it is, and even crazier how delicious it is:
1 1/4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup warm water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp distilled white or apple cider vinegar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a fairly large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.
In a measuring cup, add the water, vanilla, and vinegar. Mix Well. Then, mix in the oil. It’ll be thick enough to form ribbons when you pull the spatula out after stirring.** Fun tip: Because it’s vegan, you can totally lick the spatula, the bowl, and everything and not worry about salmonella!
Line cupcake pan and use a cookie scoop for even measurement for each cupcake. Place in oven and bake for 15-18 minutes depending on your oven. Cupcakes are done when toothpick is inserted and comes out clean. Cool on rack. Frost. Eat. Repeat.
If you prefer to bake a flat cake, use a 9×9 pan (make sure you line it with non-stick foil or just foil sprayed with baking spray, for easy release).
Add chocolate chips, or a couple of tablespoons of cherry preserves, toss some coconut into the mixture (like ¼ – ½ cup), add nuts, or crush some Oreos in there! After they’re done cooling, you can core out the middle and add a filling or fill it up with more frosting! Heck- make both frostings, fill the cupcake with the buttercream frosting and then top with the whipped cream frosting. Boom. Double yum! You’re welcome.
Basic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons of heavy cream, vanilla creamer, or milk (just using it to thin out the frosting to desired consistency)
While the cakes are baking, toss your room temperature butter (not melted, not refrigerator cold, don’t microwave it- it’ll melt it) in a mixer, if you don’t have a stand mixer, then churn it by hand with a sturdy spatula and slowly add the powdered sugar to the butter mix. If you toss all the powdered sugar into the mixer, I guarantee it will fly ALL OVER and you’ll have a sugary mess. Combine until creamy, add your vanilla, keep stirring/mixing! Then thin out your frosting with the milk (can use unsweetened coconut milk, soy, or almond- could even just use water if you don’t have anything else). I use vanilla coffee creamer, because I’m addicted to it and it intensifies the vanilla flavoring. With that said- you can change the flavor of your frosting by using different creamers – just sayin.
That’s my basic buttercream type frosting. My other go-to is a whipped cream frosting, which is probably ten times easier to make.
Whipped Cream Frosting
1 pint of Heavy Whipping Cream
1/4c of Powdered Sugar
2 tsps Corn Starch (keeps it firm and from falling all over the place)
You kinda need the stand mixer for this one. Plop everything in, mix until soft peaks form, put into piping bag, and frost away. Top with crushed cookies, toasted coconuts, or add a cherry on top!