Dark and Sumptuous Chocolate Cake

This cake. It confounds me. It delights me. I almost want to leave it there. But I should explain: I never ever thought I would be in raptures about the joyfulness of a--yes--vegan chocolate cake. This isn't the voice of prejudice but was--"was" being the operative word--the conclusion of experience. It's true that I first made a version of it--the recipe kindly given to me by Caroline Stearns, my technical guru in the kitchen--when I was giving a supper for a vegan friend, but I now make this as my chocolate cake of choice for people where dietary restrictions are not an issue, and I don't even need to explain it's vegan. No need to offer explanations: you just need to offer the cake. On top of everything else, it's incredibly simple to make. My version has coconut oil in the cake, and coconut butter in the icing, but of course you can use vegetable oil in the cake, and vegan margarine for the icing if you prefer. The combination stipulated in the ingredients list, however, creates a cake and icing of such depth and fudginess that I never veer from it, even though I know the shopping list is a tiny bit demanding. But once you've tasted it, you too must surely concur that a cake as good as this can be as demanding as it likes. Besides, it asks nothing of you in the kitchen beyond some simple stirring. You are not required to get a mixer out, or do any heavy lifting at all: this is a simple bowl-and-wooden spoon number. Both the coconut oil and coconut butter need to stand out of the fridge for a good couple of hours before using. I often take them out the night before, as then they are easier to measure out. Please check the labelling on the chocolate you buy. It needs, whatever your concerns, to be dark (minimum 70 percent cocoa solids for my taste), but if you need this to be absolutely dairy-free or vegan, make sure it says so on the packet. I hate the worthy association that comes with vegan cakes, and celebrate this one by scattering rose petals and chopped pistachios over it.
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  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 1 hr 30 min (includes standing time)
  • Active: 25 min
  • Yield: 10 to 12 slices
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Ingredients

For the icing:

60 milliliters (1/4 cup) cold water

75 grams (2.6 ounces) coconut butter (this is not the same as oil)

50 grams (1.75 ounces) soft dark brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

150 grams (5.3 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (at least 70% cocoa solids, see above)

For the cake:

225 grams (8 ounces) all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

7 grams (0.25 ounce) unsweetened cocoa

300 grams (10.5 ounces) soft dark brown sugar

375 milliliters (1 1/2 cups) hot water, from a recently boiled kettle

90 milliliters (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) coconut oil

1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar or white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon edible rose petal

1 tablespoon chopped pistachios

Directions

Special equipment:
8-inch round springform cake tin
  1. Start with the icing, though first preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F)/gas mark 4 and pop in a baking sheet at the same time. Put all of the icing ingredients except the chopped chocolate into a heavy-based saucepan and bring to the boil, making sure everything's dissolved. Then turn off the heat--but leave the pan on the stove--then quickly add the finely chopped chocolate and swirl the pan so that it is all underwater, so to speak. Leave for a scant minute, then whisk until you have a darkly glossy icing, and leave to cool. I find this takes exactly the amount of time the cake takes to make, cook and cool. But do give the icing a stir with a spatula every now and again.
  2. Line the bottom of your springform cake tin (you will need a good, leakproof one as this is a very wet batter) with baking parchment.
  3. Put the flour, baking soda, salt and instant espresso and unsweetened cocoa in a bowl and fork to mix.
  4. Mix together the sugar, water, coconut oil and vinegar until the coconut oil has melted, and stir into the dry ingredients, then pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35 minutes. Though do check at the 30-minute mark to see if it is already done.
  5. When it's ready, the cake will be coming away from the edges of the tin and a cake tester will come out clean, apart from a few crumbs. This is a fudgy cake and you don't want to overdo it.
  6. Once the cake is cooked, transfer the tin to a wire rack and let the cake cool in its tin.
  7. Turn to your icing, and give it a good stir with a spatula to check it is at the right consistency. It needs to be runny enough to cover the cake, but thick enough to stay (mostly) on the top. So pour over the unmoulded cake, and use a spatula to ease the icing to the edges, if needed.
  8. If you wish to decorate, now is the time to do it. In which case, sprinkle joyously with rose petals and chopped pistachios or anything else that your heart desires; otherwise, leave it gleaming darkly and, indeed, sumptuously. Leave to stand for 30 minutes for the icing to set before slicing into the cake.

Cook’s Note

The cake can be made ahead and frozen, without icing. When cool, carefully wrap cake in a double layer of plastic wrap and a layer of foil. Freeze for up to 3 months. To defrost, unwrap and place on a serving plate at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours.

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