This Cake is Beyond Wacky: Low-Fat Vegan Chocolate Cake

Recently I was looking for another cake recipe in Joanne Chang's cookbook Flour when I flipped by her recipe for "Vegan Low-Fat Chocolate Cake." Under normal circumstances, I would totally ignore a vegan cake recipe, much less one also labeled as low fat. But I've been experimenting a little with vegan baking, as one of my colleagues at work is limited to a very restricted diet because she is breastfeeding her infant daughter who has allergies to (among other things) dairy, eggs, and nuts. In fact, my colleague was inspired to start a blog to dedicated to allergy-free cooking and baking. Since I don't own any vegan cookbooks, I've been getting baking recipes from vegan blogs. But this is the first time I've come across a vegan recipe in a mainstream cookbook. I figured this chocolate cake would have to be a winner for Chang to include it Flour.

This cake is so easy to make that Chang points out that it's "a great recipe for beginning bakers." You stir together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking soda, and salt, and then pour in a mixture of water, canola oil, vanilla, and molasses. You stir everything together and pour the batter into a buttered and floured 6-inch pan (I "buttered" my pan with Earth Balance buttery sticks to keep the cake vegan).   My batter had a lot of small lumps in it after I incorporated the wet ingredients, so I put the batter through a sieve to make sure it was completely smooth.

There is no picture of the cake in the cookbook, and I was a little shocked to see that the cake was rising very high in the oven into a tall dome with a cracked surface. My 6-inch cake pans are three inches high, and center peak of the cake rose above the height of the pan. The recipe says to bake the cake for 50-55 minutes, or until it springs back when lightly pressed in the middle. I took the cake out of the oven at 50 minutes, when the cake sprung back when pressed, but a skewer I stuck into the middle came out covered in raw batter. I thought that the cake might sink upon cooling, but the high dome didn't budge a bit.

After the cake was cool and I unmolded and sliced it, I was very impressed with the fine and moist texture of the crumb. The cake didn't taste vegan or low fat. However, it also didn't taste very chocolate-y. It was screaming out for a little ice cream or fudge sauce or whipped cream. Or something. The cake just wasn't completely satisfying. That said, it performed far beyond my expectations for a vegan and low-fat cake. And I think that texture is one of the most difficult things to get correct with vegan baking, so this cake scores extra points on that front.

Reflecting on this cake afterwards, I realized that the recipe was quite similar to that for "wacky cake," a vegan chocolate cake that I have never made myself, but have often recommended to friends looking for cakes made without eggs or butter (see a wacky cake recipe here). Wacky cake batter is mixed entirely in the cake pan itself, so you don't need to dirty a single bowl. I looked up some wacky cake recipes to see if Chang's vegan cake was just a variation, and I found some critical differences. Food scientist and author Shirley Corriher discussed the science behind wacky cake (or "crazy cake," as she calls it) in a 2010 Los Angeles Times article, and she mentioned several factors critical to their success, including: high-protein flour like King Arthur to give the cake a proper form and texture; vinegar to create an acidic batter that helps the flour proteins set faster; and making sure you don't use Dutch process cocoa, because its alkalinity could interfere with the setting of the cake.

I used White Lily bleached all-purpose flour to make Chang's cake, since it is my standard all-purpose flour. It's actually a lower-protein flour than other types of all-purpose flour, although not as low as cake flour. Chang's recipe also specifically calls for Dutch process cocoa (which is neutral, not acidic), so that's what I used. In addition, Chang's recipe doesn't include any vinegar, although it does include two tablespoons of molasses, which is acidic (but less so than vinegar). On the surface, it looks like Chang's cake shouldn't work at all. But somehow, it bakes up into a moist, tender cake without any eggs or butter. It's just beyond wacky!

Recipe: "Vegan Low-Fat Chocolate Cake" from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe" by Joanne Chang.


Caroline said…
Very cool!! This low fat vegan chocolate cake looks amazing! Huge congrats!Happy eating!!:)
John said…
Looks so delicious!!!Wishing to grab one from the screen lol :D