vegan chocolate cake + walnut brittle with cream cheese frosting

photo courtesy of Michael Leong

This month has been crazy with weddings – two down, one to go. My older brother got married two weekends ago and I was asked to bake the bride and groom’s cake. Now, I am by no means a baker but they wanted something friend-made and tasty, so I accepted the challenge. After a few test runs, I settled on a vegan recipe by Fran Costigan passed on by a colleague. While the whole dessert wasn’t vegan, I chose this recipe because I really wanted a super moist, chocolaty cake and from my experience, vegan desserts always turn out moist, no matter what substitutes you use.

Now why the walnut brittle? Last year I was given a 5-pound bag of walnuts that I’ve kept in my freezer, so anytime a dessert calls for nuts, I use walnuts. I wanted something crunchy, some texture in between the layers and coating little walnut pieces in sugar seemed to be just the thing.

And how can you go wrong with cream cheese frosting? My mom, who is Panamanian and not familiar with cream cheese frosting, recreated the cake with her famous meringue frosting only to realize that she was really into the “cream cheese” I frosted the cake with. So now I have her whipping up cream cheese frosting which I’m sure seems so bizarre to her but delicious either way. Anyways, here is the recipe – it really makes for a solid cake.

vegan chocolate cake + walnut brittle with cream cheese frosting

adapted from Fran Costigan’s Chocolate Cake to Live For

for the cake:

1-2/3 cups soy milk

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder

1 cup whole cane sugar, like Rapunzel

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup olive oil

1 cup grade B maple syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon chocolate extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil the sides and bottom of three 7-inch round cake pans. In a small bowl, combine soy milk and vinegar, mix and allow to curdle; set aside.

Place a wire mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Add flours, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt; stir with a fork to sift the ingredients into the bowl. Whisk to combine. In a separate bowl combine oil, maple, extracts; mix with reserved milk. Immediately pour into dry mixture; whisk until smooth. The batter will be thin and bubbly.

Pour the batter into pans, about 2 cups per pan. Tap pans on the counter to eliminate bubbles. Bake until the tops of the cakes are set and the sides have started to pull away from the pan and a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Cool pans on wire racks for about 5 minutes. Run a knife between the cake and inside of the pan; invert each layer onto a flat surface. Invert again and cool completely or refrigerate over night. Prepare walnut brittle and frosting.

for the walnut brittle:

2/3 cup walnut pieces

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

In a small skillet over medium heat, toast walnuts until they just begin to show color. Add sugar and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until nuts caramelize to a dark brown color, about 5 minutes. Spread out on a flat surface to cool. When cool, break the nuts apart. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

for the cream cheese frosting:

2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature

4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, blend all ingredients until smooth and fluffy. This makes a lot of frosting, more than needed. I wanted to play it safe so I doubled the recipe, but if you’re an expert froster, you could probably use half the recipe.

to build the cake:

With a serrated knife, carefully slice a thin layer off the top of the cake to create a flat surface. For great tips on preparing the perfect layers, see Smitten Kitchen’s post on layer cake tips – I read this about 1,000 times before the big day. In a separate bowl from the frosting, mix together the walnuts and about 1 cup of frosting; set aside. In the center of your cake stand or plate, spread a dollop of icing. This will prevent the cake from sliding. Place the first cake layer on your surface, securing it into the dollop of frosting. Spread a generous amount of the nut and frosting mixture on the cake; top with next cake layer. Spread with remaining nut and frosting mixture; top with remaining cake layer. Frost layer cake with plain frosting until completely covered; refrigerate about 10 minutes and apply a final layer. For tips on frosting a cake, I found this video really helpful. Refrigerate overnight to allow the cake to set. Remove from the the refrigerator at least 1 hour before serving.

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