Saturday, May 12, 2012

Just Bake a Cake

My vegan month of food ended over a week ago, but we never talked about vegan desserts!  Or did we?  I don’t remember.

In any case, vegans make the best desserts.  They really do—have you tried any of the cakes at the Chicago Diner?  So good.  Or the cookies?  Equally tempting.  At home, I have my own little rotation of vegan cookies because I am all about the cookies: walnut wafers and small-batch peanut butter cookies (use Earth Balance non-dairy butter here instead of dairy butter) are my current favorites.

I’m not much of a cake person, but I tend to overlook one of cake’s charms: you bake it in a single pan.  It’s so low-maintenance compared to cookies, with their acres of baking sheets and cooling racks!  I’m so lazy that it kinda surprises me I put so much effort into my cookie-baking when I could just bake a cake.  So a few weekends ago, that’s just what I did.

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cake

The recipe for this chocolate chip cake comes to us from Melissa Clark, whose cookbooks are a bottomless source of inspiration.  It’s the Chocolate Chip Pecan Loaf Cake on page 359 in In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite.  For my first version of it, I obediently followed directions, and it was pretty good—not amazing, but certainly delicious.  But last month, I veganized it, using flax eggs instead of chicken eggs and cutting back on the butter (and swapping dairy butter for Earth Balance, of course), and I think my vegan version is terrific.  I think it would be even better with some chopped walnuts for texture and flavor—aren’t chocolate and walnuts a wonderful combination?  They always make me happy.  My cake didn’t have any walnuts because I ate them all, but Melissa’s version calls for pecans.  Pecans, walnuts—use ‘em if you like ‘em.  I know not everyone loves nuts in their baked goods.

Another charming aspect of this cake: it can help you clean out your pantry!  I used three, count them, THREE types of flour here: all-purpose flour, white whole-wheat flour, and some rye flour, just for kicks.  I was running low on all-purpose flour, so I didn’t have a choice about using a second flour, and on a whim, I decided to use white whole-wheat and rye flours.  I worried that the cake would be too dense and heavy with all that whole grain, but it was hearty and sweet and satisfying.  It’s not a light cake, but it has big soft crumbs that hum gently with sugar and chocolate.  This is an everyday cake, the kind you make for yourself and your family, wholesome without being frumpy.  I hope you like it.

Everyday Chocolate Chip Cake

Adapted from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark

2 tbsp. ground flax seed

3 tbsp. water

1 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup pourable coconut yogurt (I like the So Delicious brand)

1 3/4 cup flour, all-purpose or a blend of flours, your choice (see the paragraph above the recipe)

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. kosher salt (I use Morton coarse kosher salt)

1/2 cup (1 stick) Earth Balance non-dairy butter, melted

1/2 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts or pecans, optional

1)  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.  I used cocoa powder to flour my pan, and it’s a nice chocolatey touch.  But you can just use flour if you prefer.

2)  In a cup, whisk together the flax seed and water.  Set aside and let them gel for a few minutes.

3)  In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and yogurt.  When the flax seed has gelled (i.e., when it seems like it has combined with the water to form a gel-like mass), mix it into the sugar and yogurt.

4)  In a separate bowl, mix together the flour(s), baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Mix the yogurt mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined.

5)  Fold the melted non-dairy butter into the flour mixture, a little at a time.  It might seem like a lot, but the butter is part of what gives this cake its richness, so persevere!  Fold in the chocolate chips and nuts, if using.

6)  Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the cake comes out clean.  I’d err on the side of underbaking this cake so that it doesn’t become too dry.

7)  Allow the cake to cool for 10-15 minutes in its pan, then remove it from the pan and finish cooling on a wire rack.  I remove my cake by running a knife around the edges, then placing a plate on top of the cake pan.  Hold the cake pan and plate together, plateside up, then invert and gently shake until the cake falls out of the pan.  Then use the same procedure to invert the cake onto a wire rack, rightside up.

Oh, and save me a slice of cake, please!

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