Vegan/Almost Vegan Chocolate Cake

(No gluten, dairy, egg, soy or cane sugar)

You can dispense with any recitation of this cake’s nutritional virtues and confidently serve it on the basis of great taste alone. Moist, dark with layers of flavours and it improves with age. It is complete without any accompaniment but for a glam occasion you could serve slices with some piped, sunny-hued Apricot Whip along one edge (as below; see also its use with  Fluffy Hotcakes).

Even old world traditional Good Housekeeping magazine has put out a vegan cookbook. Nothing could more denote mainstream acceptance. ‘Vegan’ means that no animal products are used such as eggs or dairy. Even honey is avoided, though far more of my patients are best served by avoiding cane Sugar (see website TIPS page). This can be implicated with gut problems; fungal overgrowth; blood sugar ups and downs; food cravings; fatigue; lowered immunity, and Weight issues (TIPS). To make it truly vegan an option to using honey is agave syrup*, though this is more expensive.

The original recipe was in a weekend newspaper but was low fibre, low protein and used 1½ cups of sugar! Most people just don’t ‘get’ special diets. They might remove a real or perceived isolated offender such as wheat or butter (TIPS: Gluten; Modern Milk), but have limited comprehension of health’s larger context. If someone is sensitive to one food they are prone to developing additional sensitivities, especially to substances widely used in the food supply – such as nutrient-stripped, acidic, inflammatory, immune-compromising refined sugar.

To compensate I replaced the water in the original recipe with a dark, naturally sweet juice; increased the vanilla; used less flour and added almost-hidden walnuts and prunes for protein, minerals, fibre, and subtle layers of texture, flavour and moistness. These also helped with binding as gluten-free baking can be crumbly without eggs. Keeping such efforts from being heavy and dry can also be challenging. Here a little vinegar interacts with the baking soda to create bubbles to leaven the thin batter into delicate respectability. Cinnamon, cloves and salt amplify cocoa’s intensity while lessening the bitterness.

Anyone can make a stir fry but baking takes knowledge of chemical properties and reactions, especially if you start substituting ingredients. The benefit of being adept at this kind of science is you get to eat your experiments.

1½ cups rice flour*
½ cup walnut pieces
½ cup packed prunes
3 Tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp ground cloves
***
315 ml (1¼ cups) blackcurrant or boysenberry juice (such as Coral
   Tree Organic NZ Apple & Blackcurrant juice which has no added
   sugar; from health stores)
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar (or other vinegar but a dark, grunty type adds to    
   flavour and colour depth)
250 ml (1 cup) mild cold pressed oil*
125 ml (½ cup) honey or agave syrup*
2 tsp natural vanilla extract*
***
Topping:
10 small squares (about 55 grams) or more coarsely chopped chocolate

Use raw chocolate with no added sugar or artificial sweetener – from health   
   stores; or dark, dairy-free chocolate such as Whittaker’s Dark Ghana   
   (contains cane sugar though). Having some different sized pieces of
   chocolate – some fine, some coarse – will make for a more interesting 
   ‘pebbled’ appearance on top.

In a food processor place the flour, walnuts, prunes, cocoa, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and cloves. Process on low speed briefly – prunes and walnuts should remain chunky. Add the juice and vinegar next (this will create bubbles and leavening action as it combines with the baking soda). Then add the oil, honey or agave, and vanilla. On low speed, process briefly; batter will be thin. Prunes and walnuts should still have discernible texture.

Pour into an oiled, deep-sided 23 cm cake pan*. Bake at 180°C (350°F) for 45-55 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out barely dry (cake will set more upon resting); do not allow crust to blacken. Place on a wire rack. Immediately sprinkle top of cake with chocolate; the heat will semi-melt it. Do not spread. Cool completely before slicing (this doesn’t suit being eaten hot as the baking soda can still have an after taste). Tastes even better the next day.

Variation

Serve with Apricot Whip: soak ¼ cup dried apricots overnight in ¼ cup water until soft, or simmer covered in hot water until rehydrated; puree it all with ¼ cup coconut cream* until smooth and thick. Cover and chill to store (up to one week; remainder can be used as a breakfast cereal or pancake topping). This can be made with 1 Tbsp less water so it is thick enough to use in a piping bag. Slice cake and pipe Apricot Whip generously along one side of the base.

Shopping and Preparation Tips*

• Agave nectar: is also called agave syrup. It is obtained from a type of succulent and member of the yucca family. Juice is extracted from the core. The same plant when fermented produces tequila. Agave nectar is caramel in colour, taste and viscosity; available from health stores but fairly expensive. Look for organic agave that has been treated at low temperatures, otherwise it can be as processed and high in fructose as corn syrup. Agave is sweeter than sugar and low GI. But a diet high in fructose is associated with poor liver function, abdominal weight gain, high blood fats and uric acid.

• Cake pan: for all cakes use a “ceramic bakeware” round dish (inexpensive and available from Farmers and cookware shops). Its thick sides help prevent over-browning, and drying during storage. No need to turn the cake out. Allow to cool in the dish on a rack. Then store and serve from the attractive container. Helps avoid baking in metal (especially aluminium) – or worse – plastic. For this recipe I use a dish with a 20 cm (8″) base, deep sloping sides and 24 cm at the top which is equivalent to a 23 cm (9″) pan.

• Oil: mild, cold pressed oil suitable for baking and cooking is Ceres brand Organic Roasting and Frying Oil (from health stores). It is also second to extra virgin olive oil for affordability. For information on which fats to choose for which purpose and why, see my article on the TIPS page: The Fats of Life.

• Rice flour: best for baking is from very finely ground (can be called ‘zentrofan’) whole rice. Results will not be the same with Asian rice flour: made from starch only and looks sticky like cornflour. Use brown rice flour (finely milled with no grittiness). Or mix ½ brown rice flour (for increased nutrients) and ½ white rice flour (for increased lightness) as preferred.

• Vanilla: use real vanilla from beans not chemists, often termed extract (as opposed to faux essence, often labelled ‘vanillin’) and one without artificial additives. Good brands available locally and overseas are: Heilala vanilla and Equagold. These are in most supermarkets and health stores.

Maria Middlestead Reg.Clinical Nutritionist, Auckland Call Today!

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