Vegan, gluten-free baking can conjure up images of cardboard dry cakes and "buttercream" desserts that simply don't come close to the real thing. Here's the reason why: you can't replace butter. Trying to recreate ingredients leads to hyped-up expectations and definitely some disappointments. You know what does work? Using great ingredients that have a ton of flavor.The challenge with vegan, gluten-free baking tends to be structure and moisture, so instead of hitting my head against a wall, I chose to embrace those two challenges with this dense, rich cake. High-quality cocoa powder (I use Valrhona) is the key here, along with the whipped coconut "cream." It whips up just like the dairy version and has a subtle coconut flavor. So good!
For such a lovely cake, you'll need a lovely cake stand. I adore these vintage-inspired ones from Rejuvenation, made from an original 1930s mold. They come in four different finishes, so you're set no matter what kind of cake mood you're in. Mosser Pressed Glass Cake Stand, $95, Rejuvenation
For the cake: 1 cup gluten free flour 2 tablespoons arrow root 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum 2 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 6 tablespoons coconut oil, plus more for pan 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce 1/2 cup brown sugar 1/2 cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cup vegan semi-sweet chocolate chips
For the whipped "cream": 1 15-ounce can full-fat coconut milk 1 tablespoon agave nectar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Set the can of coconut milk in the fridge overnight so that the coconut fat solids separate from the coconut water.
2. The next day, preheat oven to 325°F.
3. Lightly grease one 9-inch cake pan.
4. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, arrowroot, xantham gum, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt.
5. Stir in the coconut oil, apple sauce, sugars, and vanilla extract. Mix until smooth.
6. Fold in the chocolate chips and pour batter into the prepared tin.
7. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the toothpick comes out clean.
8. Meanwhile, open the refrigerated can of coconut milk and carefully pour out the thick coconut cream into a mixing bowl.
9. With an electric whisk, beat the cream, agave, and vanilla extract on high until peaks form, about 2-3 minutes. (Note: If not serving immediately, place the bowl of whipped coconut cream in the fridge and then beat it again right before serving).
10. Remove cake from oven when done, let stand in tin for 10 minutes, then flip onto cake stand or plate.For more unique meal ideas, head over to The Kitchy Kitchen.
Photographs: Claire Thomas