Vegan chocolate cake with a secret French twist

A short while ago, I got asked to make my first vegan wedding cake. I very quicky replied “No, sorry, that’s not my forte”.  But then spent a whole month testing vegan recipes, including chocolate vegan cakes, with and without vinegar too!

Why? This lovely, very adorable couple were adamant they wanted a Pudding Fairy wedding cake; they are very sweet and….They got me to change my mind. Not only about making their vegan chocolate wedding cake, but also about vegan cakes generally. So for that I thank you!

I knew very little about vegan baking before I met Eli and her fiancé. So yes, I spent a lot of August trying 12 different recipes of vegan carrot cakes, about 5 vegan vanilla sponge recipes; vegan lemon cake recipes, coffee vegan cake…and of course chocolate vegan cake recipes.

The secret twist to the most perfect chocolate vegan cake

vegan cakes with white chocolate vegan ganache frosting

So, I set about testing vegan cake recipes. A lot of the recipes I tried were less than convincing to start. They presented really big problems in terms of baked cake structure and most importantly, in terms of taste:

Whiter than white uncooked looking flat little doughy cakes

Sunked in the middle crumbly cakes;

Floury tasting grainy sponges

Greasy cakes

You name it. But this chocolate vegan cake recipe worked from the word go. A brilliant recipe from the talented journalist, blogger and baker Kate Hackworthy. It doesn’t use any vinegar either. I’m trying to figure out why this is important: I saw that a lot of people were looking for vegan cake recipes without vinegar when I was doing my research….But I’m still to understand why. If you know, please let me know in a comment!

I was now happy with my choice of vegan chocolate sponge. really happy actually.

When it came to getting ready for the wedding cake tasting, I wanted to really wow them with a French touch of classic patisserie to stay true to my cake style. So I grabbed my secret weapon: My jar of home made praliné hazelnut paste!

What is praliné paste

Praliné is simpley a mixture of roasted hazelnuts and caramel. Here’s how you make it:

  1. Oven roast the hazelnuts for about 10 minutes;
  2. Make a rich gold caramel;
  3. Pour the hazelnuts into the caramel
  4. Mix them together well (it’s a sticky messy job but someone’s got to do it)
  5. Sread the caramel hazelnut mix on baking parchment or a silpat to cool down – make sure you try to achieve a thin layer (the silpat is brilliant because it’s totally non stick and is heat proof to really high temperatures)
  6. Snap the cooled down mixture into small shards
  7. Blitz the shards to oblivion in a food processor, until you get a smooth paste. Be patient, this bit does take time and you may need to help the process by stopping and scrapping the sides of the food processor bowl a few times.
  8. Scrape the paste into a clean jar and keep it in the fridge up to 3 weeks.

Un petit peu de francais:  Technically it’s called PRA-LI-NEY (with an accent on the E). Yes I know, but if you ask for pralines in France, you will get some very bright pink sugar coated almonds, and not a jar of the lush nutty stuff. Pralines are a speciality form Perouges, not far from where I come from. they are equally delicous to use in baking, but very different from praliné hazelnut paste. Voila. [End of the French bit].

Things to to look out for when you make your own praliné hazelnut paste:

  • Caramel – watch it, watch it and watch it every second of every minute. It can go from perfect gold to bitter burn very quickly
  • Cooling down your caramel hazelnut mix – Spread it as thin as possible, it will help you breaking it into pieces to blitz it. I know I said it above, but it’s perhaps the most important tip as if you don’t do this, you’ll have a job trying to cut it into small shards.
  • Blitzing – Turning caramel coated hazelnut dust into a smooth hazelnut paste takes time, as the natural oil from the nuts needs to come out to make the magic happen. Be patient an keep blitzing.

Vegan chocolate cupcakes with hidden praliné heart

I won’t copy the original recipe I used because it wouldn’t be very cool obviously. Hence I linked to it above in this post.
To make my “French twist” version  of this great chocolate vegan cake without vinegar and with praliné:
  • Omit the instant coffee granules
  • Add 1 heaped tablespoon of praliné paste to your batter
  • Don’t overmix
  • bake as normal
  • When the cakes have cooled down, remove a piece in the centre
  • Fill with more praliné paste
  • Pipe your vegan chocolate ganache frosting on top
The cakes on my picture were topped with a vanilla vegan buttercream, but you can also go all chocolate using the cocoa powder based frosting on the original recipe from Veggie Desserts. Or this dairy free, vegan chocolate ganache / pastry cream.

What next?

I’m going to keep testing and experimenting with vegan baking recipes, especially with vegan chocolate. What would you like to know? To improve? to find out about vegan cakes and baking? Let me know in a comment (or via Twitter, Instagram or Facebook). That way I can make sure I include this in my future rounds of testing. I’ll update this post as I go along with my new findings!
chocolate vegan cake with praline and chocolate frosting