For me, the most intense chocolate cravings seem to strike at the exact moment that the confection is no longer an option. As I’ve mentioned before, I existed as a vegetarian and eventually vegan eater for most of my college years. Though the lifestyle taught me much about healthful living, creative cooking and responsible eating it delivered a painful blow to my chocolate-loving core. The moment I became a vegan I wanted, noneeded, everything milk chocolate and dairy-laden more than I ever had as an omnivore.
Deprivation is a cruel mistress.
My university’s dining hall was way ahead of its time in terms of veg-friendly options and when it came to main course grazing the choices were endless. But for dessert they offered nothing more than a sad vegan brownie. These were heavy, dense squares that left a chalky coating of too much bitter cocoa on your tongue and most importantly – tasted vegan.
After much trial and error I found chocolate salvation in a fantastic vegetarian cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon. Her chocolate cake recipe is not only dairy-free but requires only a bowl, a whisk and a few shelf stable ingredients most of us always have on hand.
Though it was a staple in my college kitchen I had largely forgotten about this gem since falling off the veg wagon several years ago until a recent snowstorm here in the DC area. As the snow came down, covering the roads and sidewalks I found myself in quite the predicament – a sadly depleted pantry, no way to the store and of course, right on cue, I needed chocolate.
Just as desperation began to take hold, I recalled this cake. I’ve taken to calling it Midnight Chocolate Cake not only due to its rich, chocolate flavor but because it’s the perfect answer to that chocolate call, regardless of the weather, pantry state or time of day. Most of us have these staples in our pantries consistently and if not – hint hint – I bet your neighbor does.
And to all you butter and milk purists out there – get ready to become a believer.
Midnight Chocolate Cake
The chocolate flavor of this cake is so believable and satisfying I prefer it with little more than a dusting of powdered sugar, though you could certainly top it with an icing of your choice. For an added decorative element, I lay paper stencils on the cake and remove post-dusting for an easy embellishment. With the blizzard coming down outside, a few powdery snowflakes and a hot cup of coffee were the perfect accessories.
Adapted from Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup best quality unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsps baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 Tbs cider or white vinegar
1 Tb vanilla
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously spray a 9×13 inch glass or metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Make sure to coat the bottoms and sides completely.
2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the sugar, cocoa, flour, baking soda and salt. In a large liquid measuring cup or small bowl, combine the water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Whisk well to combine.
3. Pour the water mixture into the flour mixture and whisk thoroughly to combine and break up any lumps. Pour the batter into the greased baking dish and knock the pan lightly on the countertop to force any air bubbles to the surface. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
4. Allow cake to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Dust lightly with powdered sugar (snowflakes optional!) and serve.