This classic, two-layer Chocolate Birthday Cake is just like mom used to make! Okay, not quite, because we do use plant-based butter for the frosting. But I’m telling you, this cake is delicious, and no one will be able to tell it’s dairy-free!
Chocolate Birthday Cake
Chocolate cake is the quintessential American birthday cake: two layers, loads of buttercream frosting, and chocolate on chocolate. If you’re anything like me, you grew up on boxed cake mix with homemade American buttercream frosting. And to this day, I think boxed cake mix just can’t be beat. Yeah, I said it. Actually, when my mom volunteered to bake my wedding cakes, I requested none other than simple, two-layer cakes made with boxed mix and topped with homemade frosting. Nathan and I had a picnic wedding at Golden Gate Park, and the cakes were perfect. Truthfully, I will never not defend box cake mix!
But if you’re looking for something a little less…processed, then I’ve totally got you covered! This chocolate cake is not only perfectly moist, it’s sweetened with low glycemic index coconut sugar and unsweetened applesauce! Yeah, and you can’t taste the apple! Though my love for boxed cake hasn’t waned, I don’t believe I’ve personally baked a cake from a box since marrying Nathan five years ago. This exact chocolate cake has been my go-to for quite some time. It’s simple and just as delightful as the chocolate cakes I grew up eating.
Some of the Ingredients You’ll Need + Possible Substitutes:
- All-purpose flour is the bulk of the cake. For an extra fluffy cake, try whole wheat pastry flour.
- Natural cocoa powder gives both the cake and frosting their chocolate flavors. For a deeper, darker chocolate, you can use Dutched cocoa powder.
- Coconut sugar is an unrefined, low GI sugar. And it doesn’t taste a thing like coconut! You can definitely use raw cane sugar or white granulated sugar in its place.
- Instant coffee intensifies the chocolate flavor of the cake. This is totally optional but recommend. Espresso powder is a great substitute.
- Oil adds moisture to the cake. I recommend a neutral oil (one with little to no flavor) like avocado, light olive oil, or melted coconut oil. Vegetable oil can also be used.
- Eggs act as a binder for the cake. I haven’t tried this recipe with any egg replacements, but if you’re looking for an egg-less cake, you can try flax eggs: 1 flax egg = 1 Tbsp flaxseed meal + 3 Tbsp warm water (mix and allow to thicken for five minutes).
- Applesauce helps sweeten this cake and lends a hand to its moistness – I don’t recommend any substitutes. Unless you like banana and you want to mash some for a banana chocolate cake!
- Vegetable shortening adds structure to the vegan buttercream. You can use more vegan butter in its place, but I highly recommend the shortening.
- Powdered sugar is necessary for the correct texture and flavor of the classic American buttercream frosting. I don’t recommend any substitutes.
- 1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup natural cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk, warm
- 1 heaping tsp instant coffee granules
- 3/4 cup coconut sugar
- 1/2 cup neutral oil (like avocado or extra light olive oil)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs, room temp
- 1 heaping cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1 1/2 cups vegan butter (stick form), softened
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening (or more vegan butter)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup natural cocoa powder
- 6 cups powdered sugar
- 3-4 Tbsp plant-based milk
Make the Cake
- Preheat your oven to 350°F and bring your eggs to room temperature by placing them in a glass of warm water for around 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare two 8" cake pans with non-stick spray and parchment paper circles. I like to spray the pans, lay the parchment circles in the bottoms, and then spray the parchment.
- In a medium bowl, sift the flour and cocoa powder. Whisk in the baking soda, baking powder, and salt until totally combined; set aside.
- Mix together the warm almond milk and instant coffee granules. Then, in a large bowl, beat together the milk/coffee mixture, coconut sugar, oil, vanilla, eggs, and applesauce until combined.
- Beat the dry ingredients into the wet until batter is well combined, about 1 minute on medium speed. Divide batter evenly into the two prepared cake pans (it's best to use a kitchen scale here for precision). Tap the pans on your counter to bring air bubbles to the surface.
- Bake cakes at 350°F for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with a few crumbs. Allow cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Then turn each cake out onto a cooling rack and remove and toss out the parchment paper circles. Allow cakes to cool completely before frosting.
Make the Frosting + Build the Cake
- Once the cakes are totally cooled, you can make the frosting. In a medium bowl, beat together the vegan butter and shortening. Beat in the vanilla extract.
- Sift in the cocoa powder and half of the powdered sugar and beat. Sift in the remaining powdered sugar and add 2 Tbsp of milk. Beat until combined, adding a bit more milk if needed. You want the frosting to be smooth and spreadable but also thick enough to hold its shape.
- Frost the cake by placing one cake, right-side up, on a cake stand or plate. Add roughly 12 Tbsp or 3/4 cup of frosting to the top of the cake and spread evenly across the cake surface, leaving 1/4" of cake around the edge.
- Place the second cake layer on top, right-side down so that the flat, smooth bottom is facing up. Begin adding frosting to the side of the cake where the two layers meet, generously filling in the gap. Then continue frosting the cake all the way around and on top, swirling as you go along (or smoothing with a bench scraper).
- Decorate the cake however you'd like, or simply swirl the frosting for that classic, home-baked look.
- Store any leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature.