Let’s be frank with one another: cake is not good for you. No matter how many whole grain flours you pack into it, regardless of the fact that you replaced the butter with vegetable oil, even if you’ve added a good dose of applesauce to replace the sugar, and despite the restraint you’ve shown in eating your cake sans frosting, or perhaps with just a light glaze, that cake on your plate is never going to be mistaken for a nutritious meal. And good thing, I say. Because cake is not a meal, it is cake—a treat, a dessert, or an indulgent snack. Having said all that, I am now going to let you in on a bit of a secret regarding one of my most treasured cake recipes. This cake I love—with its intense chocolate flavor, its notes of mocha toffee, and a crumb so moist it almost melts in your mouth—is not only vegan, but it has vegetables in it.
Obviously, anyone who has eaten carrot cake knows that putting a vegetable in a cake is hardly a groundbreaking innovation. That said, I have to admit that this cake I’ve been making for the past few months (sometimes for special occasions, sometimes just because I wanted some cake) has fast become my favorite. Since the cake is vegan, it requires very little of you in regard to perishable ingredients. If you are out of milk, eggs, and butter, you needn’t worry that cake might not be in your future. Though the cake does require a vegetable to be shredded into it, that vegetable can be any number of things you might have lying around. I’ve made this cake with shredded zucchini, shredded beets, shredded carrots, and shredded parsnips, and I found all versions to be absolutely delicious.
Look, I am not trying to say that this cake is healthy. Sure, I’ve reduced the sugar content to 2/3 of what one would find in a regular chocolate cake. And, yes, the addition of moisture-rich shredded vegetables allows one to use a bit less oil in this cake that might be expected. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that because the intense play of the cocoa powder against the cup of cold coffee that gets poured into the batter, this cake possesses a flavor that is sturdy enough to stand up on its own, never leaving you pining for the absence of frosting. But, still. Not healthy. Thankfully, we don’t eat cake to be healthy, do we? We eat cake because we like it, and, my friends, trust me on this one. You are really, really going to like this cake.
Dark Chocolate Vegetable Cake
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup granulated sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup cold coffee
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¾ cup shredded zucchini, beets, carrots, or parsnips, squeezed through cheesecloth or a dishtowel to remove excess moisture (the squeezing step is most important if using shredded zucchini, less so if using another vegetable)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Thoroughly grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and sugar. In a medium bowl, mix together the oil, cold coffee, vanilla, and shredded vegetable of your choice. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients all at once, then whisk together until almost smooth. Add the vinegar and stir quickly until the vinegar is evenly distributed throughout the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. You will see bubbles rising up in the batter as the vinegar reacts with the baking soda.
Bake the cake in the center of the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake emerges with just a few moist crumbs attached. Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely.