Fight Stress With a Slice of Moist, Rich Chocolate Cake

The Princess has been going through a lot this past week—no thanks to state laws requiring eye and dental exams by October 15. School must be stressing her out, too. I would hear her in the middle of the night yelling at someone to leave her alone. Stressful times call for chocolate, and I think I have the perfect recipe.

It’s amazing what they’re learning in kindergarten these days. On top of phonics and writing letters and numbers, her class is learning about the earth, the different layers that make it up, how it spins, Pangaea, and the continents. They even simulated a volcanic eruption in class, pouring red-dyed vinegar over baking soda. Sounds neat, doesn’t it?

The vinegar over baking soda reminds of me of a chocolate cake recipe, that I had to swear to never divulge to another soul. Anyway, it’s one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve ever had. It has no egg or dairy, but it is rich, moist, and absolutely delicious.

It’s supposed to be a secret recipe that my college friend and co-food-columnist, Daniel, got from a friend, who probably got it from another friend or family member, but after doing a quick search on Google, I see variations of it listed throughout the web. (So, Daniel—the secret’s already out!)

The secret ingredient is vinegar. When vinegar reacts with alkaline-rich cocoa powder and baking soda, magic happens. Even non-foodies respond, “This is pretty good,” or they may simply grunt and just stick out their plates for more. 😉

Many of you may be wondering, “But won’t this make the cake taste like vinegar?” Believe it or not, it doesn’t taste like vinegar at all. The reaction between the acid (vinegar) and base ingredients (cocoa and baking soda) creates gases within the batter. The gluten in the flour maintains the moisture produced by the gases within its cells. The fat from the oil and the crystalline structure of the sugar help the cake retain its structure. Everything works together to create perfection!

The secret to making this cake is having everything in place and working very fast, especially as the chemical reaction happens pretty quickly. I recommend using Droste or Penzey’s Dutch-processed cocoa—either brand is key for a super-smooth, melt-in-your-mouth texture. (Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa just isn’t the same.) I did a quick read on Rose Levy Beranbaum’s blog and learned that Dutch-processed cocoa produces finer bubbles vs. the regular cocoa. She recommends using Green and Black’s 100% organic Dutch-processed cocoa, which is something I’d like to try. (If you ever have a chance to read her book, The Cake Bible, I highly recommend it—it’s one of my all-time favorites!)

The question I have is whether or not using apple cider vinegar vs. the standard distilled white vinegar makes a difference. Perhaps I will need to do an experiment and have a side-by-side taste test?! (In the past I had just used white vinegar)

Here’s the recipe. (For those who do not have any dietary restrictions, feel free to substitute with dairy ingredients wherever soymilk or margarine is specified.) Enjoy!

Chocolate Cake (No Longer Secret Recipe)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix the following dry ingredients thoroughly:
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Grease metal baking pan with margarine and dust pan with a small mixture of cocoa powder and flour to keep from sticking. (Silicone baking pans are not recommended!)

Mix the following liquid ingredients in a separate bowl:
1 cup cold water
2 tsp vanilla
2 tbs vinegar
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Pour wet ingredients into dry, mix quickly without overmixing, pour into pan, and bake immediately for 20-25 minutes. (Cupcakes will be ready in 13-17 minutes.)

Note: Cake is done when it springs back when touched lightly in the middle. Cake tester must come out clean as well.

Updated (4/23/16): For a more chocolatey experience, consider mixing in a cup of dairy-free/vegan chocolate chips before putting cake or cupcakes into the oven. Also, consider dissolving 1 tsp of freeze-dried espresso in the liquid mixture to emhance the chocolate flavor.


Chocolate Icing
1 lb. powdered sugar
4 tbs cocoa powder
1 stick margarine
6 tbs soymilk or water*
1 tsp vanilla

Mix powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Melt margarine, add soymilk or water and vanilla. Remove liquid mixture from heat, add dry ingredients to wet, and mix thoroughly.

Note: Beware—this makes a lot of icing! Also, the icing may not be the right consistency immediately—it may seem too liquidy. Sometimes it helps to let it solidify a bit in the fridge. If it still seems too liquidy after about 10-15 minutes, mix in some more powdered sugar. Experimentation is key!

*Depending on the audience, I may use a chocolate liqueur instead of the soymilk or water. Yummy! (Chocolate liqueur has dairy…)


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