If you’re looking for a simple, yet rich and satisfying vegan chocolate snack cake, then look no further! I love this cake because I can make it at a moment’s notice, with ingredients that I have at home, yet it always feels like a special treat. The cake is topped with rich swirls of vegan chocolate buttercream frosting.
Yesterday I shared my favorite vegan chocolate frosting, and today I’m sharing the snack cake that I love to put it on.
This cake is moist, fluffy, chocolatey, and sweet, with an emphasis on the moist and fluffy part.
I made the snack cake for my neighbor’s birthday last week. She had a friend staying with her when I brought it over, and we all helped ourselves to pieces in the late afternoon.
“It’s so…fluffy!” they both exclaimed.
I loved hearing this, because cake with a tender, fluffy crumb is my favorite kind. This includes chocolate cake, which can sometimes turn out denser and more fudgey than I actually want it to be.
Here, then, is a cake that is undeniably chocolate, but also light enough to be a perfect, spirit-lifting snack.
What’s a snack cake?
What makes a cake into a snack cake, exactly?
This is probably one of those culinary questions for which there is no definitive answer.
In my mind, a snack cake is simple enough—both to prepare and also to eat—that it doesn’t have to label itself as “dessert.”
Snack cake can be dessert, of course. But it can also just be a random afternoon pick-me-up.
Another way of putting it might just be “simple cake.” And in fact, Odette Williams has a great cookbook with that very title.
In the front matter, Williams writes, “These recipes are the ones that are in high rotation in my busy home. They’re simple enough to survive a little household chaos; in fact, let’s just agree that pandemonium is one of the ingredients.”
In explaining her deep and abiding love of cake, Williams also says, “The fewer ingredients a cake has, the more I want it.”
Basically, I agree.
Cake is my favorite dessert, period, and there aren’t too many cakes that I’d turn down. Sometimes I enjoy a festive and celebratory layer cake.
At the end of the day, though, the cake recipes that I make most often are always simple. They tend to be snack cakes, and my favorite moment in the day for enjoying them is the late afternoon, maybe with a cup of decaf or some tea.
How to make vegan chocolate snack cake
There’s nothing quite like a foolproof cake recipe.
I’ve now made this vegan chocolate snack cake enough times that I feel comfortable presenting it that way.
You can make this one of those “back pocket” recipes that you can rely on again and again. Even better, you’re likely to have all of the ingredients that you need to make it at any given time.
Here are the steps.
Step 1: whisk the dry ingredients together
Dry ingredients here are flour, sifted cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cornstarch.
Why cornstarch? Because it makes the cake texture lighter and more fluffy. Basically, if you add cornstarch to all-purpose flour, it’s an easy way to approximate cake flour without having to purchase a box.
If you don’t have the cornstarch, you can substitute an additional two tablespoons of all-purpose flour in the recipe.
But if you really love cake, then I recommend experimenting with the cornstarch + flour combo. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the delicate crumb that it creates!
Step 2: mix wet ingredients
Next, you’ll whisk together sugar, avocado oil, vanilla extract, water, and a teaspoon of some sort of acid.
The acid could be lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Even though this snack cake recipe calls for no plant-based milk, the reason for adding acid is the same reason that I often use homemade vegan buttermilk in cake and quick breads.
Acid reacts with baking powder to help cakes rise. This is called chemical leavening, and it’s a key part of achieving a fluffy cake!
Step 3: add wet to dry
In step 3, you’ll add the wet ingredients to your dry ingredients and mix until well combined.
It’s totally OK if there are some tiny clumps of flour in the batter, but there shouldn’t be many. This is a wet batter, as far as cake batters go, so be prepared for it to look very pourable.
Step 4: bake
You’ll bake the cake for about 40 minutes, or until the top of the cake is domed and firm.
I tend to find that it’s better to err on the side of over-baking rather than underbaking cakes, at least if we’re talking about a few extra minutes.
Taking cakes out of the oven too early will really knock the lightness out of them. Be sure to give this cake the time it needs to develop a domed top in the oven; you’ll be glad that you preserved its lift.
Step 5: cool
Before frosting the cake, you’ll want to give it a few hours to cool completely. If you skimp on cooling time, you’ll run the risk of melting your chocolate buttercream frosting.
I usually bake the vegan chocolate snack cake in the morning and frost it sometime in the mid or late afternoon.
Step 6: decorate!
Technically, you don’t have to frost this cake. It can be eaten plain, and it’s quite tasty that way.
But the cake becomes more festive and celebratory when it’s topped with delightful, creamy swirls of chocolate buttercream frosting.
For this recipe, you’ll need a half batch of my vegan chocolate frosting.
When I make the cake, I usually cut the frosting recipe in half, so that I don’t have frosting leftover.
But if you’d like to give the gift of homemade frosting to your future self, then you could certainly prepare the whole frosting recipe, use what you need for the chocolate snack cake, and then freeze what’s leftover.
Defrost the frosting overnight in the fridge when you’re ready to decorate another cake or batch of cupcakes.
Step 7: slice and enjoy
This is the fun part, or course.
Storing vegan chocolate snack cake
Slices of the snack cake can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
I recommend keeping them in the fridge, rather than at room temperature, so that you don’t run the risk of the frosting becoming too warm and melty.
If you plan to store the cake for longer than 3 days, then I recommend freezing squares until you’re ready to enjoy them. This will ensure that they stay nice and moist.
I’ve found that 1-cup, round glassware storage containers are perfect for squares of leftover cake.
Can the cake be made gluten-free?
Yes, it can!
The chocolate snack can can very successfully be made gluten-free for friends who don’t eat gluten or wheat.
I recommend using a gluten-free, all-purpose flour blend. The one I’ve had most success with is King Arthur Measure for Measure.
What type of cocoa powder should I use?
Choosing the right cocoa powder for baking is…complicated.
Basically, it all comes down to the science of acids and bases and which type of leavening agent you plan to use.
Different cocoa powders can also have different flavor profiles. Dutch process cocoa powder, which is what I recommend for this recipe, has an especially rich, dark chocolate flavor.
However, if you have a different type of cocoa powder at home, making a substitution probably won’t make or break this very forgiving recipe.
Speaking of the cocoa powder, I know that sifting is another step, but cocoa powder can get very clumpy. I do recommend sifting it before mixing in order to guarantee that your snack cake has a nice, even consistency.
More vegan snack cakes to savor
If you’re as enthusiastic about enjoying cake at any time of day as I am, then this post might have you hungry for more vegan snack cake recipes.
I got you.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Vegan gingerbread cake
- Applesauce spice cake
- Chocolate beet cake
- Peanut butter & jelly snack cake
- Vegan chocolate bundt cake
- Banana cake with cashew frosting
- Nantucket cranberry pie (actually a cake)
- Italian apple cake
And here’s the simple square cake that I’ve made for countless last minute birthday gifts, cheer-up offerings, thinking-of-you surprises, and—as of this week—happy-Valentine’s-Day-to-me celebrations.
- 1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour (120g)
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch (15g; substitute additional all-purpose flour)
- 1/2 cup sifted Dutch process cocoa powder (40g)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/3 cup avocado oil (80ml; substitute another neutral tasting vegetable oil)
- 3/4 cup cane sugar (150g)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup water (240ml)
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or distilled white vinegar
- 1/2 batch vegan chocolate frosting (cut the recipe in half, or freeze half of the chocolate frosting for a future cake!)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C. Line the bottom of an 8-inch/20cm square baking pan with parchment paper. Lightly oil the sides if the pan is non-stick.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar, vanilla, and apple cider vinegar for a full minute, until the wet ingredients are well combined.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix the batter fully. Some small clumps are fine, but there should be no large clumps or streaks of flour in the batter. This is a relatively loose/wet batter for cake—that's how it should be!
- Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish. Bake the cake for 40 minutes, or until the top of the cake is domed and set.
- Allow the cake to cool on a wire cooling rack for at least 1 hour before removing the cake from its pan. Continue cooling the cake for 2-3 hours, or until it's entirely cool.
- Before frosting the cake, prepare the half batch of chocolate buttercream frosting. Use an invert spatula to spread the frosting in a thin, even, smooth later over the top of the square cake. Decorate with a dash of sprinkles, if you like. Cut the cake into 9 squares and enjoy.
Speaking of Valentine’s Day, hope you’ve found a few small ways to show yourself and others a little extra love today so far. That’s what it’s all about.
And if, between now and bedtime, the expression of love involves a slice or two of homemade chocolate snack cake, then so much the better.