Vegan Cooking School #2:
A Story With a Lesson… And a Recipe
(for basic yellow cake with chocolate frosting)
My heart was recently warmed more than a little when another roommate took on baking. Siobhan had never made a thing from scratch but asked me if she could bake a big, vegan cake for the most recent Taco Tuesday. Prior to engaging in the baking process, we discussed the chemistry (as far as I understand) of making a cake. We took a trip together to the grocery store on Monday, perused the “Baking Needs” aisle together, and brought home all the necessary ingredients.
Come Taco Tuesday I had a lot of homework to do. Instead of being there behind Siobhan for each step of the cake baking process, I was writing an essay about volunteering while studying abroad. Yes, it was as boring as it sounds and I would have given my right little toe to be excused from the assignment and in an apron coaching my pupil. Instead, I had to shoot her an email containing the ingredients and rudimentary directions and wait for her to have questions.
I learned a lot from this experience, as well. Firstly, it turns out presence in the kitchen is required to be an effective baking coach. As I was working in my room to limit distractions, however, I was not able to keep a close eye on Siobhan. When she came into the room with a bag of powdered sugar and asked me about measuring cups, I answered her cup question and told her, “You won’t need that sugar until you make the frosting.” Unfortunately, some how my message didn’t come through clear enough.
About an hour later, Cassie was running into my room loudly whispering, “Oh my God you have to see the mess Siobhan is making!!” I didn’t really need to see it, so I sent Cassie into the kitchen with my camera to photograph the scene of the disaster and kept chipping away on that cursed essay.
Amidst the sound of much clanging (which I assumed was the sound of dishes being cleaned) the smell of warm vanilla cake began wafting into my room. I swelled with pride for my pupil, who had asked less questions than I anticipated and who seemed less flustered than I had expected her to. Yes, her hair was disheveled and her eyebrows appeared to be permanently knit together, but she had made a batter, poured it into a pan, and popped it in the oven.
I finished my essay and crawled into bed to take a ten-minute nap before I had to get up and start cooking tacos. I was dozing when Siobhan walked in with a weird-looking cake in her hands and an utterly horrified expression on her face.
“SAM! It came out bad! Taste it!” she said, holding a dense looking square of “cake” over me where I laid. I passed her up on sampling the mistake cake and dragged myself into the kitchen to see what was up. This is when I learned another lesson: replacing granulated sugar with powdered sugar in a cake recipes results in a giant, awkward pancake. Apparently, Siobhan hadn’t seen the bag of sugar sitting next to the flour on the counter.
Some folks tried the product of Siobhan’s first baking experience, saying “It would be good with some maple syrup.” Not wanting to frost this rectangular aberration, Siobhan opted to make another cake, to take another stab at it for the sake of Taco Tuesday.
This time I was in the kitchen, but I was still unable to keep a close eye on the cake-baking process as I was prepping the Taco Tuesday feast. I did, however, catch some of the mistakes Siobhan was making that could have contributed to the bizarre quality of the first cake. Among the mistakes, neglecting to fill the dry-ingredient scoops accurately and mistaking a tablespoon for a teaspoon probably rank the highest.
The second cake came out much better, and the frosting whipped up flawlessly. In the end, the kitchen was a mess (with even the clean dishes somehow covered in flour, sugar, cake batter, and God-knows what else) and we had two desserts for Taco Tuesday (some strange pancake squares and a scrumptious chocolate cake).
The lessons learned from all of this?
- Being a good vegan baking coach requires the time to dedicate attention to the pupil and to the details of the recipe.
- Powdered sugar should not replace granulated sugar in a cake recipe.
- A teaspoon is NOT the same as a tablespoon.
If you follow this recipe at least as closely as Siobhan did, you’ll get a 9” x 13” slab of dessert to please a crowd. Yellow cake with fudgey chocolate frosting. Who doesn’t love it? It’s simple, classic, and delicious. This recipe is, it turns out, not actually fool-proof but is still easy.
Easy Yellow Cake
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup soy milk
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a pan by spritzing it with non-stick spray.
- Mix water, soy milk, and vinegar together in a small bowl or a mug and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and baking powder.
- Add sugar, vanilla, and canola oil to a medium bowl. Pour in soy milk mixture and stir until blended.
- Slowly pour the wet mixture in the medium bowl into the large bowl of dry ingredients and mix well, until no clumps remain.
- Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20 – 22 minutes, testing the center with a toothpick after 20 mintures to see if it is done. It should look golden around the edges.
- Let the cake cool before frosting.
Easy Fudgey Frosting
- 1 cup vegan margarine
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- ½ cup cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons vanilla
- 4 tablespoons soy milk
- Soften the margarine in the microwave, until it’s a little bit melty.
- Add margarine to a large bowl. Add powdered sugar, then cocoa powder. Add vanilla and soy milk on top of everything.
- Stir! We use a spatula to mix our frosting, because we don’t have a hand-mixer. The frosting comes out fudgey when hand stirred, and fluffy when beat with a mixer.
Don’t frost your cake until it’s cooled! It will be sloppy and weird. You can store the frosting in the fridge until the cake is ready, just give it a stir when the cake’s ready.
When Siobhan first made this cake, she frosted it right in the pan. Her second attempt, waited for the cake to cool, turned it out of the pan, cut it in half, and made herself a little layer cake. Though the second time she somehow effed-up the frosting and it ran like business all over the place, it was tasty-as heck and got gobbled up.