Vegan chocolate birthday cake

Baking a cake hasn't given me this many smiles in a long, long time. I usually find the whole process pretty traumatic and steer well clear of things you can't properly taste as you make, adjust the seasoning for or make it up as you go along. But this cake was FUN.

From making a gazillion batches of this vegan brownie recipe for my boyfriend and my birthday earlier in the year, I figured the texture would work quite well in a cake: it's spongey and gets stickier and richer the longer you keep it. So I doubled the recipe I'd been using for brownies and the result was this supersize cake that I then had to recruit best friends and neighbours (also bezzie ms!) to help me eat. We only managed half before I had to stick it in the freezer, this cake really is GINORMOUS. Perfect for a birthday or summer party, not so much a solo mission.

Serves 10
3 cups of plain flour
1 cup cocoa
3 cups organic brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 pinch of salt
1 1/2 cup fresh brewed coffee
1 1/2 cup soy milk
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup plain dark chocolate chips (about two small packets' worth)/ broken chunks of plain dark chocolate

For the icing and fruit topping

1 tbsp cocoa powder
Around 200g icing sugar
Around 3 tbsp vegan margarine such as Vitalite
200g strawberries
100g raspberries
1/2 peach or nectarine

Grease and line your baking tins. I used one large springform baking tin, and two smaller tins to go on top. You could make this cake with four layers, there's enough mixture- but I fancied making it look a little OTT with one bigger layer at the bottom.

Preheat oven to 160 °C.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Then in a separate bowl, pour and mix in the coffee, soy milk and oil. Add the liquid to the dry mix, stirring in the chocolate drops. 

Pour the cake mix into the tins. It will be quite runny at this point, but they do stodge up.

Leave in the oven for at least 25 minutes, checking back after that point to see if a tooth pick will come clean when inserted in the middle of the cake. 

Once the mixture springs back from light pressure when you touch it gently, it's ready. Take out and leave, in the tins, to cool for about five minutes initially. Then tip over and gently remove the baking paper, before leaving on cooling racks to cool down completely.

When the cakes have just about cooled, begin making the icing so they will be totally cool by the time it's all ready to assemble. I've kept the measurements between icing sugar and margarine vague as it often changes for me depending on heat or how stiff the icing goes, but I would stick to the rule that the less margarine you use the better, so the icing remains stiff and not too gloopy. Sift in the icing sugar to get rid of any lumps, and then use a fork to mix it into the sugar, using bit by bit, adding the cocoa as you go too.

Once you're happy with the consistency, begin assembling your cake. I chose to do one thin layer of chocolate icing with slices of strawberries for the base layer, then a layer of icing between bases 2 and 3, before topping off with a thicker layer for the top and chopped fruits. 

Remember once you've added the chopped fruit, it won't handle the heat very well, so clear some room in the fridge for this! I found myself laughing away once it was all ready, I couldn't quite believe what I'd managed to make with vegan ingredients. That's some magic right there!

Burnt sugar and blood orange churro bites

Last night a churro changed my life. Well, not just one, a whole plate full. Inspired by Nigel Slater's Churros with apples recipe, I whipped up a plate of moreish churro bites with some brown sugar and blood oranges. What caught my eye from Nigel's recipe is that the ingredients list was already vegan- a pretty rare find once you've strayed further than a fruit salad.

I've used every part of the blood oranges- the peel, flesh and juice- which breaks through the stodgy texture of the churros, and is perfect with the brown sugar, which I found burnt into little clusters once sprinkled over the hot churros.

Although this pudding would be PERFECTION for having friends round (everyone can eat as much as they like and still struggle to make a dent on the churro mound), I would make this a few times before to practice; the churro mix is quick to make, but the bubbling pan of oil to deep fry them in will require all your attention.

Makes a lot for 4 people
350ml water
1 orange's rind peeled
5 tbsp sunflower oil for mix, more for frying
1/2 tsp salt
200g plain flour
2-3 tbsp brown sugar
2 blood oranges for serving and juicing

In a saucepan, pour in the water, orange rind and 5 tbsp oil. Bring to the boil and then allow to infuse for 20 minutes.

Remove the rind, and add to a bowl with the salt and flour. Mix until a smooth paste forms.

In a pan suitable for deep fat frying, heat enough oil for bite size churros to cook in. Drop teaspoons of the churro mix into the oil, and wait until they turn a dark golden colour and float to the surface. It may take a few attempts to get the right colour, but once the oil is hot enough each churro should take around 30 seconds to cook.

Once they have turned a golden colour, remove from the pan and pile on a serving plate. I added a few sprinkles of brown sugar to each layer- along with some squeezes of orange juice, so that each churro tastes slightly different depending on how much sugar or juice it's soaked up.