Harini is one of the first food bloggers I met in Mumbai, and we instantly became friends. It’s not very difficult to make friends with Harini–she’s a transparent soul, full of life and vigour–chatty, well-read, superlatively talented (she can stitch, embroider, crochet, style, photograph, is a phenomenal cook…) and most importantly, she is very kind. She’s always ready with an offer for help–“I’ll watch your kids!” “Come, at least have some coffee!” “You want some really good Sumac? I bought too much–here, take!” “What, you don’t have a Feedburner account?! Come, I’ll show you how to set it up!” Typical Harini.
One quality I have always admired in Harini is her definition of tolerance. See, Harini is vegan by choice. She turned vegan more than a decade ago, and has been a silent crusader of the philosophy since. A few years later, her daughter turned vegan and chose to go gluten-free because of health requirements. Her son is now making a conscious choice, exploring the vegan lifestyle that he has seen his mum and sister enjoy. Neither of the children were subjected to her lifestyle or dietary choices at any point. And here’s the more amazing thing–Harini’s husband, a true blue Mangalore boy, is a pure non-vegetarian. And they all live under the same roof. They eat at the same table. They don’t give each other lessons on dietary choices or life choices. Harini would buy dairy-based sweets for her son, lest he felt deprived. Her husband extracts fresh coconut oil for Harini to use in her vegan recipes. To me, this is a lesson in tolerance and love. At a time when we are plagued by violence and hatred brought on by choices of food, it amazes me that a vegan girl (and TamBrahm to boot!) like Harini is so at ease with the radically different choices that her family and friends make at the dinner table with her. That she can sit opposite a pepperoni pizza without turning up her nose literally or figuratively. That she can offer her vegan cheese pizza to a table of non-vegetarians. That we can all enjoy what we’re eating without judging, without guilt, without shame, without fear.
A few weeks ago, Harini announced that she was relocating to Bengaluru for a few years to be with her son, who is now studying there. A few of us food blogger dinosaurs got together to bid her a temporary goodbye. Whatever little I know of vegan lifestyle, vegan cooking, or adapting recipes using vegan ingredients, I know because of Harini and her blog ; so it was only natural that I decided to bake her a vegan chocolate and almond cake. Over time, I have come to really love vegan cake recipes because they are ridiculously easy to put together; there’s no whipping or folding, no fear of curdling. Usually, they are one-bowl recipes, and leave you with little mis-en-place to worry about. I made this really easy vegan chocolate and almond cake because we were meeting at tea time, but we ended up eating it before and after a pizza dinner as well, and got the stamp of approval from Harini as well as some of my sworn non vegetarian friends, who have little tolerance for eggless cakes, so I’m happy to conclude this recipe is a keeper. The cake is a slightly dense one, which makes it a great naked cake to eat at tea time with a casual dusting of icing sugar or cocoa (or both!). But top it with a ganache, throw on some toasted or caramelised nuts, add a little edible bling, and you have a party cake that everyone will fall for. (Psst: I imagine this would work great with some juicy strawberries on top as well!)
Easy Vegan Chocolate Almond Cake Recipe
Ingredients for the cake:
- 1 and 1/2 cups plain flour
- 1/2 cup ground almonds
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1 and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 and 1/4 cup soft brown sugar
- A pinch of salt
- 1 and 1/2 cups unflavoured soy milk
- 1/3 cup chopped (pure, not compound) dark chocolate or chocolate pellets (I used a 53 % Callebaut)
- 1/4 cup unflavoured vegetable oil (I used rice bran)
- 1 teaspoon cider vinegar or synthetic white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla paste
- 1 teaspoon instant coffee powder
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
Ingredients for the decoration:
- 1 cup chopped (pure, not compound) dark chocolate or chocolate pellets
- 1/4 cup unflavoured soy milk
- Flaked almonds
- Edible glitter
- Toast the flaked almonds in a pan over very low heat. Alternatively, leave them in an oven at about 100 degrees centigrade for 10-15 minutes until uniformly toasted.
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade. Grease and line an 8-inch round cake tin with parchment.
- Place all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl (flour, ground almonds, cocoa, coffee, sugar, baking soda, salt). Whisk together to combine. Set aside.
- Place the chocolate and the soy milk in a bowl and microwave for 30-50 seconds (stopping every 30 seconds to mix and to ensure that the chocolate does not split). When smooth and combined, add the maple syrup, oil and vanilla and mix well.
- And the wet ingredients to the dry and combine using a spatula, ensuring there are no lumps.
- Now, quickly add the vinegar and fold well, ensuring the effervescence gets uniformly distributed. This is what will make the cake light.
- Immediately pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 30-40 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
- Invert the cake on a cooling rack and allow it to cool completely.
- Brush the cake lightly with a simple sugar and coffee syrup if you want it extra moist and to get rid of loose crumbs.
- Make the ganache by simply microwaving the chocolate and the soy milk together for 20-40 seconds, stopping and mixing every few seconds). Mix to achieve a smooth and glossy ganache.
- Pour the ganache all over the cake and its sides. Use an offset spatula to create patterns in the ganache, if liked. Decorate with the toasted almonds and edible glitter.