Anita Shepherd's Vegan Chocolate Birthday Cake With Super-Fluffy Frosting

July 13, 2016

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes: Disappointed by vegan buttercreams, Anita Shepherd consulted the back of a Cool Whip container and spied a whole lot of corn syrup. She turned to its more wholesome equivalent: brown rice syrup. Added on its own, the syrup made the frosting sleek and glossy, but still heavier and stickier than she wanted. But she discovered that the syrup helped stabilize the base enough that adding almond milk (a whole cup!), made it poof into pillowy ripples in the mixer. Recipe from Anita Shepherd of Anita's Creamline Coconut Yogurt, cake recipe adapted via Joy the Baker.

We've partnered with Bosch, makers of modern appliances like the Benchmark Induction Slide-In Range, to showcase a few ways to keep your friends and family together at the stovetop all winter long. To read more about this cake, check out Kristen Miglore's post The Story—and Secret Ingredient—Behind Our Genius Vegan Chocolate Cake with Super-Fluffy Frosting.
Genius Recipes

Makes: a double-layer 8- or 9-inch cake


The cake

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil like vegetable oil (or nut oil like almond oil)
  • 1 cup soft avocado, very well-mashed, about 2 medium avocados
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

The frosting

  • 9 1/2 ounces good-quality baking chocolate (we used 100% Dagoba bars)
  • 1 1/2 cups non-hydrogenated shortening
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup almond milk, divided
  • 1 cup brown rice syrup
In This Recipe


The cake

  1. Heat the oven to 350° F. Grease and flour two 8 or 9-inch rounds.
  2. Sift together all of the dry ingredients except the sugar.
  3. Mix all the wet ingredients together in a bowl, including the super mashed avocado.
  4. Add sugar into the wet mix and stir.
  5. Mix the wet with the dry all at once, and beat with a whisk (by hand) until smooth.
  6. Pour batter into a greased cake tins. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  7. Let cakes cool in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto cooling racks to cool completely before frosting with fluffy chocolate frosting below.

The frosting

  1. In a heat-proof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt the chocolate, whisking as needed. Set chocolate aside to cool completely.
  2. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat shortening till smooth. Stop the mixer, add all the sugar and beat on low, but stop when it still looks ugly and not completely incorporated. Add half the almond milk, the vanilla, and the salt.
  3. With the mixer on medium-high, slowly pour in the brown rice syrup, then the rest of the milk. Continue beating as it smooths out and gets super-fluffy.
  4. Beat in the cooled chocolate. Taste and tweak the salt or sweetness if you like. Use to frost the cooled chocolate cakes.
  5. Notes: If you're in a rush, you can set the bowl of melted chocolate in a bath of cold water and whisk to cool it down faster, but don't let the chocolate get solid again! If at any point the frosting starts to look ugly and separated, don't worry—just keep beating on high until it smooths out. If your kitchen is hot and the frosting is still looking separated or flat, stick the bowl in the fridge to cool it down, then continue.

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Reviews (32) Questions (0)

32 Reviews

ariel A. January 28, 2019
Tasted great! I used Earth Balance instead of shortening which worked well. Didn't need to add all of the almond milk to reach the desired consistency. We all thought the frosting tasted just like canned store-bought chocolate frosting (in a good way!) I would encourage using 100% chocolate if possible to balance out the sweetness of all the sugar (which I did find was needed for structure.)
Caroline L. December 6, 2018
i made the frosting (to put on a cupcake version of margaret fox's amazon cake, also on food52) for a friend's son's birthday. due to dietary restrictions, i had to do some futzing, but was able to successfully substitute coconut oil for the shortening, oat milk for the almond milk, and corn syrup for the rice syrup (i just had a hard time finding the rice syrup). i did need to add a tiny bit more powdered sugar and beat it a TON in the stand mixer to get it to a good thick consistency. it's so delicious!
okmosa September 18, 2018
Could I substitute soy or rice milk for the almond milk?
Kristen M. September 18, 2018
Danielle June 7, 2018
Can I make these into cupcakes?
Kristen M. September 18, 2018
I'm sorry I missed this, Danielle—this would definitely work as cupcakes, with a shorter baking time.
Danielle June 7, 2018
Can I make these into cupcakes?
Laura M. May 28, 2018
Should this cake be kept in the refrigerator?
Kristen M. May 28, 2018
No need!
C F. March 31, 2018
The flavours were lovely but I really could not get the frosting to thicken up enough to stay on the vertical surfaces, even with cooling it in the fridge - served it as a drip cake instead . I couldn't find a non-hydrogenated shortening and tried using a vegan butter sub (Melt). I'll look around some more for the shortening before trying again.
Sunita V. March 8, 2018
Hi. Is it possible to use it as a simple buttercream without the choclate..
Kristen M. March 9, 2018
Yes, actually, I know Anita does this—just stop before adding the chocolate! The brown rice syrup will give it a caramelly flavor.
Esvee April 18, 2018
My daughter has requested pale blue frosting - what color is the buttercream without the chocolate? Wondering if I can tint it. Thanks!
Kristen M. April 19, 2018
It's a creamy-beige color, so tints should work just fine.
Anne G. November 15, 2017
I found the whisk for the mixer worked better than the paddle. Also, even though my kitchen was not warm, the frosting was a bit wet, so I chilled it before frosting the cake. And, like all vegan frostings I've tried so far, the cake really needs to stay in the fridge or the frosting starts sliding down a little. Otherwise, this was a fabulous recipe. Thank you so much.
Amy February 22, 2017
Oh my Gosh this came out so nice! Thank you for sharing! My coworker is vegan and will appreciate this tomorrow at work :)
alissa D. January 30, 2017
If I use gluten free flour,do i still use 3 cups? First time vegan baker! Thank u.
Kristen M. January 30, 2017
Yes, it should be a one-to-one substitution—hope you love this cake.
Elle S. January 29, 2017
I found the ingredients at Amazon Smile freeshipping - and got to help my favorite cause with my purchase, but will buy at Whole Foods too.

Also: excited that the gluten free flour works - and issue for me.

ONE QUESTION: I would like to use powdered cacao NOT the sort that needs this ok? Excited to try this recipe.
ERodMcG September 16, 2016
I made this with Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour and it turned out great! This frosting is a game changer. I would use it in place of any chocolate buttercream. I tried Spectrum shortening and it whips up so light and fluffy and is not cloyingly sweet (but still sweet enough!). I added about a 1-2 tsp of espresso powder to the frosting and 1 tbsp to the cake for more chocolate flavor. I would recommend putting the avocado in a blender or food processor with the wet ingredients because green specks kind of give away that it's vegan. This cake will stay moist in the fridge for a week but would also freeze well. Great recipe!
Ashlee H. August 27, 2016
Made this for my sons second bday. He has a dairy and egg allergy. Everyone at the party couldn't believe the cake was vegan or contained any avocado not was a huge hit!! Really really yummy.
Ashlee H. August 27, 2016
*it was a huge hit :)
Barbara B. July 18, 2016
Would maple syrup work in lieu of brown rice syrup?
Kristen M. July 18, 2016
No unfortunately it won't work in a one-to-one swap—Anita has tried. You can swap in a little bit for flavoring (or if you're running low on brown rice syrup) though.
Barbara B. July 18, 2016
Hi Kristen! Ok, good to know that maple syrup isn't a suitable substitute. Thanks for the info, and I can't wait to try this recipe.
Mary July 17, 2016
What kind of non-hydrogenated shortening do you use? Could I substitute Earth Balance Buttery Sticks?
Amy July 17, 2016
Mary, Earth Balance makes non-hydrogenated shortening sticks too! They're a bit harder to find, but Whole Foods at least would have them. Some health food stores and grocery stores do too.
Kristen M. July 18, 2016
Anita has also used vegan butters like Earth Balance in place of the shortening.
Chapa July 17, 2016
Were can I buy the rice syrup?!
Kristen M. July 18, 2016
Health food stores will have it—even regular grocery stores in NYC carry it nowadays. Look in the maple syrup/honey/molasses section in the baking aisle.
prul July 16, 2016
Why do we need the avocado?
Kristen M. July 18, 2016
Check out the original article for more:
I believe it would work without it (similar to wacky cakes or the Amazon cake also on Food52), but wouldn't be as fudgy.