It's no secret I love me any excuse to make a cake, so a gathering with Cameron's family at Easter was the perfect excuse. I always make something nest-themed at Easter so I knew it just had to have some nest component. I'd already done the fondant and the spun sugar thing, so it had to be different. I sat down and did a little brain-storming and eventually came up with this beast.
But this cake has a little hidden secret: it's completely vegan.
Cameron's brother recently make the switch to a completely vegan diet. So these days taking cake around usually results in a existential crisis on my part. I want to be inclusive, but peoples favourite cakes usually involve animal dairy or eggs at the very least. If I'm making the cake for that individual, I'll usually make then their favourite thing. But if I'm taking a cake around for everyone, particularly for a family-orientated holiday such as Easter, I want to make something everyone can have.
There's a lot of negative stereotypes about vegan baking. And, let's face it, there's fair reason for it. There's a lot of awful substitutes, bad recipes and a plethora of anecdotes from people about the boring, flavourless results they've found themselves with.
I wanted to help break that stereotype. To create a cake that was as delicious as any I'd usually make. Something make with delicious ingredients, not just substitutes. Something everyone would enjoy. A cake that didn't shout, "I'm vegan," but subtly whispered it later when you were sprawled on the couch digesting all that Easter food.
It began with a chocolate velvet cake.
Oh, did I neglect to mention that this is also one of the most effortless cakes you'll ever make? Because it is. There’s minimal effort involved for a stunning result.
First the cake base. This cake involves mixing all the dry ingredients together, adding the wet ones and stirring…
… pouring it into a cake tin.
Then half an hour later you're left with a beautiful, moist chocolate cake that may just be one of the best chocolate cakes you'll ever taste. I took the dome off the cake to make a perfectly even base for the mousse layer and made the mistake of giving the family taste tests of the dome. I had to deliver another culinary distraction stat so I didn't suddenly lose the cake to sticky fingers. It’s good.
I could have sworn I took photos of the assembly of the cake, but in my excitement it seems I didn't. So let's skip ahead to the mousse.
Ah, the chocolate mousse layer. This allowed me to finally try something that has been on my mind ever since one of my Uni friends told me about a chocolate mousse experience. A friend of hers made her some chocolate mousse and asked her to guess what was in it. "Cream? Eggs?" she offered, standard mousse ingredients. She told me her mind was blown when her friend told her it was just avocado. As soon as she told me, I knew I had to try it. I have an extreme love affair with avocados. Any excuse for more is more than welcome.
As for things I don't like, really dark chocolate is one of them. It's quite bitter to me, overpoweringly so. It reminds me of all I dislike about liqueur. But to keep it vegan, you need a high quality chocolate with no dairy additives, so dark it was. My avocado mousse-gasm shall have to wait until I can make it with a lesser dark chocolate. But the masses enjoy it and this cake was all about everyone else.
You don't need to hunt speciality shops to find dairy free chocolate: it's right there in your supermarket. Lindt make 70% and 80% cocoa chocolates that have no dairy additives, and Whittakers make a lovely 72% cocoa chocolate. I opted for the latter because getting a 250g block for $4 seemed much more appealing that the incredible prices Lindt charge for a 100g block.
If you don't need to worry about the dairy component, choose whatever eating chocolate suits your palate.
The mousse is even easier to make than the cake. I did it all in my food processor. It was perhaps slightly lazy of me, but hey, why make all those dishes when you don't have to!
While the mousse was setting, I went about making the nests and other chocolate decorations. I piped some nests out of chocolate, but when I woke on Easter Sunday morning to assemble the cake I decided they looked more like webs than anything and quickly made an alternative.
I went and poked in my fridge and removed the cake and found it had set at the very least. To say I was having panic attacks over whether this would turn out is an understatement. It took me a while to perfect my usual mousse I use for cakes and there were plenty of errors along the way. Too set, too runny, unpalatable. This time I was making a mousse cake without gelatine using ingredients that behave completely different to cream and eggs, and I was unleashing it upon a whole lot of people without testing it myself first. I almost couldn't look.
I pushed these worries from my mind and assembled the cake. On the outside I placed these white chocolate decorations I made by dolloping the chocolate onto baking paper and using a spoon to swipe it. Cameron's mum later asked if I'd made them look like Easter bunny ears for the occasion. The thought hadn't crossed my mind but we'll pretend like it's all on purpose.
The nests were made by melting some leftover dark chocolate and stirring in enough shredded coconut until it could hold no more. I then shaped the mixture into nests, let them set then added some speckled Easter eggs.
Then came the moment of truth: slicing the cake. I could barely look I was so nervous. I made Cameron cut the cake.
I couldn't believe how perfectly it sliced. How perfectly set the mousse was.
It was so perfect, in fact, I thought it deserved a gif.
It doesn't matter what utensil you unleash upon it, it slices through the mousse like a hot knife through butter. The mousse remains perfectly creamy but set enough that it holds shape completely. I don't think I've ever made a cake that has cut so brilliantly and effortlessly before.
And the cake base is enough to write home about by itself. It's the perfect accompaniment to the mousse.
If you've decided you too need this cake in your life, please read on.
Chocolate Mousse Cake
Chocolate Avocado Mousse Layer
*Note that honey or gelatine should not be used if this cake is intended to be vegan.
Chocolate Avocado Mousse Layer
To assemble: Use a long strip of acetate or firm plastic to wrap around the cake base. You can secure it in place using large elastic bands placed around the exterior. If you don't have access to acetate, you can use a springform tin lined with baking paper. Note that the cake itself will be slightly smaller than the cake tin (it shrinks from the edges slightly when baking) and some of the mouse may seep down around the edges of the cake so it's worth picking up some acetate if you can. Most craft stores sell it.
Pour the mousse into the casing/on top of the cake. Use a spoon or knife (a palette knife is ideal) to spread the mixture and smooth the top. If you used agar-agar, it can be left to set at room temperature. If you used gelatine, pop it in the fridge. Leave to set for 6 hours or overnight, then remove the acetate. Decorate as desired.
You'll find the printable version of this recipe here.