The Great Cake-Off

By Jane Mountain | October 1, 2013

Since we got to Berlin, Jesse has been offering to make his Monmouth Coffee Cake. We love cake, and we love Monmouth Coffee, but the problem is, the cake isn’t vegan. Even though, while biking, we’ve been eating non-vegan items on a regular basis, we both felt a little yucky about actually commissioning a non-vegan cake.

Monmouth Coffee brewing in Jesse's new induction-friendly Bialetti.

Monmouth Coffee brewing in Jesse’s new induction-friendly Bialetti.

Still, we wanted that Monmouth Coffee Cake. So we made a compromise.

Jesse would make his cake for us, and I would bake a vegan version of the same cake.

A Cake-Off!

Adapt Or Perish?

As Jesse started mixing his ingredients, I started researching. What would I use as egg and butter substitutes? There are many possibilities for both, and I had to select carefully, based upon what I thought would work best in this cake, and also what was available in Berlin.

I knew I didn’t want to use any commercial substitute products like vegan butter or Egg Replacer, since they are processed and less healthy than whole ingredients would be.

I decided to use canola oil in place of butter, and vanilla soy yogurt for the eggs.

Canola oil and vanilla soy yogurt replace the butter and eggs.

That decided, we measured, we mixed, and we whipped.

adding coffee to a coffee cake

Adding a little Monmouth Coffee.

Finally, it was time to bake.

cake cooling in pan

The non-vegan cake, light and fluffy, just out of the oven.

Side note: If you’re trying to bake in Germany, you’ll need to seek out two ingredients that aren’t quite like they are elsewhere. Backpulver is the German equivalent of baking power. Natron is the word for baking soda. From what I can gather, neither is quite the same as its anglo counterpart.

After baking, and a break for a tasty dinner of vegan veggie stew, it was time to make the icing.

This stew was better than both cakes combined.

This stew was better than both cakes combined.

And Now For Something Completely Different

What?!? I have to make icing? I don’t think I’ve ever made icing before, vegan or not, so here I was really flying blind. Almost all the vegan icing recipes I could find were made with margarine or vegan butter substitute. I didn’t have either and didn’t want to use them anyway. I went searching for alternatives, and discovered that coconut oil or avocado might work.

I only had a little coconut oil, so I started with that. I then added some espresso to stay true to Jesse’s recipe. After adding a good deal of icing sugar, it soon became clear I needed some more thickener, so in went 1/4 of an avocado.

Now my icing was slightly thicker, but it was also a sickly brownish-green colour. Not pretty.

Meanwhile, Jesse was merrily beating his butter and confectioners’ sugar, making a lovely creamy concoction.

Almost sure my first attempt at icing was going to end in an inedible, snot-colored soup, I made a last ditch effort to save it. I melted a few squares of chocolate and added that.

Adding chocolate to the green icing. I sure hope this works.

Adding chocolate to the green icing. I sure hope this works.

Voila! All of a sudden, the icing was a deep chocolatey brown, smooth(ish), and firm enough to spread on a cake. Yes!

The icing would have been perfect if I'd had a hand blender to smooth the avocado.

The icing would have been perfect if I’d had a hand blender to whip the avocado.

Once our cakes were all dressed up, they looked very tempting.

vegan chocolate cake

The dark horse. The vegan contender.

The three of us served ourselves drinks – coffee for Stephen, almond milk for me, and bourbon for Jesse – and the tasting began.

Einz, Zwei, Drei… Eat

Jesse’s cake was noticeably fluffier, with a more spongy texture. Mine was a little smoother, a little squishy. Point to Jesse.

Jesse’s icing of butter, coffee, and icing sugar was good, but a little bit gritty. My icing was smooth and chocolaty, and no, you can’t taste the avocado. I’ll give that point to me.

Another gratuitous cake shot.

Another gratuitous cake shot.

Both cakes were tasty, but both had a slight baking soda aftertaste – we blame the weird German natron for that. Mine was a little more soda-y than Jesse’s though, so point to Jesse.

However, the depth of flavour in my cake was slightly better, since I’d used vanilla yogurt. Point to me.

Jesse’s cake was prettier though, so point to him for that.

Cakes just waiting to be eaten.

Cakes just waiting to be eaten.

My cake was almost surely healthier, containing far less saturated fat and far fewer calories. Then again, I don’t think anyone should be eating cake if they want something healthy, so no point are awarded for that.

Finally, my cake was not raised from confined animals, not reliant on the selective killing of male chicks and male cows, and also contributed less to the destruction of the environment. Sorry to get a little preachy, but I’d be remiss not to mention the most compelling reason to eat vegan cake. Anyway, point to me for that one.

How many points is that?

Who’s counting?

We decided in the end that the winner is all of us, because we like cake, and now we have two extremely tasty ones to eat over the next few days!

PS. I have to admit we all agreed that, even though both cakes were mighty delicious, Jesse’s cake was better than mine. Does this mean that ‘normal’ cake is better than vegan? Nope. It just means I need more practice adapting cake recipes.

Stephen’s Addendum

Jane has written about the Western world’s addiction to meat, and the difficulty in breaking that addiction. We have feelings that arise when we eat meat, when chemical reactions are triggered in the brain from taking a bite of a burger.

While taste testing these delicious cakes, this addiction idea kept creeping into my mind. There was a deeply ingrained part of me that was telling me I liked Jesse’s cake better. It was lighter and fluffier. That must mean it tastes better, right? In fact, it was just that part of my mind telling me this is what a cake “should” taste like.

Jane’s vegan cake tasted almost exactly the same as Jesse’s cake, but was better for me, and more importantly, better for the world.

And with that in mind, I like the vegan cake much better.  

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  1. Comment by Cassie

    Cassie October 2, 2013 at 8:08 am

    And husband points go to Stephen! They both sound delicious – good work on the avocado! I’ve had chocolate avocado mousse before and you’d never know it was in there…

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