The Story—and Secret Ingredient—Behind Our Genius Vegan Chocolate Cake
There's no better way to spend time in the kitchen than collaborating with those you love. We’ve partnered with Bosch to showcase a few ways to keep your friends and family cooking together, all year long.
This towering, richly chocolatey birthday cake—for vegans, omnivores, and everyone in between—is the result of about 14 quarts of frosting test batches and a decade-long, food-fueled friendship.
Its story begins in a little classroom in Los Angeles in 2007. I was a frustrated economic analyst, about to move to New York to try to break into food media. Anita was a typist taking a break from New York, writing her own food blog and figuring out what to do (or not do) with her ethnobotany degree. We were both hoping a six-week food-writing course might help shove us toward the next step.
We didn’t know then that Anita was going to become a nationally distributed coconut yogurt pioneer, or that I was going to spend my days hunting down Genius Recipes for Food52. But we did know instantly that we wanted to be friends—and that all of the obsessive conversations about food that didn’t really go anywhere with other people finally had a home.
The past 10-plus years, we’ve been confidantes and cheerleaders for each other as our food careers twisted and turned, and I still learn something new every time I join Anita in the kitchen, doing whatever task she wants to hand over. Some of the tidbits I’ve picked up just by being near her: How to throw together a no-recipe glaze for a whole bunch of mini doughnuts (see us in action at her now-husband Jean’s band’s concert, above) using the very best maple syrup. Why emptied Bonne Maman jelly jars in a bookshelf make excellent spice storage (she doesn’t even label hers—she just smells them to decide whether they belong in what she’s making). How to not burn bacon (hey, she wasn’t always vegan). I’ve also learned that if I stay long enough, she’ll usually feed me something else, and send me home with a new ingredient to try at home.
But far and away, one of our greatest cooking adventures together has been this cake. From the first time I tasted it at Anita’s daughter’s first birthday party, I knew that I wanted to feature both the chocolate cake (vegan yet fudgy, thanks to two whole avocados) and the super-fluffy, vegan frosting (she reverse-engineered it from the ingredients in Cool Whip!) in Genius Recipes. At the time, she didn’t even have the recipe written down; she’d always made it by intuition. When she eventually wrote it out and we went to test it, she knew there was something missing from the frosting.
It took re-testing the recipe seven times over one hot July weekend before we finally cracked the case. I was a happy clam as usual, tasting and offering unhelpful suggestions, while she stared down bowl after bowl of the frosting, knowing the answer was holding out on her. Around try number five, Jean wandered through the room and mentioned a couple of clues that helped trigger her memory. We knew the brown rice syrup (a nod to Cool Whip’s high-fructose corn syrup) was the secret ingredient, the thing that makes the frosting shiny and glossy. But the real key to making the frosting super-fluffy wasn’t just the syrup; it was the fact that the syrup stabilizes the base, allowing the frosting mixture to drink up extra liquid without turning the whole thing back into a thin, runny glaze. That revelation led us to the finished recipe, which has you add ½ cup almond milk before mixing in the syrup, and another ½ cup after it’s incorporated.
The cake is Anita’s masterpiece—as always, I feel lucky to have tagged along for the ride. You can read more about the recipe here, and see us making it (and goofing off just a little) in the video above. Then tell me in the comments: Who’s your favorite cooking buddy? And where should Anita and I go looking for food inspiration next?
We've partnered with Bosch, makers of modern appliances like the Benchmark Induction Slide-In Range, to showcase ways to spend time in the kitchen with your friends and family. Induction cooking helps this recipe come together safely and quickly thanks to the temperature precision it provides when melting the chocolate for the frosting; meanwhile the convection oven cuts down baking time slightly.