Recipe Review

I Tried Grandma’s Award-Winning One-Pan Chocolate Cake That Surprised Reddit (and It’s Vegan!)

published Aug 20, 2021
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Credit: Justin Burke

As a baker and someone allergic to dairy, I’m always looking for new ways to improve my dairy-free baking skills. Truth is, despite my years as a baker, I still face challenges baking dairy-free. Sometimes the texture, structure, or flavor is off, leaving me stumped. So when I came across an award-winning recipe for a Depression-era chocolate cake on Reddit and saw a reader’s comment calling it “accidentally vegan,” I knew I had to give it a try. 

How to Make Grandma’s Award-Winning One-Pan Chocolate Cake  

This is a quick recipe to prep and only requires a bowl, whisk, and an 8-inch round cake pan — no stand mixer required. First, you’ll whisk together self-rising flour, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt until evenly combined. Add vegetable oil, apple cider vinegar, vanilla extract, and cold water and whisk until the dry ingredients are no longer visible and the batter is mostly smooth (there will be a few lumps). 

Grease (with non-dairy spray or butter) and line the bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan. Pour the batter into the pan in an even layer and bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean and the top of the cake is springy. Let cool completely, slice, and serve. 

My Honest Review 

I had high hopes for this recipe. The idea of an award-winning vegan chocolate cake from the Depression era made me happy and I was eager to learn something new. I was also excited to try the chocolate snacking cake that, according to readers’ comments, was good enough to eat without frosting or ganache. 

The cake has a delicious chocolate flavor — not too sweet and balanced well to let the chocolate shine but not overpower the palate. The height the cake gets from the self-rising flour, baking powder, and apple cider vinegar is impressive; something normally hard to achieve without the addition of eggs. My favorite part of the cake was the crunchy yet delicate exterior, adding texture to the fluffy cake in each bite. 

This recipe does have a few letdowns, though, which could simply be personal preference. I found the texture of the cake changing after chewing, going from fluffy and sponge-like to slightly gummy and sticking to the roof of my mouth. The cake also loses its crunchy exterior after a day wrapped in plastic wrap or covered on a cake stand. I would recommend enjoying this cake the day it’s made. 

I did add coconut whipped cream on top of one slice to see if it added anything to the cake. The verdict was it was a nice addition, especially if you wanted to jazz up the cake for a party, but it wasn’t necessary. Overall, this is a great vegan option for chocolate cake — especially if you miss fluffy, rich chocolate cake. Did I learn something new? Not really, but I appreciate this recipe and its history. 

Credit: Justin Burke

4 Tips for Making Grandma’s Award-Winning One-Pan Chocolate Cake

  1. Know your oven temperature conversions. The recipe bakes the cake at 160° fan force. The conversion for Fahrenheit is 350°F. 
  2. Do not sub all-purpose flour for self-rising flour. Self-rising flour includes leavening agents that help the cake rise. Using all-purpose flour will cause your cake to be dense and rise only slightly. 
  3. Whisk all ingredients longer than you would if using a stand mixer. Don’t stop whisking once all the ingredients look combined. Continue whisking, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl, to fully incorporate the ingredients and avoid any pockets of dry ingredients. 
  4. Enjoy the cake the day it’s baked. The cake will lose its crunchy exterior once covered in plastic wrap or stored under a cake stand lid. Still good to eat, but it will have less texture.