Turning 21 with a Vegan Chocolate Birthday Cake

It’s pure fate that I left America at the bitter age of 20 and turned 21 here. 21 in England is only a milestone age because it came across the pond from America, you can’t do anything new. In America, 21 is when the world is suddenly opened to you. I don’t really drink, but being 20 for my year abroad barred me from pubs and bars, meant I had to ‘watch’ the bourbon tasting at my favourite bourbon distillery, Jim Beam, and made me feel 17 again really. But I was well and truly spoilt on my 21st in England, with family and good friends around me and big bottles of champagne, big bouquets of flowers and designer jewellery. I felt like a princess, sure, but the whole gift thing was overwhelming and for those of you who know I am a sporty girl for whom fashion/partying comes second, I felt over my head with an age I wasn’t sure I was able to live up to yet. Does anyone else feel that way? Maybe it’s just because the older I get, the more responsibilities and ‘adulting’ I have to do, and it’s incredibly daunting.

2016-03-25 11.20.15

I had to watch my roommate taste all the whisky for me 😦

So when one of my best friends turned 21, I decided to make things a little more humble. She’s never been a birthday fan, being a July baby means most people aren’t usually around to celebrate, so she asked that I especially don’t kick up a fuss for her birthday this year. She wasn’t to worry, the jazziest thing about her birthday was going to be the dairy-free cake (she’s lactose intolerant). We got our original friendship group together, went for a lovely meal at a Greek restaurant in town (deliberately not Italian because she is Italian and therefore has a very high standard), and had a lovely meal catching up with each other after a year of seeing many of them. That’s what birthdays are about, really, they’re a day to celebrate what you’ve done with 365 days to play with. You celebrate another year gone by because it’s a growth of your ‘self’, and as we get older our lives get busier and more exciting. I have friends getting married, engaged, having babies, moving halfway across the world, getting full time jobs, getting a mortgage. 21 is the pivotal point for all these real life things, and sometimes you need a slice of cake, or a few, to get you through those.


Making a dairy free cake was trickier than I thought. I’ve made plenty of vegan cakes, but I had never really decorated them with vegan ingredients, how do you make dairy free buttercream? Thankfully I worked it out with some trial and error, I made an almond milk ganache with dark chocolate and used a dairy free margarine for the buttercream. The ganache was a bit grainy and looked horrible, but once whipped into the buttercream it came together quite nicely and helped the icing set up, so it worked out okay! I’m not a vegan but I do try to make my cakes as accessible and cruelty-free as possible, as cake is for sharing and I’d like to be able to give it to as many of my friends as I can. Plus, vegan cakes mean lactose free, so win win!

Anyway, enough of my deep meaningful chatter, sorry to get all wistful on you! Let’s get to the recipe shall we?

For the cake:
200g dairy free margarine/vegan butter
180g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 tbsp golden syrup (or sub for maple/agave)
300ml almond milk (any dairy-free milk works here)
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
175g self raising flour
pinch salt
1 tsp coffee dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water
1 tsp cinnamon (optional)

For the buttercream:
230g dark chocolate
120g almond milk
400g icing sugar
150g vegan butter/dairy free margarine
Pinch salt
1 tbsp vanilla
2 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1 tsp coffee granules mixed with 1 tbsp hot water

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C/350°F. Grease and line a cake tin (I used an 8″) with parchment. In a jug, add the vinegar to the milk, stir, and allow to sit.

Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the vanilla, coffee, golden syrup and cocoa and mix again.

Pour in half the milk and half the flour. Mix. Add the bicarbonate of soda and baking powder and mix again. Add the rest of the ingredients, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Pour into your tin and bake for 40-60 mins or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool and then place in the freezer for 1-2 hours or until firm enough to slice in half to make 2 layers.

For the icing, start by making your ganache. Heat your almond milk in the microwave for 1 minute. Stir and then added the chopped chocolate and allow to sit until melted. If it doesn’t melt quite enough, microwave for an extra 20 seconds more. Don’t worry too much if the ganache looks grainy, it’ll be added to the buttercream.

For the buttercream, cream together the butter, vanilla, icing sugar, salt and cocoa, leaving the coffee to one side. Add the ganache and whisk until thoroughly incorporated. Pour into a bowl and leave at room temp for it to set. After about an hour, the buttercream will be set and thick. Spoon back into a large bowl and whip up until it goes paler and is a spreadable consistency. Add the coffee mixture and a little extra almond milk if the mix is still too stiff to spread onto your cake.

Spread the buttercream between the layers and crumb coat the sides and top. Place in the fridge to chill. Once the buttercream is firm to the touch, frost again, making sure to smooth out the sides and top. Add your decorations and serve. Or alternatively, freeze the frosted cake and defrost in the fridge the day before you need it. Serve and enjoy!


So here’s my simple chocolate birthday cake. With the leftover frosting, you could probably set it up in the fridge and make truffles from it, covering in chocolate before letting set up at room temperature. I topped my cake with cinder toffee and dark chocolate squares, broken into pieces, but top with whatever you like! I was going to go with Oreos too but it might be a little too over the top… maybe.



If it’s your birthday soon, I hope someone makes this for you, or that you make it!

Until next time,

Love Sian xxx


4 thoughts on “Turning 21 with a Vegan Chocolate Birthday Cake

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