The Best Vegan Chocolate Cake

By Alexandra Caspero on May 31, 2022
The perfect frosted chocolate cake for birthdays or other celebrations.
Makes 2 9-inch cakes with frosting

The BEST vegan chocolate cake! Incredibly moist, this chocolate cake recipe is the best chocolate cake that just happens to be vegan. With homemade chocolate frosting, a must make for birthdays and other celebrations. 

May is a big month in our home- there’s my birthday, mother’s day, our anniversary and the last day of school all within a few weeks of each other. That calls for plenty of mini celebrations, usually with some type of sweet treat or dessert to finish. 

For my birthday a few weeks ago, I decided that I wanted a chocolate cake. While I have plenty of healthier cake recipes on my blog, like my orange olive oil cake or my cinnamon apple cake, I was craving something more decedent and rich. 

Frosted Vegan Chocolate Buttercream Cake with Blackberries

Dare I say this is the best cake I’ve ever had? It’s incredibly moist and rich, yet somehow light at the same time. And, I can’t take all of the credit for it. I’ve recently hired a professional baker to help me perfect some of my baking recipes and this chocolate cake recipe is the first one we’ve done together. Trust me when I say that you must put this one on your to-bake list, it’s SO good! 

This chocolate cake is bakery cake. A cake worthy of any celebration, but simple enough to make on a weeknight just because you feel like cake. I shared this one with several friends over the days after my birthday and all of them have been raving about this recipe ever since. If you love chocolate cake, you’ve gotta try this vegan chocolate cake version. 

Chocolate Cake Recipe in Cake Tins

Ingredients for vegan chocolate cake 

To make the most incredibly moist vegan cake, you’ll need traditional cake ingredients like flour, baking soda, sugar, etc. but the secret is using vegan buttermilk, apple sauce, and oil instead of butter. 

For the dry ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened non-dairy milk. You can use any non-dairy milk that you’d like in this recipe, this one was tested using oat milk as I usually prefer oatmilk for baking. Soy milk or almond milk would also work; I tend to steer away from coconut milk in recipes as I find that most cakes that use coconut milk have a slight tropical taste. 
  • 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or white vinegar. Added to the dairy-free milk, this creates a vegan buttermilk that provides a a pleasant tang to the rich chocolate cake. Like other acidic ingredients used in baking, buttermilk helps to tenderize the gluten which gives this cake a softer texture and more body.  
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour. I typically use an unbleached all-purpose flour and suggest not trying to use a whole-wheat flour or other type of flour. I haven’t tested this one using a 1:1 gluten-free blend, but assume it will work. 
  • 1 cup cocoa powder. I’m partial to Hershey’s cocoa powder, but any unsweetened, natural, non-alkalized cocoa powder will work. 
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar. I used regular cane sugar and suggest doing the same. I know that there’s always the urge to try and reduce sugar or use an alternative, but I don’t recommend doing so for this recipe. It’s chocolate cake! It’s supposed to be celebratory and something that you enjoy on occasion. Even as a registered dietitian, I firmly believe that healthy diets include regular desserts. 

Layered Chocolate Cake with Frosting

The wet ingredients

  • 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce. This is one of the secrets in making this cake so incredibly moist! Don’t skip it. 
  • 1 cup vegetable oil. I typically use grapeseed oil or safflower oil in baking, but any neutral vegetable oil, like canola oil, will do. (And no, vegetable oil does not increase inflammation in humans.)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract 
  • A teaspoon of instant espresso powder
  • 1 cup hot water
Overhead shot of vegan chocolate cake with coffee

For the vegan chocolate buttercream frosting recipe

No cake is complete without a rich chocolate buttercream frosting to go on top! Using a vegan butter, like Earth Balance, is what makes this frosting completely vegan though any butter sticks will work in this chocolate frosting recipe. This frosting recipe makes enough to generously coat 2 9-inch cakes. 

If you like only a minimal amount of frosting, then you can cut the frosting recipe in half. 

  • 1 cup cocoa powder. I used Hershey’s, same as above. 
  • 1 1/2 cups vegan butter at room temperature. You’ll need the butter to be softened before whipping it. I used Earth Balance sticks here, but any dairy-free butter will work. 
  • 4 cups powdered sugar 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk. I used oat milk again because that’s what I had but most non-dairy milks will work, like soy milk or almond milk. Coconut milk lends a tropical flavor in my opinion, and I don’t recommend it as a substitute. 
chocolate cake frosting

What’s the secret in using espresso powder in chocolate cake? 

A pinch of espresso powder enhances and intensifies the chocolate flavor in this cake recipe (and other chocolate recipes, like my vegan brownies and vegan espresso cheesecake bars). It won’t make your cake taste like mocha flavor or coffee, but you will need to dissolve the espresso powder in hot water before adding it to the cake. 

If you don’t have instant espresso powder, then you can use  instant coffee instead. It’s very similar to espresso powder, but instant coffee is less concentrated and therefore will add slightly less richness to this vegan chocolate cake recipe.

For those of you who use a nespresso or other type of espresso coffee machine, you can open one of your pods for espresso powder! 

Big Slice of Chocolate Cake with Berries

How to make vegan chocolate cake 

The recipe card below also contains full directions for how to make this vegan chocolate cake. I know many 1-bowl recipes don’t call for separating the dry and wet ingredients before combining but I always find those to be too dense and not as light and tender as separating them before mixing.

Instructions for the Chocolate Cake

  1. Prep Your Pans

    Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees F. To prep your baking pans, spray two 9-inch cake pans with nonstick spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper to further reduce sticking. 
    I place my pans on top of the parchment paper, trace, then cut out for perfect circles. Parchment Paper Lined Baking Sheets

  2. Make the Vegan Buttermilk

    Next, mix the non-dairy milk and vinegar aside for about 10 minutes to create a vegan buttermilk. As stated above, this helps to create a more tender cake crumb. Mix the espresso powder with the hot water and set aside until cool. 

  3. Whisk together the dry ingredients

    While the buttermilk is setting, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.  Dry Ingredients for Chocolate Cake

  4. Combine the Wet Ingredients

    In either a stand mixer or large bowl, whisk together the sugar, apple sauce, oil and vanilla. I use a stand mixer to make the cake because I have one, but you can make this by hand and do not need an electric mixer for the cake batter.

  5. Stir in the buttermilk and dry ingredients

    Next, add in the buttermilk mixture and dry ingredients and whisk together until smooth. Whisk in the espresso mixture until smooth and you are done! The batter will be thin. wet ingredients for a vegan chocolate cake

  6. Pour into cake pans

    Pour into the prepared cake pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before frosting. If you have a cooling rack, you can place the cake tins there until cool, then remove and let cool completely before frosting. Chocolate Cake in Pans

  7. Time to Assemble the Cake

    Once your cake layers and frosting is made, it’s time to assemble the cake. Make sure the cake is completely cool before attempting to add the frosting as a warm cake will melt the frosting.
    Spread a thick (or thin, depending on what you prefer) of chocolate frosting in between the layers then gently place the other layer on top. Frost the rest using the directions below or in the recipe card.

Instructions for the Vegan Chocolate Frosting 

While you can make the vegan chocolate frosting by hand, I highly recommend using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer if you have one. 

Add the cocoa powder to a large mixing bowl and whisk to remove any clumps. Next, add in the rest of the ingredients and beat until smooth and fluffy. Again, you can do this with a hand whisk but it’s much easier if you have some type of electric mixer. This frosting was also tested mixed by hand and it can be done, but it’s hard work. 

If your frosting seems dry, then add in more dairy-free milk a tablespoon at a time. For too wet frosting, add in more powdered sugar to thicken. 

Layers of Vegan Chocolate Cake

How to Frost a Cake

Now it’s time to ice the rest of the cake. The key to a beautiful buttercream frosting is doing a crumb coat first. A crumb coat is a very thin layer of icing used to keep the crumb of the cake down and seal in the cake’s moisture. 

Crumb coat is like a primer for the frosting paint. Use an offset spatula or frosting knife to spread a thin layer of frosting over your cake. The crumb coat will be thin enough that you can still see the cake through it. 

Smooth the icing as best as possible then let dry until the crust forms, or feels dry to the touch. Once the crumb coat forms and drys, it’s time to add the rest of the frosting. I love this cake as a beautiful birthday cake! 

Crumb Frosting for Chocolate Cake

Vegan Chocolate Cake: Frequently Asked Questions

How do you make a vegan cake more moist? 


The key for this incredibly moist chocolate cake is the combination of applesauce, oil and vegan buttermilk. As we aren’t using eggs here, the applesauce helps to provide added moisture along with the vegan buttermilk which makes for a more tender cake and helps to leaven the cake. 

As oil is 100% fat, it adds even more moisture, browning and tenderizing of the gluten. Using oil instead of butter in this cake is another secret in creating the best vegan chocolate cake. 

What is the difference between vegan cake and normal cake?


I hate even using the word vegan in this description, because this cake is incredibly delicious all on it’s own without even having to clarify that it’s vegan. However, since I have so many vegan followers on this website I wanted to ensure that those individuals knew that this recipe is 100% vegan. This vegan chocolate cake was tested on several non-vegan friends and all of them have since raved about how delicious and moist this chocolate cake is. 

As mentioned above, this is a normal cake that uses vegan ingredients like non-dairy milk and vegan butter. Otherwise, this tastes exactly like a regular, frosted chocolate cake. 

Are vegan desserts healthier than regular desserts? 


They can be, but just because something is vegan doesn’t mean that it’s automatically healthier than regular desserts. In the case of my vegan chocolate pudding, that’s a healthier version than most chocolate pudding recipes as it contains silken tofu and peanut butter. Or, my dark chocolate chip vegan cookies are completely naturally sweetened and therefore I’d consider healthier than regular chocolate chip cookies. 

This vegan chocolate cake recipe is not necessarily healthier than regular chocolate cake but the layer cake itself is lower in saturated fat as it’s made with vegetable oil instead of butter. As a Registered Dietitian, I think that healthier dessert recipes have a place but they shouldn’t be the only dessert that you allow yourself to enjoy. Healthy diets include dessert! 

How to store this vegan chocolate cake 


If you want to make this vegan chocolate cake ahead of time, you can make the layers and then tightly wrap and place in the fridge for 3-4 days ahead of time or freeze for up to 3 months. 
For frosting ahead of time, like for birthdays or other celebrations, I recommend frosting it and placing in the fridge for a day or two, then removing to bring it to room temperature before serving. 

More Vegan Cake Recipes 

Once you try this vegan chocolate cake, you will love my other vegan cake recipes: 

More Vegan Dessert Recipes 

Other vegan dessert recipes, including cookies, pies, crumbles and more: 

I hope you love this vegan cake recipe as much as we do! Once you try it, make sure to come back to leave a rating and a comment. Your feedback helps other readers and seeing you make my recipes makes my day! You can also share on social media using the hashtag, #delishknowledge 

Print

The Best Vegan Chocolate Cake

  • Author: Alexandra Caspero
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 12 slices 1x
  • Category: cake, baking, chocolate
  • Method: oven
  • Cuisine: vegan, birthday, american
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

The BEST vegan chocolate cake! Incredibly moist, this chocolate cake recipe is the best chocolate cake that just happens to be vegan. With homemade chocolate frosting, a must make for birthdays and other celebrations. 


  • Author: Alexandra Caspero
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 12 slices 1x
  • Category: cake, baking, chocolate
  • Method: oven
  • Cuisine: vegan, birthday, american
  • Diet: Vegan
  • Author: Alexandra Caspero
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 12 slices 1x
  • Category: cake, baking, chocolate
  • Method: oven
  • Cuisine: vegan, birthday, american
  • Diet: Vegan
Scale

Ingredients

For the vegan chocolate cake: 

  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened non-dairy milk (I used oatmilk)
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 1/4 cups cane sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 cup neutral vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the vegan chocolate frosting: 

  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups vegan butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 2 9-inch cake pans with non-stick spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. Mix the non-dairy milk and vinegar and set aside for 10 minutes to make a vegan buttermilk.
  3. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
  4. In a small bowl or cup, dissolve the espresso powder with hot water and set aside.
  5. Place the sugar, apple sauce, oil and vanilla in a large bowl and whisk by hand or with an electric mixer. Add in the buttermilk mixture of milk and vinegar and the flour and cocoa mix and continue to mix until smooth. Whisk in the espresso and mix together until smooth, the batter will be very thin.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting.
  7. Make the frosting. Add the remaining 1 cup cocoa powder to a large mixing bowl and whisk using a stand mixer, electric mixer or by hand to remove any clumps. Add the butter, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and non-dairy milk to the bowl and whisk until smooth and fluffy. If the frosting seems dry, add in more non-dairy milk a tablespoon at a time. For frosting that is too wet, add in powdered sugar to thicken.
  8. Once the cake is completely cooled, spread a thick mixture of frosting on the bottom of a cake layer then carefully place the other layer on top. Frost a thin layer of frosting to create a crumb layer (notes on how-to in the blog post above) then let dry completely and frost the cake with the remainder of the frosting.

did you make this?

Tag @delishknowledge on Instagram and hashtag it #delishknowledge

Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, Plant-Based Chef and Yoga Instructor. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

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    1. Sicily
      June 14, 2022 AT 8:59 am

      My husband loves chocolate cake, but since going vegan I’ve been disappointed with the vegan cake recipes that I’ve tried thus far. This cake was outstanding– made it for him this past weekend. Highly recommend!

    2. Dan
      June 14, 2022 AT 8:58 am

      Great cake. Will be making again.

    3. Erin
      June 14, 2022 AT 8:57 am

      Wow, this cake was awesome. Made it for a friends birthday and everyone couldn’t stop raving about how delicious it was. Didn’t tell anyone I made it vegan!

    4. Sophie
      June 11, 2022 AT 6:05 pm

      What do you recommend to replace the apple sauce? I don’t usually have that on hand.

      1. Alex
        June 12, 2022 AT 9:24 am

        Hi Sophie, I’m not sure what to replace the applesauce with– it’s integral to the recipe and I recommend trying to source it for this one. In other baking recipes, you can usually substitute a greek yogurt or mashed banana with similar results but I haven’t tried either for success in this cake recipe.

    5. Alice
      June 8, 2022 AT 12:37 pm

      You did it again! While I usually love your healthier recipes, this was a fun recipe to make with my kids. I appreciate your balance of regular, every-day eats along with desserts. I love that you say healthy diets include desserts– such a refreshing perspective!

    6. Brooke
      June 8, 2022 AT 12:36 pm

      I never believe bloggers when they say something is the ‘best’ but this really might be the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had. I cannot believe how moist and full of chocolate flavor it was. Going to be my new chocolate cake go-to recipe

    7. Saretha
      June 6, 2022 AT 12:36 pm

      Thank you.

    8. Eliza
      June 4, 2022 AT 5:05 am

      This is probably silly to ask, but did you feel comfortable giving your kids the cake with the espresso added?

      Otherwise, we have two birthdays coming up and I would like to make this tomorrow to celebrate. Looks amazing!

      1. Alex
        June 5, 2022 AT 11:00 am

        Hi Eliza! I did feel comfortable and that’s a great question. I’m assuming ~70mg caffeine for the amount listed here with the espresso powder, which divided by ~12 slices was fine for me. Let me know if you try the cake it’s GREAT!

    9. DeeDee
      June 3, 2022 AT 7:06 am

      OMG. This might be the best chocolate cake I’ve had period. My vegan cakes and cupcakes are typically too dry and dense. This was fantastic. My son’s already requested it for his next birthday. haha.