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A chocolate cake & some thoughts on veganism

I’ve been dabbling with veganism for a while. Mostly for environmental reasons. Various sources have opened my eyes further to the very real damage that our reliance on meat and animal-derived products is doing to the world – Cowspiracy and The Field Guides podcast excellent episode on veganism to name a couple. Some telling stats:

  • A Chatham House report notes that livestock is responsible for more global human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than all road vehicles, trains, ships and aeroplanes combined.

(Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector: Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption (December 2014))

  • Shifting less than one day per week’s consumption of red meat and/or dairy to other protein sources or a vegetable-based diet could have the same reduction in GHG emissions as buying all food locally.

(Weber and Matthews, “Food Miles and the Relative Impacts of Food Choices in the United States.” Environmental Science & Technology 42.10 (2008): 3508-3513)

  • Reducing meat consumption is likely to lead to reduced GHG emissions. The average dietary GHG emissions (kgCO2e/day) for meat-eaters range between 4.67 and 7.19. For vegetarians, the average is 3.81 and for vegans the average is 2.89.

(Scarborough, Peter et al. “Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK.” Climatic change 125.2 (2014): 179-192)

But isthisfood hasn’t really reflected this period of reading and trying and testing and thinking. My flirting with veganism has forced me to address why I choose to eat what I do. I am increasingly interested in how people make food choices. How we balance the need and the want and the should: I need something to nourish my body and give me energy; I want a pizza because it’s delicious and comforting; I shouldn’t eat cheese because the dairy industry is hugely damaging. How on earth to strike the balance?

At the moment there isn’t an easy way. At least, not for me. I take huge joy in eating all kinds of food and not all of that food is vegan. The idea of, for instance, abstaining for the rest of my life from a breakfast of buttery scrambled eggs on toasted sourdough is rather unappealing.

But I feel now that I am at least approaching my idea of a good and sustainable balance. And it goes a bit like this: my milk is made from organic oats. My home-cooked meals are largely free of animal-derived products (it helps that Alex is more steadfast in his views and so not exactly as likely to adopt such a ‘flexible’ approach to veganism) and made with organic produce. I don’t really buy cheese or eggs or butter unless it’s for an occasion (see cake recipe below). When I eat out, I’m more relaxed cheesy. Whilst some restaurants have got vegan options absolutely down (oh, hey, tibits & Wahaca), I’ve increasingly found myself paying for a vegan meal and kinda wishing I’d stayed at home because we could have done it better. Which is crappy.

And so, in line with my potentially confusing and arguably illogical approach, here’s a recipe for a very non-vegan birthday cake I made for my very non-vegan brother. I won’t be making a non-vegan cake every week but when I do, I’m going to bloody enjoy it. And that’s fine because I don’t need to label my eating habits. I enjoy the food I eat and I feel that I can justify eating it because it strikes a reasonable balance (for me, for the time-being) between need, want, and should.

About this recipe

This is a mash-up of two chocolate cake recipes. The sponge is Annie Bell’s Classic Tearoom Chocolate Victoria Sponge which I stumbled upon through Victoria Cameron’s wonderful blog, A Spoonful of Sugar. The icing is Nigella’s inimitable Devil’s Food Cake frosting. I added pistachios for decoration because they’re pretty.


The sponge 

  • 225g unsalted butter – cubed and softened (plus some for greasing)
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 large eggs
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • 100ml whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Frosting and decoration

  • 125ml water
  • 30g dark brown muscovado sugar
  • 175g unsalted butter – cubed
  • 300g dark chocolate – finely chopped
  • 30g pistachios – roughly chopped


  1. Preheat the oven to 190ºC / 375ºF / gas mark 5. Lightly butter two loose-bottomed 20cm sandwich tins and line the bases with greaseproof paper.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until it’s pale and fluffy.
  3. Mix the sifted flour, cocoa powder and baking powder in a separate bowl.
  4. Whisk the eggs one at a time into the butter and sugar mixture. In between each egg, mix in a generous tablespoon of the flour mix.
  5. After incorporating all of the eggs, fold in the remainder of the flour and then the salt.
  6. Dribble in the milk and vanilla extract.
  7. Divide the mixture between the prepared cake tins and even out the surfaces. Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.
  8. Leave the cakes on wire rack for 10 minutes or so before turning them out to cool.
  9. Whilst the cakes are in the oven, make a start on the frosting. Melt together the water, sugar and butter into a medium-sized pan over a low heat.
  10. When the mixture begins to bubble, remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate, swirling the pan as you go.
  11. Leave the chocolate to melt into the mixture for a couple of minutes before whisking until glossy and there are no lumps.
  12. Leave the frosting mixture for an hour or so, whisking every so often.
  13. When the cakes are fully cooled, set one cake upside down on a cake stand, turntable or plate. Spread one half of the frosting on top using a palate knife.
  14. Pop the second cake on top and spread the frosting on the top. If you have excess frosting, you can cover the sides of the cake too.
  15. Decorate with the broken pistachio pieces in whatever way you fancy.

3 thoughts on “A chocolate cake & some thoughts on veganism

  1. i love this post Hatti! And I love the cake recipe, does seem indeed like the perfect birthday cake. “Devil’s Food” I’m sure comes from the darkness of the chocolate in contrast to the famous very white egg-white based “Angel Food Cakes” — and were a real Betty Crocker kind of thing. I do wish Nigella would talk about the American roots of some of the bakes she makes. Happy New Year, Lovely!


    • Thanks, Annie! Glad you like the post. I’d be interested to know where you come out on the whole V thing.

      Yes – a beautifully moist sponge and I’ve found you just can’t beat Nigella’s frosting. Oh, yes – how interesting. I hadn’t put two and two together re. Angel Food Cake. Cake etymology has to be one of the best kinds!

      All the best!xx


  2. Pingback: Sticky oaty jammy tarty thing - isthisfood

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