Dark and Sumptuous Chocolate Cake

Dark and Sumptuous Chocolate Cake from Nigella Lawson's Simply Nigella

This cake. It confounds me. It delights me. I almost want to leave it there.

But I should explain: I never ever thought I would be in raptures about the joyfulness of a – yes – vegan chocolate cake. This isn’t the voice of prejudice but was – ”was” being the operative word – the conclusion of experience.

It’s true that I first made a version of it – the recipe kindly given to me by Caroline Stearns, my technical guru in the kitchen – when I was giving a supper for a vegan friend, but I now make this as my chocolate cake of choice for people where dietary restrictions are not an issue, and I don’t even need to explain it’s vegan. No need to offer explanations: you just need to offer the cake. On top of everything else, it’s incredibly simple to make.

My version has coconut oil in the cake, and coconut butter in the icing, but of course you can use vegetable oil in the cake, and vegan margarine for the icing if you prefer. The combination stipulated in the ingredients list, however, creates a cake and icing of such depth and fudginess that I never veer from it, even though I know the shopping list is a tiny bit demanding. But once you’ve tasted it, you too must surely concur that a cake as good as this can be as demanding as it likes. Besides, it asks nothing of you in the kitchen beyond some simple stirring. You are not required to get a mixer out, or do any heavy lifting at all: this is a simple bowl-and-woodenspoon number. Both the coconut oil and coconut butter need to stand out of the fridge for a good couple of hours before using. I often take them out the night before, as then they are easier to measure out.

Please check the labelling on the chocolate you buy. It needs, whatever your concerns, to be dark (minimum 70% cocoa solids for my taste), but if you need this to be absolutely dairy-free or vegan, make sure it says so on the packet.

I hate the worthy association that comes with vegan cakes, and celebrate this one by scattering rose petals and chopped pistachios over it.

For how many? Cuts into 10-12 slices


  • For the icing:
  • 60ml cold water
  • 75g coconut butter (this is not the same as oil)
  • 50g soft dark sugar
  • 1½ tsp instant espresso
  • 1½ x 15ml tbsp cocoa
  • 150g dark chocolate (min. 70% cocoa solids, see Intro), finely chopped
  • For the cake:
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 1½ tsp instant espresso powder
  • 75g cocoa
  • 300g soft dark brown sugar
  • 375ml hot water, from a recently boiled kettle
  • 90ml (75g if weighed when solid) coconut oil
  • 1½ tsp cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 1 x 15ml tbsp edible rose petals
  • 1 x 15ml tbsp chopped pistachios


You will need: 1 x 20cm round springform cake tin

Start with the icing, though first preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4 and pop in a baking sheet at the same time. Put all of the icing ingredients except the chopped chocolate into a heavy-based saucepan and bring to the boil, making sure everything’s dissolved. Then turn off the heat – but leave the pan on the hob – then quickly add the finely chopped chocolate and swirl the pan so that it is all underwater, so to speak. Leave for a scant minute, then whisk until you have a darkly glossy icing, and leave to cool. I find this takes exactly the amount of time the cake takes to make, cook and cool. But do give the icing a stir with a spatula every now and again.

Line the bottom of your springform cake tin (you will need a good, leakproof one as this is a very wet batter) with baking parchment.

Put the flour, bicarb, salt and instant espresso and cocoa in a bowl and fork to mix.

Mix together the sugar, water, coconut oil and vinegar until the coconut oil has melted, and stir into the dry ingredients, then pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35 minutes. Though do check at the 30-minute mark to see if it is already done. When it’s ready, the cake will be coming away from the edges of the tin and a cake tester will come out clean, apart from a few crumbs. This is a fudgy cake and you don’t want to overdo it.

Once the cake is cooked, transfer the tin to a wire rack and let the cake cool in its tin. 

Turn to your icing, and give it a good stir with a spatula to check it is at the right consistency. It needs to be runny enough to cover the cake, but thick enough to stay (mostly) on the top. So pour over the unmoulded cake, and use a spatula to ease the icing to the edges, if needed. If you wish to decorate, now is the time to do it. In which case, sprinkle joyously with rose petals and chopped pistachios or anything else that your heart desires; otherwise, leave it gleaming darkly and, indeed, sumptuously. Leave to stand for 30 minutes for the icing to set before slicing into the cake.

Store note: Store in an airtight container (or under a cake dome) at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Freeze note: The cake can be made ahead and frozen, without icing. When cool, carefully wrap cake in a double layer of clingfilm and a layer of foil. Freeze for up to 3 months. To defrost, unwrap and place on a serving plate at room temperature for 3–4 hours.

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