Decadent Triple-Layer Chocolate Cake (Gluten- and Dairy-Free!)

vegan gluten free chocolate cake

Our department is currently hosting a visiting graduate student from Norway. In addition to being one of the sweetest and most genuinely friendly people you’ll meet, he has Celiac disease, which means he can’t eat gluten. Most importantly for the sake of this post, his birthday was on Sunday. He’s staying in a foreign country, for his birthday, and he can’t easily find a birthday cake to enjoy? Yeah… not on my watch!

I searched for a full three weeks to find a good gluten- and dairy-free recipe (why dairy-free? because I wasn’t up-to-date on another student’s conditions who had previously been avoiding dairy, so I figured why not go all out on this cake?). The problem is, I have no intuition for what makes gluten-free or vegan recipe “good,” let alone amazing. And I want (insist on?) amazing! Plus, there are tons of recipes out there for supposedly fantastic gluten-free and vegan cookies, brownies, meals, etc., but to find a birthday cake nicer than a boring sheet cake was incredibly difficult. But settling is forbidden: it’s his birthday, it must be a legitimately impressive birthday cake! Finally, one very helpful blog (thanks, Chocolate Covered Katie!!) and a grocery bag of gluten- and dairy-free ingredients later, we were in business. And folks? Business is good

Thus, without further ado, I present to you: Decadent Triple-Layer Chocolate Cake! Perfect for your gluten- and dairy-free friends and family, and guaranteed to make everyone else happy in the process. As with most cakes of this sort, the cake layer is a bit dry. I improved that a little by spooning sugar water over the bottom cake layer before assembling everything, but you may want to look into ways to bring extra moisture into the cake base. Fortunately, the chocolate mousse layer adds enough silky, creamy texture to balance out the slightly dry base, so it worked out quite well. And of course, topping anything with a layer of chocolate ganache (dairy-free!) and mini chocolate chips is bound to convert even the most skeptical taste-tester. When in doubt, overload the tastebuds with chocolate and people will put up with almost anything. (That was my operating theory, at least!)

Ultimate verdict: our gluten-free birthday boy was very happy and had many wonderful compliments about this cake. Big success! Everyone else who tried it ranged from “Mm this is awesome!” to “I can tell it’s not quite ‘normal,’ but it’s still delicious!” to “This is pretty good!” Which may be a cover for “I’m going to eat this because it has chocolate, but it wouldn’t be my top choice for a cake” or it might be a subdued “FAVORITE CAKE EVER!!!” (Probably not that last one, though, unless you’ve never had a cake made with butter. You can’t beat butter.)



Cake Layer (from Chocolate Covered Katie)

1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour

1 tsp. baking soda

4 tbsp. cocoa powder

1/2 tsp. salt

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 tsp. white vinegar

3/4 cup cold water

Mousse Layer (also from Chocolate Covered Katie)

12.3 oz silken or firm tofu (she recommends Mori-Nu silken-firm or lite for no aftertaste, but I couldn’t find that brand and it was fine. I also used 14 oz)

1 tsp. cocoa powder

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tbsp. almond milk (or soy)

scant 1/8 tsp. salt

1 bag (~10 oz) chocolate chips (read the labels to find a gluten- and dairy-free brand)

3+ tablespoons powdered sugar (I kept adding until I liked the consistency, so I probably ended up adding 1/2 cup or more)

Chocolate Ganache Top

1 bag chocolate chips (3/4 for melting, 1/4 for sprinkling over the top)

1/2 cup almond milk (or soy)


Make the base cake layer:

1. Preheat oven to 355 F. Prepare an 8- or 9-inch cake pan by greasing and lining the bottom with parchment or wax paper (I used Crisco shortening to stay gluten- and dairy-free).

2. Stir together the flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, salt, and sugar until well-mixed.

3. Add the vanilla extract, oil, vinegar, and water. Mix with a fork until just combined.

4. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes. Cool completely.

5. If your cake seems dry, combine about 3 tablespoons of hot water with 1 tablespoon of sugar and stir until almost dissolved. Poke small holes in the cake and spoon the sugar water over the entire surface. Be careful not to pour too much water in one place or it’ll get soggy!

Make the mousse:

1. Melt the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl for about 1 minute; stir until smooth.

2. Drain the tofu and add everything to a food processor (including the melted chocolate). Blend until incredibly smooth – no lumps!

3. Put in a bowl and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before you try to spread it on top of the cake.

Assemble the cake:

1. Place your base cake layer (right-side up) on a cake plate.

2. Spread the mousse evenly onto the cake layer, being careful not to push it over the edges. Then, make a small, wide “well” in the middle of the mousse layer, basically building a small lake for your ganache to pool in. Put the cake in the refrigerator to firm up while you make the ganache.

3. Make the ganache by microwaving 3/4 bag of chocolate chips for 1 minutes, stirring until smooth, then adding 1/2 cup milk and stirring until smooth again (this will take some time and you’ll have to “press” them together between the back of your spoon and the bowl).

4. Let the ganache cool down for a few minutes, then remove cake and pour ganache on top. Sprinkle remaining chocolate chips evenly over the top and gently press in so they stick. Store cake in the refrigerator until half an hour before you’re ready to eat. Enjoy this (almost healthy) cake!!

vegan gluten free chocolate cake side view

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