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Why choose between trick or treat, when you can have both in this gothic-inspired Halloween cake? The vanilla-flavoured black icing and ‘bloody’ delicious Sour Cherry Hibiscus sauce provide a pitch-perfect sweet and tart counterpoint to the dense and decadent chocolate cake. The trick here is the black colour, achieved by adding activated charcoal to both the icing and the cake batter. If this is the first you’ve seen of using charcoal in recipes, it likely won’t be the last. Bread, croissants, and even hot dog buns are showing up black. The charcoal doesn’t impart any flavour, and lest you think it sounds like a bad trick, it’s used as a digestive aid and in emergencies to counteract poisoning.
There – now you have a story to tell and a cake to make! Get going! And Happy Halloween!
PS – This cake can easily be made vegan.
Black Devil’s Food Cake
This recipe is based on a recipe called Vegan Devil’s Food Cake Without Weird Ingredients. I find that title totally endearing and everybody loves the recipe. It works as cake, it works as cupcakes. For this post, I made some modifications to it, notably adding the activated charcoal, so now I guess it could also be called Vegan Devil’s Food Cake With One Weird Ingredient.
- 1/2 cup regular cocoa
- 1/4 cup dark cocoa (you could use all regular but the cake won’t be quite as dark. It’s best not to use more dark cocoa unless you adjust the fat content upwards.)
- 2 cups cake flour
- 1 1/2 cup white sugar (or vegan equivalent)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons food grade activated charcoal (see Activated Charcoal FAQ below, after Wet Ingredients list)
- 1 cup milk (I used whole goat’s milk, any kind of milk would be fine, especially coconut milk or almond milk, plain old water works too!)
- 1 cup applesauce (unsweetened. If you have a blender, you can just throw 2 apples in with about 1/4 cup water and blend until saucy. Use 1 cup for this recipe and eat the rest.)
- 7/8 cup coconut oil
Activated Charcoal FAQ
Q: Does it effect the flavour?
A: No! I can’t discern any flavour difference and neither did my taste tasters. It’s a bit of a mind-bender because our brains don’t compute black food as enticing, so when you taste it, it’ll be a bit surprising (in a good way!)
Q: Can I substitute something else?
A: I had a hard time finding anything that would not impact the flavour, other than food colouring. I’ll leave that choice up to you. If charcoal is the blue pill here then food colouring is the red one. The black food colouring that I bought, but could not bring myself to use, contained red dye 40 & 3, yellow 5 & 6, and blues 1 & 2. Yum?
Q: Does it turn your teeth black?
A: I didn’t try eating the charcoal all on its own, but it definitely did not turn my teeth black when the I ate the cake and the icing. BTW – my package actually provides instructions to use it as a tooth whitener. I have not tried that yet, but I have also read that you have to be wary if you have crowns, caps, etc., as they may discolour. Please do your own research!
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
A: Make sure to mix the charcoal in thoroughly, scraping the bowl often as you don’t want any white bits messing up the beautiful black appearance. Also, I would recommend hand washing your mixing bowls and anything else that you get charcoal on. I didn’t when I was working on my prototype and it made a bit of a mess in my dishwasher – nothing permanent, but I had to re-wash the dishes.
- In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients.
- In a medium size bowl, combine wet ingredients.
- Mix the wet ingredients into the dry until well blended.
- Pour into greased cake pan(s). I used a 16 cm pantone pan, but it would work in two 8 inch cake pans.
- Bake at 350 for 30 plus minutes, depending on the size of your baking pans. The cake will look burnt so you can’t judge by appearance, but as with any cake, bake until a fork inserted in the centre comes out clean. When I did it in the pantone pan, it rose quite a bit, and then ended up falling and leaving a hole in the middle, but that was OK, as I just shaved that part off before icing it and ate it as a tester. Also, remember that this cake is egg free, so if it’s slightly soft in the middle it’s still safe to eat.
Sour Cherry Hibiscus ‘Blood’ Sauce
- 1 litre (4 cups) sour cherry juice (pomegranate would also be really good!)
- 1/4 cup hibiscus tea leaves
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the cherry juice and tea leaves.
- Boil until the juice is reduced about half (500 ml or 2 cups).
- Remove 1/4 cup of the reduced juice and combine it with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch.
- Add the cornstarch/juice mixture back into the saucepan and stir over medium low heat until the sauce is thickened.
- Strain out the hibiscus flowers and reserve them for garnish.
- 3 to 5 cups icing sugar
- 3/4 cup coconut oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup milk (I used whole goat, but any kind would be fine here. Almond milk or coconut milk would make good choices.)
- 6-8 teaspoons activated charcoal powder (food grade). See notes in the Devil’s Food Cake recipe about the activated charcoal.
- Combine about 3 cups of the icing sugar with the activated charcoal and blend well. The smaller number of teaspoons will turn your cake gray-black. That might be sufficient for you, if not, add more.
- Add in the coconut oil and vanilla and mix really well. You want the coconut oil all broken down and absorbed.
- Add more icing sugar as necessary to achieve a nice, thick but spreadable consistency. You may need to add a bit more milk. If you add too much, just counteract it with some more icing sugar!
- Ice the cake.
- Garnish with the hibiscus flowers.
- Serve with the blood sauce. (You can prepare the sauce ahead of time and refrigerate. It will look curdled, but put it in a sauce pan over medium heat for a few minutes and it will return to its blood-like consistency. You may need to add a little extra juice to thin it.)
If it’s warm where you live, you’ll have to store the iced cake in the fridge, as the coconut icing won’t hold up well in the heat.
Behind the Scenes
This recipe was conceived at HomeSense when I became preternaturally fixated on a red and pink and black flowered plate. I immediately pictured this dark and moody scene with a black cake and fruit and flowers in saturated reds and burgundies. Perfect for a Halloween post.
When it came time to do the photos, I went a little overboard with the props. I couldn’t resist the apples and their vibrant plum colour. They looked like something out of Snow White. For the flowers, I had black satin dahlias pictured in my head, but found the moody purple lisianthus instead. I scored burgundy napkins in a store on Davie Street that sells an odd mix of items from bejewelled studded bras to Betty Boop mugs to tablecloths. They were the perfect colour and at 2 for 1.99, also the perfect price.
At the dollar store, I found the mug for my blood sauce and noticed some silvery bowls that I thought would look great holding the flowers. Then my mom’s stainless steel gravy dish popped into my head. I thought the apples would look great in that, but I was still out something for the flowers. Sitting randomly among the glassware was a very tall acrylic pepper grinder that looked almost like a crystal vase. Perfect. And we can actually use a pepper grinder in real life so that’s 7 bucks well spent. Last stop was picking up the dried hibiscus leaves that, in my grandiose vision, were scattered throughout the scene. The lady at that store, a health food store, very kindly gave me the first batch for free when I told her what I was working on.
In the end, after a lot of experimenting, I loved the apples in the gravy dish so they stayed. I am not sure what my mom would have thought of this site, but she always liked everything to have at least three uses, so I think she would have been happy that the gravy dish earned new purpose. Unfortunately, the flower vase/pepper grinder was too tall and the flowers were too purple, so they got left out of the final pics. And the plate that started it all didn’t get much screen time either. There’s probably some kind of a lesson in that – I was so attached to it but in the end I had to let it go. But, it propelled me forward and that’s what I needed it for.
PS – You can see part of the plate in question in the Sour Cherry Hibiscus Sauce pic and in the pic below, along with the dried hibiscus tea leaves, and the napkin from the bejewelled bra store.
Whew! If you made it this far – thanks for reading! And let me know what you think!