I'll start by saying, this vegan tree stump cake is quite the project. It consists of a moist coffee-infused chocolate sponge cake and chocolate cremeux filling that's frosted in vegan coffee Swiss meringue buttercream. Although there are many elements to this cake, the cake itself is easy to make and makes a nice alternative to a yule log or Bûche
The chocolate bark is made from tempered dark chocolate and it's then decorated with vegan meringue mushrooms and pistachio moss! Of course, you can easily simplify the recipe by making fewer elements, but this vegan woodland cake really is a showstopper dessert perfect for your holiday table.
This recipe was sponsored by Treedom who allow you to plant trees as a gift for someone and support smallholder farm owners.
What to expect from this recipe
- Moist and flavorsome chocolate sponge cake
- Creamy and light chocolate cremeux filling
- Showstopper dessert
- Great for the holidays/Christmas
- Plain flour
- Unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder:
- Coffee: This intensifies the flavor of chocolate desserts, I rarely bake without it when chocolate is involved!
- Light muscovado sugar: Or soft brown sugar will do as well. Light muscovado is simply less refined than soft brown sugar.
- Soy milk: Mixed with apple cider vinegar to create a vegan “buttermilk”. This gives the cake some rise and keeps it feeling light and not too dense.
- Neutral tasting oil: I use sunflower oil but you can also go for rapeseed or a mild-flavored light olive oil.
- Baking powder and baking soda: These are the leavening agents for this vegan chocolate cake. Both ingredients help the cake to rise while the additional baking soda helps to neutralize the acid from the coffee and muscovado sugar.
- Sea salt
- Dark chocolate: This forms the chocolate bark for decorating the cake. Make sure you go for one that's dairy-free. I use one with 70% cocoa content. It's also used to make the vegan chocolate cremeux filling.
- Almond milk: This forms the base of the custard for the chocolate cremeux. You can also use soy milk if preferred.
- Coconut milk: Full-fat coconut milk adds creaminess to the chocolate custard filling for the cake.
- Vanilla: This is optional but it adds a nice flavor to the custard base dor the chocolate cremeux.
- Caster sugar: Used to sweeten the chocolate cremeux.
- Cornflour: Known as cornstarch in the US, helps to thicken the custard base of the chocolate cremeux filling.
How to make this recipe (with step-by-step images)
(Full ingredient quantities and instructions can be found in the recipe card at the end of this post)
How to make vegan chocolate cremeux filling
Chocolate cremeux (crémeux meaning "creamy" in French) is simply a crème Anglaise that is emulsified with chocolate. It's essentially a fancy chocolate custard that gives a light and creamy filling for cake as opposed to buttercream which can often add weight and too much sweetness. Cremeux is usually made with eggs and dairy, but here we're going to make it completely vegan!
Make the vegan chocolate cremeux ahead of time to allow it to chill. I highly recommend making both the cremeux filling and chocolate sponge the day before assembling and serving your cake.
To make the custard base for your vegan chocolate cremeux, add the almond milk, sugar, and cornflour to a saucepan and whisk over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients apart from the chocolate (coconut milk, vanilla pod, and salt) and simmer until thick. You'll want to keep whisking and stirring the mixture to prevent it from burning to the pan.
Next, pour the thickened custard through a sieve and into a bowl with the chopped chocolate.
Lastly, stir the mixture until the chocolate has melted through it and use a hand-held electric whisk or emulsion blender to blitz and emulsify the mixture until smooth. The vegan chocolate cremeux will need to chill for at least 6 hours, but I recommend overnight.
How to make vegan chocolate sponge cake
Making the vegan chocolate cake for this recipe couldn't be easier. First, make the vegan buttermilk by mixing soy milk and apple cider vinegar together and allowing them to stand for about 10 minutes.
Now, simply mix together the wet ingredients (vegan buttermilk, coffee, and oil) and then mix together the dry ingredients separately (flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt).
Now pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix using a spatula or whisk.
Divide the chocolate cake batter between 3x 6-inch cake tins and bake for 30-40 minutes.
Tempering the chocolate
To get a nice shiny chocolate bark I recommend first tempering your chocolate. The easiest way to do this is by a method known as "seeding". If you can't be bothered with this step, that's totally fine as well! You can skip the tempering and just melt the chocolate and move on to the next step.
This process involves melting two-thirds of the chocolate over a bain-marie (double boiler) and bringing the temperature to 55°C (131°F), reserving the other one-third of finely chopped chocolate. A third of the melted chocolate is then reserved and the remaining chopped chocolate is added to the other two-thirds. While mixing the chopped chocolate into the melted chocolate, the temperature is brought down to 28°C (82°F). Lastly, the reserved one-third of melted chocolate is mixed back into the remaining chocolate until the temperature reaches back up to 31°C (88°F). This article on how to temper chocolate by BBC Food goes into more detail.
How to make chocolate bark
Spread the chocolate out in an even layer on a sheet of parchment paper. You can use a spatula to smooth it out into a rectangular shape. Allow the chocolate to become semi-dry for about 5 minutes, making sure it is still soft enough to roll up. Next, carefully roll up the chocolate on the parchment paper and refrigerate for at least half an hour.
Once set, you can carefully unroll the parchment paper, and the chocolate will break off into long bark-like strips which will be used to decorate the cake. Be sure to wear latex gloves as the heat from your hands will melt the chocolate.
How to assemble a tree stump cake
Use a spatula to add a layer of chocolate cremeux filling on top of your first chocolate sponge cake and repeat this with the next layer.
Cover the top and sides of the cake with vegan coffee buttercream. To create the tree stump effect on top of the cake, use a fork to scrape lines in a circular motion. Then use a spoon to create rings from the inside outwards to the edges of the cake.
Lastly, gently press the chocolate bark into the sides of the cake. I do recommend wearing gloves for this part (unlike you see pictured here whoops!). The warmth from your hands can cause the chocolate to melt and will leave fingerprints all over your beautifully tempered chocolate bark.
How to decorate a woodland cake
- Vegan meringue mushrooms
- Finely ground pistachios for "moss"
- Fresh herbs such as mint leaves or rosemary
- Icing sugar for "snow"
- Berries, pomegranate, or pink peppercorns for "holly"
How to simplify this recipe
- Skip the chocolate cremeux: You can make 1.5 x batches of vegan coffee buttercream instead and use that for the filling instead of chocolate cremeux.
- Don't temper the chocolate: Simply skip this step and melt the chocolate as normal over a double boiler.
- Skip the meringue mushrooms
Once you have assembled your cake, if you're not serving it within an hour or two, completely cover the cake in cling film or a large airtight container. Refrigerate it until needed, and remove it from the fridge to come to room temperature for at least an hour or two before serving.
More vegan cakes
Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-star 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 rating in the recipe card below and consider leaving a comment as well, thanks!
Chocolate cremeux (filling) - Make the day/night before
- 200 ml (0.85 cups) almond milk, or soy milk
- 40 g (⅙ cups) caster sugar (superfine)
- 30 g (¼ cups) cornflour (cornstarch)
- ½ (½ ) vanilla pod, or 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 200 g (7 oz) chilled full-fat coconut milk, or coconut cream *see recipe notes
- pinch sea salt
- 160 g (5.64 oz) vegan dark chocolate, finely chopped
Chocolate sponge - Make the day/night before
- 236 ml (1 cup) soy milk
- 15 ml (1 tablespoon) apple cider vinegar
- 236 ml (1 cup) strong coffee, *see recipe notes
- 110 g (½ cup) sunflower oil, or rapeseed oil/olive oil
- 350 g (2 ⅘ cups) plain flour, sifted
- 300 g (1 ⅓ cups) light muscovado sugar, or light soft brown sugar
- 70 g (⅘ cup) Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted
- 2 ½ teaspoons (2 ½ teaspoons) baking powder, sifted
- 1 ½ teaspoons (1 ½ teaspoons) baking soda, sifted
- ¼ teaspoon (¼ teaspoon) sea salt
- 300 g (10.58 oz) vegan dark chocolate
- ¼ batch vegan meringue mushrooms, optional
- 30 g (¼ cup) pistachios, finely ground, optional
- Add the almond milk, caster sugar, and cornflour to a saucepan and place on it a low heat. Whisk vigorously for a couple of minutes until the sugar has dissolved.
- Slice the vanilla pod in half and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and pod to a saucepan along with the coconut milk, and salt.
- Turn up the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a simmer, while continuously whisking. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes, the custard will start to thicken. Make sure you are constantly stirring the custard to avoid it burning to the bottom of the pan. I recommend alternating between a whisk and rubber spatula.
- Place the chopped chocolate in a large heat-resistant bowl and place a sieve on top of the bowl. Remove the saucepan from the heat and pass the mixture through a sieve to remove any large particles from the vanilla pod, into the bowl of chocolate.
- Use a spatula to fold the hot custard through the chocolate, until it melts together into a smooth mixture. Then use an electric whisk or emersion blender to whisk/blend the mixture for a couple of minutes until silky smooth and lump-free. Cover the bowl with cling film and place in the fridge overnight (or for at least 6 hours).
- Preheat your oven to 180°C (356°F). Line the base of three 6" cake tins with a circle of parchment paper and spray the sides with oil spray.
- To make the vegan "buttermilk" add the soya milk and apple cider vinegar to a jug, stir and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Add the strong coffee and sunflower oil to the buttermilk mixture and whisk to combine.
- In a large bowl mix together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the wet ingredients to the bowl with the dry ingredients and use a spatula to fold everything together until you have a smooth batter.
- Divide the batter into the lined cake pans and bake for 30-40 minutes. Check they are ready by inserting a skewer, it should come out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the tins for 15-20 minutes and then carefully turn them out onto a cooling rack to cool further. Refrigerate the cakes in an airtight container until ready to use. Chilling the cakes for a few hours (or overnight) makes them easier to work with and decorate.
- Place 2 large sheets of parchment paper (approx 25" in length) on your work surface.
- Note: If you're not bothered about tempering the chocolate you can simply melt it over a water bath (bain-marie) and skip the following 2 steps.
- Add ⅔ of the finely chopped chocolate (200g) to a heat-resistant bowl and place on top of a saucepan that is about ¼ ways filled with simmering water (bain-marie). Stir the chocolate with a rubber spatula every so often to melt it evenly. Place your candy thermometer into the chocolate and once it reaches 55°C (131°F) remove it from the heat.
- Reserve one ⅓ of the melted chocolate and add the chopped chocolate to the remaining ⅔ of melted chocolate. Place your candy thermometer into the chocolate and keep stirring until the temperature reaches 28°C (82°F). Stir in the reserved ⅓ of melted chocolate and stir until the temperature reaches back up to 31°C (88°F).
- Divide the melted chocolate between the 2 sheets of parchment paper and use a spatula to spread the chocolate out into an even rectangular layer. Allow the chocolate to slightly set until it is not runny but still soft enough to roll (about 5 minutes). Next, gently roll up the sheet of parchment paper into a cylinder and place it into the fridge to set for at least 30 minutes. Repeat with the second sheet of parchment.
- Once set, very gently unroll the sheet of parchment paper. The chocolate "bark" will break off in long pieces. Sit these on a tray lined with parchment paper and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Meanwhile, make the vegan coffee swiss meringue buttercream.
- Cut the domes from the tops of the chocolate sponge cake to get them as even as possible.
- Remove the chocolate cremeux from the fridge and give it a stir. To assemble the cake, add a little chocolate cremeux onto your turntable to secure the cake. Place the first layer of cake and follow with a layer of chocolate cremeux. Smooth out the cremeux using a spatula, making sure not to go all the way to the outer edges. Continue this process for the second layer and top with the third chocolate sponge.
- Use a spatula to spread the coffee buttercream on top and on the sides of the cake. Use a cake scraper to smooth out the surface - it does not need to be perfect as the chocolate bark will be covering the sides.
- To get the tree trunk effect on top of the cake, use a fork to scrape lines into the buttercream in a circular motion. Then use the back of a small spoon to create circular rings from the middle to the outer edges of the cake.
- Wearing latex gloves, gently press the chocolate bark into the sides of the cake using the most attractive pieces. You will likely have some bark leftover, which you can reserve and melt for another recipe.
- Optionally, you can decorate with vegan meringue mushrooms and ground pistachios.
- Store the cake in an airtight container or cover with cling film and refrigerate it until needed. Remove it from the fridge for a couple of hours before serving.
- Chilled coconut milk: Refrigerate the canned coconut milk overnight, then use only the thick cream from the top of the can.
- Strong coffee: Can be substituted with decaf.
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