Vegan Chocolate Layer Cake with Hibiscus Frosting

Jump to Recipe
This Vegan Chocolate Layer Cake with Hibiscus Frosting is decadence, defined! Vegan buttercream frosting spiked with a fruity tartness from hibiscus, then sandwiched between three layers of moist chocolate cake with chocolate chunks floating throughout. Plus, tips for baking vegan chocolate cake!
Prep Time: 35 mins
Cook Time: 25 mins
Cooling and Assembly 50 mins
Total Time: 1 hr 50 mins
5 from 6 votes

This Vegan Chocolate Layer Cake is my everything.

While I love making healthier versions of comfort food, sometimes a true decadent indulgence is merited, amirite? But the thing is, when I want a treat, I usually gravitate towards brownies and cookies, or pie and tarts. Not really cakes. That might come as a surprise, but most cakes are not great. They are dry and dense and not the most diverse in terms of flavor or texture.

But over the last few years of recipe testing and experimentation, I learned how to bake a damn good cake! One that is tender and moist, not dense or dry. One that has textural and flavor integrity.

Tips for Baking Vegan Chocolate Layer Cake

Flour

First, the type of flour matters. This isn’t a gluten-free cake and I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert on gluten-free cakes, but generally speaking, cakes made with gluten-containing flour are going to be lighter in texture than than gluten-free cakes. If you have a gluten allergy, of course, I am not encouraging you to go ahead and test it. But if you can tolerate gluten, use the gluten-containing flour! You’re eating cake, not broccoli. It’s supposed to be a treat.

Secondly, baking with cake flour (as opposed to all-purpose flour) makes cakes more tender, leaving them with a lighter crumb and texture. I have baked this cake with both all-purpose flour and cake flour, and they are both delicious, but if you are looking for the lightest texture possible, use cake flour.

Leaveners

The most commonly used leaveners in vegan baking are baking soda, baking powder, and apple cider vinegar. Yes, apple cider vinegar! When ACV is mixed with a plant-based milk, it starts to curdle after a short period of time, similar to buttermilk. And that begins a mutually symbiotic relationship!

First, when you use baking soda, it requires a little acid to start bubbling (i.e., to start reacting), and the acidity in apple cider vinegar is a perfect neutral-tasting option (lemon isn’t a great idea for chocolate cakes, and white vinegar is too harsh in taste). And the tangy buttermilk (plant-based milk with ACV) reacts with baking soda (or baking powder), it helps activate the leavening action of baking soda, enhancing the amount of rise in your cakes. And finally, the alkaline nature of baking soda cancels out any sour buttermilk flavor so you don’t end up with an unwanted tangy taste.

If however, you’re making a recipe where you want some of that subtle tang flavor (perhaps a lemon cake or a buttermilk pancakes), you’d want to also include some baking powder. That’s because using baking soda alone will completely neutralize the buttermilk’s acidity/tanginess. Adding in some baking powder (which has its own acid, but not nearly as much as baking soda), then, allows some of that tang to remain in the batter. Thanks to Fine Cooking for breaking down the science in an easy-to-understand way!

Chocolate

There are a few ways to make chocolate cake taste even chocolatier (i.e., even better). First, you might notice that many chocolate cake recipes call for adding boiling water to the batter. This is because the boiling water helps “bloom” the cocoa powder.

Blooming means mixing cocoa powder with a hot liquid (such as boiling water or hot coffee). This serves two purposes. First, it helps dissolve the cocoa powder and prevents it from clumping, which it has a tendency to do. Second, blooming releases the flavor within cocoa powder more intensely, resulting in more chocolatey-tasting cakes.

Another way to make your cake taste even richer is by adding some coffee. In this recipe, I use espresso powder and boiling water, which, well turns into hot coffee. Espresso amplifies the deep, rich flavor of chocolate without adding any noticeable coffee flavor. I learned that tip from the goddess Ina Garten 15 years ago!

And finally, I love adding an extra boost of chocolate to the cake in the form of chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips. I fold those in at the end, and they not only bring extra rich chocolatey goodness to the cake, but they also bring an interesting textural component. Some of the chocolate chunks/chips will almost melt into the cake, which means rich fudginess (always a good thing), but other chunks/chips will stay firm (especially larger sized ones), providing a nice little solid piece of chocolate to bite into.

I hope you enjoyed those tips for making a tender, light and flavorful vegan chocolate cake! And as for the frosting, it’s a pretty simple buttercream frosting (except the butter is vegan)! Just make you use softened room temperature vegan butter!

And as for the hibiscus flavor, if you can’t find hibiscus powder or don’t want to buy it, you could also crush up some freeze-dried raspberries and use that instead. I find that the sweet-tart flavor from the hibiscus pairs really nicely with and balances the richness of the buttercream frosting!

That’s about it for this Vegan Chocolate Layer Cake. If you make it, be sure to tag me with your recreations on instagram!

Vegan Chocolate Layer Cake with Hibiscus Frosting

Vegan Chocolate Layer Cake with Hibiscus Frosting

5 from 6 votes
This Vegan Chocolate Layer Cake with Hibiscus Frosting is decadence, defined! Vegan buttercream frosting spiked with a fruity tartness from hibiscus, then sandwiched between three layers of moist chocolate cake with chocolate chunks floating throughout. Plus, tips for baking vegan chocolate cake!
Prep Time: 35 mins
Cook Time: 25 mins
Cooling and Assembly 50 mins
Total Time: 1 hr 50 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Baking
Diet Vegan
Keyword: chocolate, hibiscus, nut-free, soy-free, vegan cake
Serving size: 16

Ingredients

VEGAN CHOCOLATE LAYER CAKE

  • 1 1/2 cups (~ 375 mL) unsweetened plant-based milk, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 3/4 cups (~ 330g) all-purpose flour or cake flour (see notes above)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup (~ 125g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup (~ 112g) vegan butter, softened at room temperature (I used Country Crock Plant Butter)
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (~ 168g) organic cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed (~ 96g) organic brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder (or instant coffee powder)
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) boiling water
  • 6 ounces (~ 170g) 65-80% dark chocolate chunks or vegan chocolate chips

HIBISCUS BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

  • 1/2 cup (~ 112g) vegan butter, softened at room temperature (I used Country Crock Plant Butter)
  • 2 cups (~ 240g) organic powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons hibiscus powder (more to taste or for color)
  • 1-2 tablespoons unsweetened plant-based milk

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C. Make three parchment paper rounds for three 6-inch round cake pans and line each pan and lightly grease the sides to prevent sticking). Alternatively, you can use two 8-inch round pans.
  • Combine the plant-based milk and apple cider vinegar, stir, and set aside to curdle.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. I like to sift the mixture together so it’s extra fine and there are no clumps).
  • In a large bowl, add the softened vegan butter, cane sugar, and brown sugar. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in the vanilla extract and espresso powder and beat to combine.
  • Switch the mixer to low speed and add in the milk-vinegar mixture until combined. Gradually add half of the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until well combined, about 1 minute, scraping the sides as needed with a spatula. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir in the remaining dry ingredients. The batter will be very thick at this point.
  • Carefully pour in the boiling water, continuing to mix with a wooden spoon until well combined. Fold in the dark chocolate chunks or chips with a silicone spatula.
  • Divide the batter equally in the prepared pans, using a scale to measure each pan so each cake is equal in size.
  • Bake the cakes for 25 minutes until the center is set and the cake has puffed up a bit and just started to pull away from the pan, and a toothpick inserted comes out with only a few moist crumbs. If you are using two 8-inch pans, you’ll want to bake them a bit longer, 30-35 minutes.
  • Allow the cakes to cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before inverting.
  • While the cakes are cooling, make the Hibiscus Frosting. With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the softened vegan butter until fluffy, about 1 minute. Slowly add the powdered sugar in 1/2 cup increments, mixing on low speed until well combined and fluffy, scraping down the sides as needed. Add the vanilla, salt, and hibiscus powder, and beat until smooth. If the frosting is too thick, add the plant-based milk, a tablespoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency.
  • To assemble the cake, place one layer cake on a cake platter or plate. Add 1/4 of the frosting and smooth out with an offset spatula. Top with the next layer cake and repeat the process. Using the offset spatula, apply the remaining buttercream to the sides of each cake layer, starting at the bottom.

Did you make this recipe?

Tag @rainbowplantlife and hashtag it #rainbowplantlife

Leave a Comment & Rating

If you enjoyed this recipe, please consider giving it a star rating along with your comment! It helps others discover my blog and recipes, and your comments always make my day :) Thank you for your support!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rate this recipe




28 comments on Vegan Chocolate Layer Cake with Hibiscus Frosting

  1. Emma

    5 stars
    It’s my birthday today and I decided to make this cake. It turned out wonderfully! This is such an amazing recipe, I am already planning on repeating it again and again. It is super chocolaty and as a great dark-chocolate enthusiast, this is perfect for me. I did a blueberry frosting instead, because I couldn’t get my hands on hibiscus, and it turned out great!
    Lots of love

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      So happy to hear you loved the cake, Emma! Thanks for the great review.

  2. Kim

    5 stars
    Oh heavens YUM!! This cake was perfect! I made this for my daughters birthday recently. I also made a test batch before to make sure it would turn out and be delicious….it was so we made the full cake! I used Cup4Cup Ancient Grains to make the cake gluten free! It was perfect. Not crumbly, the perfect amount of chocolate and met all of our dietary needs! When I made the actual birthday cake, I forgot to add the extra chocolate chips. Oops! It still turned out delicious. I made a different frosting though. For the trial I made a dark chocolate frosting with black cocoa powder. For her birthday, I made a Oreo frosting! Both super yum!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Tasty, Kim! Thank you for taking the time to review and we are so happy you loved the recipe :)

  3. Archana M. Shah

    Hello, do you use Dutch processed cocooor regular cocoa in this recipe? Thanks.

  4. Rajvi

    Can I make butter cream in Vitamix? I dont have hand held mixer so is it ok to make in vitamix or I need to buy one?

  5. Rajvi Nar

    Hey Nisha.. so your cake pictures are so gorgeous and cant wait to make it for valentines day… one question..I dont have hand held mixer.. Can I whisk it without mixer.. if not possible I will buy it but please let me know if manual whisking is enough…

  6. Donna B.

    5 stars
    Hello Nisha, I made your cake yesterday as a test for a Valentine surprise for my hubby; chocolate cake is his favorite and after searching, yours is the only one that looked good enough to try. I actually had all the ingredients on hand except for the hibiscus powder but my local health food store did have the hibiscus petals which I bought and ground up into a powder with my mortar and pestle and it worked fine. I loved the color it made the icing which is now going to be my go-to icing, but of course I won’t always use the hibiscus which I’m glad you said later in someone’s comment was totally optional anyway. My cake looked beautiful and was moist without being too “wet” and the dark chocolate chips were a plus without being too sweet. I used two 8 inch pie pans and they baked up beautifully in 35 minutes, even at high altitude. Next time I will double the icing though because I had to spread the sides thinner than I would have liked. I would love to insert a photo but I don’t see an option for that. I also have your Insta Pot Vegan cookbook and as fairly new vegan, it’s my standard go-to for tasty and healthy meals! Thanks for all your cooking and baking tips!

  7. Steph p

    How much freeze dried raspberries do you use to replace the hibiscus powder?

  8. Irene

    This cake looks so delicious. I’m going to make it this weekend. Can I use dry hibiscus tea and grind it into a power? What kind of berries are you topping the cake with? Thank you Irene

  9. Anna

    Hi! I tried this recipe a few times and it is always delicious! But I still have a question/problem. When I add the milk-vinegar mixture it doesn’t combine. I tried to add it gradually, or all at once and different speeds for the mixer but every time I get a very clumpy and not very nice looking mass. It combines and gets smooth as soon as I add the flour….do you have any idea why this happens? As I said the cake tastes awesome every time but maybe it can be even better as soon as I solved this mystery (:
    I usually use oat milk..maybe oat milk is not fatty enough to combine with butter?

  10. Mansi Sangoi

    Can I use whole milk instead of vegan milk and same for butter can I use regular butter instead of vegan butter for this recipe?

  11. Nayi

    Made this recipe and turned out DELICIOUS!!!! For the frosting I used freeze dried raspberries and OH MY! OH MY! 😋 So glad we made this! ⁣

    1. Yuruen Alvarez

      Hello Nayi! How many raspberries do you use for the frosting?

  12. Gohar

    Nisha,I tired the cake. It came out amazing! It is so soft and delicious!My frosting on the other hand not so good. The sugar didn’t dissolve well with the vegan butter and since I couldn’t find hibiscus powder, I bought the flower and tried to make it into a powder. Not very successful and very very sweet.But all and all it still looked and tasted wonderful!!Thanks for the recipe

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Gohar, I am so glad you liked the cake and that it came out soft and delicious. Sorry to hear about the troubles with the frosting. Did you soften the vegan butter at room temperature? That is key to making a buttercream frosting. For future reference, if you make the cake or frosting again, add the sugar in increments so that you can taste it along the way for sweetness. And the hibiscus brings a lovely color and flavor but is totally optional – you can always just add a bit more vanilla extract and make it a traditional vanilla buttercream frosting :)

  13. Gohar

    Hi Nisha,
    Beautiful cake. I am planning on making this for the Valentine weekend. Just wondering what kind of plant based milk do you use for this cake. Coconut? Almond? I would assume each would give a slightly different taste.

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Gohar, I typically use almond milk, carton coconut milk, or oat milk (all plain unsweetened) for baking cakes. They all should work well and the with the other flavors, you won’t taste any of those milk flavors.

  14. Melissa Smith

    If I need to use 9-inch pie pans would you adjust the baking time? I just bought 9-inch pans and don’t have space for 8-inch ones

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Melissa, are you talking about 9 inch cake pans or pie pans? Pie pans are more shallow than cake pans. But if you are talking about cake pans, I would increase the oven temp by 25 degrees F and decrease the bake time by a quarter and bake for about 30 minutes. Hope that helps!

      1. Nisha Vora

        One more thing – I would check the cakes 5ish minutes before you think it’s going to be done, just to be safe. I always recommend doing that in general since everyone’s oven is calibrated differently, but especially when you are using a different sized pan.

      2. Melissa

        I did mean cake pan, thank you! Making this for valentine’s day and this is very helpful. Thanks again!

  15. Jennifer

    Greetings!Where can I purchase hibiscus powder at, please?

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Jennifer, in the ingredients list, I included a link to the hibiscus powder I use – it’s on Amazon! Also linked here: https://amzn.to/3b1rCyv

  16. Shireen N.

    This is just the most beautiful cake I have ever seen! Your photography is stunning, Nisha! And hibiscus buttercream? I have to go order some of that hibiscus powder because I can already tell I would love it!

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Shireen! You are just to sweet, thank you! Hope you enjoy that hibiscus powder – it makes everything so pretty!

  17. Marcie

    Which vegan butter do you use?

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Marcie, just updated the post – I used Country Crock Plant Butter (the olive oil-based variety).

Development Alchemy + Aim