Vegan Chocolate Praline Layer Cake with Peanut Butter Pastry Cream

This week on Bake Off, the tent went all vegan with eggs, milk, butter, honey and meat thrown out of the tent. The signature was to make vegan savoury tartlets with two different fillings, the technical challenge was a tropical fruit pavlova made using aquafaba instead of egg whites and the showstopper was to make a celebration cake. For my first ever foray into vegan baking, I did my take on the showstopper! This is my Vegan Chocolate Praline Layer Cake with Peanut Butter Pastry Cream!!

I did some investigating to find a good chocolate cake recipe which is vegan. Many recipes called for a dairy-free milk to be mixed with cider vinegar as well as being oil-based, although vegan margarine popped up often. I came across this recipe from The Domestic Gothess for a Vegan Chocolate Sheet Cake and I gave the recipe a try. I really liked the rich chocolate flavour which came from the natural cacao powder from Food Thoughts and the cake’s texture was really easy to eat, fluffy while slightly fudgy too. I knew this recipe, with a few tweaks on my side, would be perfect for my layer cake.

I knew I wanted peanut butter for my filling and while I could easily make a peanut butter buttercream using a vegan margarine, I decided to experiment with a peanut butter pastry cream using soy milk. The creaminess of the soy milk helps to give silkiness to the pastry cream, which is thickened using cornflour. The cooked custard is then poured over smooth peanut butter, mixed until even and then makes a great cake filling.

Before I share the recipe, I wanted to say a little bit about my thoughts on vegan baking after having tested out this recipe. I’m honestly surprised that a cake that looks this good is vegan and perhaps there’s an undertone of ignorance there, that vegan baking can’t be good. But I think I’ve been converted! I will definitely come back to this recipe if ever I have to make an egg-free cake, a dairy-free cake or even just a cake when I don’t have any eggs in. While I won’t be going vegan with my baking, it was definitely fun thinking outside of the box!

For the chocolate sponges:

240ml sweetened soy milk

150g granulated sugar

100ml sunflower oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp white wine vinegar

160g self raising flour

50g natural cacao powder

1 tsp instant espresso powder

For the peanut butter pastry cream

30g cornflour

65g granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

320ml sweetened soy milk

75g smooth peanut butter

For the praline:

40g whole almonds

50g granulated sugar

75g raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Using sunflower oil, lightly grease the sides and line the base of three 7-inch sandwich tins with baking parchment.

Add all of the wet ingredients and the sugar into a measuring jug and use a fork to whisk together. Set aside for 5 minutes.

Add all of the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and use a whisk to combine evenly. Make a well in the centre and pour in all of the wet ingredients. Whisk everything together until the cake batter is even and has a typical cake batter consistency.

Divide the cake batter between the three sandwich tins, tilting the tins to spread the batter evenly. Bake the cakes for around 14 – 16 minutes until it springs back when pressed lightly with your finger. Run a knife around the edge of the tin and invert the cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile prepare the peanut butter pastry cream. Into a medium saucepan, mix the cornflour and sugar together. Gradually incorporate the soy milk so that there are no lumps and place over a medium heat to cook. Cook the pastry cream until it is silky and relatively thick, whisking constantly to prevent burning.

Pour the hot pastry cream over the peanut butter and mix until an even colour. It will be significantly thicker and will thicken further on cooling. Place clingfilm onto the surface of the pastry cream and refrigerate until needed.

For the praline, heat the sugar in a heavy-bottomed frying pan until it turns an amber colour, using a wooden spatula to stir the caramel if it is cooking unevenly. Add the almonds and stir to coat. Immediately turn out onto a sheet of baking parchment. While it is still not set, separate 9 of the almonds for the decoration. Leave the rest of the praline to set.

In a small bowl, mix the raspberry jam so that is looser and easier to spread. Give the pastry cream a mix and then transfer about three-quarters of it to a piping bag. Cut off a 1cm hole from the end. In a food processor, blitz the praline up into a fine crumb. Now you are ready to assemble the cake.

On your cake stand or serving plate, place one layer of the sponge. Leaving a 0.5cm border from the edge, pipe large blobs of the pastry cream around the sponge. Pipe some of the pastry cream into the centre and use a palette knife to spread it evenly to cover the sponge. Top with a layer of the raspberry jam. Place a second layer of the sponge on top, this time with the bottom facing upwards and repeat the filling process.

Place the final sponge on top, again with the bottom facing upwards. Spread a layer of the pastry cream on top, again leaving a 0.5cm border from the edge. Pipe 8 blobs of the pastry cream evenly spaced on top. Empty the remaining pastry cream back into the bowl and fill another piping bag with the rest of the pastry cream, this time cutting off a small hole to pipe fine dots in a circle on the surface.

Cover the surface of the cake with a layer of the praline powder, making sure not to get any on the large dots of pastry cream. Place 8 of the almonds on top of each blob of pastry cream and place the final almond in the centre of the cake.

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