No Surprises

Leaping to her feet instantly, arms outstretched and swinging wildly, happy exclamations filled the previously quiet room. Lipstick kisses imprinted our cheeks as the hubbub slowly died down, the birthday girl was genuinely delighted by her unexpected brunch guests and party in her honor. It may have been a surprise party for my grandma, but honestly, I was the most surprised; No one told me we weren’t expected!

No matter, even without the full details there’s no way I’d arrive at any celebration empty-handed. Far from it; The 3-layer, chocolate-smothered tower weighed quite a bit more than calculated, and I was relieved to have it out of my hands upon arriving. Knowing me, you might imagine that some wonderful, unexpected twists must be lurking inside. Some crazy flavor or bizarre ingredient, unusual preparation, funny shape, anything! But no, the surprises ended after our dramatic entry, as this is just a chocolate cake.

No, I take that back- It most certainly is not just a chocolate cake, but in fact the chocolate cake. The chocolate cake I’ve been searching for before I even knew what good chocolate cake was, when I would have been just as thrilled by a half-price grocery store cupcake as a fine French gateaux. All it took to get there was of coarse endless experimentation over the years, but also a bit of humbling. That’s because I had to enlist some help from an ingredient previously reviled and downright banned from this household… Mayonnaise.

Way back when I was 10 years old, from the time I took a bite of a croque monsieur at the Charles de Gaulle Airport on a tedious layover to Italy, I was convinced that mayo was nothing but evil in condiment form. Shocked to find this pasty, fatty white sludge lining the limp bread, it was everything wrong with airport food, and everything wrong with mayonnaise. It was the worst thing I had ever eaten in my young life, and may still hold that illustrious title today, if I cared to think of all those terrible meals past. Though that was our first chance meeting, I was done with mayonnaise forever, and very vocal about my passionate animosity. That’s why it was even harder to reach for the glass jar, and admit that this substance may actually have a place in my kitchen.

This is one accidental re-introduction that I’m blaming squarely on Dreena Burton. Yes, the wholesome sweetheart behind a string of foolproof cookbooks. It was her fault that I needed a dab of mayo to photograph her rocking veggie burgers, her advice to get Vegenaise instead of the other gloppy stuff that’s almost worse than the original, and thus her fault that I had almost a full jar of the stuff to contend with afterwards.

Without the mayo, this cake couldn’t happen, so I’m trying to accept that painful reality. However, the cake itself isn’t hard to swallow; it practically melts in your mouth, despite its impressive density. So moist, in fact, that I could only think to name it the first thing that popped into my head, “Ultra-Moist Amazing Chocolate Layer Cake.” Not just under-baked or painfully gummy like so many other “moist” cakes, this one holds itself together with a nearly fluffy crumb, which dissolves into pure chocolate fudge in moments. Creamy bittersweet chocolate frosting is the luscious glue that holds together this tower of three tender cake rounds together, and though no further decoration is needed, a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar really seals the deal. Nothing short of a show-stopper, it may not be a surprise, but it’s sure not your average cocoa birthday cake.

Yield: Makes 12 - 18 Servings

Ultra-Moist Amazing Chocolate Layer Cake

Ultra-Moist Amazing Chocolate Layer Cake

Creamy bittersweet chocolate frosting is the luscious glue that holds together this tower of three tender cake rounds together, and though no further decoration is needed, a light dusting of confectioner's sugar really seals the deal. Nothing short of a show-stopper, it may not be a surprising choice, but it's sure not your average cocoa birthday cake.

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes


Chocolate Fudge Frosting:

  • 1 1/2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk*
  • 1 Pound Semi-Sweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
  • 1 Cup Vegan Butter
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Rich Chocolate Cake:

  • 3 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 2 Cups Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder, Sifted
  • 2 Tablespoons Whole Flax Seeds, Ground
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
  • 2 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 2 1/4 Teaspoons Baking Soda
  • 1 1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
  • 1 1/2 Cup Brewed and Cooled Coffee
  • 2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 Cup Vegan Mayonnaise
  • 3/4 Cup Olive Oil

To Garnish:

  • Confectioner's Sugar (Optional)


    1. Unlike most standard cake-making procedures, you’ll want to start by preparing the frosting first, since it takes some time to cool and set.
    2. Place the non-dairy milk in a medium sauce pan, and bring just the the brink of boiling. You only want to scald it, so quickly take the pan off the heat, and add in the chopped chocolate. Let sit for a few minutes to melt, and then stir the mixture thoroughly until smooth. Cut the butter into tablespoon-sized pieces, and add them into the melted chocolate, stirring until completely melted and mixed in. Incorporate the vanilla, and let sit at room temperature until cool. Transfer into the fridge to chill. It may take as long as 2 – 3 hours to fully cool, but bear in mind that it will not thicken to the point of being pipe-able; This is a very soft, silky frosting, more like ganache than buttercream. Once it’s merely spreadable, it’s ready to use.
    3. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease and flour 3 8-inch round cake pans. You can also do this successfully with just two pans, as long as you measure your batter carefully and have patience.
    4. In the bowl of your stand mixer or just a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, ground flax seeds, salt, baking powder, and soda. Make sure that all of the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout.
    5. In a separate bowl, combine the non-dairy milk, coffee, vinegar, and vanilla, and let sit undisturbed for about 5 minutes. At that point, add in the secret ingredient here, the vegan mayo, as well as the oil, and mix well.
    6. Add the liquids into the bowl of dry ingredient, and slowly mix, just until the batter is mostly smooth and homogeneous. A few lumps are fine, as long as you don’t over-mix. That would cause your cake to come out very tough and chewy, which is not what we’re looking for! Don’t worry if the mixture seems excessively soupy- That is indeed the correct consistency.
    7. Divide your batter evenly between your three prepared baking pans. [If you're only using two, measure out the full amount of batter, and divide by three. You should end up with somewhere around 2 1/2 of batter in each pan. Reserve the remaining third in your fridge while the first two cakes bake, and allow the cakes to cool completely before turning them out onto a large plate. Quickly rinse and dry one of the pans, re-grease and flour, and bake the final amount of batter in the same manner.]
    8. Bake for 35 – 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out cleanly, with perhaps a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Let cool completely before assembling and frosting.
    9. To achieve the decorative pattern on top of the cake as pictured above, first chill the frosted cake thoroughly so that chocolate frosting can set slightly. Take a large doily and gently place it on top, without pressing down, and sprinkle powdered sugar all over. Lift the doily straight up without shaking it, which will remove the excess and leave a lovely, lacy design in its place.


*Chose a full-fat, richer variety for the best results; I prefer almond milk that’s slightly on the thicker side. Coconut milk would also be a good choice here.

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 556Total Fat: 32gSaturated Fat: 13gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 30mgSodium: 528mgCarbohydrates: 67gFiber: 3gSugar: 45gProtein: 6g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimates.

86 thoughts on “No Surprises

  1. Beautiful photo, per usual. I’ll have to try making this with carob.
    As far as mayo goes, I like the grapeseed oil version of veganaise. I think it’s the best of all of them for flavor.

    1. I’ve bought the organic one since it was on sale, but when everything is back to normal price, I’ll definitely try the grapeseed oil version next. I’ve heard that same sentiment from a number of sources now, so there must be some truth in it!

      1. what is the name of the grapeseed oil version? my local store only carries nayonase and since we almost never use it, am reluctant to but any without a purpose…

  2. Your cake looks so rich and decadent! Fabulous!! I’ve never tried a cake with mayo in it before, but you sure are making me want to try it! I actually use Lemonaise instead of mayo, but I’m sure it would work just as well. :)

  3. That looks so rich, dark, and chocolatey that I’m about to drool here. Way to go, Hannah! I use mayo in my red velvet cupcakes so I can attest to its power for making cakes amazingly moist and yummy.

  4. Wow, Hannah. That cake is gorgeous. It looks soooo rich and dark, just the way I love my chocolate cake! I’ve never heard of using mayo in a cake, but you always teach me new things!!

  5. Dang, every once in a while I come across a recipe that for whatever reason, I HAVE to make immediately, and this is one. I wasn’t planning on making a chocolate cake this weekend! Thanks a lot! :P

    This might be a dumb question, but can I just use semi-sweet chocolate chips?

    1. Hi Amy,

      No dumb questions here! Yes, semi-sweet chips would be just fine, as long as they’re of a high-quality chocolate. I just recommend chocolate in bar-format because you have more options to choose from, and they’re often made with better ingredients.

      Happy baking! :)

  6. This looks like the absolute most perfect chocolate cake. I’ve ever seen. I can almost taste it when you describe how heavy it is. I’ve got to save this one for a special occassion, or just Tuesday ;)

  7. I’m pretty dead set against mayo also and whenever I see it in cake recipes, I definitely cringe. However. I trust you more than I would almost anyone else when it comes to cakes and desserts and delicious sweet treats. So I’m willing to bet this is a serious masterpiece. It certainly looks like one!

  8. mayo in cake?? now that is new to me, I have done yogurt and loved it in baked goods. And love the addition of coffee in the cake…two of my loves chocolate and coffee…looks amazing

  9. My boss always makes her chocolate cakes with mayonnaise. I was hesitant to try it when told that was an ingredient but I have to admit it makes the cake really moist! It makes sense to use it as real mayo is simply egg yolks whisked with oil.

  10. This looks totally awesome and decadently chocolatey! My favorite chocolate cake recipes all seem to have coffee in them, so this definitely fits the bill…I’ll just have to trust you on the mayonnaise thing!

  11. There is no other word for this but “phwoar”. So glossy, dark, decadent, and splendiferously tall! What lucky people to have you in their lives :)

  12. That is certainly one ingredient I would never have dreamed would’ve made its way into the cake arena, pure madness (or genius, kinda the same thing really!)
    But incidentally, I actually invested in a pot of the stuff recently for a potato salad, and have since been wondering what else to do with it, AND I do love cake!

  13. I’ve never made a chocolate cake but this is irresistable looking and I want to try the mayo thing! Your doily trick is genius and elegantly beautiful. I want to make the cake just to do the doily thing!

  14. Wow that looks amazing!!! I can’t turn down chocolate cake…might have to make this one for my birthday in September :)

  15. Another welcome home treat I can make for my son . . . and so luscious and moist! I love, love, love the flavor of Veganaise but I typically buy the ‘original’ version made with canola oil. I much prefer using grapeseed oil so I will give it a try. I did not use mayo for several years until finally trying Veganaise. Thanks for the ‘thumbs up’ on the grapeseed version Deb.

    Another winner ~ thank you Hanna!

  16. That is definitely not just a chocolate cake…it looks like the ultimate chocolate cake to me! Mayo in cake really is fantastic. I bet the other party-goers were pretty happy! :)

  17. Wow it looks super tempting. I wish it’s weekend already so I can bake this (It’s Monday. Grrr.)

    So I’m violently allergic to flaxseed (sigh). Do you think I can substitute it with something?


  18. My daughter and I made this cake yesterday. It has a real depth of flavor that I haven’t found in many vegan chocolate cakes. Unfortunately my dog go into one of the layers as it was cooling so we ended up with a 2 layer cake. There was enough filling to fill and frost 2 layers. This made the cake extremely rich but if you want decadent, you’ve got it! I think that next time I would make 9 in layers. The 8 in layers turned out really thick! I used the organic vegannaise. Worked great!

  19. Wow wow! This was fabulous. Thank you!! :) It came out insanely delicious and really pretty. I made my own stencil and it looked so nice!

  20. I already bookmarked this page:)! I have been looking for the perfect moist chocolate cake! for some reason mine always turns out dry or gummy. Hopefully this is it!:) I do want to ask if I could use butter instead of non-dairy margarine and just plain milk or low fat milk for the non dairy milk? also is there any other substitute for flax seed? I am not familiar with these ingredients however i really do want to try this recipe so bad!:(

  21. how would I add melted semi sweet chocolate into the cake if I wanted to? would I replace it with something or add more of another? what would you reccomend for that and do you think that it would make a difference. should i just stick with the recipe you thought up? and i’m looking for a vegan german chocolate cake so I was wondering if you knew any good recipes for the coconut pecan frosting.

    1. Well I’m not sure why you would want to add melted chocolate to this cake to begin with… Trust me, it’s very rich and chocolatey as is! I would recommend trying the recipe as written, and then deciding whether or not it needs something extra.

      As for a German Chocolate variation, I’ve made this frosting recipe many times over with great success: …My only alteration is to use unsweetened coconut flakes.

  22. I want to make this for a friend who eats vegan. This may be a stupid question …is the chocolate in the frosting dairy free? Thanks for your help!!!

    1. Not a stupid question at all- Chocolate can be tricky. There is plenty of dairy-free and vegan dark chocolate, you just need to check labels because every brand is different. I prefer the Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chocolate chips, personally.

      Happy baking!

  23. Mmmmmmm looks tasty! I love, love, love chocolate and my best friend is a vegan! So I can’t wait to try this recipe out. Thanks for posting and great blog! I’ll be back

  24. I tried to bake this cake. The batter never baked…stayed soupy thru the entire 45mins overflowing the pan! I don’t understand what I did wrong. I used all the same ingredients except I used almond flour. Please help!

    1. The problem is that almond flour is very different from all purpose flour, and can’t be substituted directly at an equal ratio. It lacks the gluten that holds this cake together, which is why you ended up with a soupy mess.

  25. Hi, thank you for your response! I realized that after I wrote it. I’m going to bake it again today with regular flour. Excited :)

  26. What do you recommend as a substitution for the mayo? My son is allergic to eggs, and I won’t have time to order the vegan mayo. Do you think plain yogurt would do well? It just looks so delicious, I would love to make it for his birthday this week!

  27. Hannah –

    I made this for my birthday yesterday and it was THE BEST chocolate cake I’ve ever had – vegan or not vegan. Despite my running out of sugar (I only used 1 3/4 cups), only having one 9″ cake pan (so I had to bake it three times…), overbaking all three layers, and substituting vegan sour cream for the veganaise, it turned out amazing. Thank you so much, it made my birthday that much better!

  28. Hannah, Made this for my vegan daughter (at her request). Amazing cake for no dairy/eggs! Better than any chocolate cake mix! But I had to chase all over town to find 8″ pans and my layers were thicker than your picture. I’d say 9″ would work fine. Also Very important to let cake cool or it will fall apart as you try to stack :). How did you get all three layers stacked!!! Finally this recipe makes a lot of cake! After my second layer split, I frosted my third cake in the pan and it worked great. Your frosting is great but making both is a bit time consuming If you’re pressed for time you can use Pilsbury Creamy Supreme out of the can (it’s Vegan!). Thanks for the recipe. I have two vegan daughters and this has become the birthday standard. I just have to get better at stacking lol!

  29. I made this yesterday to bring to work. It is delicious. Super moist and choclaty. I cut the recipe in half and used one 8″ pan. It worked wonderful. Do you use mayo in any other recipe in your book?

    1. Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you liked the cake! This is the only recipe that I’ve used mayonnaise in so far, but considering how successful it was, I really should experiment more.

  30. Since August this is my go to chocolate cake recipe. I usually make some sort of change to a recipe to make it my own but I follow this recipe as is. I take that back, I usually use silk very vanilla soymilk. Any way since you are the expert do you think this recipe would work as a plain cake if I replaced the chocolate with more flour?

    1. I never considered converting it to a vanilla cake, but now that you mention it, I don’t see why not. It’s certainly worth a try- Just replace the coffee with more “milk,” as you mentioned, and replace the cocoa with 3/4 cup flour; a full cup might make it too dense. You may also want to increase the vanilla extract to a tablespoon at least. Let me know how it goes!

      1. I made the “vanilla” cake yesterday but I forgot to add a tablespoon of vanilla; I only added a teaspoon but everyone liked it. It did have the nutty flavor of the flaxseed but no one seemed to mind. I’ll try ground chia seed next time because it is flavorless. This recipe may become my go to vanilla cake just like the original chocolate is my go to chocolate cake. I’ll also try it with butter next time to see how it turns out. Thanks Hannah!! I think you should try it when your not creating something new and fabulous!

      2. Awesome, this is great news! I have been thinking about revamping my standard vanilla cake, so I’ll start here next time. I’m so glad you thought outside of the box and made this recipe your own! :)

  31. Hi Hannah! Quick question (sorry if I missed it in the comments somewhere, I didn’t see it anywhere)–your description of the cake says bittersweet frosting, but the recipe says semi sweet. Was “bittersweet” just a description of how the frosting tastes? (I.e. don’t use bittersweet chocolate?)

    Also, OMG I’ve hated mayo for almost my whole life, ever since throwing up after eating a mayo/bologna sandwich. (Never ate either of those again.) But that photo of the cake is just irresistible!! Do you think this recipe would still work if I used homemade mayo? I saw a recipe that uses tofu and I’m not sure if that would mess things up…

    1. Hi Erika,

      No problem at all! I just meant to say that the frosting tasted bittersweet since there was no added sugar beyond what was already in the chocolate. It should still be semi-sweet chocolate that’s used, though.

      Sure, homemade mayo should work out just fine, as long as it’s not too watery. Otherwise, you could probably get away with using sour cream instead.

  32. Hi Hannha,
    I was just wondering if you consider your desserts vegan and if so how is it that you use confectioners sugar and granulated sugar in your recipes. I am not vegan but I am a person who wants to have information on all sorts of ways to eat.

    1. Absolutely, I do! I’m very careful about sourcing my sugar to ensure that it’s not proceeded with bone char, and happily, it’s easier than ever to do so. Whole Foods even sells bags specifically labeled as “vegan sugar,” and in some stores you can buy it from the bulk bins, too. For more information about vegan sugar brands, check out

    1. Sure, I think that should work just fine. Bear in mind that it may need longer to bake though, so keep an eye on it near the end of the cooking process and be sure to use the toothpick test before taking it out.

  33. Do you sift all the dry ingredients or just the cocoa? And could I make this into a vanilla cake as well? Sorry if u already answered these questions and thanks in advance!

    1. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to sift all of the dry ingredients, but the cocoa is the only one that is mandatory. I haven’t tried converting the recipe to a vanilla cake, but you could always try to replace the same volume of cocoa with additional all purpose flour. If you do, let me know how it goes! Happy baking!

  34. Hi!

    This cake looks amazing, and I would really like to make it, but I have a question…..can I use coconut oil instead of canola oil? Thank you! =)

      1. Thanks for your answer! =) Tomorrow I’m making this cake…I hope it will turn out as good as yours. ;)

  35. I just made this cake for the second time today and it came out flawless once again! Hands down best ever chocolate cake recipe, including all of the non-vegan chocolate cakes I’ve made over the years. It is so moist and super chocolatey! No one would ever guess it didn’t have butter or eggs. I divided it between two cake pans with no problem. Also, we didn’t have any coffee around so I used Pero instead. Thanks for the recipe!

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