Cocoa-Orange Zebra Cake

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A thin orange frame protects a diptych of my youngest brother on his first birthday. To the right he curiously eyes a blue cupcake, arms outstretched. In the left photograph the cupcake has disappeared, leaving its sugary evidence smeared entirely across my brother’s face. Eyes closed and grinning from ear to ear, his neck is stretched to the camera’s face. The victor’s pose.

The first smash is priceless, which is why I urged myself to make Rivers’ first cake worthwhile. My son’s first birthday cake took six months to make, give or take a couple weeks. That sounds gross right? Okay, the brainstorming began six months ago, then there was the long testing phase in conjunction with note-taking and mathematics. I believe I did more math homework than actual baking.

I could have made life easier by simply making my tried-and-true chocolate cake recipe, only adding a dash of orange zest for “seasonal” flair. (Florida’s seasonal flair. Had I stuck to local and seasonal we would have ended up with snow cones.) Pastry is my passion, thus my gift, my labor of love to my son in celebration of his first year with us.

{A quick note about the cake}
It is definitely vegan and sugar-free, but not sweetener-free. There is plenty of maple syrup. I’ve experimented with cutting the sweetener further than this recipe, but found the results lacking richness. Fruit puree made the texture a little gummy. Like Goldie Locks, I think this one is just right. The texture is soft and light with a flavor reminiscent of Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Enjoy!

Cocoa-Orange Zebra Cake
{Vegan & Sugar-free}
Yields 2, 6-inch cakes

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup canola oil or melted coconut oil
1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup + 2 Tablespoon nut milk
2 Tablespoons orange zest (about two large navel oranges)

Oil and flour cake pans, then line the bottoms with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350˚F.

In a large bowl, sift together flours, baking powder and salt. Divide the flour evenly into two bowls. Sift cocoa powder into one.

In a medium bowl, whisk together syrup, oil, vanilla and 1 cup nut milk. Combine the syrup mixture with the dry ingredients, half in one, half in the other. Mix the remaining 2 Tablespoons nut milk into the cocoa batter. Stir zest into the other. Batter should be smooth and very runny.

Spoon about 3-4 Tablespoons of orange batter into the center of each cake pan. Repeat with the cocoa batter, making a bull’s eye over the orange. Alternate the batters and repeat this step until no batter remains. The smaller each spoonful, the more stripes in the cake. (I got antsy and used large spoonfuls for the photo below)

Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Cool completely before removing from the pan.

Cake should be delicate, soft and moist. Best chilled before cutting and assembling layers.

Fudgy Cocoa Frosting
{Vegan & Sugar-Free}
Yields about 3 cups
2 cups unsweetened and unsalted almond butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
3/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
3 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1/3-1/2 cup nut milk
1 1/2-2 teaspoons orange zest (optional)

Whisk all ingredients together until smooth and creamy. If the mixture is too dry, add additional nut milk, 1 Tablespoon at a time until desired consistency. Frosting will thicken somewhat when refrigerated, so additional nut milk may be needed before use.

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