Mocha Espresso Cake

by Sarah

in Cakes, Dairy-Free, Desserts, Egg-Free, vegan

It’s my Dad’s Birthday! He loves drinking coffee, which inspired me to make a coffee-flavored cake. Coffee goes well with chocolate, and thus this Mocha Chocolate Cake was born.

mocha_expresso_cakeI hope this cake will have him thinking of fresh brewed coffee. He eats pastries with coffee, so I tried to make this cake as healthy as possible without compromising taste. I’m hoping he eats some with his coffee for breakfast this week.

This mocha cake is completely vegan, and uses vegan margarine (no cholesterol) as well as reduced fat coconut milk and some hidden flax seeds. I know you are thinking: a vegan cake? Ewwww. But I assure you, if you make vegan cake right you can’t go back to regular cake. Vegan cakes taste lighter and yummier.

mocha-expresso-cake-side viewAfter eating all the cake batter left on my spatula, I’m convinced this vegan chocolate cake batter tastes better than any other chocolate cake I’ve made. The batter is a quick to put together and tastes like velvety chocolate fudge.

After sticking the first two cake layers in the oven, it occurred to me that it would have been a great idea to make this cake extra healthy by sneaking a tablespoon of ground flax seed in it. So I added it to the third layer.  I’ve found flax seeds disappear into almost anything I add them to (I rarely taste the flax seeds), and this brown cake is perfect for covering the little brown dots flax make. After tasting the cake, the verdict is that flax seeds make the cake moister and easier to crack when hot. Personally I liked the layers without the flax seeds better, but if you like super moist cake then the flax seeds could be for you.

mocha-expresso-cake-with-writingI took this cake home on a plane using a cake caddy. The cake made it safely to the airport, on the plane, and back to my house! At first I was worried TSA wouldn’t allow cake on the plane because a friend of mine couldn’t bring creamy cheese on a plane recently, but it didn’t turn out to be an issue and TSA was super nice, catching the cake right when it came out of the security conveyer belt so it wouldn’t go on the rolly metal pins that could tilt the cake in the caddy. The cake caddy I used was the wilton cake caddy and I highly recommend it. It is super sturdy and the cake made it back without a scratch. Just make sure to lift the cake a little during take off and landing so it doesn’t slide too much when the plane is tilted (I had the cake under the seat in front of me so I could tilt it slightly when the plane was tilted).

To help transport the cake, I really recommend refrigerating your frosted cake the night before you take a trip. This makes the icing harden up so it is less prone to smearing or breaking if there are bumps along the way. As long as you refrigerate the cake in the cake caddy (airtight), and let it come fully to room temp over a few hours without opening the cake caddy, you will not get any condensation or sweating of the icing. This is important! If you open the cake caddy too fast your cold cake gets exposed to too much air and the warmer air molecules hit your cake and make brown sweat from the coffee frosting. The frosting, which hardens in the refrigerator, returns to room temperature within a few hours and tastes just as light and fluffy as before refrigeration.


Edit: My dad has now tried the cake! He really likes the cake, and has been having one with his coffee every day this week :)

For directions on how to assemble the cake, see my cake and cupcake tutorial page on how to put together a cake. There are some helpful tutorials as well as tools listed to help you get that flawless bakery-style frosting coat. The cake supplies page contains additional information and reviews on cake-making items.

To decorate this specific cake I used a 4.5″ off-set spatula for the top, a straight edge spatula for the sides, and a 4B tip for the swirls and shells. The chocolate balls are the only part of this cake that are not vegan, but you can omit them! The golden sprinkles are by Wilton and they don’t taste like anything, which is good. I used a pre-made vegan wilton icing to write the words. You can easily make your own icing, but I found this saves me some time. I sprinkled the cake with edible gold stars. The almond pieces I got from Trader Joe’s, and placed them onto the cake manually one-by-one after I was done frosting the cake. Everything except the ferrero rocher balls are vegan.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Mocha Espresso Cake
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Velvety Mocha Espresso Cake, chocolate inside and coffee creme outside!
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 22
  • 4½ cups flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1⅛ cup cocoa powder
  • 1½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups canned coconut milk, light (one and a half 13.66oz can)
  • 1½ cup canola oil
  • 6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 7½ teaspoons espresso powder
  • 2 cups non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 6 tablespoons espresso powder
  • ½ cup water (add 1 tablespoon at a time till frosting is desired consistency)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease three 9" (or 8") cake pans, and line with parchment paper (cut a circle the size of your cake pan)
  2. Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl until evenly mixed. Give coconut milk a good shake, and then mix all wet ingredients in a separate bowl.
  3. Add wet mixture into dry mixture and mix until just incorporated. Pour batter into pans and bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out with just a few crumbs.
  1. Cream shortening in a large bowl
  2. Add powdered sugar, water, and espresso powder.
  3. Cream frosting with an electric mixture. Espresso dots should remain in frosting mixture when done.
Recipe is for a 3 layer 9 " cake. For a 2 layer cake multiply each ingredient amount by ⅔

To assemble the cake, first level each layer, then stack with frosting in between. Then do crumb coat, and ice the rest of the cake. Decorate the shell border and swirls with wilton tip 4B. See cake and cupcake tutorials page for detailed decorating instructions.

For more vegan cakes, see these recipes: 

Pipette Cupcakes

pipette cupcakes - one cupcake

Green Tea Caramel Cupcakes

green tea caramel cupcake |

Raspberry Surprise Center Cupcakes

Vegan raspberry cupcake with surprise jelly filling |

Daisy Fondant Cake

daisy fondant cake |


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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Marta March 7, 2014 at 7:22 pm

Yum Sarah. Fly some to DC too!


2 Sarah March 7, 2014 at 8:30 pm

Aww thanks Marta! :) figuring out how to mail cakes will be my next challenge!


3 Grace March 8, 2014 at 3:01 am

What a beautiful cake! I’m glad your dad enjoyed it. I’ve heard that adding straight-up black coffee to your chocolate cake batter intensifies the chocolate flavor without adding a coffee taste (but in your case, even if the coffee flavor came through, it would go perfectly with the espresso frosting).


4 Sarah March 8, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Hi Grace! I’m glad you like the cake :) You’re right, the batter tastes a lot more chocolatey than coffee flavored. The frosting makes it taste more like coffee.


5 veena March 8, 2014 at 9:08 am

what a beautiful cake.. I have bookmarked it


6 Sarah March 8, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Great! Let me know when you try it or if you have any questions!


7 Jelli March 8, 2014 at 1:17 pm

This looks fantastic! If it tastes as good as it looks (and I’m sure it does!) your dad is going to book you for next year’s birthday a year in advance.


8 Sarah March 8, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Thanks! :) I think he’s thinking that too!


9 Shobelyn March 8, 2014 at 1:22 pm

This looks so pretty. Ic an eat all of it.


10 Sarah March 8, 2014 at 4:56 pm

I’m glad you like it Shobelyn!


11 Diella March 18, 2014 at 5:41 am

Sarah, we need to get together and have a baking day! And I’m planning to make this next week ;]


12 Sarah October 21, 2014 at 6:30 pm

I’m glad you like it Diella!


13 Adelenne June 7, 2014 at 4:57 am

Hi, this cake sounds amazing. I’d love to try out someday. Just wondering, does the cake have a coconut taste to it as well? Thanks.


14 Sarah June 8, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Hi Adelenne, the cake does not have a coconut taste to it. It tastes very chocolatey / coffee like ~ like a mocha :)


15 Adelenne June 11, 2014 at 12:39 am

Hi Sarah,
I made this a few days ago. Its very moist, very chocolatey and rich. Hard to believe its vegan. I made it half of the recipe and used three 6 inch pans to make the cake layers. I also could make 4 cupcakes out of the same batter cos I wanted to taste it. I’m kept the layers in the freezer for when I want to make it into a cake. I’m going to let a vegan friend taste a cupcake to see if she likes it.
I make all kinds of cake and sell them but I’ve never made vegan cake before. I’m glad to have this recipe cos it’s good to know my customers can order a vegan cake now instead of only my vegan cupcakes! Thanks!


16 Sarah June 14, 2014 at 9:58 am

I’m glad you enjoyed the cake!


17 June Burns February 17, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Such a gorgeous cake! Love the fact that it is vegan :)


18 Sarah February 20, 2015 at 12:05 am

Thank you June!


19 Caren February 23, 2015 at 9:46 am

Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to mention that I have truly loved surfing around your blog posts.
After all I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write
again soon!


20 Sarah February 23, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Hi Caren, I’m so happy you like my blog! I usually write 1x per week, but will be writing 1x every 2 weeks just for a few months (till end of June) in light of my upcoming medical school board exams. After that I’ll be back to writing 1x a week!


21 Maggie May 5, 2015 at 7:41 am

This cake looks really amazing! Your baking skills really are the greatest and you make the perfect cake every single time. I would love to give this a try one day :)


22 Sarah May 5, 2015 at 9:55 pm

Thanks Maggie! I’m glad you like it!


23 Andreea June 21, 2015 at 10:42 am

Hi! The cake looks great and I’d love to bake it for my 30 years birthday. But I live in Romania and I’m not sure we have vegetable shortening available in stores (or I don’t know what it is and where to find it). I was wondering if I can replace it with margarine, coconut oil or anything like that. Thanks!


24 Sarah June 21, 2015 at 9:47 pm

Hi Andreea, so happy you like the cake. The vegetable shortening I used is the Spectrum organic shortening, it is important to use a non-hydrogenated shortening to make the frosting fluffy ( in the USA, some shortenings like Crisco are not non-hydrogenated). The shortening is available online on Amazon if you wanted to try ordering it there. If you want to substitute it with another material, I suggest using a vegan margarine (I like Earth Balance). The texture will be slightly more buttery using the margarine compared to the shortening, but will still be yummy. Hope that helps!


25 Andreea June 28, 2015 at 5:44 am

Thnk you so much for the response. I will try to see if they can ship to Romania amd try the recipe. All the best to you! Great blog!


26 Sarah June 28, 2015 at 11:42 am

Hope the recipe goes well Andreea!


27 Emma July 8, 2015 at 2:44 am

Hi, I’m making this for a friends birthday and I was wondering when you say ‘flour’ what kind did you mean? Thanks, looks amazing :)


28 Sarah July 8, 2015 at 10:06 am

Hi Emma, glad you like the cake! For flour, I used unbleached all purpose flour. Have fun baking, and happy birthday to your friend!


29 Stephanie January 8, 2016 at 10:51 am

I cannot believe I just found your blog! I’m almost completely lactose intolerant finding your blog is like a needle in a haystack. I haven’t tried out any recipes yet, but am hoping to do so soon! The cake looks amazing btw


30 Sarah January 9, 2016 at 12:38 am

Hi Stephanie, I’m glad you like the blog! Great news, almost all the recipes here exclude dairy. It just happens the Spork (my S.O.) is very allergic to dairy and I’m lactose intolerant so altogether the things I make are mostly all dairy-free :)


31 shirley July 25, 2016 at 8:56 pm

Hi !
Looks like a great recipe! can you make this ahead and freeze?


32 Sarah July 26, 2016 at 8:54 pm

Yes, you can make this ahead and freeze it :) You can put it in the fridge for a few hours to let the frosting firm up a little (so it won’t smudge when you wrap it), and then wrap in 2-3 layers of saran wrap. Freezes for a few months. Before you eat it, thaw it in the fridge for a few hours, and then leave at room temp a few more hours – all with the plastic wrap on. This prevents condensation from forming and allows the cake to come back to room temp and be fluffy again (frosting needs time to get fluffy from the freezing and the fridge).


33 shirley August 2, 2016 at 6:04 pm

Hi Sarah,
Thanks for the help! I did freeze the cake and made the frosting the day of. This was so delicious and it made the perfect ending to a great vegan (first!) Birthday family dinner that my daughter and I made. I must tell you that I never comment on recipes but this one was so well worth it. Great reviews from all of the family!!! I also made your vegan chocolate chip cookies and they were excellent too! Thank you!!


34 Sarah August 7, 2016 at 10:39 am

Hi Shirley, I’m so happy you enjoyed the cake and cookies!! :) Your comment made my day.


35 Sam June 8, 2017 at 2:29 pm

Is there anything I can use to replace the espresso powder for the cakes/frosting?


36 Sarah June 15, 2017 at 2:45 pm

The espresso powder in the cake enhances the taste of the chocolate but you can exclude it and it won’t taste too different. The frosting however will be quite different without the espresso powder, since that gives it the coffee flavor. I have not tried anything to replace the espresso powder their – I would venture to say instant coffee may be one option, but often instant coffees have dairy powder in them so it may not taste quite the same.


37 Chloe September 28, 2017 at 4:32 pm

Hi Sarah! Would love to make this cake for my boyfriends birthday but would it be possible to tell me the ingredients in grams not by cups. Also what flour and sugar should I use? Raising flour? Caster Sugar?

Thank you!!! :)


38 Sarah November 7, 2017 at 4:40 pm

regular all purpose flour and regular granulated sugar is okay.


39 Holly Krauklis October 21, 2017 at 8:40 am

This recipe sounds great. Do you think it could be baked successfully into a bundt pan? I’m guessing at 2/3 the recipe…? Please and thanks 😀


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