Veganising Nigella: The Chocolate Malteser Cake

Veganising Nigella: The Chocolate Malteser Cake

Veganising Nigella: The Chocolate Malteser Cake

We did it! We finally left London and swapped our apartment for a house near the sea. We had considered leaving the capital many times over the years but lockdown gave us the final nudge we needed. Despite occasionally forgetting that I no longer have access to the tube and I can’t pop up to Chinatown on a whim to stock up on slabs of tofu the size of small mattresses, the upset of leaving The Big Smoke hasn’t been too, well, upsetting.

An occasional longing for a walk along the South Bank is placated by an actual beach just a five-minute drive away. Heavenly; even in the cold grey drizzle of a typical winter’s morning, which itself offers an atmospheric, almost Scandi-Noir vibe. If you squint a bit.

Our house has a sea view, which, tellingly, was the only thing we really remembered from our singular viewing.  I am currently in the process of redecorating every room in the house and we are gradually working our way through a tediously long to-do list. Bit by bit, the house is beginning to feel more like home.

Despite a few hiccups, this does feel like a celebratory time,  and what better way to toast new beginnings than with a gorgeous cake?

The original Chocolate Malteser Cake is featured in Nigella Lawson’s Feast (2004), and it’s an all-time favourite bake for me. (Nigella’s original recipe is here: Chocolate Malteser CakeFeast was a Christmas gift from my mother and remains one of my most-used cookbooks. I was smitten with the image of this cake; with its crown of maltesers on top of pillowy soft malty buttercream, it looked oh-so inviting! I was just finding my feet in my own kitchen at the time, and it was such an easy recipe to follow that even I was able to achieve a fabulous result, as someone fairly new to baking.

Since going vegan I saw no practical way of veganising it until the recent discovery of plant-based Maltesers and Horlicks. The “maltesers” are actually “Ballers” by a brand called Doisy and Dam. I found them in Holland and Barrett and I would be fibbing if I said they taste exactly like Maltesers. They don’t, but they look the part and are still enjoyable. There may be other alternatives out there, I’m not sure (let me know!). The vegan Horlicks, however, tastes the same as regular Horlicks.

My vegan version is as faithful as possible to the original, using easily available ingredients and straight swaps as necessary. I’ve used my very shallow 4-tin set to make the cake pictured as I love the multi-layered look (using slightly more icing) but you can simply use the same quantities with two standard 8″ cake tins instead, as per Nigella’s original instructions. Icing amounts for both versions are given below.

I hope you’ll love this recipe as much as we do – my chocoholic daughter was doing cartwheels when she saw this cake! If you enjoy this veganised Nigella recipe, be sure to check out the others:

Veganising Nigella: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

Veganising Nigella: Spruced Up Vanilla Cake

Veganising Nigella: Ginger & Walnut Carrot Cake

The Recipe 

You will need two 8″ regular cake tins (or a 4-tier shallow cake pan set if you happen to have one – I use Wilton Easy Layers)

For The Chocolate Sponge:

2 tbsp (15g) vegan Horlicks

285ml non-dairy milk – Oat or soya is ideal

2 tsp lemon juice

70g neutral-tasting oil (sunflower oil is ideal)

225g plain flour

150g soft light brown sugar

100g caster sugar

25g cocoa powder

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda


Icing for a regular 2-tier cake (filling and topping):

250g icing sugar

1 tsp cocoa powder

6 tbsp (45g) vegan Horlicks

125g vegan block butter, room temperature (I like Naturli, Flora Plant Block or foil-wrapped Stork)

2 tbsp just-boiled water

[Icing for a 4-tier cake (filling, top and sides): 375g icing sugar / 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder / 70g Vegan Horlicks / 185g vegan block butter / 3 tbsp just-boiled water]

Cake Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180c / 160c fan / 350f / gas mark 4. Grease and line the bottom of each cake tin.

2. Measure the Horlicks into a Pyrex jug and slowly whisk in the milk. Microwave on high for one minute, briefly whisk then microwave again for another minute, by which time the Horlicks will be dissolved. Stir in the lemon juice and oil and set aside.

3. In a separate mixing bowl, combine the flour, two sugars, cocoa powder, baking powder and bicarb.

4. Stir the wet mixture into the dry. Vegan cake batters are pretty wet and don’t require much effort to combine; I like to use a small hand held whisk and a spatula to scrape down the sides if necessary. You aren’t trying to get air into the mixture, you’re just mixing until there are no visible dry bits.


5. Pour the mixture evenly into your chosen cake tins and quickly get them in the oven. Bake for 12-14 minutes for the four very shallow tiers, or around 30 minutes for two deeper tins. Check with a cake tester; crumbs are fine, but if it shows wet batter, return the cakes to the oven for another minute or two.

6. Transfer the tins to a wire rack and turn out the cakes as soon as the tins are cool enough to handle. You may need to run a palette knife around the edges first to ensure a clean release. Allow the cakes to get completely cold before getting on with the icing.

Icing Method:

1. Sift the icing sugar, Horlicks and cocoa powder together in a large mixing bowl.

2. Add the softened plant butter in small chunks and beat until smooth and creamy looking (a mixer is best for this).

3. Reduce the speed and very slowly and carefully pour in the hot water. Gradually increase the speed again and beat for at least five minutes on high or until the icing looks creamy and dreamy.

4. Assembling a four-tier cake: carefully place the first layer, face down, on a serving plate and peel away the baking paper. Spread the icing evenly and right to the edges, and repeat with the remaining layers as shown, then apply to the sides. I use a small palette knife for this. For a regular 2-tier cake (with no coverage on the sides) simply place one layer on a serving plate and spread with half of the icing. Pop the other layer on top, then apply the rest of the icing.

5. Top with the vegan maltesers and enjoy!


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