This stunning gluten free vegan chocolate hazelnut cake tastes basically like Nutella in soft, fluffy, glorious cake form. With moist, flavour-packed hazelnut sponges, a rich, fluffy vegan chocolate buttercream frosting, and a luxurious chocolate ganache drip, it’s guaranteed to be a hit with everyone. It’s super easy to make and you’d honestly never guess that it doesn’t contain any gluten, eggs or dairy.
There’s a cake in my cookbook that I simply adore: it’s a gluten free milk chocolate hazelnut cake and it’s honestly one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted.
So, I simply had to make a gluten free vegan version – this way, you can enjoy the fabulousness of what is basically Nutella in soft, fluffy, glorious cake form, even if you can’t eat gluten, eggs and/or dairy.
The original recipe in the book includes a milk chocolate frosting. But, as milk chocolate contains milk, I swapped it out for dark chocolate in this recipe. That makes the cake taste a bit fancier and more elegant, which can only be a good thing.
I also kept it on the smaller side. This recipe makes an adorable 6-inch/15cm cake, which serves about 6 people (or 8, if you cut smaller slices). There’s always A LOT of sweet bakes around in our house, so I really love making small batch cakes – they’re really great if you’re baking for a smaller number of people. However, you can easily double the recipe to make an 8-inch/20cm version instead.
It’s also incredibly easy to make!! I know that gluten free vegan baking can sometimes seem intimidating or a bit scary, especially if you’ve had bad experiences with recipes failing in the past. But I promise you that this recipe is incredibly straightforward and also super reliable.
Before we get to the bits and bobs of making this amazing chocolate hazelnut cake – if you like what you’re seeing, subscribe to my newsletter to keep up to date on the latest recipes and tips!
Note: the whole recipe, including the ingredient quantities, can be found at the bottom of this page – just scroll down to the bottom, or click the ‘Jump to Recipe’ button at the top of this post.
The three elements of the gluten free vegan chocolate hazelnut cake
- The moist, soft gluten free vegan hazelnut sponges. They’re simply bursting with the most amazing hazelnut flavour, thanks to the addition of ground toasted hazelnuts. I definitely recommend using toasted hazelnuts as opposed to raw ones – toasting them in the oven (before grinding them in a food processor of blender) really amps up their flavour. For an even more intense hazelnut flavour, you can add a few drops of natural hazelnut flavouring or extract. I’ve optimised the recipe to give perfectly soft, fluffy, moist sponges that are tender yet also sturdy enough so you can easily trim, handle and stack them.
- The fluffy, rich vegan chocolate buttercream frosting. Even if you’re not a huge fan of American buttercream, you’ll LOVE this chocolate frosting, promise. It’s not too sweet at all – instead, it’s perfectly chocolatey, rich and fluffy. Plus, you can easily adjust the sweetness by controlling how much powdered/icing sugar you add.
- The luxurious, glossy vegan chocolate ganache drip. This further balances out the sweetness of the sponges and the frosting, and it also makes the cake looks absolutely STUNNING. A simple ganache drip is definitely one of my favourite ways to decorate layer cakes – you really can’t go wrong with it. After all, adding more chocolate to a recipe is *always* an excellent idea.
How to make the PERFECT gluten free vegan hazelnut sponges
Gluten free vegan baking can be tricky, as you’re basically removing all the usual binders (primarily gluten and eggs) that are typically responsible for that familiar, delicious sponge texture. However, you can absolutely make the most amazing gluten free vegan cakes that are almost indistinguishable from their “regular” equivalents – and these hazelnut sponges are the perfect example.
They’re wonderfully soft, fluffy and moist. They’re also deliciously tender, but without being so delicate that they crumble apart when you try to pick them up or stack them. And, of course, they have the most stunning hazelnut flavour.
Here are all the things that will help you to achieve gluten free vegan cake perfection:
- Add xanthan gum. This acts as a gluten replacement and prevents your cakes from being too crumbly. This is especially important for these hazelnut sponges, as they don’t contain any eggs either, which would otherwise also act as a binder. You can read all about the role of xanthan gum in gluten free baking here!
- Follow the recipe below EXACTLY, especially when it comes to the amounts of raising agents and the wet-to-dry ingredients ratio. I’ve tested this recipe several times with different ingredient ratios – and the one listed below works best. It gives the best cake crumb and the most reliably consistent results.
- Use a mix of vegan butter and oil for best texture. While the vegan butter adds richness, the oil ensures a very fluffy, airy crumb. In comparison to a cake made only with butter, this one is much lighter and fluffier.
- Use the standard creaming method. While I’m a big fan of the so-called ‘reverse creaming method’, I actually prefer using the standard creaming method (where you cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy, and then add the dry and the wet ingredients in alternating batches) when it comes to gluten free vegan cakes. As this creaming method mechanically incorporates air into the mixture, it tends to give a better rise and it reduces the changes of the sponges sinking in the middle.
- Bake at a slightly higher temperature of 375ºF/190ºC. Egg-free and vegan sponges have a slightly greater tendency to collapse in the centre, because they lack the structure typically provided by the eggs in the batter. Baking them at a slightly higher oven temperature (instead of the usual 350ºF/180ºC) ensures that they come out of the oven either perfectly level or with a slightly rounded top.
All of these things are already included in the recipe below. I just wanted to highlight them here as well, as I think that it’s important to know and understand which ingredients and methods really make the recipe work – especially if you want to tweak or change the recipe in any way later down the line, for example by substituting ingredients or changing the flavour profile.
The fluffy, velvety vegan chocolate buttercream
The vegan chocolate buttercream frosting is based on the one that I use in my highly popular Ultimate Gluten Free Chocolate Cake. It’s my favourite, go-to chocolate buttercream frosting that’s insanely luscious and chocolatey, and really the only difference in this vegan version is that I used a vegan butter alternative instead of regular butter.
Specifically, I used the Stork vegan butter block that’s available here in the UK. However, most firm vegan/dairy free butter blocks will work well. Just make sure that you don’t use a soft vegan spread, as that would result in a loose, soft buttercream and that can cause issues when you go to stack and frost the cake.
If you’re not a huge buttercream fan, you can try the vegan whipped ganache frosting from my Small Batch Vegan Birthday Cake recipe instead.
The vegan dark chocolate ganache & assembling the cake
The vegan chocolate ganache is made from a simple mix of chopped dark chocolate and a vegan double cream alternative. I usually use the Elmlea brand that’s available here in the UK, but most good quality vegan cream alternatives should work well.
To get a nice, generous layer of ganache on top of the cake and lovely, controlled drips down the sides, I recommend cooling the ganache slightly either at room temperature or in the fridge for a few minutes. You want it to be pourable but not so runny that the drips will run all the way down to the bottom of the cake.
When it comes to actually creating the drips, you have two options:
- Option 1: First, create the drips down the sides and then, cover the top of the cake with the ganache. (For creating the drips, you can either use a squeeze bottle or just a spoon.)
- Option 2: Pour the ganache on top of the cake and then gently guide it to drip down the sides.
Either option works great, so feel free to choose whichever one you like best.
Finally, as a finishing touch, pipe dollops of buttercream on top of the cake (make sure that the ganache is set before you start piping) and sprinkle on some extra chopped hazelnuts.
And there you go! Isn’t it a beauty??
Can you scale up the recipe to make a larger cake?
Yes!!! This recipe makes a small batch 6-inch/15cm cake, which serves about 6 people (or up to 8 if you cut smaller pieces, as the cake is fairly rich), but you can definitely scale up the recipe.
To make a larger 8-inch/20cm cake, just double the recipe (that is, double all the ingredient quantities in the recipe below).
And this covers pretty much everything you need to know about this FABULOUS gluten free vegan chocolate hazelnut cake. It’s a real showstopper and, honestly, you’d never guess that it doesn’t contain any gluten, eggs or dairy.
It’s just a really REALLY delicious cake that’s guaranteed to be a hit with everyone, even if they don’t follow a gluten free vegan diet.
I really hope you’ll love it as much as I do.
More amazing gluten free vegan recipes
If you’re looking for more incredible gluten free vegan dessert recipes, you’re definitely in the right place!
- Small Batch Gluten Free Vegan Chocolate Cake
- Super Moist Gluten Free Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes
- The Ultimate Gluten Free Vegan Cinnamon Rolls
- Gluten Free & Vegan Caramel Doughnuts
- Quick & Easy Gluten Free Vegan Tahini Cookies
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Small Batch Gluten Free Vegan Chocolate Hazelnut Cake
Gluten free vegan hazelnut sponges:
- 50 g (3½ tbsp) vegan butter block, softened, plus extra for buttering the baking tins (I used the Stork vegan butter block that’s available in the UK. However, most firm vegan/dairy free butter blocks will work well – just make sure that you don’t use a soft vegan spread.)
- 50 g (4 tbsp) sunflower oil or other neutral-tasting oil of choice
- 160 g (¾ cup + 1 tbsp) light brown sugar
- 50 g (3½ tbsp) plain vegan yoghurt, room temperature
- ½ tsp vanilla bean paste (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
- a few drops of hazelnut flavouring or extract, optional
- 210 g (1¾ cups) plain gluten free flour blend (I used Doves Farm Freee plain gluten free flour that doesn't have any xanthan gum added. You can also mix your own gluten free flour blend using this recipe. Note that for this homemade blend, 1 cup = 150g, so ideally use a kitchen scale for best results.)
- 3 tsp baking powder
- ¾ tsp xanthan gum (If your gluten free flour blend already contains xanthan gum, reduce the amount to ¼ tsp.)
- ¼ tsp salt
- 50 g (½ cup) ground toasted hazelnuts
- 120 g (½ cup) non-dairy milk, room temperature (You can use almond, rice, soy or oat milk (provided that you’re not sensitive to oats), but I don’t recommend using coconut milk.)
Vegan chocolate buttercream:
- 250 g (2¼ sticks) vegan butter block, softened (I used the Stork vegan butter block that’s available in the UK. However, most firm vegan/dairy free butter blocks will work well – just make sure that you don’t use a soft vegan spread.)
- 180 g (1½ cups) powdered/icing sugar, sifted
- 65 g (⅔ cup) Dutch processed cocoa powder
- ¼-½ tsp salt (you can adjust the exact amount to your personal taste)
- 120 g (4¼ oz) dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa solids), melted and cooled until lukewarm
Vegan chocolate ganache drip:
- 80 g (2¾ oz) dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa solids), chopped
- 80 g (⅓ cup + 1 tbsp) vegan heavy/double cream alternative (I recommend using one with a fat content of about 30%. I used the Elmlea brand.)
You will also need:
- toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped (for decoration)
Gluten free vegan hazelnut sponges:
- Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and pre-heat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Grease two 6-inch/15cm round cake tins with vegan butter and line their bottoms with rounds of parchment/baking paper.
- Cream together the vegan butter, oil and sugar until pale and slightly fluffy. You can do this using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, a hand mixer fitted with the double beaters or by hand using a large balloon whisk.
- Add the dairy-free yoghurt and mix until well combined.
- Add the vanilla and hazelnut flavouring (optional), and mix to combine.
- In a separate bowl, sift together the gluten free flour blend, baking powder, xanthan gum and salt. Add the ground hazelnuts and whisk until evenly distributed.
- Beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, alternately add the dry ingredients (in three batches) and dairy-free milk (in two batches) to the butter-sugar mixture, mixing well after each addition, until you get a smooth cake batter with no flour clumps.Tip: This alternating way of adding dry and wet ingredients helps to maintain the emulsion of the butter in the cake batter, ensuring that your batter remains smooth and that the final baked cake has the perfect crumb. When alternating dry and wet ingredients, make sure to always end with the dry.
- Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake tins and smooth it out into even layers.
- Bake at 375ºF (190ºC) for about 25 minutes or until golden on top and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. After 20 minutes in the oven, cover the sponges with a sheet of aluminium foil, shiny side up.
- Allow the sponges to cool in the cake tins for about 10-15 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.Make sure that the sponges are 100% cooled to room temperature before you level them and start assembling the cake.
Vegan chocolate buttercream:
- Using a hand mixer fitted with the double beaters or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and powdered/icing sugar until pale and fluffy, for about 5 minutes.
- Sift in the cocoa powder and salt, and whip for a further 2-3 minutes, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally, until fully combined.Tip: You can tailor the amount of salt to your personal preference – add it slowly (pinch by pinch), mixing well after each addition, and taste before adding more.
- Add the melted and cooled chocolate, and whip until fully combined.
Assembling the cake:
- If the sponges are domed, level them using a sharp, serrated knife.
- Place the bottom sponge on a cake stand or serving plate of choice.
- Spread a generous layer of buttercream on top, but leave enough buttercream for the top and sides of the cake. Smooth it out into an even layer, using a small offset spatula.
- Place the other sponge on top, with the bottom of the sponge facing upwards (this will give you a nice flat top).
- Use most of the remaining buttercream to cover the top and sides of the cake, reserving some for piping decorations on top. Smooth out the top and sides with a cake scraper or a small offset spatula.
- Chill the frosted cake in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or until the buttercream is firm to the touch.
Vegan chocolate ganache drip:
- Place the chopped dark chocolate into a heat-proof bowl.
- In a saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the vegan heavy/double cream alternative until it only just comes to a boil.
- Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for 2-3 minutes, then stir together until smooth and glossy.
- Allow the ganache to cool slightly at room temperature (or very briefly in the fridge) until it’s still pourable but not too runny.
- Transfer it to a squeeze bottle (you can also just use a spoon) and use it to create the chocolate ganache drip down the sides. Then, cover the top of the cake with the ganache and smooth it out using a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon. You can create swirls in the ganache for extra decoration.Tip: Alternatively, you can pour the ganache on top of the cake and then gently guide it to drip down the sides with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon.
- Chill the cake in the fridge for about 15-30 minutes or until the ganache has set and is no longer sticky/tacky to the touch.
Decorating the cake:
- Transfer the remaining buttercream to a piping bag fitted with an open star nozzle.
- Pipe dollops of buttercream on top of the set ganache, and then sprinkle on the chopped toasted hazelnuts.
- Slice and serve.
- The gluten free vegan chocolate hazelnut cake keeps well in a closed air-tight container or wrapped in cling film in the fridge for 3-4 days.Before serving, take the cake out of the fridge and leave it at room temperature for at least 15-20 minutes. The chocolate buttercream frosting will be fairly firm directly out of the fridge, and leaving it at room temperature for a while softens it to its original luscious, velvety texture.