We Should Cocoa: Vegan Chocolate Cake with Pistachio Nuts (Original From Leon Baking & Puddings)

I should have known when I made the Panettone and Nutella Bread Pudding, that the healthy eating plan would go downhill. But I have long had my eye on a very special vegan chocolate cake recipe from Leon Baking and Puddings Book Three, which I loved reviewing and have been cooking from lots. As this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge, hosted by Chele over at Chocolate Teapot,  was to make a ‘health-conscious’ chocolate recipe, I really couldn’t resist this one any longer. The recipe is called A Very Good Chocolate Cake. And it was, very good indeed!

So, where does the health-conscious angle come into to this chocolate cake? Well, for a start it’s vegan, so it has no animal products in it at all. Secondly, no sugar, instead it calls for agave syrup, which is produced from the Mexican agave plant and is much less likely to give you a sugar rush. Thirdly, eating a chocolate cake (especially one sprinkled with lovely green pistachio nuts)  is good for the soul, and therefore also, in my book counts as being health-conscious…

I have to say that when I looked at the required list of ingredients I was a little perplexed. There was no way, in my mind, that this unusual list of ingredients would come together to make a cake. I did my usual trick of embarking on a recipe before making sure I had everything to hand. I didn’t. So, in place of agave nectar I used a UK-produced Canadian Pure Maple syrup by Clarks that I had been sent to try. It worked perfectly. I used half-fat coconut milk, which was all I had, in place of full fat (healthier still) and I used vegetable oil and a squeeze of clementine juice in place of sunflower oil and lemon juice. Oh, and I flavoured the cake with orange essence instead of vanilla. You can see how I didn’t think it would work, particularly with all the messing around I did with the recipe, but it did!

No one would ever know that this is a vegan chocolate cake. It is moist, and it stays moist for a good few days in a tin as it’s made with oil. It smells divine and has a truffle cake texture with a perfect chocolate hit. It would be perfect for Valentine’s Day too.  Best of all, it is really easy to make. Simply mix the dry ingredients with the wet, pour into a tin and bake. The recipe in the book is decorated with pretty summer flowers, but as it is winter, a sprinkle of vibrant green pistachio nuts seemed to do the trick.

Here’s my amended version, the original, called A Very Good Chocolate Cake, is by the very talented Claire Ptak and Henry Dimbleby.

Vegan Chocolate Cake with Pistachio Nuts
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 8
  • 150 ml hot water
  • 80 g cocoa powder
  • 200 ml Maple Syrup
  • 200 ml half-fat coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 80 ml vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon orange extract
  • 180 g plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1.5 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch Salt
  • 25 g coconut oil
  • 100 g dark chocolate
  • 25 ml maple syrup
  • 25 g Shelled Pistachio nuts
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin with baking or parchment paper.
  2. Mix the hot water and cocoa powder together until smooth. Add the syrup, coconut milk, lemon, oil and vanilla and mix.
  3. Sift in the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Mix all the ingredients together very well, until you have a smooth, runny batter.
  4. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 35 minutes. A skewer or cake tester should come out clean.
  5. Leave the cake to cool in the tin and in the meantime, make the chocolate icing.
  6. Put the coconut oil, dark chocolate and syrup into a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of gently simmering water. Melt together and stir.
  7. Turn the cake out of the cake tin and make sure it is completely cool before placing on a serving plate and pouring over the melted chocolate icing.
  8. Decorate with crushed pistachio nuts, or try hazelnuts or ground walnuts or fresh raspberries.

Leon Baking and Puddings Book Three is full of little tricks to make recipes healthier, whether it is experimenting with different flours, such as spelt or gluten-free flour or substituting pure cane sugar with honey, maple syrup, agave nectar or stevia. The recipes are well tested and have a broad appeal – it’s well worth putting on your list!


As promised, I’m sending this over to the We Should Cocoa challenge. 

For more blog events to get involved in, check out The Food Blog Diary, which lists many different blog events and blog hops to try!

Have you had a chocolate week or a healthy week or a combination of both?

Have you tried any health-conscious chocolate recipes? 


  1. Beatrice says

    Thanks Ren for sharing this recipe. I made it for my little ones and the French playgroup as we have to deal with food allergy and it is the best one I made since I bake cakes without eggs and cow’s milk… A great one that will be done many more times, already passed the recipe to my friends! I used crunched dried pineapples instead of pistachio due to nuts related allergies, not as vribrant as yours but still a good one!

    • Ren says

      Hi Beatrice, I just saw this comment. I’m so pleased it worked for you and you liked it. This is a great book as many of the recipes are vegan or can be adapted – so very useful for kids treats minus the allergys!x

  2. says

    This cake looks amazing – so moist. I absolutely love chocolate cake and like the fact that this one is a little more healthy than some but doesn’t look boring.

  3. says

    This looks great! One of my best friends is vegan and it’s her birthday in February so I might have to make it! How easy is it to get agave nectar though? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in shops, though I use Tesco Metro and the like rather than bigger stores, which is probably why!

    • Ren says

      Hi Caroline, I made it again today for a birthday party and I found the agave nectar easily next to the sugar. It wasn’t too expensive, in fact, less expensive than maple syrup. I hope you give it a go :-)

    • Ren says

      Hi Laura, probably the easiest place to get it is Holland and Barrett, it is actually supposed to be very healthy and can raise metabolism, so expect to see more of it in the press and around! Look out for pure coconut oil – it should say on the bottle that it can be used as a butter substitute. If you are ok with making a non-vegan version, use 25g butter in the chocolate topping instead. xx

  4. says

    I love this book (thank you again Ren!) and this cake looks divine!! I finally got round to making the banana bread you recommended but am waiting for permission to publish the recipe on my blog. I’ve had an unhealthy chocolate week balanced by healthy soups :)

    • Ren says

      Aah you’re welcome, I love all the hints and tips and the recipes are well tested. Chocolate balanced by healthy soups sounds like the way forward!!

    • Ren says

      Same here Jude, I’ve never made one either, knowingly! But you couldn’t tell with this one, so moist and delicious!

  5. says

    Now I’ve made vegan chocolate cakes and they were very good, but this one sounds very very very good indeed – looks splendid too. Really like coconut milk in baking and the orange flavour sounds just right for this time of year. I was hoping to win this book from you, sadly didn’t manage it. Am trying to resist buying, but you’re not making it very easy. Your teapot is beautiful. Thanks for participating in WSC, glad you finally made it.

    • Ren says

      Hi Choclette, I’ve never used coconut milk in any cake but it was a revelation! So sorry you didn’t win, but it is not a bad price on Amazon if your shelves can take any more! The teapot is Pip, I love her collection and it is growing! Thanks to you and Chele for hosting x

  6. says

    Oh Ren.. this cake made me drool! :) I LOVE pistachio and the colour of the cake – that deep dark rich chocolate, sets off the crushed pistachio nuts on top perfectly! Thanks for sharing this recipe and your twists. I’ve book-marked this try when I settle in on the other side of the world! x

    • Ren says

      Good luck with the love Christine, I hope you can find all the ingredients over there!! Thanks for popping over to comment x

  7. says

    Thank you for sharing this recipe, Ren. I love making vegan cakes. They can be just as good as regular cakes, but with the added bonus of being made with store cupboard ingredients, too. I adore agave nectar although it is expensive. I’ll definitely give this a go!


    • Ren says

      Hi Charlotte, so true, this is a store cupboard cake, totally! All the more dangerous! Makes me wonder why we need sugar and eggs at all…x

    • Ren says

      Thanks Urvashi. Using agave nectar or even maple syrup was a revalation, the coconut milk too add a certain something yet is completely undetectable. And I just can’t believe it has no eggs…but it was SO good! I don’t know if you have the book, but you would love the edible flowers it is decorated with. PS You sounded great on the radio, really enjoyed the show!

  8. Ren says

    I love the flowers in the photo, but will have to wait for the summer to decorate it that way. So many lovely recipes in the book…time to make another!