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Making The Perfect Chocolate Cake

By: Anna Hinds BA (hons) - Updated: 5 Sep 2016 | comments*Discuss
 
Perfect Chocolate Cake Chocolate Cake
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Finding the perfect chocolate cake recipe was always going to be a tough mission. Should it be light or dense? Iced or drizzled? Made with melted chocolate or good cocoa? Ask anyone about their idea of a perfect chocolate cake and you’ll get a completely different answer. But whichever camp you’re in, we hope you’ll find your idea of perfection below…

A Chocolate Cake Journey

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have tried many chocolate cakes in your time. Some disappoint and some enthral. Where to start? The River Café’s Chocolate Nemesis is legendary among chocoholics. Unfortunately, not only is the recipe extremely difficult to master, it also contains two bars of butter! So perhaps Nigella Lawson, modern-day queen of cakes, should provide the first recipe. “If you’re going to get started, this is the cake you should begin with,” she asserts in the Chocolate Cake chapter of Feast. And her signature chocolate cake, featuring sour cream, butter and melted chocolate, certainly produces a rich, intensely chocolatey result. It’s generously filled and topped with a sour cream and chocolate icing. But is it the definitive cake?

Seeking opinions it becomes clear that, although people want it to be satisfying, the perfect chocolate cake shouldn’t be so dense and rich that they can’t bear another slice. I wanted to find a lighter alternative: something in between the thick, heavy, sour-cream cake and a simple chocolate sponge. I asked around. I gathered recipes from professional chefs and family friends. And I soon discovered that there are two basic templates for the chocolate cake.

The first is a traditional method: at its simplest, an all-in-one sponge with cocoa substituted for some of the flour. Recipes vary, but the basic idea is to use equal amounts of flour, butter and caster sugar, blended with eggs and cocoa. This offers a light, springy texture. Perfect for those who like their chocolate cake fluffy.

The second is a modern chocolate cake method, which features a different type of fat to create a richer cake. Nigella swaps half her butter for sour cream; others dispense with the butter altogether in favour of vegetable oil and/or yoghurt or crème fraiche. Variations on this recipe produce a denser crumb and richer chocolate flavour.

What About The Topping?

Below you’ll find two classic toppings: a Chocolate Ganache and a chocolate butter icing. The dark ganache has a bitter, adult flavour so, if you’re making it for children, try using milk chocolate. You can, of course, fill and top your chocolate cake with jam (try apricot or cherry), cream, grated chocolate, or chocolate chips (sprinkle over the cake in the tin, hot from the oven).

The Perfect Rich Chocolate Cake

We want it rich, but not belt-busting. Nigella’s sour cream brings a certain creamy taste, but it’s a high-fat concoction. This rich chocolate cake is made using a mixture of half-fat crème fraiche and vegetable oil, giving a moist cake that won’t break the calorie bank.

You can make it richer or simpler by topping it with a rich ganache, or just dusting it with icing sugar. Choose from the Topping suggestions below.

Ingredients:

  • 225g (8oz) self-raising flour, sieved
  • 3tbsp cocoa
  • 0.5tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 175g (6oz) caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 150ml (5fl oz) crème fraiche
  • 150ml (5fl oz) sunflower oil
  • 3tbsp golden syrup

Method:

  1. Tip the dry ingredients into a bowl or food processor and mix to combine
  2. In a jug, whisk the eggs until pale then add the crème fraiche, sunflower oil, and golden syrup
  3. Whisk together thoroughly, then tip the mixture into the dry ingredients and beat or blend to combine
  4. Pour the batter into a greased 8” round tin
  5. Bake at 140ºC for 40 mins to 1 hour

Cool on a wire rack.

The Best Chocolate Cake Ever

This is our perfect chocolate cake. It’s light enough to take a buttery filling, or – for a change – cherry jam, and a ganache topping. It’s also fluffy and charming enough to convert the anti-chocolate cake league.

Ingredients:

  • 225g (8oz) self-raising flour
  • 3tbsp cocoa
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 225g (8oz) margarine
  • 225g (8oz) caster sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 10tbsp milk

Method:

  • Sieve the first three ingredients into a bowl (or processor bowl)
  • Then add the margarine, caster sugar, beaten eggs, and milk, and beat until combined
  • Tip into two well-greased 8” round baking tins, and bake at 160ºC for about 50 minutes
  • Test with a skewer – when it comes out of the cake clean, the cake is done
  • Cool on a wire rack, and finish with icing of your choice

Toppings

Each topping recipe makes enough to top one 8” cake. To make enough to fill and cover, double the quantities.

Chocolate ganache:

  • Pour 100ml (4floz) double cream into a saucepan
  • Add 110g (4oz) of broken dark or milk chocolate
  • Allow to melt, whisk to blend, and then refrigerate until it reaches spreading consistency
  • Spread over the cake

Chocolate butter icing:

  • Beat 75g (3oz) butter until soft
  • Sift in 175g (6oz) icing sugar and up to 28g (1oz) of cocoa, depending how strong you want the icing
  • Add 1tsp of water or milk and beat until well blended (if needed you can add more liquid).

More Chocolate Anyone?

If you've got the chocolate cake making bug now, why not try some sumptuous chocolate cupcakes – or go American and bake some tasty double chocolate brownies.

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Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
[Add a Comment]
Aily - Your Question:
Hello, I have just made your "best chocolate cake ever" turned out fab and feels light and spongy. What I need to know is. I am going to ganache and fondant ice the cake ready for Friday, have I made it too early? Should I freeze it? Should I wrap it in cling film till I need to use? Your help is appreciated. Many thanks in advance. Ps. Love your site ????

Our Response:
If you ganache and fondant ice it on Wednesday and keep it air tight in a cool place it should be fine on Friday.
CakeBaker - 6-Sep-16 @ 2:48 PM
Hello, I have just made your "best chocolate cake ever" turned out fab and feels light and spongy. What I need to know is... I am going to ganache and fondant ice the cake ready for Friday, have I made it too early? Should I freeze it? Should I wrap it in cling film till I need to use? Your help is appreciated. Many thanks in advance.Ps. Love your site ????
Aily - 5-Sep-16 @ 8:09 PM
ann - Your Question:
What size of eggs- medium or large

Our Response:
We use large. In fact the British Egg Information Service advises using large eggs in cake recipes. If you use smaller you might need to extra liquid or another egg. "We at Cake Baker suggest that you opt for free range eggs and maybe even organic. We can’t guarantee that your cake will taste any better but the hens will be happier!"
CakeBaker - 11-Feb-16 @ 9:26 AM
what size of eggs- medium or large
ann - 10-Feb-16 @ 11:56 AM
hi in the best chocolate cake ever recipe should i use 4 large eggs? i'm hoping to try this recipe for my daughters 4th birthday party :)
kerry - 29-Sep-13 @ 9:30 PM
@Manfa - baked the "perfect rich chocolate cake" today.Dont talk such rubbish. IF you really did make cakes for a living you would know that there are plenty of oil based cakes and this one is fairly standard. And you would know the pitfalls of such cakes, and would easily avoid them with your knowledge of cake, ingredients and skills.I would suggest that you either, used inferior ingredients, cheap/old eggs is usually a good culprit, as is old flour and cheap cocoa, or didn't bake it properly for some reason. maybe the oven temp was wrong, too high or too low will end in disaster usually. Another road to disaster, getting the balance of ingredients in cakes that use wet fats such as oils and creams is very important otherwise they will end up oily or very dry, ie its very easy to put too much oil in such a cake or not enough sour cream, and not bother measuring out properly at all, which is fine if you are a skilled baker of cakes.Maybe you didn't leave it long enough to cool, or didn't get it out of the pan in time before moisture began to build up? any combination of these factors will detract from the quality of your cakes!Or maybe, you are simply trolling. Who knows, but I would say this much, the chances of this turning out bad, are more likely to be your own fault than the recipe. So Maybe ye should practice a little more on your technique.The recipe is fine people, its not a usual choccy sponge, its a bit heavier and a bit richer but this is nothing to worry about, I would say though, it is slightly more tricky to get it right but nothing to worry about too much.If in doubt check out other oil based chocolate cakes and NIgellas old fashioned chocolate cake, you will see this recipe is a combination of those recipes, all of which are tried and tested.I have made cakes similar to this recipe and variations for many years and its fine. I would also suggest the many successful stories of these recipes would indicate the flaw in the argument is something to do with the way Manfa went about making it, the ingredients or Manfas personal tastes and expectations rather there actually being something wrong with the recipe.Dont be put off folks and always be wary of comments that simply outright blame the recipe when 100 other people have been happy with the results.
MrBee - 29-Jun-13 @ 5:40 PM
Hello, I have a question and a comment. Since I discovered the recipe for the 'Best chocolate cake ever' I've used it a lot. It's proved very popular and also looks and tastes nice with white chocolate buttercream topped with grated dark chocolate as a simple decoration. Seeing this recipe uses milk I started adding milk to the other 'best' sponges on your site, partiularly coffee and Victoria, 1 tablespoon warm milk for each egg. They turn out nice and moist, so it made me wonder why milk is not normally added to sponge recipes. My question is about cakes made with chocolate ganache - do they need to be refrigerated?
maryharri - 3-Apr-13 @ 2:01 PM
For a 9th birthday party I recently made the The Best Chocolate Cake Ever in a 10" x 10" x 3" square tin using the CakeUlator and it came out perfectly. We decorated with a chocolate frosting, mini chocolate eggs and jelly beans and the kids kept coming back for more!
Richard - 1-Apr-13 @ 8:41 AM
i baked the "perfect rich chocolate cake" today and it was the worst choc cake i have ever made and i bake and decorate cakes for a living. it was so oily and had no flavour at all. i followed the recipe exactly therfor would not recommend this recipe to anyone.
manfa - 6-Mar-13 @ 12:35 PM
Hi, I've used The Best Choc Cake recipe successfully for cupcakes- they were fantastic. Do you think the same recipe can be used for a giant cupcake mould- will it retain its fluffiness because the mould is quite deep or will it become dense?.Thank you any advise.
Lulu - 2-Feb-13 @ 8:11 AM
Hi can you please help me with a good kit kat cake recipe? Anda good moist& light chocolate cake recipe. Thanks
Tania - 17-Jan-13 @ 10:28 PM
Hi. i have bread maker. I tried it. it was already cooked but the machine was still working. I want toknow if the machine is automatic or not.
jak - 23-Dec-12 @ 8:54 AM
Hi I have made the Perfect Rich Chocolate Cake lots of times, it is a gorgeous tasting cake with lovely consistency, however I can never get the cake to stay risen in the middle, about 10 minutes after taking it out of the oven it slumps and I have to fill the hollow with extra topping!! not that my family mind, but I would like to be able to get it right one day!!! I have measured and measured, changed the oven temp etc but nothing seems to work - does anyone else have this problem.
pea - 31-Oct-12 @ 4:16 PM
Hi just had to say I made this cake in a shape of a bride doll for my daughters birthday and everyone has loved it best sponge I've done :) thank you I will be using this recipe for all my future chocolate cakes.
Lyn Dunham - 17-Sep-12 @ 10:50 PM
So easy and delicious. Will be making this again.
Yas - 7-Sep-12 @ 3:30 PM
I have made the Best Chocolate Cake Ever loads of times and it forgives my poor baking skills every time.A terrific recipe that is happy to be shaped and iced any way you like.
Stinkypetersen - 20-Jun-12 @ 11:15 PM
@jenjen1974 - Butter will work just as well as marg. The taste might vary slightly (a more rich -probably better - flavour)
ChocChoc - 18-May-12 @ 10:45 AM
Hi, I've just found your Best ever chocolate cake recipe which I going to attempt to make for my son's birthday cake and will carved into Lightning McQueen but wondered if I could use butter instead of margarine within the recipe? Thanks!
JENJEN1974 - 18-May-12 @ 10:02 AM
@Deedee. Yes the chocolate cake should stand up to carving and fondant covering. Hope it goes well!
CakeBaker - 23-Apr-12 @ 11:56 AM
Hi I would love to try the lighter choc cake recipe for a child's birthday cake, will it be ok for carving and covering with fondant? Thanking!
Deedee - 22-Apr-12 @ 7:38 PM
Hi, please can you suggest the best cocoa to use for cakes? I used waitrose unsweetened for a loaf but didn't like the bitter taste it had! Thank you!
Stef - 23-Jan-12 @ 4:39 PM
Hi Helen - yes try a littler hotter - these things often depend on your oven anyhow. Let us know how you get on!
CakeBaker - 16-Jan-12 @ 10:32 AM
HI Cakebaker - Just made the chocolate cake with the creme fraiche. It is very nice but still a little dry (I was looking for a moist chocolate cake that wouldn't cost a fortune in expensive high cocoa chocolate). I converted 140c to Gas 1 and it took 1 1/2 hours to cook in the centre - by this time the outside was a little crusty. I used a single 8" cake tin as specified. Would it be OK to cook a little hotter next time - didn't want to experiment first time round! Thanks.
HelenC - 13-Jan-12 @ 10:14 AM
@Maria. The banana bread is for a 1lb loaf tin and the times are stated for a non-fan oven. If you only have a fan oven, you need to reduce the temperature and maybe the cooking time. As for bananas medium are fine.
CakeBaker - 25-Jul-11 @ 12:41 PM
Hi CAKEBAKER, thank you so much the banana cake recipe, before I try it please could you clarify 3 things for me on the banana cake recipe you have mentioned in your tea breads section. 1. Is the oven temp mentioned for a fan oven or non fan oven? (as I have a fan oven and would be grateful if you could confirm if all your oven temp mentioned for your recipes are for fan ovens). 2. The recipe states large loaf tin, does this mean a I should use a 2lb loaf tin or the 1lb loaf tin? or something larger? 3. And lastly will it make a difference as to what size bananas I use, what would you recommend - small, medium or large? Thank you so much for your help. (Maria, UK)
Maria - 23-Jul-11 @ 8:53 AM
Hi first of all you must establish the consistancy of your Gancahe rather the same with a Butter cream. I think your confusion may be that you are not sure which filling to use. My advice would be to experiment with your chocolate Buttercream as it is more forgiving and you can adjust the consistancy easier and put the butter cream on the outside of the cake, use a tester to see if your cigarillos adhere ok. For the inside do a ganache and keep an eye on the setting process and establish when it is suitable for spreading that way you will not have a great expence if it goes wrong and you will gain confidence using the ganache.
chocoman - 21-Jul-11 @ 2:05 PM
I am attempting to make a chocolate wedding cake for a friend and have decided to use the chocolate cigarellos because my icing skills aren't great. Can anyone tell me if butter icing or chocolate ganache is better for the cigarellos to stick to? I'm a bit concerned that the butter icing will get soft during the reception and this will cause a collapse!
libs - 12-Jul-11 @ 3:34 PM
to Mumto4 - we use standard cake tins- about 4 to 5 inches deep.
CakeBaker - 27-Jun-11 @ 10:52 AM
I live in the US and dont know what is apple butter or Golden Syrup. Plz help
a Cup a Cake - 26-Jun-11 @ 4:21 AM
Hi can you tell me if you use deep pans instead of sandwich tins for the last recipe its just I used a size conversion chart so I could adapt the recipe for an 11" square and ended up with enough mixture for that plus an 8" square too (not that anyone complained) thankyou
mumto4 - 25-Jun-11 @ 1:56 PM
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