Making The Perfect Chocolate Cake

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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