Chocolate cake

The best chocolate cake recipes, tested

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I love chocolate cake. I didn’t always like it, though – for years I found it too much; too rich, too heavy, too Something – and although I liked the flavor, I couldn’t eat more than a bite or two. I’ve realized over time that most chocolate cakes also have chocolate icing, and I’m just not a ice cream maker. Also, and I know to some people this is blasphemy, it’s just too much chocolate. There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking, I like a naked chocolate cake.

I figured I had to find the perfect chocolate cake for my birthday (which is tomorrow), so I spent a good part of May and June trying various recipes. And since I was already treating it as a contest, I decided to make it a cookbook showdown and share the results here.

I set myself some ground rules for the experiment. Whatever volume each recipe is designed to make, I would scale (if necessary) to bake a single layer in my nine-inch springform pan. I wouldn’t make any icing/frosting/icing, and I wouldn’t include any optional add-ons. And I would use the same ingredients as much as possible for all the cakes, so for example I used Ghirardelli cocoa for the cakes that called for cocoa, because I didn’t have enough of my good Dutch cocoa powder for all the recipes. I also followed each recipe’s method as closely as possible, even when my normal habit was to do slightly different things (e.g. one recipe called for the use of a wooden spoon, which I probably would have used a whisk or my hand mixer, so I used the wooden spoon).

Cakes, photos by Annika Barranti Klein

To judge, I used the following criteria:

Crumb: Basically, what does the texture look like? For these purposes, it includes mouthfeel, but I won’t use that word again, thank you.
Chocolate Factor: it’s kind of a je ne c’est quoi judgment on how chocolatey the cake is.
Children: I chose this for alliteration, yes, but it was also convenient for me to have my kids (12 and 16) rate each cake.

Chocolate church cake

a photo of a slice of church cake
Church cake, photo by Annika Barranti Klein
cover of Cheryl Day's Southern Baking Treasure

Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking by Cheryl Day

Cookbook Showdown creator Susie Dumond suggested I try Cheryl Day’s recipe. I borrowed it from the library and immediately added the cookbook to my wishlist as it is an amazing read and my husband’s southern roots mean I always have someone to cook Southern dishes (I’m writing this well before my birthday – cross your fingers I get it).

Crumb: This cake is somehow both dense and light, who : ??? But it works really well.

Chocolate Factor: The flavor is very rich, and unmistakably chocolaty — and even if I hadn’t baked it, I’d know there was as much coffee here as chocolate, which in this case is unsweetened melted chocolate. I might like the balance a bit more in favor of chocolate. Just a little bit.

Children: Both rate this cake 4.5/5 and after several more bites, one increased it to 5/5 and the other lowered it to 4/5

My rating: 4/5

Birthday cake

a photo of a slice of birthday cake
Birthday cake, photo by Annika Barranti Klein
cover of How to Eat by Nigella Lawson

How to Eat by Nigella Lawson

Nigella was my first culinary idol. Twenty years ago I watched his show Nigella bites almost obsessively, looking to her as a guide as I considered what I wanted my domestic life to look like (ironically, I was living in an apartment without an oven at the time). When I received this book (I had an oven then), I adopted his birthday cake recipe as a reference, and when my children were little, it was their favorite cake.

Crumb: This is the only one of the four cakes that uses butter, which gives a denser batter (but not hard) crumb. It was also on the dry side, but I don’t know if that’s the recipe or if it was my fault – I think I left it in the oven for five minutes too long.

Chocolate Factor: This cake contains both cocoa powder and bittersweet (melted) chocolate in the batter. Somehow it doesn’t taste particularly chocolatey though. It’s a mystery to me.

Children: a 4/5, a 3/5

My rating: 3/5

Lori’s Chocolate Midnight Cake

a photo of a slice of midnight cake
Midnight cake, photo by Annika Barranti Klein
cover of Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat

Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat

I first found Samin Nosrat through TV as well, this time the Netflix docuseries ACID GREASY SALT HEAT. Although I own the book Acid Fatty Salt HeatI hadn’t made any of the recipes yet, using it more as a general guide to understanding Why some things work and don’t work in the kitchen. And indeed, in the intro to this recipe, she explains that oil makes for a fluffier cake crumb than butter, resulting in a gourmet flavor that’s still reminiscent of the cake toppers that so many of us have had. grown up.

Crumb: Not sure where I messed up this cake – maybe calculating how much recipe to use for my pan? – but even though my toothpick came out clean as a whistle, it clearly took at least five more minutes as the center sank almost immediately. I considered making the cake again, but didn’t because 1) the recipe could be to blame, and 2) the crumb is delicious! I can almost claim that the fudge-y line through the center is on purpose. The rest of the slice has that dense yet light consistency that I love.

Chocolate Factor: This one uses cocoa powder and optional hot coffee (it asks for coffee Where boiling water, and I opted for a mixture). It’s suitably chocolaty, with the subtle flavor of coffee.

Children: both 4.5/5

My ranking: 3/5 with the potential to be a 4/5 if it just comes out next time

Cocoa yogurt cake

a photo of a slice of yogurt and cocoa cake
Yogurt and cocoa cake, photo by Annika Barranti Klein
cover of Yossi Arefi's Snacking Cakes

Snacking Cakes by Yossi Arefi

Snack cakes is everywhere. I first heard about it on my friend Catherine’s Instagram, where she regularly posts her pastries. The book is such a sensation that there were no copies to buy when I decided I had to try it for myself. Luckily I have a library card and was able to borrow the ebook and bake this chocolate cake, which is the one on the cover.

Crumb: This is honestly the perfect cake texture. It’s like a brownie is somehow less moist without losing any of its positive properties or dry in the slightest, dense yet light as air.

Chocolate Factor: This is the right amount of chocolate flavor, and could only be improved by including the optional addition of chocolate chips, mixed in just before baking. I might also add just a dollop of espresso powder to mimic the flavor that other cakes get from coffee.

Children: a 4.5/5, a 4/5

My ranking: 4.5/5 and almost certainly a 5/5 with chocolate added


Yossi Arefi’s Cocoa Yogurt Cake Snack cakes is the big winner, with the cake from the church of Cheryl Day’s Treasure from Southern Baking a very close second (and my southern husband’s favorite). All four were easy to make, and although I missed baking one, everyone loved it and I would definitely try it again. The only one I probably won’t cook anymore is Nigella’s how to eatwhat surprises me !

Check out our previous cookbook showdowns, including Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, Pumpkin Pie, and Buttermilk Cookies.

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