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Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake

by . Featured in FEAST
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Introduction

If you're going to get started, this is the cake you should begin with. Not just because it's simple - though it is - but because it is, for me, the essence of chocolate cake: melting, luscious and mood-enhancingly good. A food technologist would explain this in terms of "mouthfeel" but I don't know quite how that makes me feel. I often describe this cake as a sort of idealised chocolate cake out of a packet, which doesn't sound so very inviting either. But what I mean by this, is that the cake looks and tastes perfect and has that melting, smooth lightness - immensely chocolately but far from rich. The fact that it is scarcely harder than making one out of cake-mix (only worlds better) is an added joy. The recipe itself is an evolved version of a couple of cakes I've done before, and although the amounts and ingredients are slightly fiddled with, the real change, and an improvement in terms of ease, is that it can be made, all in one, in the processor.

If you're going to get started, this is the cake you should begin with. Not just because it's simple - though it is - but because it is, for me, the essence of chocolate cake: melting, luscious and mood-enhancingly good. A food technologist would explain this in terms of "mouthfeel" but I don't know quite how that makes me feel. I often describe this cake as a sort of idealised chocolate cake out of a packet, which doesn't sound so very inviting either. But what I mean by this, is that the cake looks and tastes perfect and has that melting, smooth lightness - immensely chocolately but far from rich. The fact that it is scarcely harder than making one out of cake-mix (only worlds better) is an added joy. The recipe itself is an evolved version of a couple of cakes I've done before, and although the amounts and ingredients are slightly fiddled with, the real change, and an improvement in terms of ease, is that it can be made, all in one, in the processor.

Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake
Photo by James Merrell

Ingredients

Makes: about 8 slices

Metric Cups

For the Cake

  • 200 grams plain flour
  • 200 grams caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 40 grams best-quality cocoa powder
  • 175 grams soft unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 150 millilitres sour cream

For the Icing

  • 75 grams unsalted butter
  • 175 grams best quality dark chocolate (broken into small pieces)
  • 300 grams icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 125 millilitres sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • sugar flowers (optional)

For the Cake

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ⅓ cup best-quality unsweetened cocoa
  • 1½ sticks soft unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ⅔ cup sour cream

For the Icing

  • ¾ stick unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces best quality bittersweet chocolate (broken into small pieces)
  • 2½ cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup or light corn syrup
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • sugar flowers (optional)

Method

  1. Take everything out of the fridge so that all the ingredients can come to room temperature.
  2. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C/350ºF and line and butter two 20cm / 8 inch sandwich tins with removable bases.
  3. Now all you have to do is put all the cake ingredients - flour, sugar, baking powder and bicarb, cocoa, butter, eggs, vanilla and sour cream - into a food processor and process until you have a smooth, thick batter. If you want to go the long way around, just mix the flour, sugar and leavening agents in a large bowl and beat in the soft butter until you have a combined and creamy mixture. Now whisk together the cocoa, sour cream, vanilla and eggs and beat this into your bowl of mixture.
  4. Divide this batter, using a rubber spatula to help you scrape and spread, into the prepared tins and bake until a cake tester, or a thin skewer, comes out clean, which should be about 35 minutes, but it is wise to start checking at 25. Also, it might make sense to switch the two cakes around in the oven halfway through cooking time.
  5. Remove the cakes, in their tins, to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes before turning out of their tins. Don't worry about any cracks as they will easily be covered by the icing later.
  6. To make this icing, melt the butter and chocolate in a good-sized bowl either in the microwave or suspended over a pan of simmering water. Go slowly either way: you don't want any burning or seizing.
  7. While the chocolate and butter are cooling a little, sieve the icing sugar into another bowl. Or, easier still, put the icing sugar into the food processor and blitz. This is by far and away the least tedious way of removing lumps.
  8. Add the golden syrup to the cooled chocolate mixture, followed by the sour cream and vanilla and then when all this is combined whisk in the sieved icing sugar. Or just pour this mixture down the funnel of the food processor on to the icing sugar, with the motor running.
  9. When you've done, you may need to add a little boiling water - say a teaspoon or so - or indeed some more icing sugar: it depends on whether you need the icing to be runnier or thicker; or indeed it may be right as it is. It should be liquid enough to coat easily, but thick enough not to drip off.
  10. Choose your cake stand or plate and cut out four strips of baking parchment to form a square outline on it (this stops the icing running on to the plate). Then sit one of the cakes, uppermost (ie slightly domed) side down.
  11. Spoon about a third of the icing on to the centre of the cake half and spread with a knife or spatula until you cover the top of it evenly. Sit the other cake on top, normal way up, pressing gently to sandwich the two together.
  12. Spoon another third of the icing on to the top of the cake and spread it in a swirly, textured way (though you can go for a smooth finish if you prefer, and have the patience). Spread the sides of the cake with the remaining icing and leave a few minutes till set, then carefully pull away the paper strips.
  13. I love to dot the top of this with sugar pansies - and you must admit, they do look enchanting - but there really is no need to make a shopping expedition out of it. Anything, or indeed nothing, will do.
  1. Take everything out of the fridge so that all the ingredients can come to room temperature.
  2. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C/350ºF and line and butter two 20cm / 8 inch sandwich tins with removable bases.
  3. Now all you have to do is put all the cake ingredients - flour, sugar, baking powder and bicarb, cocoa, butter, eggs, vanilla and sour cream - into a food processor and process until you have a smooth, thick batter. If you want to go the long way around, just mix the flour, sugar and leavening agents in a large bowl and beat in the soft butter until you have a combined and creamy mixture. Now whisk together the cocoa, sour cream, vanilla and eggs and beat this into your bowl of mixture.
  4. Divide this batter, using a rubber spatula to help you scrape and spread, into the prepared tins and bake until a cake tester, or a thin skewer, comes out clean, which should be about 35 minutes, but it is wise to start checking at 25. Also, it might make sense to switch the two cakes around in the oven halfway through cooking time.
  5. Remove the cakes, in their tins, to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes before turning out of their tins. Don't worry about any cracks as they will easily be covered by the icing later.
  6. To make this icing, melt the butter and chocolate in a good-sized bowl either in the microwave or suspended over a pan of simmering water. Go slowly either way: you don't want any burning or seizing.
  7. While the chocolate and butter are cooling a little, sieve the confectioners' sugar into another bowl. Or, easier still, put the confectioners' sugar into the food processor and blitz. This is by far and away the least tedious way of removing lumps.
  8. Add the golden syrup or light corn syrup to the cooled chocolate mixture, followed by the sour cream and vanilla and then when all this is combined whisk in the sieved confectioners' sugar. Or just pour this mixture down the funnel of the food processor on to the confectioners' sugar, with the motor running.
  9. When you've done, you may need to add a little boiling water - say a teaspoon or so - or indeed some more confectioners' sugar: it depends on whether you need the icing to be runnier or thicker; or indeed it may be right as it is. It should be liquid enough to coat easily, but thick enough not to drip off.
  10. Choose your cake stand or plate and cut out four strips of baking parchment to form a square outline on it (this stops the icing running on to the plate). Then sit one of the cakes, uppermost (ie slightly domed) side down.
  11. Spoon about a third of the icing on to the centre of the cake half and spread with a knife or spatula until you cover the top of it evenly. Sit the other cake on top, normal way up, pressing gently to sandwich the two together.
  12. Spoon another third of the icing on to the top of the cake and spread it in a swirly, textured way (though you can go for a smooth finish if you prefer, and have the patience). Spread the sides of the cake with the remaining icing and leave a few minutes till set, then carefully pull away the paper strips.
  13. I love to dot the top of this with sugar pansies - and you must admit, they do look enchanting - but there really is no need to make a shopping expedition out of it. Anything, or indeed nothing, will do.

Additional Information

I tend to keep my kitchen stocked with very good dark chocolate buttons (70 per cent cocoa solids) as this entirely dispenses with any need to chop chocolate before melting it. Do not dream of using normal confectionary ones (except just to eat, of course).

I tend to keep my kitchen stocked with very good dark chocolate buttons (70 per cent cocoa solids) as this entirely dispenses with any need to chop chocolate before melting it. Do not dream of using normal confectionary ones (except just to eat, of course).

Tell us what you think

What 92 Others have said

  • The best chocolate cake I have ever made. This will be my go to recipe whenever I need to make a chocolate cake. The only change I made was to add a heaped tablespoon of coffee which gave the cake a greater depth of flavour.

    Posted by Casual-Baker on 9th July 2016
  • I am not a baker... not by far! However even I didn't get this one wrong! As a matter of fact, it was scrumptious. Thank you Nigella :)

    Posted by Ellana on 8th July 2016
  • Made this last week & it tastes divine...completely fingerlicking like a 'proper' chocolate cake should. Having recently become a gushing owner of a Kitchenaid mixer, I gravitate towards recipes that encourage its use so was avoiding this 'food processor' one (totally love the 'ease' element but somehow bunging everything in the food processor doesn't satisfy my inner baker). However, did everything via coveted mixer & despite only having a small amount of icing sugar in stock (shameful I know) the cake turned out sooooo yummy in looks & taste. Decorated with white chocolate stars-kids loved it. Another wonderful recipie Nigella. Looking forward to your next tv series-hope not too long to wait!

    Posted by Babels on 16th March 2016
  • This is the best chocolate cake recipe ever.Trust me I am a chocolatier. The icing is brilliant and I always pipe it on to the cake. Just made it today for my daughter in laws birthday.She was thrilled with it. Thank you Nigella.

    Posted by Kathryn Payandeh on 25th January 2016
  • This cake is perfection. Easy to make and tastes delicious! Love how you just put everything in the food processor. I took the cakes out at 25 minutes and they were perfect, not dry. Will definitely make this again.

    Posted by loncccsb on 25th January 2016
  • Baked this cake yesterday. It went amazing!!! I will definitely use this recipe again!

    Posted by AnaSer on 26th December 2015
  • Lovely taste to the cake, very moist but turned out flat. May have over mixed! Icing fantastic.

    Posted by lucylove on 2nd December 2015
  • The best chocolate cake I would say! Received lots of great reviews from this! My go to chocolate cake recipe!

    Posted by Shina_zaid on 30th September 2015
  • Yummy cake and really easy to make. I only used about a third of the icing as I thought it would be very rich otherwise and it was just perfect for my taste but others may prefer it richer.

    Posted by spanna1 on 29th August 2015
  • I wonder if I would be able to carry this cake on the train from Manchester to London. I want to bake this cake for my mother as a little surprise. The total journey time would be just under three hours from my Manchester apartment to my mother's front door. Do you think this would tarnish the appearance or taste? Thank you.

    Posted by Mizmiah on 21st April 2013
  • Instead of sour cream, can I use mascarpone cream??

    Posted by Ellabxx on 10th March 2013
  • Can you use free standing mixer to mix this recipe?

    Posted by judithshelley on 16th January 2013
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