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Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake

by . Featured in FEAST
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Introduction

This is, for me, the quintessential 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.

For US cup measures, use the toggle at the top of the ingredients list.

This is, for me, the quintessential 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.

For US cup measures, use the toggle at the top of the ingredients list.

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/160°C Fan/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/160°C Fan/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 103 Others have said

  • I've made this cake many times and it's delicious, though if you use the full amount of icing sugar in the icing, you lose the lovely sour cream tang. In the interest of cutting down the sugar overall (and because I always had loads of icing left over, even though I'm a generous distributor), I amended the quantities. The result was delicious, and the same in terms of taste and texture, but with half the overall sugar. I used for the cake: 180g flour, 150g caster sugar (other quantities all the same), and for the icing 170g dark chocolate (70%) and only 40g of icing sugar; all other quantities the same. (Also maple syrup instead of golden, as it's all I had). It was exactly the right amount of icing as well as the right consistency, and the taste was perfect (my kids couldn't tell the difference).

    Posted by ohvienna on 12th April 2019
  • This is my fourth or fifth time making this cake and every time is a hit. My tins are a bit bigger, so cooking time is only 17 minutes. Thank you!

    Posted by Didoung on 6th April 2019
  • Just made this cake, so easy! I didn’t have 2 identical tins so used one large and baked for 10/15 minutes longer, I used a bit of steam to stop it drying out or burning, worked a treat. Also didn’t have sour cream so used lovely thick Greek yoghurt and it’s perfect in both the cake and icing. This is now my go to recipe for heavenly chocolate cake. Thanks so much for the recipe and everyone’s comments, they gave me confidence to adapt the recipe with what was to hand.

    Posted by Junabells on 30th March 2019
  • I’m baking this cake today and I’m using gluten-free flour I added a little bit more sour cream to the batter to get those beautiful ribbons that I love to see when I’m making the cake: I also used a convection oven and the timing so far at 25 1/2 minutes is looking to be perfect the cakes came out looking really really nice with a little dome shape. It’s For my husband’s birthday tomorrow so I’m going to Kick stay cold let the cakes chill in the fridge tonight and eyes first thing in the morning. Then I’ll go try and find those purple pansies flowers or Something just as nice!

    Posted by LadyJML on 18th December 2018
  • Another fantastic recipe from Nigella. Super easy and worked great - so many compliments from my guests. I turned it into a chocolate orange birthday cake by adding orange essence to the icing and using orange buttercream in the middle. I scaled up the recipe by 1.5, adding 10 mins to the cooking time.

    Posted by elliep311 on 4th November 2018
  • This is the best chocolate cake recipe I have ever made and is always popular. It is also one of the quickest and easiest. I have been able to adapt it for different sized tins including making it as a traybake. Fantastic.

    Posted by EMBARRASSINGMUM on 27th June 2018
  • Just made this cake, so easy and the icing is amazing. Simple recipe to follow, love it xxx

    Posted by jt2604 on 12th March 2018
  • Love the sound, and the look, of this cake. Going to make it tomorrow for a friend who has lost his appetite after having chemotherapy. I hope it will tempt him as his wife says chocolate is his favourite cake.

    Posted by HOTFOOT on 7th January 2018
  • I made a variation of this cake for my husband’s birthday. I put whipped cream between the two layers and then used the chocolate icing on the top and around the edge. I finished the cake with 3 broken up crunchies bars - honeycomb showing- and sprayed the cake gold using an airbrush. Very successful - the cake was eaten VERY quickly!!

    Posted by Wend50 on 26th December 2017
  • Used as a large cake and muffins, gorgeous! Will be my go to choc cake now. Made in a Thermomix, just mixed all cake ingredients together and made 15 large muffins. You could easily make more if you wanted a flatter top to ice, some did 'dome' up a bit, with my generous amount of mixture. Melted butter and choc in Thermomix then mixed in the rest. Light cakes, with a lovely crust on top then rich, light full-flavoured icing.

    Posted by Hilty on 19th May 2017
  • DIVINE!!!!!!!! Was cooked at 25mins. Any longer and it would have been too dry and crusty. Everyone in the house loved it, simple to make. Will be my go to Choc cake now.

    Posted by pam1981 on 10th April 2017
  • 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
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