1-Ingredient Upgrade for Better Chocolate Cake (Costs Zero Dollars)

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I've always assumed that to make a chocolate cake as chocolatey as possible, you have to add a lot of melted chocolate and use expensive, high-quality ingredients. Imagine my surprise when I learned on my first day working at the bakery, that her incredible three-layer chocolate cake used no melted chocolate, just cocoa powder.

This cake was dark, moist but fluffy and chocolaty. How can a cake with just cocoa powder taste so intensely chocolatey?

I remember watching the bakers mist the cocoa powder with hot water and place giant bowls of steaming cocoa on the bench. Why on earth would they do that to make a cake? Clearly, they knew what they were doing, and I learned quickly. Here's a pro baker's secret to making the perfect chocolate cake easily at home: Feed the cocoa powder..

Why You Should Bloom Your Cocoa Powder

Blooming cocoa powder sounds like a fancy pastry chef technique, but it simply means dissolving the cocoa powder in a hot liquid before adding it to the cake batter.

When you do this, the flavors and aromas locked in the cocoa particles are released, intensifying the flavor of the chocolate. It's the same idea as brewing coffee with hot water or boiling spices in hot oil. The heat extracts more flavor compounds from the cocoa, giving you an extra flavorful chocolate cake. Another nice benefit is that those pesky clumps of cocoa powder break up in the hot liquid, so you don't have to sift it—a step I try to avoid if possible.

Just recipes / Anika Panicker


How to use this smart trick when making chocolate cake.

You may already be using this technique without realizing it or knowing why. Lots of chocolate cake recipes, like this Chocolate Guinness Cake and this Chocolate Depression Cake. If your go-to chocolate cake recipe doesn't make it, here's what you do.

Most chocolate cake recipes call for a liquid such as water or coffee. If your recipe calls for milk, melted butter, hot oil, or even Guinness or red wine, heat the liquid first and then stir in the cocoa powder. I would not use buttermilk, as it is likely to curdle when heated.

Heat the liquid ingredients to warm, just below boiling — you can do this on the stove or in the microwave. Off the heat, stir in the cocoa powder until completely dissolved. The liquid will thicken slightly.

Take a moment to appreciate the hypnotic smell of chocolate. Let it cool for a few minutes before adding it to the batter, especially if you're going to add eggs or the butter needs to be soft but not melted. Then, add the cocoa mixture to the wet ingredients. (You're basically adding cocoa powder to the hot liquid and wet ingredients instead of the flour.)

Some recipes use both melted chocolate and cocoa powder. If the instructions say to melt the chocolate with liquid ingredients or butter, you can also add cocoa powder. For example, to make this chocolate pound cake, add the cocoa powder to the chocolate and hot water mixture instead of sifting it with the flour.

Just Recipes / Mark Behm


When to stop this trick.

While adding cocoa powder is a good idea for most chocolate cake recipes, unfortunately this trick doesn't always work. Here are three examples:

  • This will not work for recipes that call for no liquid or if there is not enough liquid to dissolve the cocoa powder. For example, many chocolate sponge cakes don't call for liquid and don't have enough melted butter to dissolve the cocoa, so it's best to stick to the recipe as written.
  • If the butter needs to be chilled or at room temperature, I would not use melted butter to melt the cocoa, otherwise it will change the texture of the cake.
  • I don't recommend substituting cocoa powder for melted chocolate, so it's not a good option for cakes that only use melted chocolate and no cocoa powder.

Chocolate vs. Cocoa Powder: Which Has More Flavor?

It turns out that chocolate isn't actually very chocolate. An unsweetened chocolate bar may be labeled as 100% cocoa, but only 40% to 50% of it is cocoa solids, the key component for flavor. The other 50% to 60% is cocoa butter, which helps add richness, but has a mild flavor.

Cocoa powder, however, is finely ground cocoa solids, making it the most concentrated form of chocolate you can get. If you want the cake to be both light and fluffy, and intensely chocolatey, cocoa powder is the clear winner.

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