The Amazing 1-Minute Chocolate Cake


Heather Horn

To try Heather's recipe for microwave chocolate cake, click here.

"RE: The 5-minute chocolate cake e-mail. How desperate are you?" asked the headline of a King Arthur Flour blog post. Though not a particularly polite question to ask a confirmed dessert addict, it's certainly a fair one. The King Arthur Flour blog may well be the best blog for home bakers on the Internet, and people who like messing around with flour tend to take a certain pleasure and pride in traditional recipes, and even recipe complexity. It's what separates us from midnight food-crammers—we consume carbs, we tell ourselves, for the process, not the piggery.

So readers of the Bakers' Banter blog, as it's called, aren't likely to take too kindly to microwave baking. Still, there are things in life worth sacrificing one's pride for, and chocolate cake, I'm convinced, is one of them. That's how I wound up being drawn into the rabbit hole of microwave cakedom. The King Arthur Flour heroes had taken it upon themselves to improve a substandard recipe from a chain e-mail, transforming a nearly inedible 5-minutes-in-a-mug microwave cake into something more palatable.

I kept it simple with five ingredients—semisweet chocolate, butter to improve the texture and keep the chocolate from seizing up, sourdough starter, the obligatory baking soda to balance the sour starter, and a pinch of salt.

I decided to give it a go. Theirs was an eggless version involving cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking powder, etc.—all the usual suspects. Alas, as the bloggers themselves admitted, it wasn't that great; the vaguely molten texture was about right, but it tasted like DC tap water—certainly not worth the effort of the 11 ingredient measurements required. So I sighed, told myself the idea of microwave chocolate cake was a bit gross and slothful to begin with—and nevertheless promptly returned to the recipe when I got a nighttime dessert craving. A project formed: to make a real chocolate cake in the microwave, if it could be done.

It turns out that it can be done. What's more, it can be done well, with few ingredients, and—even better—a healthy dose of food snobbery to make up for the shame of the microwave.

I began to mess around with the King Arthur recipe, adding butter to get rid of that watery taste, subtracting flour to make the whole thing denser and more chocolatey. Eggs, I quickly found, were a waste of time. One egg for a single mug or bowl's worth of baking is a lot of egg, and eggs do strange things in the microwave. Adding fat, on the other hand, was definitely the right idea.

But I never quite got the texture right, and in terms of taste, I never quite lost the sense that I had started with a packet of chocolate pudding mix and a pound of sawdust, adding different proportions of water and cholesterol at will.

This, I decided finally, was the fault of the cocoa powder—cocoa powder and I have a tense relationship. The experiment languished until I found myself at the kitchen counter one night with a bag of Nestle chocolate chips at my elbow.

Baking experimentation is not, as some would have you believe, impossible, but it does usually require a starting conceit—a model, if you will. Mine, I figured, contemplating the chocolate chips, would be a French-style chocolate cake—the kind my simplicity-loving father taught me when I was little, which relies on chocolate and butter melted together, egg yolks, and tiny amounts of flour and sugar, with egg whites folded in for structure at the last minute.

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Heather Horn is a former senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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