Introduction: Fast & Easy Chocolate Cake

About: 2 kids, 4 chickens, love baking & knitting

Are you craving a moist chocolate cake but can't get to the store? Your pantry doesn't contain traditional baking essentials like butter and eggs? You're new to baking and you don't own a fancy countertop mixer or specialized cake pans?

Never fear! Because ANYONE can bake this delicious cake with basic ingredients you already have. It's moist and light at the same time; rich and chocolately but not too sweet. Kids love it. Adults love it. Chocolate-lovers will swoon, and folks who don't normally like chocolate cake will begrudgingly admit that's it's really, really tasty.

I have made this foolproof recipe over one hundred times. Because there's no creaming or whipping or folding involved, my kids learned to bake this cake when they were in kindergarten. You can literally make it with nothing more than measuring cups & spoons, a fork, a spoon, one mixing bowl, and a single 9x9 pan. And you don't even have to grease the pan.

Because this simple recipe doesn't require butter or eggs or sour cream or any elaborate ingredients, you don't have to plan in advance or make a special trip to the store for it.

And, if that's not amazing enough, this cake has a special SECRET. It's vegan. Shhh! Honestly, don't tell people this unless they're vegan. Many people will hear the word "vegan" and expect something yucky. When I sold this recipe as "vegan" cupcakes at a school bake sale hardly anyone bought them. But when I had the exact same cupcakes at the next bake sale with the words "moist chocolate cake" they sold out within minutes. Folks who don't care can enjoy this cake in blissful ignorance, while your vegan friends will be thrilled.

Step 1: Assemble Your Ingredients & Tools

  • Turn your oven on and set it to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure that there's an oven rack positioned in the middle of the oven. Do this FIRST because the cake will be ready to go in the oven so quickly.
  • Get out a large mixing bowl and your 9x9 pan. (You can use an 8x8 pan if the sides are at least three inches high.)
  • Pull out your ingredients and measuring tools and set them on the counter. Again, this will go so fast that you should have everything set to go.

Step 2: Start With Your Dry Ingredients

Measure out your dry ingredients carefully into your mixing bowl:

  • 1 & 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour*
  • 1 cup sugar, the regular granulated kind
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda**
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Stir these together with a fork until completely mixed. THIS is the most important step in the recipe. You want to break up every single tiny lump of cocoa powder or baking soda with your fork so that no one ends up with a nasty dry chunk in their mouth. Be sure and get the bottom of the bowl: you want everything thoroughly stirred together with no streaks.

* Note on flour substitution: if you don't have all purpose flour, it's okay to substitute cake flour or bread flour. You can increase the fiber content by substituting upto one third of the flour with whole wheat flour. Do not use self-rising flour.

** Note to new bakers: you need baking soda here, NOT baking powder. The two are very different and the chemical magic of baking depends on having the correct ingredient. You should also measure this quite carefully. Most people won't really notice if you rushed and put in an extra pinch or a tad less of sugar, flour, or salt, but too much or too little baking soda will ruin a recipe.

Step 3: Add Your Wet Ingredients

Once your dry ingredients are completely mixed, carefully measure your wet ingredients. I put them all into one two-cup glass measuring cup, in the order they are listed below:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil (canola, sunflower, anything mild flavored - even olive oil)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar (white vinegar or cider vinegar)

You next dump these wet ingredients, all at once, into your mixing bowl with the dry. Again, stir really well until completely mixed. Don't worry about over-stirring. At this point switch over to stirring with a spoon - or even better, a spatula.

Once the batter is thoroughly mixed with no streaks or dry spots, scrap it into the baking pan.

Step 4: Your Cake Is Ready for the Oven.

Don't let the pan dawdle on the countertop, because the chemical magic of vinegar and baking soda - that makes this cake taste so amazing - has already started. Place it carefully on the rack that you ensured is in the middle of the oven. And set a timer for 30 minutes.

When the timer goes off, check your cake by putting a toothpick or a knife blade in the center of the cake. When it comes out clean, your cake is finished. If there's still batter clinging, bake 2-3 minutes longer and check again. Repeat as needed.

Put the cake pan on a rack to cool. If you can resist it long enough, this cake tastes best at room temperature.

Step 5: Enjoy!

This cake can be enjoyed served right out of the pan with a glass of cold milk. It can also be dressed up in almost any way you can imagine.

Consider the following:

  • whipped cream dolloped on top
  • whipped cream with added flavors, such as almond, peppermint, or rum
  • VEGAN whipped cream
  • fresh fruit, like sliced strawberries
  • pureed fruit from your freezer, such as strawberries or raspberries
  • a drizzle of fruit jam, melted for a few seconds in the microwave
  • a scoop of ice cream
  • a drizzle of hot fudge sauce or caramel from a jar

Because this cake is not super sweet, it isn't overwhelmed by frosting. Try your favorite or something new. For a more sophisticated look, top the cake with a simple glaze.

Step 6: Variations

This recipe is wonderfully adaptable. The preceding recipe will fill a 9x9 baking dish or make a dozen cupcakes - bake them 20 minutes, then check if done.

You can also increase the size of the recipe and make a 13x9 sheet cake - the perfect size to bring to a potluck. Bake about 25 minutes, then check to see if done.

Ingredients to make a 13x9 size sheet cake:

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vinegar

And for special occasions, you can make a traditional two layer cake with this larger recipe. Make the increased recipe above and bake it in 2-9" round cake pans that you have greased and floured. Bake about 20 minutes, then check to see if done. I particularly recommend adding a layer of whipped cream and sliced strawberries, and topping with more whipped cream and more strawberries for a really beautiful looking dessert.

If you are so inclined, you can also experiment with flavor variations:

  • for a Mexican chocolate cake, add 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon and a dash of cayenne pepper to the dry ingredients.
  • to enhance the chocolate flavor, add 1 tablespoon of instant espresso powder to the dry ingredients and/or coffee extract to the wet ingredients.
  • add 1-2 teaspoons of flavor extract to the wet ingredients, such as orange, peppermint, coconut, or almond.
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