Food & Drinkrecipes

Kristina’s Favorite Chocolate Cake

by Kristina Gill

I have written here on the column before about my family and shared some of our recipes, and even some of my own recipes — and I’m excited to do that again today. My aunt Janice has slowed down baking a lot, but for as long as I can remember, one of the many reasons I’ve looked forward to family gatherings is her baking. She makes wonderful cakes, puddings, biscuits… I allow myself a splurge each time we meet to stock up on those things I don’t normally eat during the year, choosing my indulgent item carefully. My favorite is her Chocolate Cake, which she told me was a recipe given to her by a friend. It is moist, with fluffy frosting, just the way a good chocolate cake should be. It is normally made as a layer cake, but I turned it into cupcakes for today’s post. Full disclosure — this recipe may be from a cookbook, but neither my aunt nor her friend were able to identify the provenance. —Kristina

Why Kristina loves this recipe: Surprisingly, I am not a chocolate fan. You can parade a range of chocolate desserts in front of me, and I can resist most of them. My kryptonite in the chocolate field, however, is chocolate cake. If ever a chocolate cake is on offer, I ask to see the cake or a slice first. I can tell instantly whether it will meet my standards. If it isn’t moist, I’m not interested! And even when it is moist, I usually scrape off the icing, but in the case of my aunt Janice’s recipe, I savor it with each bite of the cake.


Aunt Janice’s Chocolate Cake

For the cake:

–  2 1/2 cups loosely packed brown sugar (1 box)
–  2 1/4 cups sifted flour
–  2 teaspoons baking soda
–  1/2 cup butter (1 stick or 114 grams)
–  3 eggs
–  3 squares (3 ounces / 90 grams) unsweetened chocolate
–  1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
–  1 cup sour cream
–  1 cup boiling water
–  pinch of salt

For the frosting:

–  4 squares of unsweetened chocolate (4 ounces / 120 grams)
–  1 cup butter (2 sticks or 228 grams), room temperature
–  2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
–  1/2 cup milk
–  2 teaspoons vanilla
–  1 bowl of ice water

*note we have used a conversion of 1 ounce = 30 grams for the chocolate instead of 1 ounce = 28 grams)

To make the cake
Preheat oven to 350F.

1.  Melt the chocolate in the microwave or the top of a double boiler.

2.  Grease two 9-inch cake pans, or line 36 regular-sized muffin tins with paper cups.

3.  Sift together flour, soda, and salt.

4.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until light, then add the sugar, then the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl well after each addition.

5.  Beat the mixture on high speed for 5 minutes, then add the vanilla and the melted chocolate. Stir in the dry ingredients, alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Stir in the boiling water.

6.  Pour the batter into the prepared pans or fill the cupcake papers 2/3 full.

7.  Bake the cake for 35 minutes; depending on the size of the cupcakes, begin testing to see if the cupcakes are done after 18 minutes, and then in 5 minute intervals.

8.  Allow to cool in the pans on a baking rack for 5 minutes, then remove and allow to cool completely.

To make the frosting

1.  Melt the chocolate in the microwave or in the top of a double boiler. Set aside to cool for approximately 5 minutes.

2.  In the bowl of stand mixer, beat the butter until fluffy.

3.  In a separate bowl, mix the milk, powdered sugar, and vanilla, then add to the chocolate.

4.  Add the mixture to the butter and stir with a spatula until uniform.

5.  Place the bowl in the larger bowl of ice water and beat until the icing sets. Alternatively, place the bowl in the refrigerator until the icing firms up.

Ice the cake layers or cupcakes and serve immediately. If not serving immediately, store in the refrigerator until ready. Remove 30 minutes before serving to allow the cake/cupcakes to come to room temperature.


About Kristina

Kristina Gill has been the editor of the In the Kitchen With column at Design*Sponge since 2007. Shortly thereafter, she began photographing many of the submissions and submitting her own recipes. Over the years she has built up her photography portfolio enough to become a freelance food and travel photographer. Most recently, she has combined her love of food and recipe-development with her photography to co-author the cookbook Tasting Rome, with food journalist Katie Parla. Tasting Rome (Clarkson Potter) is currently available for pre-order and will be released in March 2016.


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  • oh that sounds gooooood!! I love a good chocolate cake but as you say it has to be just right. My favourite to make is a chocolate Victoria, two layers of chocolate sponge with cherry jam and whipped cream spread in the middle and cream and chocolate curls on top – yum!

  • Looks delicious! I’m trying it out right now for a bbq tomorrow.

    A couple of things I noticed. I’m guessing the 35 minute baking time is for the 9-inch pans and that cupcakes should be more in the 18-22 minute range. Also, this made a ton more for me than the recipe says it does. I have 24 full-size cupcakes baking right now, with 24 mini cupcakes ready to go, and more batter still in the bowl. Not that I would ever complain about having more cupcakes than I planned on.

  • I’ve loved and made this recipe for years. I found it in the Colorado Cache cookbook. One tip is that I found the frosting is just as good if instead of going to all the trouble of beating it over ice water you just stick it in the fridge until it gets thick.

  • Hi, Rita!

    Thank you for sharing that yield issue. I will correct it. I found the cupcakes (in the picture) cooked at almost the same time as the cake. (3 minute difference). It could be my oven though.

    Kathy- Thanks for identifying the source!! I do prefer the refrigerator method as well, but wanted to relay the recipe as I received it!

    Thank you!

  • As a reader that is not from the US (go Australia!), can you please advise how much a ‘square’ of chocolate is?

  • Hi, Jo-

    Great question! I am so sorry. A ‘square’ comes from using Baker’s brand chocolate which comes in one ounce squares (28g or 30g to make it easier). I usually use dark chocolate. I will update the recipe with this conversion for our readers. Thank you!