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Chocolate Cake for Beginners

posted in Sweets by Kathy Maister
difficulty rating

Since I began, chocolate cake has been in the “Top 5 List” of the most requested recipes. Finally I have discovered the perfect chocolate cake recipe for beginner cooks. This moist, rich, dense, chocolate cake is one that you will want to make again and again. Many thanks to Nigella Lawson for this perfect recipe!

There are six steps to making this cake

  1. Prepare the Pan
  2. Prepare the Ingredients
  3. Mixing the Ingredients
  4. Baking the Cake
  5. Removing the Cake from the Pan
  6. Making the Frosting

Let’s startcooking!

1. Preparing the Pan

This cake is baked in a 9-inch wide (and 2 1/2 -3 inches high) “springform” pan. This type of baking pan has a hinge on the side that expands. This allows you to remove the bottom of the pan from the sides, making removing the cake from the pan really easy.

To begin, the (closed!) pan needs to get “greased” (putting a layer of grease or shortening on the bottom of the pan.) You can grease the pan with butter, shortening, or a non-stick spray. (I used the non-stick spray.)

Then you need to line the pan with parchment paper. Cut the parchment paper to match the size of the pan.

Press the parchment paper to the bottom and sides of the pan. The grease will make it stick.

Be sure to get the pan prepared before you begin mixing the ingredients!

Go and pre-heat your oven to 350 F. degrees (or 180C., Gas mark 4)

2. Preparing the Ingredients

If your measuring is not exact when you are making soups or stews, it will not totally throw off the recipe. However, with baking, measuring must be really accurate! Get all of your ingredients assembled and measured before you start mixing anything together.

I am making this cake using the standard US measuring techniques, but I am listing the metric amounts as well.

Nine ingredients are needed to make the cake. (Don’t make the frosting until the cake is baked, and stone cold.) Measure all the cake ingredients and set them aside:

First, there’s the surprise ingredient that makes this cake so rich – 8 ounces (250 ml) of Guinness stout beer!! (I promise, there is no beer taste to this cake!)

Second ingredient: 1 stick (250gr) of butter, unsalted and cut into slices

Third ingredient: 3/4 cups (75gr) of unsweetened cocoa powder (this is not the same as instant hot chocolate!)

Fourth ingredient: 2 cups granulated of sugar (400gr caster sugar)

Fifth ingredient: 3/4 cups of sour cream (1 x 142ml pot)

Sixth ingredient: 2 eggs

Seventh ingredient: 1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract (15 ml vanilla essence)

Eighth ingredient: 2 cups of white flour (275gr plain flour)

Finally, the ninth ingredient: 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda (12.5 ml bicarbonate of soda)

3. Mixing the Ingredients

Part one: the basic chocolate mixture.

Pour the Guinness stout into a 4 quart saucepan…

…add the butter…

…and (over medium heat) stir or whisk until the butter has melted.

Whisk in the cocoa powder…

…and the sugar.

Once the sugar has melted, remove the pan from heat.

Part Two: The egg mixture

Crack the eggs into a small dish, check for shells, and then put the egg into a medium bowl.

Add the vanilla extract…

…and the sour cream.

Whisk these three ingredients together.

Pour the egg mixture into the chocolate.

Whisking until…

…it is well blended.

Part Three: Finishing the Batter

Now add the flour…

…and the baking soda.

Whisk everything together until it is totally blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Be sure to scrape the pan clean with a silicone spatula.

4. Baking the cake

Put the cake into the pre-heated 350 F. degrees (or 180C., Gas mark 4) oven.

Bake the cake for 45-50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into the center of the cake…

…comes out clean.

Check the cake after 45 minutes. This should be done while the cake is still in the oven! I did it on the counter top just for demonstration purposes. Even though my cake looks like it is not quite cooked in the very center, the pick came out clean so I know it is cooked.

Set the cake on a wire rack to cool completely. Do not remove the cake from the pan until it is cold!

5. Removing the Cake from the Pan

Don’t even think about making the frosting until the cake is stone cold!! This will take a couple of hours for the cake to cool completely.

To remove the cake from the pan, first pop the hinge.

Then just lift the ring off the cake.

The parchment paper will be stuck to the cake. Gently peel off the parchment paper.

If this were a cheesecake, you would just serve it right on top of the metal base of the pan.

This is such a sturdy, moist cake that the bottom of the pan can easily be removed. First put the cooling rack on top of the cake…

…and the bottom of the pan slides right off.

Remove the paper.

Flip your cake dish so that the right side of the dish is facing the bottom of the cake.

The cake will be sandwiched between the cooling rack and the cake dish. Flip the whole thing!

Remove the rack and the cake is ready to frost!

6. Frosting the Cake

Once frosted, this cake is supposed to be reminiscent of a pint of stout – a dense, dark bottom with a frothy white top.

The frosting is made with confectioners sugar, heavy cream (or milk), cream cheese, and vanilla.

Cut 8 ounces (300gr) of cream cheese into cubes and set them in a medium mixing bowl.

Soften the cream cheese in the microwave for about 15 seconds. You do not want to melt the cream cheese, just soften it a bit.

Sift 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar (150gr icing sugar) on top of the cream cheese.

Sifting the powdered sugar gets rid of any lumps.

Using an electric mixer, whip the cheese and sugar together until it is fluffy and smooth.

Whip in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Add up to 2 Tablespoons of heavy cream (or milk) in small amounts…

…beating after each addition…

…until you have a spreadable consistency.

(NOTE: This is a lot less heavy cream than indicated in the English-metric version of this recipe. English double cream is much thicker than heavy cream and has a consistency of something close to American sour cream.)

Spread the frosting on the top of cake, starting at middle and fanning out to the top edge of the cake.

The sides of the cake do not get frosted.

Although if you love frosting, double the frosting recipe and frost the sides as well! (I wish I had done that!)

WOW! We did it! Want a slice? Or two?

Adapted from:
Feast by Nigella Lawson

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Cynthia said:

BUT WAIT……….this is listed as having 6 steps. I beg to differ, the MOST important step is missing.

7, Grab a fork and dive in….Enjoy!!

KGWagner said:

Mmm… Nigella… I’d eat anything she said I should eat

It should be noted for anyone who wants to try this excellent recipe that the batter isn’t going to seem like batter – it’ll be very thin. But, that’s normal. I have a similar recipe from Nestle’s that works that way, and it comes out fantastic.

Do use the parchment paper, though. For the couple bucks it’ll cost you to get a roll, you won’t be sorry. The results are much better and easier to deal with. Plus, there are many other reasons to have parchment paper around the kitchen. Cookie results can be dramatically improved, for instance.

Kathy Maister said:

Cynthia – you are so right! How could I have forgotten Step #7! :-)

Any chance of sharing your recipe??????

Mehreen said:

I am a total beginner with cooking. And so wanted some suggestions on the ‘basic cooking utensils’, please. As in, in a kitchen, as a complete beginner, what basic utensils should I have in my kitchen which would always come in handy. And also, some suggestion on the right utensils needed for baking (including everything..cakes, lasagna, chicken) would be appreciated. And my chicken is never juicy when I bake it. I know I am doing something wrong, but I don’t know what!

Help in this regard would be highly appreciated.


Kathy Maister said:

Hi Mehreen,

Excellent question!

Equipping a kitchen can be an expensive and daunting task. If you look in the index, there is a section called Kitchen Basics which will help you get started with the basics.

All of my videos have an ingredient and equipment list which is also a great resource.

When possible, I have refrained from using specialized equipment as new cooks often do not have things like a pressurecooker, a wok, or a food processor.

As for the dry chicken, first check out my video on How to Roast a Chicken. You may be cooking your chicken at the wrong temperature or for too long.

Good Luck!

Cynthia said:

Mehreen…Kathy’s roasted chicken is super easy to make. My husband calls it AWESOME!! I have learned so very much from this site and my hubby has said if he ever disappears to look at Kathy’s!!


Kathy Maister said:

Thank-you Cynthia! I LOVE to hear comments like yours! Say hi to your husband for me! :-)

Mehreen said:

Oh the recipes are sure easy, I am definitely going to be trying my hands on the roast this sunday, inshallah.

One more questio, Kathy. I f i want to half the amount of ingredients used how do I go about adjusting the pan size accordingly?

Kathy Maister said:

Mehreen, I’m not sure I understand the question?
If you are thinking of cutting this chocolate cake recipe in half, I would not recommend it!

KGWagner said:

Kathy –

This is the chocolate cake recipe you were curious about. This will be the third time I’ve posted it, but it’s not taking for some reason. I may be getting too wordy, so I’ll shut up now.

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks KGW!

Nothing better than a tried and true chocolate cake recipe. This recipe looks great! Three layers high must really WOW company.

The gelatin in the mousse must make this “mousse-frosting” really hold up! I once made Martha Stewart’s three layer cake which took forever to set. I had to jam a chop stick in the center of the frosted cake to hold it together – otherwise is would have ended up like the leaning tower of chocolate cake!

KGWagner said:

It does work well. You have to be careful about a couple things, though. When it says to use a “cold” bowl to whip the cream, they’re not kidding. Also, they say to refrigerate it for a half hour before using it. Don’t skip that step or it’ll be too smooshy, and don’t go over a half hour, or it’ll set up in the bowl and be too hard to spread smoothly.

Also, they don’t mention using parchment paper in the cake pans, but it really is necessary. It’s a very moist cake, and you don’t want to fight with it getting it out of the pans.

Finally, using raspberry jam (not jelly or preserves) in the center layers is excellent, and leaves more mousse for the outside. After all, cake is just an excuse to eat frosting

Kathy Maister said:

Great tips!

I’m a big user of parchment paper. Nothing worse than baking a cake and not being able to get it out of the pan.

Readers should not confuse parchment paper with wax paper.

“Wax paper may be used as a liner in baking cakes, quick breads, muffins or any baked food in which the batter completely covers the wax paper lining. Wax paper should never be directly exposed to the heat of an oven.”

KGWagner said:

Saw this and had to share it…

Make Cake in a Mug!

You’re working at home and your mind starts to wander to snack possibilities. There are probably some prepackaged, good-until-the-next-millennium baked items in your cabinet, but you’re in the mood for something warm from the oven. Something chocolate. However, your compulsion to work is just strong enough to keep you from leaving the computer long enough to make something from scratch. Guess it’ll have to be another stale Twinkie after all.

But wait! With Cake in a Mug, you can have a hot, delicious, fresh-baked chocolate cake in minutes! And all it takes is a microwave, some hot chocolate mix, and a couple of ingredients you’ve probably got in your kitchen.

Ready to make your own Cake in a Mug? Everything you need to know is below.

Make cake in a mug…

Kathy Maister said:


I shudder to think what this actually tastes like! By the looks of the photo-tutorial, Cake in a Mug is for real.

Have you tried this???

Cristina said:

Hello Ms. Kathy,

What if the Guinness stout beer is not available is there any substitute? I’m in the middle east so alcohol is forbidden without permit. Please help me, I would love to try you chocolate cake.

At first, I thought parchment paper is the same with wax paper, thanks for informing us beginners.

Take care.

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Christina,
I am afraid you may have to find another recipe for Chocolate Cake as I would not recommend a substitution for the stout in this particular recipe. It has a very unique flavor that actually brings out the chocolate flavor plus the stout itself helps to give this cake its unique texture.
Good Luck with your Chocolate Cake Recipe quest!


GRACE said:


Kathy Maister said:

Thanks Grace!
I aim to please! :-)

Eisha said:

Hi Kathy,

whenever i bake a cake there’s something wrong with it – sometimes too moist, extra egg,too much of baking soda, sometimes needs more cooking but if i bake it again it looks like all the butter is coming out of the cake,etc etc………but then the main problem with my cakes is that they are alwayz fail i.e.,they never rise up……………….do help!!!!!!!!

KGWagner said:

Eisha –

You’re not alone. A lot of people have variable results from baking, which is why a lot of people just don’t do it. Who wants to suffer failure when you can just go throw money at the grocery or bakery to get something already done?

The thing is, you can play with the number, type, and quantity of ingredients with most recipes when you’re cooking regular food in order to satisfy your taste or curiosity. But, baking is not so forgiving. If the ingredients aren’t right, or aren’t proportioned properly, or baking temperature/time is wrong, or any of a number of other things aren’t just so, the results won’t be satisfactory, if they’re even edible at all.

When a recipe says two large eggs, it doesn’t mean two jumbo eggs. When it says mix, don’t whip or beat. When it says baking powder, it doesn’t mean baking soda. On and on.

Also, some things, even if they’re right, won’t work. Eggs change as they age, as do many other ingredients. Baking soda/powder loses its ability to leaven, which may be why your cakes aren’t rising. How old is that stuff?

GRACE said:


KGWagner said:

Grace –

If you’re asking if the recipe Kathy presented here can be cooked in the microwave, the answer is “probably not”. But, there are cakes you can make in the microwave. They have different ingredients in different proportions with different timings than the recipe presented here.

For example, here’s a recipe for Hershey’s Chocolate Cake that’s designed to be made in a microwave.

Kathy Maister said:


KGW is absolutely right! Learning how to become a good baker takes time and practice plus exact measuring and proper ingredients.

Grace, in a word, NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This recipe will only work if you bake the cake in a regular oven.

Anonymous said:

i live in colorado any adjustments for high altitude? looks delicious!

Janine said:

Thanks for the step-by-step tutorial. Your website design is so user-friendly. I love your recipe index. Have a nice day!

Katie said:

Hey. Wonderful Recipe.
But, aren’t you supposed to add baking powder as well? I’m sorry if I’m wrong.
I don’t mean to insult you or anything…
Lol. I’m 15. I want to surprise my mom by making this for her =)
So i hope you could help me! :)

startcooking said:

Excellent question Katie!

Not all recipes call for both baking soda AND baking powder.

Here is an excellent description on the difference between baking powder and baking soda.

My recipe for chocolate cake ONLY uses baking soda.

Good luck making your cake!

aani said:

will it be any diferent if we skip the cream cheese to make the frosting?

startcooking said:

Anni, you can use butter instead of the cream cheese.

@nkit said:

hiii kathy,

WOW!!!…………………….water came in my mouth while reading the recipe….its great but i want to ask whether the cake does not require cut and fold method while adding flour…? pls reply

with regards…

startcooking said:

Some cakes are light and fluffy and require a gentle folding in of the flour. Other cakes, like this recipe, are really sturdy cakes, and do not require the more gentle folding method of mixing the wet and dry ingredients.
I hope this helps…


rosalin said:

hi my name is rosalin i’m trying to make a cake for my baby but i dont understand what u mean by pre-heated 350 F. degrees (or 180C., Gas mark 4) oven.???? my stove is electric and i’m a little confused about the temperature can you help me?

KGWagner said:

350 degrees is 350 degrees. It doesn’t matter if it’s gas or electric. Those are just the types of energy used to get to those temperatures.

You should be aware, though, that it does take some time to get to those temperatures. Give the oven a good 15 minutes to get there. Many cooks will start the oven before they start mixing ingredients, to insure it’s up to temp.

Also, the oven cools surprisingly quickly with the door open, so don’t goof around getting the cake in there, or the timing will be off. Many baking recipes fail because the oven isn’t at the right temperature to start with.

Have fun!

startcooking said:

Thanks KGW for your great comments!

Rosalin, be sure to read my post on Oven Settings, as it will help to explain pre-heating even more!

Basically it just means to warm up the oven to 350 degrees before you stick the cake into bake.

If you just put the cake in a cold oven and then turned it on, the cake would not cook properly.


rosalin said:

thank you kgw and thanks startcooking i dont know ur name =] yes i’m sure i’ll have fun so just to make sure I have to preheat the oven to 350 and then turn it down to 180???? mmm i’m still confused i’ve never made a cake before =[

startcooking said:


350 F. degrees is the Farenheit temperature which is commonly used in the United States.

180 C. degrees Celsius temperature which is commonly used in almost every other country in the world.

Many ovens outside of the United States have oven settings that are called Gas Marks. (If your oven has Gas Marks, set it to 4)

Warm up your oven (pre heat it) to the correct temperature and leave it set at that temperature until the cake is baked.

Roaslin, if you have never done any baking before, this cake is a BIG place to start. You might consider making Chocolate Brownies first!

Good Luck,

Les said:

Thanks for the fabulous recipe and such detailed clear instructions! I have printed it out, pictures and all. Hope mine turns out as nice as yours. Thanks, Les.

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