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Tips for a Chocolate Cake that Falls Flat

Kathy says: Oh My God. I’ve never read a blog as helpful as this! I love to cook and bake. I never fail in my cooking but when it comes to baking, it’s always 50/50. Last week, I tried baking a cake that uses both baking soda and baking powder. I was so scared because I have a strong feeling that every time I bake, something that calls for baking soda or any recipe that requires beating egg white until stiff or soft peaks form, I always fail. This chocolate cake should be baked for 30-45 minutes in a preheated oven: 325F. During the 30 minute in the oven, I already knew that the cake is a failure. It has not risen, the top is kind of smooth and shiny (?). So when I inserted my cake tester, the cake is already cooked. It did not rise, it is dense, rubbery, firm and taste like “raw or uncooked”, definitely “un-eatable”. I really don’t like the feeling of unsuccessful baking anymore so I tried to Google “Why my Chocolate Cake does not rise?” and I found this.

I tested my baking soda and baking powder. The baking powder sizzled/fizzed right away when I poured water on it; while the baking soda in a stainless bowl, just melted (after a few seconds) when I poured lemon juice on it — it should have also fizzed, right? I have changed my baking soda twice already since my cakes always fail when I used baking soda. What brand should I get?

And also, this chocolate cake recipe calls for Black Cocoa and Dutch Cocoa. I just used all Dutch… I guess that’s not allowed? What is Black Cocoa?

And lastly, the first step of this recipe is creaming butter and sugar. I think I have never understood this correctly. So you just put the soft butter and sugar in a bowl and put in the stand mixer, right? Beat it for about 10 minutes? But what does “light and fluffy” really mean?

I really hope you guys could help me with these issues. Please, please, please! And THANK YOU so much for taking the time and helping out other people!

Baking S.O.S. says: I’m glad you found me through Google, Kathy.  I will certainly do my best to answer your questions!

1) When testing the freshness and effectiveness of baking soda, you are right: it should fizz when you add an acidic ingredient to it such as lemon juice or vinegar.  The chemical reaction between the acid and the base (baking soda) creates gasses that should fizz when combined.  If you baking soda did not fizz, I would suggest replacing it with new baking soda.

2) Dutch Processed Cocoa powder is different from regular cocoa powder in that is has already had a base (alkali) added to it to make it darker and less acidic.  Therefore, if you try to use Dutch cocoa in a recipe with baking soda, you will not get the necessary chemical reaction to make your cake rise.  This could be the main cause of your problem.

I had to Google “Black cocoa powder” myself in order to answer your question, and this is what I found: “According to www.savoryspiceshop.com, this black cocoa powder, much darker than standard Dutch process cocoa powder, has been much more heavily alkalized. While it lends a beautiful depth of color to baked goods, it should not be used by itself, because it contains less fat and may therefore result in a product with a dry texture. This website recommends using a 50:50 blend of black onyx and standard Dutch process cocoa powders for optimal results.”

It sounds like your chocolate cake recipe is taking this into account by calling for both black and Dutch cocoas, but I cannot tell you whether you should decrease or eliminate the use of baking soda all together.  Typically, if a recipe is written well and tested sufficiently, it SHOULD work when using the proper ingredients [perhaps the next step for you would be to track down some black cocoa powder, but I do not know of any stores that carry it on a regular basis].  If not, I suggest scrapping that recipe and trying another one altogether!

3) Creaming Method: The proper procedure for creaming room temperature butter and sugar is to use a stand or electric mixer set on medium speed (5-6) for 8-10 minutes. If you look at the mixture after only 2 or 3 minutes and then again after 10 minutes, you will notice that the earlier mixture is still buttery yellow, but after beating for 10 minutes, it becomes almost white. This is due to incorporating much more air into the mixture, and that is what is meant by “light and fluffy.” When you cream butter & sugar until light and fluffy, the air that you incorporate will also help the cake rise more when baked. This, too, could be a source of the problem if the cake is not rising enough.

I hope somewhere in here is a solution that will work for you. If not, check back with me, and we will do some more trouble-shooting.  Best of luck to you!

5 comments to Tips for a Chocolate Cake that Falls Flat

  • kathy

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! Now, I get it. I only have Dutch Cocoa Powder. So I guess that is one of the reasons why my cakes fail when I try to bake Chocolate Cake. Do you have any simple recipe that has baking soda in it and chocolate? I just want to test and try to bake one that has been tested already. Again, thank you so much for your help! I feel a lot more confident to bake now. By the way, I bought a new baking soda. Hope it works!!!

  • If you are looking for a real good chocolate cake that is easy, just throw it together, the batter is thin but it is moist as ever. here is the link.
    http://www.hersheys.com/recipes/recipes/detail.asp?id=4754&page=1&per=1024 THis is a black magic cake, we used a buttercream icing and added peanut butter till it had the flavor we liked, try a white buttercream or chocolate icing. The cake is pretty much a no fail cake. Also if you have instant coffee, put 2 spoonsfulls in hot water.

  • Hi, I tried this cake recipe few hours ago but somehow couldn’t get the same result as you, my cake clearly wasn’t looking that good (but tasted fine). What sort of chocolate are you using? Maybe it’s coming from the flour I used, I have a gluten intolerance so I used quinoa flour instead of normal wheat flour.

  • Hi Ms. Crockett-

    I am not an experienced gluten-free baker, though I have done plenty of research on cooking gluten-free and have taught gluten-free cooking classes to a well-informed gluten-free audience. I learned from my audience that to bake with gluten-free flour is a very arduous task that requires much trial, error, and patience!

    From what I understand, you need to combine a variety of gluten-free flours to replace traditional wheat flour. The quinoa flour is certainly a much healthier alternative. But as you learned, it did not produce the desired texture.

    One gluten-free cookbook I consulted suggested the following substitution for all-purpose flour:

    2 parts white rice flour
    2/3 part potato starch
    1/3 part tapioca flour

  • zizzy

    I just tried the hershy’s recipe and while it looked awesome in the oven, it has sunk and shrunk and it still looks a bit raw on the sides although it seems to be baked when i insert a toothpick. The top is glossy and lovely but it shrank and it is wrinkly and i don’t know because.

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