Help for a dense and rubbery chocolate cake

Dee says: Hi BakingSOS, I desperately need some help.  I have tried to bake the Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Cake for my mom because she loves chocolate.  I have tried this recipe to a T for 3 times, and the cake turns out heavy, wet, rubbery and absolutely disappointing.  On the website, the cakes looks light and fluffy.  I don’t know what I am doing wrong… Really hope to get some help from you.  This recipe calls for both baking powder and baking soda.  But it says to add wet ingredients to dry and mix til smooth.  Lastly to add boiling water.  Will it work if I alternate the flour (dry mixture) with the eggs/vanilla/oil mixture?

Baking S.O.S. says: I know how frustrating it is to bake a recipe many times with disappointing results.  I have done that often myself!  There could be several different reasons why your cake is turning out heavy, wet, and rubbery each time, so I’ll try to address it from each angle.

To start, I looked up the recipe you are using on the Hershey’s website.  I read user reviews of the recipe, and I did not see any comments where people were experiencing the same problems as yours, so I am going to assume that the recipe works OK under the right conditions.  That means something else must be going wrong.

My best guess is that your cake is not rising enough because the baking powder and baking soda are not working effectively.  Baking powder and baking soda can actually get “old” and lose their leavening ability over time as they sit on the shelf.  Before you use them again, performs these tests:

  • For baking powder: place a small amount of baking powder in a bowl and add water.  It should fizz and react right away.  (Baking powder is “double acting”–it reacts when it is moistened with a liquid and then again when it is heated in the oven.)
  • For baking soda: place a small amount in a non-reactive (stainless steel) bowl and add an acidic liquid such as lemon juice or vinegar.  Baking soda is a base, so it needs an acidic liquid to create the chemical reaction.

If y0u do these tests and find that your baking powder and baking soda work just fine, then there must be some other reason why your cake is not rising correctly.

I have always wondered about chocolate cake recipes that call for “boiling” water, such as this recipe that you are using.  I do not understand why the water needs to be boiling when added to the cake batter, and I cannot find any scientific explanation for using boiling water as opposed to cold, tepid, or warm water.  As far as I know, there is no real reason to use boiling water.  I wonder if the excessive heat from the boiling water could be causing the baking powder to react TOO quickly–because the water is both wet AND hot–causing the chemical leavening reaction to occur and dissipate BEFORE the cake even gets into the oven?  If the baking powder reacts too quickly, then the cake would not rise sufficiently once baked.  That could be yet another explanation.

When I make my favorite chocolate cake recipe–which calls for Hershey’s cocoa powder and water, too–I use warm water out of the tap rather than boiling water, and I actually mix the cocoa powder and water together in a separate bowl before adding them to all the other ingredients.  With this method, the warm water and cocoa powder create a smooth, chocolate mixture to add to the cake batter (rather than lumpy chunks of cocoa powder as it sometimes comes out of the box).

Another procedure that helps cakes rise better is mixing the batter according to the “Creaming Method”:

  • beat the fat (usually soft butter) and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, 8-10 min.
  • add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl & beating well after each addition
  • alternately add the dry ingredients with the liquid ingredients in 3 stages

The “Creaming Method” can be used for cakes, cookies, or any baked good that calls for softened butter or fat, and it really helps with the leavening when you incorporate more air by beating the fat and sugar together.

My last question is: How committed are you to making this particular recipe for your mother?  If you are willing to consider making a different chocolate cake recipe for her, I would strongly suggest trying Hershey’s Celebration Chocolate Cake recipe which I also found on their website.  This recipe uses both procedures I suggested: mixing the cocoa powder with water before adding it to the cake batter AND mixing the cake using the “Creaming Method.”  I think those two techniques (and checking the effectiveness of your baking powder and baking soda) ought to produce better results for you.

Good luck!  Let me know how it turns out. :)