Easy Chocolate Cake Recipe

a single layer, easy chocolate cake with swirly chocolate frosting on a plate with cake plates to the side

Sometimes you just need a comforting bake which is super easy to make from scratch and uses basic ingredients you probably already have. This moist, easy chocolate cake is just that – you mix the batter by hand and as it’s an oil-based batter, you don’t even have to wait for any butter to soften! This (along with the fact that it’s eggless) makes the cake accidentally vegan. I’ve included a step-by-step video on how to make this recipe which you can view at the bottom of the recipe card.

A single layer chocolate cake

This small-batch recipe only makes a single layer of chocolate cake which makes it perfect to cut into 6-8 wedges. The cake can be made in a 6-inch or 8-inch cake tin, the baking times just have to be adjusted accordingly (see the recipe for details). I like doing it this way as it really does make the whole thing simpler; you don’t have to line multiple tins and you don’t have the stress of layering and frosting a whole cake. It gives this bake more of an informal, snacking cake vibe.

Making a chocolate ganache with milk instead of cream

The frosting is based on the idea of a ganache – this is usually a combination of warmed cream and finely chopped chocolate, combined until silky and smooth. It’s a very easy chocolate cake topping to make and is useful for a variety of applications. However, I don’t know about the majority of people but I personally don’t have cream in the fridge very often (unless I’m buying it for something specific). I do usually have some sort of plant-based milk in the fridge and some dark chocolate in my cupboard though and these can be used in combination to make a ganache frosting too!

Although normally you combine roughly equal weights of chocolate and cream to make a ganache, that doesn’t work when it comes to milk as the lower fat content of the milk means that it won’t thicken properly. So, to compensate for that, we lower the weight of milk to around 2/3 the weight of chocolate. As chocolate contains cocoa butter (a fat), using this higher ratio of chocolate means that this milk ganache sets properly. If I have some to hand, I also like to add in a little bit of butter/vegan butter to the ganache as it is a softer fat than cocoa butter which helps the icing to remain creamier when set. If you don’t have any, don’t worry you can leave it out!

You can use plant-based milks (soy, oat, pea, almond) or cow’s milk (semi-skimmed or whole milk), depending on what you have and your dietary needs.

I like making this frosting as it means I don’t need to have icing sugar to hand (which is something I often forget to buy) plus it’s SUPER chocolatey and not too sweet!

Other chocolate cake recipes:

sliced easy chocolate cake on a pink plate

Easy Chocolate Cake Recipe

A single-layer, simple, easy chocolate cake. No stand mixer needed, just stir the batter by hand! The frosting doesn't need icing sugar, only dark chocolate and milk. Perfect as an easy bake to make with kids. It also happens to be vegan-friendly as the cake is dairy & egg free.
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Course: Cake
Cuisine: American
Special Diet: dairy free, egg free, vegan
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
Servings: 6 people

Ingredients

Chocolate cake batter:

  • 175 g (3/4 cup) freshly boiled water or hot brewed coffee*
  • 150 g (2/3 cup) light brown/granulated/caster sugar
  • 35 g (1/3 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp neutral vinegar** or lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp fine table salt
  • 60 g (1/4 cup) vegetable oil, sunflower oil or melted coconut oil
  • 120 g (1 cup) plain white flour (all purpose flour)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

Chocolate frosting:

  • 100 g dark chocolate (I like 70% cocoa)
  • 65 g milk (semi-skimmed cow's/ soy/ oat/ almond)
  • 1 tbsp butter or vegan butter*** optional

Instructions

For the cake:

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F fan (200°C/400°F non-fan). Grease and line a 6-inch or 8-inch spring-form cake tin with a circle of baking paper. Dust the tin with some unsweetened cocoa powder, tapping out excess.
  • Combine the hot water (or coffee) with the sugar and cocoa powder in a large mixing bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar. Mix in the vanilla, vinegar and salt then the oil.
    175 g (3/4 cup) freshly boiled water or hot brewed coffee*, 150 g (2/3 cup) light brown/granulated/caster sugar, 35 g (1/3 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp neutral vinegar** or lemon juice, 1/4 tsp fine table salt, 60 g (1/4 cup) vegetable oil, sunflower oil or melted coconut oil
  • Add the flour (if it's lumpy, sift it in), baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Stir together until smooth – using a whisk here is helpful.
    120 g (1 cup) plain white flour (all purpose flour), 1 tsp baking powder, 3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 30-35 minutes if using a 6-inch tin, or 25-30 minutes if using an 8-inch tin (Whilst the cake is baking, start making the frosting).
  • Allow the cake to cool briefly in the tin then run a butter knife around the edge to loosen and remove from the tin. Leave the cake to cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

For the frosting:

  • Finely chop the chocolate and place into a heatproof bowl.
    100 g dark chocolate (I like 70% cocoa)
  • Heat the milk (and butter, if using) in a small pot over a medium-low heat until it begins to steam but is not boiling. Remove from the heat and pour over the chopped chocolate in the bowl. Leave to sit for 5 minutes so the milk melts the chocolate then stir together until completely melted and smooth. If the heat of the milk hasn't melted the chocolate fully, set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and gently warm until fully melted & remove from the heat.
    65 g milk (semi-skimmed cow's/ soy/ oat/ almond), 1 tbsp butter or vegan butter***
  • Leave the frosting to sit at room temperature for around 1 hour until it has thickened to a spreadable consistency then use it to frost the cooled cake.

Video

YouTube video

Notes

*For hot coffee: you can simply dissolve 1 tbsp instant coffee in 175g freshly boiled water.
**Neutral vinegar: you can use apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, malt vinegar or distilled vinegar here. 
***Butter/Vegan Butter: adding this to the frosting helps it stay a bit softer once cooled, but it’s no biggie if you leave it out.
If you prefer a Chocolate Buttercream Frosting instead: combine 50g (1/4 cup) softened unsalted butter (or vegan butter), 110g (1 cup) sifted icing sugar (powdered sugar) and 20g (4 tbsp) unsweetened cocoa powder in a medium bowl until smooth. Add 1-2 tbsp milk or water to loosen to a spreadable consistency.
Warming the cake before serving: if the icing has set a bit too firmly after sitting out & you prefer a gooey texture, just pop a slice of cake into the microwave in 10 second bursts until the icing has melted to the right consistency.
 
Tried this recipe?Let me know how it went! Mention @izyhossack or tag #topwithcinnamon!

Variations:

Easy chocolate orange cake

Finely grate the zest of 1/2 orange into the hot water in step 2. For the frosting, finely grate the zest of the remaining 1/2 orange into the milk just before you warm it up.

Easy chocolate cake with buttermilk

For an even moister cake, you can replace half of the hot water with buttermilk or natural yogurt (or unsweetened soy yogurt if you’re vegan).

Chocolate buttercream frosting

If you prefer a buttercream-style frosting, try this one from BBC GoodFood – but make half the amount: combine 50g (1/4 cup) softened unsalted butter (or vegan butter), 110g (1 cup) sifted icing sugar (powdered sugar) and 20g (4 tbsp) unsweetened cocoa powder in a medium bowl until smooth. Add 1-2 tbsp milk or water to loosen to a spreadable consistency.

Make a 2-layer cake instead

Double the cake batter recipe and bake in two 6- or 8-inch cake tins. For the frosting, make 2.5x the amount so you have enough to frost the sides, too!

How to store chocolate cake

I tend to keep this cake at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. You can cover it with an upturned bowl or keep it in a cake tin to keep pests away & prevent too much moisture loss. If you’re in a hot climate you may want to keep it in the fridge to stop the frosting getting too runny – however keep in mind that the frosting will firm up to more of a truffle texture if you do this.

Ingredients for this easy chocolate cake recipe, explained

  1. Hot water: you can use either freshly boiled water or hot, brewed coffee. The heat of the liquid helps the sugar to dissolve and brings out the flavour of the cocoa powder. Using coffee will bring a bit more depth of flavour to the chocolate cake without actually tasting of coffee. However, just using water works brilliantly too!
  2. Sugar: I like to use a light brown sugar for this cake as the caramel flavour of the sugar works so nicely with the chocolate. However you can use pretty much whatever sugar you have to hand e.g. granulated sugar, dark brown sugar, caster sugar or even coconut sugar.
  3. Unsweetened cocoa powder: It’s important to make sure that you’re using a cocoa powder which is intended for baking with i.e. it doesn’t have added sugar. So, do not use a drinking cocoa/hot chocolate powder as this will throw off the sweetness of the cake.
  4. Vanilla extract: This compliments the chocolate flavour but you could easily leave it out if you don’t have any.
  5. Vinegar: you can use pretty much any neutral tasting vinegar here or even lemon juice. The acidity is needed so that it can react with the bicarbonate of soda to help the cake rise.
  6. Salt: whilst the cake may not taste salty, using salt in baking is important for flavour enhancement – especially in chocolatey desserts.
  7. Oil: you can use any neutral oil here – sunflower, vegetable/rapeseed, melted refined coconut oil, groundnut oil, walnut oil. You could even use a light olive oil or avocado oil if that’s what you’ve got. If you only have butter/margarine, use 80g of butter/margarine, melted.
  8. Plain white flour: you want to use a plain flour (or even a pastry/cake flour) here as the lower gluten levels will help produce a tender, light cake. Don’t use a strong/bread flour! Also no need to use a self-raising flour as we’re adding our own raising agents.
  9. Baking powder & bicarbonate of soda: these chemical raising agents help the cake batter to rise. They’re especially important as there are no eggs in this batter (which usually contribute to ‘rise’ in cakes).

How to make this easy chocolate cake recipe (each step explained)

  1. Combine the hot water, sugar and cocoa powder in a large bowl. By doing this, the hot water allows the cocoa powder to ‘bloom’ which brings a more intense chocolate flavour to the cake. Stirring the sugar in helps it dissolve into the batter properly which gives the cake a super soft, plush texture.
  2. Add the other liquid ingredients. Vinegar, vanilla, salt and oil now get mixed into the liquid in the bowl just to help them evenly distribute throughout the batter.
  3. Add the dry ingredients. The flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda are now added. If the flour is lumpy I advise that you sift it in, otherwise just scoop it straight into the bowl. Stirring with a whisk will help ensure the batter is evenly mixed and that no pockets of flour remain.
  4. Bake the cake batter. The batter is scraped into a lined 6- or 8-inch cake tin – I prefer a springform tin but you can use one without a loose base if it is a deep enough tin to hold all the batter comfortably. The cake is baked until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  5. Allow the cake to cool. I transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool completely. This is important because if you try to frost a hot (or even slightly warm) cake, the icing will start to melt and will slide straight off.
  6. Make the frosting. This is a super easy recipe where you finely chop some dark chocolate and pour warmed milk over the top then let it sit so it can melt. Once you stir it together it’ll be luscious and smooth. It usually needs to sit at room temp now until fully cooled so that it can thicken up to a spreadable consistency.
  7. Frost the cake. In a truly rustic fashion, you can just dollop the chocolate frosting onto the cooled cake and use the back of a spoon to swoop and swirl the icing until it looks right to you. A sprinkle of flaky salt is a delicious but optional addition here!

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