Chocolate Cake Recipe

The word ‘consulting’ always sounds like a dream job when you’re stuck working in a restaurant kitchen, slaving over a hot stove, on the line. As a consultant, it sounds like you sweep into a kitchen, where the staff welcomes you with open arm as their savior, and you magically transform the meals coming out of the kitchen into extraordinary feats of culinary magic.


In fact, it couldn’t be more different. Restaurants call in consultants when they’ve exhausted all other possibilities, and the kitchen is in such dire trouble that they need to get some poor sucker from the outside to come in a try to fix what they’ve screwed up. The pay seems great, until you walk in the kitchen and realize no one wants to talk to you, no one wants you there, and worse, no one wants to change anything, since it means more work for them (and if they really cared about their work, they wouldn’t have had to call in someone from the outside in the first place.)

I was once a consultant for a corporation that owned several prominent restaurants. It took me about 5 minutes to figure out that one of their major problems was that there were a lot of high-paid executives sitting in meetings upstairs, while there were a lot of low-paid people downstairs, in the kitchen, putting the food on the plate. And let’s face it: Customers don’t care about executive meetings, they care about the food.
And that’s basically it.

When I mentioned this discrepancy to the high-paid executives (who hired me to tell them things like that…right?) we had another round of meetings, discussing things for hours and hours, until I told them I couldn’t sit through any more meetings since I had work to do in the kitchen. (Stupid me! What was I thinking? Those meetings were totally cushy. Why slave over a hot stove? Maybe those executives weren’t so wrong after all…)

Except now, that restaurant’s closed, and presumably they’re either unemployed, or on to bigger and better things.

As mentioned, when you consult, you’re hired to fix things. Which is difficult when no one wants to really fix anything. And at this one particular restaurant, no one cared about the food. They’d store the dessert sauces right next to open containers of crushed garlic, for gosh sakes. The people in the pastry department could have been pumping gas, for all they cared.

Consequently, I needed to come up with foolproof desserts. A menu of cakes, cookies, and more, that were simple to make, and more importantly, impossible to screw up. Plus they needed to keep for several days, since who knows how long they would keep them around for? So I came up with this spectacularly good chocolate cake, which I called (not to anyone’s face) Chocolate Idiot Cake, since anyone can make it, and it’s hard to screw up. Yet it’s utterly rich and delicious.

Chocolate Idiot Cake
One 9-inch (23 cm) cake

Adapted from Ready for Dessert (Ten Speed Press)

This cake is extremely rich, and tastes like the most delicious, silkiest, most supremely-chocolate ganache you’ve ever had. As mentioned, it’s equally good a few days later, and only an idiot could possibly mess it up. You don’t need to use ScharffenBerger chocolate for this cake, but use a good one—you’ll appreciate it when you taste your first melt-in-your-mouth bite.

Make sure to wrap the pan very well in foil, perhaps several layers, to prevent any water seeping in during baking.

  • 10 ounces (290 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 7 ounces (200 g) butter, salted or unsalted, cut into pieces
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200 g) sugar

Preheat the oven to 350F (175C).

1. Butter a 9-inch (23 cm) springform pan* and dust it with cocoa powder, tapping out any excess. If you suspect your springform pan isn’t 100% water-tight, wrap the outside with aluminum foil, making sure it goes all the way up to the outer rim.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler (or microwave), stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from heat.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar, then whisk in the melted chocolate mixture until smooth.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and cover the top of the pan snugly with a sheet of foil. Put the springform pan into a larger baking pan, such as a roasting pan, and add enough hot water to the baking pan to come about halfway up to the outside of the cake pan.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

You’ll know the cake is done when it feels just set, like quivering chocolate pudding. If you gently touch the center, your finger should come away clean.

5. Lift the cake pan from the water bath and remove the foil. Let cake cool completely on a cooling rack.

Serve thin wedges of this very rich cake at room temperature, with creme anglaise, ice cream, or whipped cream.

Storage: This Chocolate Idiot Cake can be wrapped and chilled in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

*I love my glass-bottomed springform pan, since I don’t need to wrestle the cake from the bottom of the pan for serving.

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  • January 22, 2007 5:27pm

    Oh David! I’m no idiot, but I’m sure my husband will forgive me for declaring my undyinglove for you…as long as I bake this cake for him!

  • January 22, 2007 5:34pm

    Chocolate, butter, eggs and sugar . . . that’s it? Sounds awesome and I LOVE the name.

    I used to be an consultant. Not for food but in I/T for big companies and we were changed the same way. Except we did all the work and they got the credit and they blamed anything wrong on us after we left :)

  • January 22, 2007 5:36pm

    And now the question….does the springform pan sit inside another, larger pan? Sorry to be so slow, but I’m just not clear about this….

  • Gary
    January 22, 2007 6:10pm

    David, I hate to ask you this, but for those of us who are trying to avoid flour and sugar (lowcarbers), this cake would be terrific if I could use Splenda (sucralose). Do you have experience using this sugar substitute and would you recommend it for this cake?

  • January 22, 2007 6:50pm

    Looks so good, btw, did you receive my entry?

  • J. Bo
    January 22, 2007 8:34pm

    The glass-bottomed springform is terrific, but I like the Frieling version better– it’s got handles:

  • January 22, 2007 8:45pm

    I’m a bit of an idiot about baking (though I do know enough not to store anything next to the garlic….), so this cake might be right up my alley. It looks divine!

  • January 22, 2007 11:40pm

    The cake looks DELISH! Can’t wait to give it a try!

  • January 23, 2007 12:31am

    Hi Gary: I’ve never baked with Splenda. They were bribing…er…I mean, offering pastry chefs thousands of dollars to try it out and do some recipe testing with it, but I never got my check! (or my Splenda)

    Maybe it’s at La Poste… ; )

    I would imagine you could use chocolate sweetened with maltitol, but am not sure about Splenda. They do have a ‘baking mix’ of some sort that I hear works well for some things, but maybe one of my readers knows more about it?

  • January 23, 2007 7:30am

    I made this cake with liquid natreen (brand name, consists of water, cyclamat, saccharin and fructose) and it had a funny bitter, almost burnt taste to it. Not enjoyable and nothing to compare with the original which I have made before. And no, it wasn’t really burnt. Would be interested in experiences with sucralose.

  • January 23, 2007 7:34am

    Ups, I think my first comment got lost…
    I made this cake with liquid natreen (brand name in Germany, consists of water, cyclamat, saccharin and fructose) and it had a bitter, burnt taste to it. (No, it was not really burnt!) Have made it before with sugar and the low-sugar version was nowhere near it. Would be interested in any other experiences with sucralose or any other non-sugar, as a flourless cake is always a great starting point.

  • Sil
    January 23, 2007 8:00am

    I’ve tried “the orbit cake” from your book with a malbec icecream…it was great!!

  • Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy
    January 23, 2007 8:31am

    Your story hits home more ways than one – when I was doing my MBA, we did an operations project on…ScharffenBerger! We luckily got a tour of the plant in Berkeley and made some suggestions for their operations. Consultancy + chocolate = delicious business.

    Thanks for sharing, I’m going to pick some more up when I head home in March.

  • January 23, 2007 10:19am

    Help! I’ve GOT to bake this cake! Does the springform pan sit within a larger pan filled with water? Or is the water poured on to of the aluminum foil used to cover the cake? I must be an idiot after all because I found the directions to be VERY CONFUSING! Help please!

  • Gary
    January 23, 2007 10:30am

    Splenda *claims* you can use it 1:1 for sugar “in cooking and baking in a variety of recipes.” I guess I’ll just have to try it and let you know. I don’t wish to act as a proponent of the stuff, as in principle I would prefer cane sugar as my sweetener of choice, but some of us who are trying to enjoy a few luscious desserts while on an otherwise strict lowcarb diet might like to know about it. (I question how many of your readers fit into this category. ;*)

  • January 23, 2007 10:33am

    Hi Barbara: It’s very simple; it’s just like baking a custard:

    1) Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan

    2) Cover the top of the pan snugly with a sheet of foil

    3) Put the springform pan into a larger baking pan (like a roasting pan, or whatever it will fit in, and fits in your oven)

    4) Add enough hot water to the baking pan (the larger pan, like the roasting pan) to come about halfway up to the outsides of the cake pan.

    Gary: Yes, let us know. I’d love to find out how Splenda works. I don’t know much about the stuff.

  • January 23, 2007 12:44pm

    David, that looks awesome. I’m going to try it. I watched Idiocracy recently. Bet those guys couldn’t make your cake ;)

  • January 23, 2007 2:15pm

    Thanks for the clarification David. Altho I was fairly sure that was the procedure, the recipe really didn’t make it clear, at least not for me.

    There are 2 types of Splenda, one that’s “pure” Splenda (!!!!) and one for baking that’s a mix of Splenda and sugar. Perhaps a test with the blend would be a safer first choice….

  • January 24, 2007 12:37pm


    I’m a culinary arts student currently finishing up a Kitchen Management course…we JUST got finished talking about the ups and downs of being a consultant…thanks for sharing your thoughts on it…every opinion helps, espeically when it’s from you!

  • AngAk
    January 24, 2007 6:22pm

    Barbara, I have used 100% Splenda many times with success when baking. Prefer “real” ingredients, but when lo carbing it worked well for me and especially for this chocolate cake recipe. The pourable Splenda can be measured 1:1 but the packets are concentrated. The Splenda site has many good tips and recipes. Now I’m hooked on Michel Cluizel chocolate.

  • jennifer
    January 25, 2007 9:12am

    Have to comment on Splenda. I develop “healthier” recipes for a large contract foodservice company and tested Splenda in many, many baking recipes. I have never had great results. Muffins I have made are very spongy and almonst non-food like. The texture of everything I tried (muffins, cakes, custards) was odd and unpleasant and I personally can’t recommend it.

  • Aaron
    January 25, 2007 9:54am


    any reccomendations on scaling the recipe down to say 2 servings? i love the look of the desert but cooking for just me and my girlfriend the cake looks like way too much. and the bigger problem is i think i would end up eating it all.

    i was thinking something along the lines of baking it in silicon muffin cups, any comments?

  • January 25, 2007 11:43am

    Hi Aaron: Although I’ve never done it, you could most likely scale down the recipe. If you cut it in half, you could bake it in a loaf pan. I am sure you could bake them individually in custard cups, and bake them similarly to a custard. (If you make smaller cakes, you’ll need to adjust the cooking time, in the downward direction.)
    Let me know how they work out!

    Jennifer: It’s good to get your perspective, having “Been there, done that.” I think with any of those things you sacrifice texture and/or flavor. Thanks!

  • January 25, 2007 8:30pm

    I guess I messed up
    I took the date of the event from the food blog scool calendar and was planning something for tomorrow:

    sulks… :(

  • sam
    January 26, 2007 12:38pm

    Hi David
    I was craving for chocolate and got ur SHF posting for choc idiot cake
    it came out beautiful and tastes yummy. wonering do u have any foolproof eggless cakes ? my MIL is coming and she is allergic to eggs. help…

  • January 26, 2007 12:49pm

    Sam: Why not make a War Cake? There’s recipes from war times, when eggs (and butter) were scarce, so someone developed a cake without ’em. A quick Google search outta turn up some recipes.

    (And your mother-in-law is lucky to have such a good son-in-law. I’m sure there are more than a few of you out there that’d be happy to serve their egg-allergic MIL’s something eggy…)

    Sam 2: Yes, for some reason, even though I wrote the deadline twice, in bold, there were a few stragglers or friends who missed it. It was too bad I couldn’t include them but unfortunately it took so much of my time to put together the round-ups, and I can’t work on them anymore. (Plus I’m recovering from a morning of oral surgery.)

    If you do post it, please put the link in the comments for the final post…would love to see what chocolate dessert you whipped up!

  • January 26, 2007 9:58pm

    I want expected to be squeezed in to the round up, just sad I didn’t do as i was told. I understand your position – there comes a point when no more stragglers should be tolerated.

    still everyone at worked loved my tart today – so all was not lost, it was still worth doing from my pov!

    hope your toothache is bettrr soon.

  • Spencer
    February 4, 2007 11:18pm

    Hi David,

    I just made your Chocolate Idiot cake. The cake came out a bit dense and heavy..almost like a cheesecake consistency. I was just wondering is it suppose to be like that, or is it suppose to be a light consistency?

  • February 5, 2007 12:30am

    Yes Spencer, that right. As mentioned “This cake is extremely rich, and tastes like the most delicious, silkiest, most supremely-chocolate ganache.

    Since it’s so rich, I advise serving it in small, thin wedges as well. Enjoy!

  • Spencer
    February 5, 2007 9:24am

    David, thanks! After letting the cake cooled down for a bit and removing it from the springform pan, I knew this is not going to be an ordinary chocolate cake. I did make your Ginger cake from your “Room for Desserts” book, and it was wonderful!! Your book is very unique, and I will treaure it!