chocolate cake

The best chocolate cake (in five minutes!)

4 October 2010

This is the ultimate chocolate cake, outrageously good, outrageously easy…and did I say outrageously good? This moist, dark chocolate cake is the recipe I would pick if forced to forsake all other baked yummies for the rest of my days. It’s an old fashioned cake – not refined, not fudgy, not mousse-y – just rich cake goodness.

I found this recipe on (which has the recipe archives from Gourmet and Bon Appétit magazines) probably a dozen years ago, and it’s been my go-to cake recipe since, mostly because it’s the best cake recipe I have, but also because it’s the easiest. It comes together in five minutes: one bowl, no butter to soften, no chocolate to melt, no eggs to beat. Just dry ingredients, oil, water and vanilla. It makes a runny batter that is easy to mix and impossible to overmix. This is a recipe that the baking-challenged can make with confidence. And the cake stands alone – no frosting or icing required. I dust powdered sugar on top to make it look pretty.

This recipe makes a lot of cake – about 50% more than your average cake recipe. I’ve never found this to be problem (even before I had four kids). It stores beautifully up to a week and even gets denser and moister tightly covered in the fridge.

The only trick to the mass of batter is what to bake it in. This is where I employ my fine skills as a math major. The original recipe in Bon Appétit made a three-tiered frosted cake. I’ve tried to jam the batter into two round pans (I didn’t own three), but this produces two overly domed tops that are prone to cracking and impossible to layer (leading my friend Lisa with the same experience to call it “earthquake cake”). To save you from such calamity, I’ve calculated a few different pan combinations and included them in my recipe.

Making a layered cake takes more patience and artistry that I have, so I always make a simple sheet cake in my beloved french white Corningware roasting pan (unfortunately discontinued), which is big enough to accommodate the full recipe.

By the way, this recipe is actually vegan – no dairy, no eggs. I’ve given the recipe to all the moms of ovo- and/or lacto-allergic kids I’ve met in the last decade. Though for the non-allergic I have to say this cake is particularly comforting with a glass of cold milk.

This cake is so easy my four year old can make it. Here’s our demo, starting with the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt).

Add oil, water and vanilla. The oil in this cake is part of its brilliance, as I’ve found in many cakes and brownies that the creaminess of butter softens the chocolate flavor and makes it milder. I like my chocolate deep and dark, and this recipe has enough sugar that there’s no bitter edge whatsoever.

Mix until well combined (this needed a second go-around).

Pour into pan.

I like to top with chocolate chips, since I am too lazy to frost.

I try to bake until just done, so I’ll do a frequent toothpick test toward the end of baking. The cake is still good even if overbaked, but it’s not as moist. The chocolate chips make it a bit pockmarked.

But powdered sugar makes it all better.

I think this cake is better chilled first – it gets denser and moister in the fridge. So if you have the time, cool the cake and put it in the fridge for an hour or two. Then you can take it out and let it return to room temperature if you don’t want to serve it cold. Better to put the powdered sugar on just before serving, as any moisture will dissolve the powdered sugar and leave you bare spots (easily solved with an additional dusting).

An old time treat easy enough for every day. Enjoy!

Five minute chocolate cake
Dark, moist, delicious and simple. Adapted from “Old-fashioned chocolate cake with cocoa frosting,” Bon Appétit, September 1995.


3 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups cold water
1 cup corn oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips (more if desired)


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Butter and flour baking pans.
    • Three 8″ or 9″ round cake pans (great for a three layered cake, or a two layered cake for the party and a single round reward to the baker)
    • One 9″x13″ Pyrex pan plus one round cake pan (see note on two layered cake above)
    • Two square/rectangular pans (a combination of 8″ square, 9″ square or 11″x7″ rectangular – two squares also makes a great layered cake)
    • One jelly roll pan (10″x15″ flat pan with 1″ rim – makes a nice big flat sheet perfect for a child’s birthday party)
  3. Add dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, salt) into large mixing bowl.
  4. Add water, oil and vanilla. Whisk to mix well.
  5. Divide batter among pans. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over batter in each pan.
  6. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, 25-35 minutes depending on pan. Test often toward end of cooking time so as not to overbake.
  7. Cool completely. Chill for a couple of hours in the refrigerator for additional moistness.
  8. Dust with powdered sugar or frost, if desired.


  • If making layered cake, cool cakes in pans on racks 15 minutes; cut around pan sides to loosen cakes; turn cakes out; cool completely before frosting (can also chill cakes in refrigerator before layering to make them a bit firmer).

Here’s the link to the recipe for printing:

Five minute chocolate cake recipe

And here’s the link to the original recipe on

Old fashioned chocolate cake with cocoa frosting, Bon Appétit, September 1995 from

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Terra 6 October 2010 at 7:36 pm

Thank you! I get these ridiculous chocolate cake cravings sometimes (even more so during pregnancy), and with the kids asleep and husband out of town, I’m generally screwed. This looks like something that can be thrown together in a hurry.

“cool completely” is the cruelest instruction in all of baking, however.


cg 6 October 2010 at 7:50 pm

haha, you can eat it hot/warm – we do it all the time! this is just one cake that actually improves a bit when cooled. fortunately the recipe makes enough cake for some now, more later. =)


cc 13 May 2011 at 10:18 pm

Have you ever tried this using a cupcake pan? I’m not an experienced baker so would love any tips on how this would change the baking time or other considerations. I’m thinking of using this for my son’s upcoming 3rd birthday 🙂 He is allergic to eggs and dairy, so I’m really excited to try this out! Thanks so much for sharing!


cg 13 May 2011 at 10:40 pm

hi cc – my sister-in-law just made this into cupcakes for her daughter’s birthday at school. recipe will work fine as is, just use cupcake liners and cook for less time. i think cupcakes should bake in 15-20 minutes (i know, that’s a wide range, so check at 15 and then watch carefully after). good luck, hope your little guy likes his cupcakes and has a wonderful birthday!


cc 14 May 2011 at 12:13 am

Thanks for the fast reply! Looking forward to trying it out. BTW, a friend sent a link directly to this post (knowing about my son’s allergies), but I’m really enjoying the rest of your blog as well! Meant to go to bed an hour, but can’t stop reading… 🙂


Lexi 11 April 2012 at 11:59 am

I can’t wait to make this! It’s seems so simple and looks so delicious. I’m thinking about halfing the recipe. Do I need to half the baking soda too? Obviously I’m not an experienced baker… 🙂


cg 11 April 2012 at 12:19 pm

hi lexi – yes, it’s easy to make a half recipe. just cut all ingredients in half, including the baking soda. enjoy!


Milly 12 November 2015 at 5:40 am

Would a 2 1/2 cp Corning Ware dish work?


cg 20 November 2015 at 1:38 am

hi milly – sorry i didn’t get back to you earlier! assume you mean 2 1/2 qt, which would work for a 1/2 recipe. good luck!


Mich 15 December 2015 at 5:05 am

CG, Since I found this recipe on your blog last month, I have literally made this easy chocolate cake about 5 times for: book club, bake sales, pot lucks. I am planning to make again this week for a Christmas party coming up on Saturday. This is the most easy, delicious , crowd-pleasing, non-allergenic cake ever! Thank you so much for this awesome recipe and the conversions to different pan sizes.


cg 15 December 2015 at 2:28 pm

hi mich – yay, glad you find it as indispensable as i do! i have this one memorized. =) happy holidays!


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