RE: The 5-minute chocolate cake email: How desperate are you? (P.S. Here's something better.)

So, I’m plowing through my inbox this fine frosty October afternoon, and I see an email from my mom. The subject line reads like this:

Fwd: FW: Really quick choco…

Well, of course I can guess the rest of “choco…” So how can I resist seeing what this “really quick chocolate” something is?

I open the email, and it’s obviously one of those messages that’s being forwarded around the world and will be opened by a million people by nightfall. You know, like one of those JibJab videos or the latest Obama/McCain/Palin/Biden jokes. Here’s what the email said:

“This is for all you chocoholics! We used a 12 oz. mug in our 1000 watt microwave and it turned out great! Now we’re in trouble!”

5 MINUTE CHOCOLATE MUG CAKE

4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons baking cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons chocolate chips ( optional )
3 tablespoons oil
a small splash of vanilla extract
1 coffee mug

“Add dry ingredients to mug and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract, and mix again. Put your mug into the microwave for three minutes at 1000 watts (vary the time just a little either way according the the wattage of your microwave). The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don’t be alarmed. Allow to cool and tip out onto a plate if desired. EAT! (This can serve 2 if you want to feel sightly more virtuous).

“Why is this the most dangerous cake recipe in the world? Because now we are only 5 minutes away from chocolate cake at any time of the day or night.

“Send this to 20 of your chocolate lovin’ friends….”

How could I resist? I ran right into the kitchen to try it, camera in hand, so I could share with you.

The result? Don’t try this at home. Unless you’re TRULY desperate. The best I can say for this chocolate thing is that it’s warm and chocolate. It was cake, kind of. A really rubbery cake. And (why didn’t I notice this?) without salt, very flat-tasting.

OK, don’t take my word for it; be like me, seduced by the ease of instant gratification. Go ahead, make it yourself. But don’t say I didn’t warn you!

SIGH. Maybe, with some salt (about 1/8 teaspoon?), a teaspoon of espresso powder, slightly less than 3 minutes in the microwave so it’s not QUITE so tough… I just KNOW you’re going to try this. So let me know how your version comes out.

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Start by whisking together the flour (King Arthur Flour, of course), sugar, and cocoa.

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Of course I didn’t follow the directions exactly—who among us ever does? I whisked together the egg, milk, oil, and vanilla…

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…and added to the flour mixture along with the chips. OPTIONAL chocolate chips? C’mon, when are they ever optional?

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I also didn’t use a coffee mug. I figured a 2-cup measure would be commodious enough to prevent any lava-like eruptions. Hey, I spend enough time cleaning the microwave from its regular bath of sputtering, popping melted butter.

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Three minutes on the nose. Looks like the surface of Pluto, maybe?

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Plop onto a plate. Dig in. Like chewing a sponge, and I mean cellulose, not cake. A chocolate sponge, but still… At least the melted chocolate chips were tasty.

P.S. If you’re the originator of this recipe, kudos for sharing. I’m not dissing you, really. It’s not to my taste, but I think little kids would be fascinated, college kids might go for it, and any chocolate is better than no chocolate, so… thanks.

P.P.S. So OK, I had to fool around with this. Thanks to Julia’s suggestion, I tried the Mystery Mocha Cake pudding cake recipe in a single-serving cup. The result? Better than the original 5-minute cake. My colleague, Halley,  took a bite and said, “This is truly bad.”

Halley’s  6-year-old daughter, Daisy, was here visiting just as the cake came out of the microwave. Daisy told us her first-grade class had the day off because “We can read really long words and the teacher thought we were too smart.” Daisy took a bite and said, “This is GOOD.”

Which leads me to believe this cake would be just fine for little kids, older kids, even college kids, and perhaps adults with omnivorous tastes. But so not worth the calories—even after its makeover—for those of us used to espresso fudge devil’s food cake with bittersweet ganache icing (and no, I don’t have a recipe for that particular treat—yet!)

So, here we go again:

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There’s no recipe to link to here, so pay attention: In a microwave-safe 2-cup measure, stir together a heaping 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder. Add 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) milk, and a teaspoon of vanilla.

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Stir till smooth.

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Mix 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon cocoa, and 3 tablespoons hot or cold coffee.  Pour into the cup.

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Gently swirl it in; don’t mix thoroughly.

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Cook in the microwave (I hesitate to call this “baking”) for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, depending how powerful your microwave is. You’ll figure it out after the first time you make this cake. (If you actually do make this cake.) When done, it’ll look set on top, and kind of mushy around the edges.

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Turn the cake onto a plate. It’ll be layered with… well, let’s call it sauce. It’s actually semi-baked batter, but since there are no eggs in here, it’s fine.

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Serve to your favorite kid.

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“She likes it! Hey, Daisy…”

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And round and round we go… For another, more traditionally cake-like (and quite yummy) version of this 1-minute cake (pictured above), this one using sourdough starter, check out Heather Horn’s The Amazing 1-Minute Chocolate Cake, from The Atlantic Online.

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And for you snowbirds and other residents of the warmer parts of the country, here’s a picture of our frosted plants. So much for the flowers… hello, 7 months of winter. I can hardly wait to try my new ergonomic snow shovel!

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Sherri

    Well believe it or not, I have been searching for a recipe like this! Way back, when microwaves first came out, my friend and I had a similar recipe and we made it after school, after dinner, before bedtime, or anytime we had a sweet tooth. Neither of us could figure out why no one else liked it, I guess it’s proof that anything sweet will keep a kid happy!

    Now that I know how to make ‘good’ chocolate cake (always with an oven), I have often wondered about this old standby from my youth, but could not remember the recipe. From what I remember, my recipe was not as complex as this one, so it was probably a little less flavorful and perhaps a bit more rubbery, but it sure gave me a laugh when I read the post! Thanks for the memory.

    Reply
  2. Tom

    Ewww. The chocolate cake looks yucky. Not for me.

    On the other hand, it’s a fantastic fall day here in the Coast Range of Oregon – sunny, crisp and clear! It would be a good day to whip up one of the cinnamon coffee cakes. Hmm, a fire in the stove, a cup of coffee and something cinnamon – that sounds pretty good right now.

    -Tom

    Reply
  3. HMB

    I tried it when I saw it on the Baking Circle — I made it after school when there were two teenage boys in the house. Now, teenage boys will eat anything, but even they said it was pretty gross — though they said that with a scoop of vanilla ice cream it would be tolerable. Maybe covered in whipped cream would work too. I’ll have to admit it smelled pretty good, but that rubbery texture is a total turnoff. It was an experiment to try once — but never again.

    Reply
  4. Mike T.

    Yep, I got it via email as well, a complete waste of 3 of my favorite ingreds… Cocoa, chocolate and vanilla…

    Reply
  5. Mel

    Ah, yes, I stumbled upon this recipe a while back online. Being a college student with little time for anything other than study, classes, and sometimes sleeping, instant chocolatey-goodness seemed a dream come true.

    Alas, it was not to be. My ‘cake’ came out looking just like yours and (from the sound of it) tasting just as bad.

    I’m going to start experimenting with that recipe, though. I’m sure we could bring the dream of 5-minute choclate cake in a microwave to life :D

    Reply
  6. Allie

    I reduced the recipe for Wacky Cake to 1 serving and it was much better than this one (I tried this one and one other one in addition to my own).

    Ah yes, Wacky Cake – pudding cake. Indeed – as Julia says below, should work. Thanks- PJH

    Reply
  7. Mike T.

    Okay, never one to leave a challenge go… I put on my thinking cap, thought like Alton Brown and went to work…

    Okay, a microwave doesn’t so much ‘bake’ a cake as steam one, so unless you want an English pudding type cake, you need to get it out of the cup ASAP. Once cooked, it will only steam itself into a rubbery mass. Okay, now, onto the texture overall…

    I figured that based upon the “let’s cook an egg in a microwave” experiment of the past, the other part of the texture was due to the coagulation of the egg white. So, I doubled an ingredient in the list, changed the mixing method a tad and, well, made a really good cake! ;-)

    The ingredient that I doubled was the “1 coffee mug”. I made it two! How does that help you may wonder? Well, I separated the egg, mixed the yolk in with the rest of the batter, and beat the white to what Jeffrey called “the bird’s beak stage”. Firm enough to hold the foam, but droops a little when a peak is turned upside down. I didn’t go to the stiff phase. I then folded it into the batter (sacrificing 1/3 to thin the batter).

    Since I have a 1.5 M/W microwave oven (I’m thinking that’s 1500 watts) I cooked it for 2 minutes and then turned it out onto a plate and immediately split it from top to bottom to let the steam out.

    Nice and light, and chocolaty… If I had more oil, I’d try it with some Oberweiss Chocolate milk instead of 2%… ;-)

    Let me know how it comes out there!

    Mike, clarify what you mean by “sacrificing 1/3 to thin the batter” – you used 2/3 of the beaten white? Glad it came out, you magician! Not sure I want to go back to this and separate egg/beat egg white (kind of takes away that EASE of instant gratification), but I might just try it… Thanks for your kitchen science, and for sharing. PJH

    Reply
  8. Arundathi

    I did try it a month ago and absolutely disliked it. And yes I was desperate for a chocolate cake fix and this kinda sorta satisfied it. It’s not all bad if you’re desperate.

    Reply
  9. Julia

    PJ–I vaguely remember you had a great (and easy) chocolate
    pudding cake recipe some time back. Would it scale down to
    fit a coffee mug?

    I think it would, Julia, since there’s not an egg to worry about scaling. Just have to nail the baking time to the size of mug. Sounds neat – let us know. I’m quite sure it was this recipe for Mystery Mocha Cake. PJH

    Reply
  10. fishes and loaves

    I saw this recipe on one of “those emails” and I have to admit I was a bit curious and wanted to try it. Thanks for trying it for us and satisfying my curiosity! You are a brave one, aren’t you?

    Reply
  11. Michelle

    A while back I used to buy a mix for mug cake from an Oriental supermarket. It wasn’t that great but fun to make in the microwave. I am sort of glad that it didn’t come out that great because then I would be making it a lot.

    Reply
  12. Mike T.

    Beat the egg white (I used a small whisk and rolled it between my hands quickly) to a foam and then add 1/3 to the batter and mix it in, not really folding. You lose the stability of the whites, but it thins out the batter enough that the rest can be folded into the batter more easily. I think I may one down the length of time in the mw oven, it was good when it came out, and if you eat it quickly, but doesn’t stay that way forever…

    I wonder how butter would fare in place of the oil. I may try that as I haven’t been to the store yet this morning. Hello Mike – Sounds like you are trying to mimic a souffle! Nothing wrong with that! 5 minutes to prepare and 5 minutes to eat (before it becomes rubbery). Have fun experimenting. Elisabeth @ King Arthur Flour

    Reply
  13. Laura F

    I know some people who tried it and added a little bit of baking powder and said it seemed to help. I haven’t tried it, though.

    Reply
  14. Kenn f.

    I read the recipe, read the comments, got so anxious for a good double Dutch Chocolate cake that I went into the kitchen, fired up the old oven, and baked a wonderful, tasty, scrumptious, chocolate cake with frosting compatible with my need for chocolate. And with a hot mug of coffee I enjoyed the morning.

    Reply
  15. Sue

    It would be worth the extra time to make the KAF Original Cake Pan Cake. The one where you mix it all in the pan. It’s not quite as fast, but still pretty fast, and it would seem a whole lot tastier!

    I should make the cake pan cake and freeze it into individual servings for the times when I need a chocolate fix. As chocolate cake goes, it’s not too calorically dense and I think it’s pretty low cholesterol too.

    Reply
  16. MaryJane

    My instant gratification chocolate fix is to microwave a splop of peanut butter, a couple of marshmallows and a handful of chocolate chips until warm and melty. It turns more like fudge the longer it sits. You can scoop it with cookies, graham crackers or a good ol’ spoon!

    MaryJane @ KAF

    Reply
  17. Penny

    Thank you for printing the picture – it was enough for me! I would have just eaten the chocolate chips and called it good! Instead I made a small batch of cupcakes – Yummm!

    Reply
  18. AJ Quigley

    I had to laugh…I’ve thought about trying this but just haven’t got around to. I was a bit skeptical about the idea. Hope some of you come up with a more palatable version.
    By the way this recipe originally came from a little cookbook with a
    whole range of other “goodies in a mug” recipes. Sorry, can’t remember
    the name of the book or author.

    Reply
  19. Bobbi Jo Cook

    This is similar to one that was going around a couple of years back. It started with an 18.25-oz. cake mix and a small box of instant pudding. Then 1/2 cup of that mixture was mixed with 1 egg, 1 Tbs. oil and 1 Tbs. water.

    The big difference is in the baking. I bake it at 50% power for the first half of the cooking and then the last cooking is done at full power. With my 700 watt oven, I cook this at 50% power for 2 minutes; then, 1 cook it for 1 minute more at full power. (This could be cooked on high for 2 minutes, but it will be kinda rubbery.

    My microwave books say that recipes using baking powder should be done this way. Bread and cake cooked at full power for the entire time, will be tough.

    Thanks for the update, especially about the baking powder.

    MaryJane @ The Baker’s Hotline

    Reply
  20. Cindy

    I received this email yesterday and tried it last night – I always wondered how hockey pucks were made :) My teenage chocoholic would not even eat it with hot fudge sauce & whipped cream. My advice? keep a supply of good cupcakes in the freezer and gently warm them in the microwave for those midnight munchies.

    Reply
  21. Kimberly

    Is this similar to the cake recipe they use to bake in a coffee can in the oven? I don’t remember that recipe but it kind of sounds similar.

    Nah, that was actually good cake. This is suspect, at best… PJH

    Reply
  22. Pam

    This brought back memories of going to the Home and Garden show in the 1950′s when the Amana RadarRange was being shown here for the first time. It was amazing to watch the chocolate cupcakes rise and cook through the glass front of the massive machine. My sister and I (ages 10 and 7) were so enthused about the rubbery chocolate mass which cooked so quickly. Of course, they used real cake batter, but as I recall, they were pretty chewy. We tried for hours to get Daddy to buy us one of those radar ovens. Thanks for the memories

    Reply
  23. Reba

    I’ve been cooking and baking for years and am an avid collector of cookbooks as well as individual recipes. I also received this 5 minute chocolate cake recipe from a friend and decided to try it. A rubbery hockey puck! Would not recommend it, and I advised my friends whom I sent the recipe to, not to bother making it either.

    Reply
  24. Corey

    I’m always looking for scaled down recipes because it is silly to make food for eight people when I only feed two. It sounds like this is quite a disaster in the microwave, but might this cake batter have a more promising future if baked in a conventional (or even toaster) oven? Anyone have ideas on a temp or baking time?

    Corey, I’d rather try the pudding cake (Mystery Mocha Cake, recipe on our site) in smaller batches than this one. In fact, I think I will… news at 11! But go ahead and try this in a toaster oven, if you like. 350°F for maybe 30 minutes? PJH

    P.S. Tried the Mystery Mocha Cake in this microwave incarnation – see results above… PJH

    Reply
  25. Bonnie

    CINDY i so agree lol i did too.It looked the exact same way as it is shown on the top of the page.It called for way too many chocolate chips and my microwave was less than a 1000 watts so i thought ide let it say a extra minute.Needless to say at that point it became a WEAPON ;-)haha cant wait for the next one to come along ide do the same thing try it agan haha for real

    Reply
  26. Shannon

    I just made this in a fit of PMS induced chocolate panic. I have to say, you did warn me, This is a truly horrid concoction. I will never doubt you again.

    Reply
  27. Rhonda Bracknell

    Having read in reviews on assorted “mug cake” recipes that a whole egg was too much (plus my inability to follow a recipe as given), I doubled everything except the egg, microwaved in 7 silicone cupcake molds for 3 minutes, and came up with a moist brownie-like cupcake that was very good for the time and effort involved. Have and will make them again when the chocolate craving hits.

    Reply
  28. nora

    The cake above really didn’t do it for me honestly and I have been tinkering with ones that come out like actual cake. The problem I find with the original is that all that egg makes it either too rubbery or too dense… so, here is my version, and trust me, it’s REAL proper cake.

    Nora’s Chocolate Cup-o-cake

    into a large coffee mug put:

    5 tbs all-purpose flour
    2 rounded tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
    2 rounded tbs sugar
    1/4 tsp baking soda
    1/8 tsp salt

    mix these ingredients together and add

    3 tbs milk
    1 tbs oil
    1/4 tsp vanilla

    mix it all up and here’s the great part… lick the spoon or have your kid lick the spoon… no eggs, no worries

    you can add come chocolate chips or nuts now if you want… adding a small handful of chocolate chips and pushing them down into the middle of the batter makes a great molten chocolate cake.

    put it in the microwave for 1 minute, maybe 1 and a half. check it at one though… it cooks really fast and you don’t want to over cook it or it goes dry… if the top is bouncy and a fork stuck in it comes out clean, its ready.

    It’s good with a scoop of ice cream dumped right into the mug.

    I like the idea about the chocolate chips in the middle… and the ice cream on top, of course. Thanks- PJH

    Nora is right: This actually comes out like real cake. I’d add a bit more sugar; and the chocolate chips; and it doesn’t turn out of the cup very well (crumbles; thus Nora’s suggestion to eat right from the cup); but it’s for sure the best version yet. Thanks, Nora! PJH

    Reply
  29. Andrea

    My mother discovered that using rice flour instead of wheat flour gives it a much better texture. Also, 3 minutes is often way too long, it does over cook fast.

    Reply
  30. Natalie

    Mmm. Just made Nora’s version above as it is too late to properly bake something cake-like, but I wanted chocolate. Not bad… not very sugary, but with the added chocolate chips quite nice. I recommend eating it out of the bowl you cook it in!

    Reply
  31. Sunnie

    As a pressed-for-time grad student, the idea of the five minute single serving of chocolate cake was truly heaven for me. I actually Stumbled across a five-minute chocolate cake recipe on a website somewhere instead of getting the email. I tried it, and like pretty much everyone else, I found it to be a horrible disaster. First, the lava reaction made it too much for a normal sized coffee cup, second it was definitely as described–rubbery and aside from the tiniest hint of chocolate, tasteless; I’m not sure even drowning it in whipped cream could have saved it. I was so disappointed!

    I plan on trying both the suggested tweaks here and Nora’s recipe at some point. In the meantime I’m keeping my fingers crossed that perhaps, someway, somehow, this beast exists. That or I’m going to be eating waaaay too much chocolate cake on weekends after tests.

    Hey, Sunnie, the tweaked version was pretty good, eaten hot… Go for it! PJH

    Reply
  32. Emily Jones

    I too tried the “cupcake” twice and deduced that it would be ok for stoners and people who didn’t normally have cake. However, I also adapted the “wacky” cake recipe for one mug/small bowl and it turned out pretty good. I used some leftover cold coffee instead of the water which made the taste a little fuller. Here is my “recipe”: 1/4 c. flour, 2 T. sugar or splenda, pinch salt, 1/8 t. baking soda, 1 T. cocoa. Mix all dry ingredients and make three wells-add 1 T. oil to one, 1 t. white vinegar to the second, and 1/8 t. vanilla to the third, pour 1/4 c. cold water or coffee over all, mix and microwave for 2-3 minutes. Mine is a 1800 watt so I waved it 2 min. 30 seconds. Better than that gummy original “cupcake”.

    Reply
  33. Rachel

    It was way too dry and way too chocolaty . It made a huge mess in my coffee cup and its hard to clean!!!!!!!!!

    Rachel – I am sorry this recipe did not work out for you. Try preparing your coffee mug with a pan spray before putting the batter into your mug. Elisabeth @ KAF

    Reply
  34. carin

    i tried the “bad” recipie and still loved it and i’m a picky eater. then i tried all the little adaptations…..zomg…i may never eat anything else ever again. it was a wonderful day of just cake and delicousness….i may need more coffee mugs! :D

    Reply
  35. Emma

    I tried the wiki recipe for this but in a bowl (I was scared for the mess).
    The texture was exactly like a cake but the recipe doesn’t say to use sugar. It needs sugar in my opinion. Only downfall. Try it out anyway.

    Reply
  36. Rachael

    I just tried this recipe, it’s actually pretty good compared to other 5 min chocolate cake recipes. Too bad all the cake batter can’t be fully cooked!

    Reply
  37. Lori

    I tried the original 5 minute recipe today with two 11 year olds and one 15 year old. None of us finished our mug. Not too great. Then hoping for something better, came upon Nora’s recipe. I tried it because it wasn’t complicated… the whole point! It’s really good. One thing, I did by mistake, but liked was when I checked it at 1 minute I realized I forgot the chocolate chips, so I dumped a bunch on top. I would suggest putting them in the cake and maybe add them to the top for 30 seconds. Yum!! I have 8 girls here on Saturday for a gift exchange and plan to have them all try it! Thanks Nora!

    Reply
  38. Laura

    Tried the new 1-minute recipe from The Atlantic Online that you reference above. Super easy to make and quite good!

    And now I’m thinking if sourdough starter works – how about a simple combination of flour and water, or flour and cream? Is there something special about the sourdough that helps the cake? Hmmm…. I’m going to have to try this again, Laura. PJH

    Reply
  39. wendyb964

    Ahhh, glad to know there are other mad science geeks out there! IMHO texture is as important as taste, and if a sticky pudding type cake is ok, go for it. Some of us dislike cake batter and cookie dough (heresy?) so this is a marginally better option. I think I’ll stick with the wacky cake made into black-bottom cupcakes for a relatively quick fix. Today I’m making your KAF guaranteed chocolate cake into an Almond Joy Cake the good ol’ fashioned way. There ARE benefits to having the luxury of time. Thanks for the entertaining read. I also love that forum about kitchen/baking disasters. Warning: use the restroom first and do not have hot coffee in your mouth when reading!

    Reply
  40. Caused a fight

    Well my wife and I made your recipe vs the simple one. we didn’t have cocoa powder so used hot cocoa mix instead it threw up all over the microwave and caused a fight in the house as I blamed my wife for not measuring more carefully and she blamed the hot cocoa mix and your recipe!
    Sorry to hear about the mess and the fight. Each microwave will vary depending on it’s wattage. The safest way to go is with a larger container such as the glass measuring cup pictured in the blog. This will accommodate any sudden eruptions. ~Amy

    Reply

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