Genius Recipes

Margaret Fox's Amazon Chocolate Cake

By • October 16, 2013 • 67 Comments

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Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Your new go-to birthday cake, bake sale cake, dinner party cake, late night snack cake -- for when the fridge is at its barest and you need chocolate cake now. (It's also vegan and parve and dirt cheap, but you wouldn't know unless we told you.) 

Amazon Cake on Food52

There is almost nothing you can throw at this cake that it can't handle. Say you want chocolate cake but -- what's that? You're out of eggs? And butter? And chocolate? You're going vegan this week? You need a dessert that's kosher with brisket? You want it in 45 minutes? You got it. This cake balks at nothing. Even Duncan Hines asks for more.

Amazon Cake on Food52

If the Depression taught us anything, it's that in times of scarcity, there can -- and should -- still be cake. You must bake from what you've got, even if what you've got is mayonnaise or canned tomato soup.

But this cake is much better than those, and expects even less of you (and your wallet), if that's possible. There's no waiting for butter to soften just enough, no creaming of things, no wondering if your eggs are the right temperature. All you need are two bowls and a whisk, a cake pan of sorts, an oven, and to be armed with the most minimal of nonperishables in your pantry. 

Amazon Cake on Food52

Cocoa powder. Baking soda. Sugar, salt, oil, vanilla. Cider vinegar (or white vinegar, or even lemon juice). If you don't have these in your cupboard right now, you probably don't actually like cake.

More: 9 more chocolate cakes, just for you.

Margaret Fox, cookbook author and, for 23 years, the driving force behind the famed Cafe Beaujolais in Mendocino, California, isn't sure how she stumbled on this formula -- similar to the crazy cakes and wacky cakes your grandmother might have made. But it was, as she says, "in a frenzy of cake baking, trying to find what I thought of as the perfect chocolate cake." When she spotted a recipe that was missing eggs and dairy, ingredients she thought were integral to a tender crumb, she thought, "I have to make this cake -- it's got to be weird."

Cafe Beaujolais on Amazon.com

But it wasn't weird -- not at all. In fact it looked eerily like the front of a cake mix box, and tasted better than it should. "This cake has legs, and a legitimacy and a flavor that's so wonderful, vegan or not," Fox says. 

Amazon Cake on Food52

As is, it's not the richest, most chocolatey cake -- if you like, you can amp up the chocolate by swapping in coffee for the water, or adding more cocoa. 

Amazon Cake on Food52

But you don't need to. It's a different animal: light, delicately strung together with cocoa, and not terribly sweet. You could eat a lot of it and still feel civilized, and not compelled to go ball up on the couch.

Amazon Cake on Food52  Amazon Cake on Food52

But how does it work? As we know from 4th grade science projects, baking soda reacts with vinegar -- and the acidity of the cocoa powder too. No need for airy creamed butter or eggs to leaven when you're harnessing a volcano

Amazon Cake on Food52  Amazon Cake on Food52

On top of that, we know oil makes an exceedingly moist cake too, and one that keeps for days without staling. Win, win, win.

Amazon Cake on Food52  Amazon Cake on Food52

Genius Amazon Chocolate Cake from Food52

So make like Fox and frost it with mocha buttercream or turn it into black bottom cupcakes. Dot it with crème fraîche or whipped cream or ganache. Or just serve it as is -- this cake can take it.

Amazon Cake on Food52

Margaret Fox's Amazon Chocolate Cake

Adapted from Cafe Beaujolais by Margaret Fox and John S. Bear (Ten Speed Press, 1984)

Serves 6 to 8

1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold water
5 tablespoons neutral oil (like canola, vegetable, or grapeseed)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon cider or white vinegar
Confectioners' sugar (optional, for dusting)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to Laura Perry for this one!

Jump to Comments (67)

Tags: baking, chocolate, cake, everyday cooking, Margaret Fox, genius, special diets, vegan, parve, pantry

Comments (67)

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7 months ago SusanR

This has become my go to recipe for a quick simple cake. I serve it with a mixture of Mascarpone, Crème Fraiche and a bit of powdered sugar stirred in.

Stringio

about 1 year ago Annerieke Willemze

Don't overbake this cake! I thought it was too wet and gave it another 5 minutes and it turned out dry. Not good at all. The bits and pieces that were still a little wet were so much better!

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about 1 year ago ellen

From the introduction, I thought the cake might have mayonnaise and tomato soup! Was happy to find out it doesn't.

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about 1 year ago etan1

I just baked the cake but the inside is still wet when i stuck a toothpick in. Is this bad?

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about 1 year ago Ellen Francis

This looks so good! I love the way you say, vegan or not, it's delicious! That's how vegan gets a bad name! For another awesome cake, vegan or not, that's surprisingly delightful, take a look at the Amazing No-Bake Watermelon Cake...http://veganamericanprincess...

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about 1 year ago Jill

Yup, been making this since 1971... Goofy Cake recipe from a Homer Alaska family at that time... big in Alaska and other places where perishables are/were an issue! Also made with coffee instead of water. My go-to chocolate cake.

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about 1 year ago Frank Ball

Where is the Spaetezle recipe that Witloof mentions?

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about 1 year ago witloof

It's in the book Morning Food:

http://www.amazon.com/Morning...

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about 1 year ago Melisa Ambers

Could one use dark chocolate instead of the cocoa powder? If so...I have all of this in my pantry!

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about 1 year ago Natan

With slightly different amounts, this is Hershey's "Quick Cocoa Cupcakes" recipe, which I use for everything under the sun. Swap out the cocoa with four and the possibilities are endless (I've done orange, mint chocolate chip, spice cake, almond, yogurt nectarine, apple cinnamon, and even just vanilla). I've also found it works perfectly with quinoa flour for a GF option.

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about 1 year ago Natan

*flour

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about 1 year ago MendoMarg

Hi, this is Margaret. I'm so glad to hear how much you all like this recipe. It is definitely something to have in one's repertoire, so easy to whip up at a moment's notice. For those of you wondering, I'm still in Mendocino, Culinary Director at Harvest Market for the past 9 years. Happy cooking, everyone!

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about 1 year ago witloof

Margaret, hello from a fan. Your spaetzle is my go to recipe for a fabulous company meal.

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about 1 year ago Donna

This is such an old recipe....one version mixes this right in the baking pan. It is a really good chocolate cake though.

Stringio

about 1 year ago gourmetonthegorge

been making this cake since the mid eighties, when I stumbled across the cookbook & loved Margaret's back story.. this is our HOUSE chocolate cake... used for all occasions(makes killer cupcakes too), you can make with gluten free flour and once I even made it w/o the powdered cocoa! all good every time

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about 1 year ago shirlee riddle

I generally only have olive oil on hand. Would this change the flavor.??

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about 1 year ago placidplaid

A friend makes brownies this way. He got the recipe from Christian missionaries who longed for chocolate baked goods but because of a lack of refrigeration came to find that these will do nicely.

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about 1 year ago peaberry

Hmmmmm.Looks oh so familiar! I know! Its King Arthur Flour Original one bowl cake pan cake! Its been around for a century.
Ive subed the water for coffee,or milk, or 3/4 water and 1/4 rum. Anyway you make it, its GREAT! Ive taken it from the oven,sprinkled choclate chips. swarm them around...good cheater icing. :)

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about 1 year ago ustabahippie

I've been making this cake for years out of an older Moosewood Cookbook. It's terrific, chocolaty, and easy to embellish.

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about 1 year ago kim place-gateau

You know, I thought I'd seen a recipe like this somewhere - that must be it! It called for strong coffee, right?

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about 1 year ago Valentina Solfrini

I was actually planning to make this this weekend!

I am wondering: Would this turn out fine in a bundt pan, or would it stick beyond salvation/would not bake in the middle/etc?

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about 1 year ago SJS149

This cake is my go-to! I love that it is vegan, love that it is foolproof (in every sense!), and FYI, I consider the coffee essential. It also makes great cupcakes.

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about 1 year ago cookinginvictoria

So great to read all of the comments here and see how universally beloved this cake is. Somehow I have never made an Amazon cake, but I plan to rectify that soon. So helpful to have a cake/cupcake recipe (particularly for bake sales and other events at my daughter's school) that is dairy and egg free. Just wondering if anyone has experimented with any sugar substitutes when making this cake? There is a child at my daughter's school who cannot eat sugar for medical reasons. Thank you for highlighting this recipe, Kristin!

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about 1 year ago kathilatte

I've been making this cake forever. I use cold coffee and run for the liquid. I have also used coconut milk and rum as well. Usually 3/4 cup liquid plus 1/4 cup rum. It always works! Sometimes I add mini chocolate chips.