Dessert

This One Surprising Step Makes Better, Fudgier Chocolate Cake

Straight from the River Cafe in London.

April  4, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

Working as a recipe developer means transporting a lot—and I mean a lot—of baked goods between my home and the office. They get wrapped up, tossed in a tote bag, and rushed to the subway, where I spend the whole ride squished between a bunch of strangers, hoping that no one smushes my cake.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I stumbled upon a recipe that instructed me to set a stack of plates atop a just-baked cake, then leave it that way for 30 minutes.

But this wasn’t just any recipe. This was the Pressed Chocolate Cake from the River Cafe Cookbook—the same restaurant that brought us the legendary Chocolate Nemesis Cake, which our test kitchen director Josh Cohen called “one of the most memorable desserts I've made in a long time.”

So if the River Cafe tells me to press a chocolate cake, you can bet I’m going to press a chocolate cake. Of course, I was curious why we’re smushing something on purpose—and how this oddball technique came to be.

“It was so long ago,” River Cafe Co-Founder Ruth (“Ruthie”) Rodgers wrote to me. “But I think the inspiration came from having had a pressed chocolate cake in Italy.” The goal, she explained, is all about texture. “Pressing the cake takes away all the air and we like the contrast between the soft inside and crispy outside.”

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Top Comment:
“I tried a recipe that said to add 1 tbs of cornstarch to ensure a chewy texture, but the next day they still were "snappy" ( probably cuz I let it sit on the hot pan to cool too long, my bad) so the next time I baked them, I wanted to pull them out sooner but they havnt reached full spread yet, so I just pressed them with a mug and then quickly removed them to a cold sheet pan to cool slightly and then put them in a container still slightly warm to keep. some of the moisture in. Im going to check these later today and hopefully they will turn out better 🤞🏼”
— Krista P.
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I couldn’t get over its dense, mousse-like texture and ultra-concentrated, bittersweet chocolate flavor. The cookbook recommends serving it with ice cream—and who am I to disagree with something like that?


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What’s the most creative cake technique you’ve ever tried? Tell us in the comments!
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    Emma Laperruque
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Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.

8 Comments

Sue April 7, 2019
At age 11, I tried making my first chocolate cake from scratch. For whatever reason, it deflated quite nicely after baking. I had worked so hard to make the cake perfect and started tearing up over my "failure" just as my dad entered the kitchen. I have never forgotten his comment that if a dropped cake wouldn't dent the floor, it just isn't a good cake. He was definitely on to something.
 
annette April 6, 2019
Bang your cookie sheets on the open oven door, when you turn them around at halfway. Releases air, makes them nice and lightly crisp outside, chewy inside.
 
Krista P. April 5, 2019
I have tried this with chocolate chip cookies as well. I tried a recipe that said to add 1 tbs of cornstarch to ensure a chewy texture, but the next day they still were "snappy" ( probably cuz I let it sit on the hot pan to cool too long, my bad) so the next time I baked them, I wanted to pull them out sooner but they havnt reached full spread yet, so I just pressed them with a mug and then quickly removed them to a cold sheet pan to cool slightly and then put them in a container still slightly warm to keep. some of the moisture in. Im going to check these later today and hopefully they will turn out better 🤞🏼
 
cyanpineapple April 4, 2019
I like to do this with cookies that puff up too much. Squishing them while they're warm with a mug takes some of that air out so they get more chewy rather than dry.
 
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Emma L. April 4, 2019
What!? So cool! I need more details. So the cookies come out of the oven...and you smush them with a mug right away? Is there a certain kind of cookie you do this with most? Chocolate chip? Peanut butter?
 
cyanpineapple April 4, 2019
I first "discovered" it when I was making regular batches of lactation cookies (generally an oatmeal cookie with a bunch of extra stuff for boosting milk production) right after having my baby. The recipe I was using was delicious, but they'd puff up a lot, and by the next day they were too dry and crumbly to be really appealing. So I tried smooshing them. It pushed out some of the air and I assume steamed up the insides a bit so they stayed crispy outside and gooey inside. Now I do it with any cookie recipe that comes out a little too puffy. I've had a lot of success with snickerdoodles especially, because they frequently over-rise. And of course, the OG, oatmeal.
 
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Emma L. April 4, 2019
Such a great tip—I can't wait to try it. Thanks for sharing!
 
Smaug April 5, 2019
I usually omit baking soda from chocolate chip cookies because I don't much like them puffy; never (intentionally) tried squashing them. The result on the chocolate cake sounds similar to the cloud cake/torte soufflé that had a lot of discussion here.