Genius Recipes

This Chocolate Cake Makes Its Own Hot Fudge Sauce

A simple, joyful Valentine’s treat from Benjamina Ebuehi’s 'The New Way to Cake.'

February 10, 2021

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Founding Editor and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


I’m not looking for a dessert with sprinkles or sparkles or a well-meaning greeting piped on top. Not right now.

No, I want chocolate cake, I want it rippled with hot fudge and melting vanilla ice cream, free-brownie-sundae-on-my-birthday-style, and I want it, preferably, in about 20 minutes.

This exists! You might already know the genre—the place where the British and American expressions of the word “pudding” meet. In British parlance, these desserts are known invitingly as self-saucing puddings and, in the United States, as pudding cakes or under a slew of other names: Chocolate Upside Down Cake, Brownie Pudding Cake, Kansas City Chocolate Dream, and on this very site Magical Molten Chocolate Cake (1).

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Top Comment:
“PS...Cannot wait to make this cake!!!!!!!”
— Heather G.
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But this one, created by Benjamina Ebuehi—author of The New Way to Cake and star of The Great British Bake-Off—will deepen your resolve and change what you look for: textural intrigue and richer flavors, not all of them sweet.

Happy Valentine's to me (and you). Photo by ROCKY LUTEN. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG. PROP STYLIST: AMANDA WIDIS.

The zany process goes something like this: Stir together a perfectly respectable cake batter and smooth it neatly into your pan. Now pour…a lot of just-boiled water on top (along with good-tasting influences like brown sugar, cocoa powder, and instant espresso). (2) Send the sloshy mess into the oven and hope for the best.

Fear not: As the sunken batter starts to bake through, it grows lighter and more cake-like, rising up out of the murk. The sloshy pond sinks below, pooling into a hot, sticky sauce and—much like in flan imposible—leaving the cake incomparably fudgy and rich in its wake.

As promised, it went ahead and made its own sauce, while you put away the dishes and double-checked your ice cream supply.

Like all of Benjamina’s recipes in The New Way to Cake, this one is unfussy and welcoming, with deft attention to flavors and textures. Here, she upends the pudding cake’s typical one-note sweetness and folds in dark chocolate and chopped halva—the Middle Eastern sesame candy with a nutty flavor and crumbly, crystalline bite. Benjamina also encourages doubling down on the sesame by swirling in tahini. Then she adds enough espresso not just to make the chocolate taste more chocolatey, but to add its own personality, complex and smoky.

Self-saucery notwithstanding, it’s this mingling of hot chocolate, sesame, and coffee that I find most unforgettable of all.

(1) Have you heard of other names for this pudding-meets-cake magic, too? Let us know in the comments!

(2) You might remember another sloshy surprise step in this Peach Cobbler With Hot Sugar Crust from Renee Erickson, in which she sprinkles sugar onto the batter before pouring over half a cup of hot water, leaving a sweet, glassy top. I haven’t tried mashing these techniques up yet, but I owe a brownie sundae to the first person who does.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

38 Comments

Emily T. February 18, 2021
I’m thinking of making this using espresso, rather than hot water and espresso powder. Also, doing it with Gluten free substitutes. Do you think it will still work? Thanks for sharing—came here from my GBBO follows :)
 
Bonniesue February 15, 2021
If there is anything good that’s come out of this pandemic and the lockdown, it’s the joy of getting to see how recipes are made in a real, not test kitchen, with real things going on. I love,love that you ate some of the ingredients intended for the cake, and used a different size pan, and it still came out great! Of course for me, your little recipe tester steals the show every time.
 
James H. February 14, 2021
This is an obsolete brilliant dessert. I definitely overcooked by a minute or two, but the recipe is so forgiving, if cooked perfectly the cake had a soufflé feel to it, but 2 minutes to late, and you have the best moist dense brownie with sesame. The corners have a nice crisp texture that’s begging for some cream of sone sort, like a homemade whipped yogurt with vanilla
 
PattiB February 13, 2021
I halved this and baked in 8X8 pan for 22 minutes. Seems cooked thru and good texture but no sauce! What did I do wrong? Should I have made full sauce?
That would be a lot more sugar...
 
Mark February 11, 2021
For a Canadian pudding chômeur with apples (no chocolate), Here’s a link for Ricardo’s Apple Pudding Cake:

https://www.ricardocuisine.com/en/recipes/8587-apple-pudding-cake
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 12, 2021
Love hearing about all these different flavors—never would have thought of apple. Thanks so much, Mark.
 
Bette M. February 11, 2021
I love Genius recipes! But this one, a clear take off on the old Betty Crocker recipe, doesn’t qualify. At the very least, where is the attribution? One of the things we so love about Ina Garten is that she always notes her inspiration for the recipe or mentions another restaurant, cookbook or chef.

This recipe doesn’t qualify as Genius. Particularly since Benjamina Ebueli doesn’t mention the source of this recipe! And that is bad enough, but Food52 and Kristin Miglore didn’t mention that it’s a riff on an old Betty Crocker recipe, either!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 12, 2021
Hi Bette, thanks for your note, and for pointing that out about Ina—I love that she does that, too. I always look into the origins of a technique and try to credit the paths that recipes have taken, as does Benjamina in her book. But what I've discovered is that, especially when a technique is as widespread and beloved as this, I can't definitively say who invented it. So I try to share the variations and story that I've found so far, as well as what's different and great about this particular version. And I think the best part about sharing updated classics like this is we all get to learn how far they've already travelled—like the variations from all over the world in this comment thread, as well as on the recipe page and YouTube.
 
luvcookbooks February 11, 2021
In our family, we called it Olga, after the family friend who gave us the recipe. So simple and so good. Recipe on this site.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 12, 2021
In my family, we had "Astle Potatoes" for the same reason :)
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 12, 2021
And Pribble cake! https://food52.com/recipes/76907-susan-miglore-s-fudgy-cream-cheese-chocolate-cake
 
Sara February 10, 2021
Do you think this cake would be ok if made in advance a day or two?
 
Beverly B. February 10, 2021
Definitely
 
Sara February 10, 2021
Is there any substitute for halvah? I’ve been to a number of stores and have not been successful in finding it :(
 
Kris B. February 11, 2021
Just checked and you can get it Amazon.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 12, 2021
A few options: You can skip it and use the optional tahini swirl—the sesame flavor will be there, but less texture. You can order online, including this small-batch brand from the Food52 Shop: https://food52.com/shop/products/6539-artisanal-halvah-4-pack Or you could make your own! https://food52.com/recipes/82656-peanut-butter-chocolate-halvah-recipe
 
Catherine A. February 10, 2021
When I was a kid in the 60s either Pillsbury or Betty Crocker made both chocolate and lemon pudding cake mix in a box. I loved it then, and learned to make it when my kids were growing up. Still one of my favorite desserts!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 12, 2021
My mom was telling me about those, too!
 
Heather G. February 10, 2021

Can I just tell you that I have been a food 52 fan for years and love you, Kristen! ... but my goodness, today's post was just the best! You are honest, earnest, smart, and even forgetful! Thank you for the reality of these posts! And as much as I love the old ("perfect?") videos in the Food 52 kitchen...this is the real deal! Way to go... I love this blog! I love your food! I love your videographer! I love your daughter!!! Years ago, the search for a delicious "Pork Ragu" recipe brought me to food 52 through Jenny Rosenstrach's recipe...and yes...it is so the best. You continue to inspire me, delight me, challenge me, and support my desire to feed my family with joy.
Thank you!!!!...PS...Cannot wait to make this cake!!!!!!!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 12, 2021
Heather, thank you so much for this heart-warming note! I'm so happy the recipes I'm sharing are resonating with you, oopses and all.
 
Beverly B. February 10, 2021
Check out an old edition of Fannie Farmer’s Junior cookbook. It was called “denver chocolate pudding”! I ‘be been making it for 60 years!
 
Elly H. February 11, 2021
Me, too
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 12, 2021
Thank you!
 
Brenda S. February 10, 2021
Hershey's Chocolate Pudding Cake https://www.hersheys.com/kitchens/en_us/recipes/hot-fudge-pudding-cake.html
must have made this a thousand times growing up....
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 12, 2021
Thank you!
 
Nina L. February 10, 2021
where is the recipe for it...I only see the one with Halwa in it????
 
Allison W. February 10, 2021
I thought I was crazy or careless or maybe the halvah one is the one that is meant. Anyway I’m with you!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 12, 2021
Yes, that's the Genius Recipe for this week, Benjamina Ebuehi's version with chocolate, espresso, and halva, although a few other variations are linked in the article above and commenters have shared even more in this comment thread and on the recipe page!
 
Sarah February 10, 2021
This cake cooked in boiling water is very reminiscent of PUDDING CHÔMEUR, a French Canadian desert flavoured with maple syrup, obvs 😊
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 12, 2021
I'd never thought about the connection—thank you!
 
Elly H. February 10, 2021
Reminds me of the Denver Pudding Cake my mother used to make with sweetened diluted coffee poured on top to form the bottom sauce.
 
Johanna H. February 10, 2021
Yes. We didn’t have a name for it. But we used STRONG coffee to pour over! Like a giant brownie with fudge sauce in the middle. Baked in a pie plate!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 12, 2021
Thank you!
 
khawrysh February 10, 2021
Self saucing cakesmay be a bit of an old fashion cake. Lemon (citrus) ones are really good.
 
Mimi B. February 10, 2021
My mother used to make a lemon one that we all loved. I think sometimes it is called lemon surprise pudding...as the sauce is the surprise in the bottom ; )) It didn't involve pouring a liquid over a cake batter though, it was just a very liquid batter that somehow separated during cooking.
 
susan February 10, 2021
Can you recommend a recipe? Sounds delicious!
 
CathyCB February 11, 2021
Ruth Reicht has a good one in My Kitchen Year.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 12, 2021
Thanks all for sharing!