Nigella Lawson's Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake

May  7, 2021
32 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Makes 8-10 slices
Author Notes

On creating this cake, Nigella Lawson explains, "I remember very strongly wanting to create what we call a loaf cake—and what is generally called a pound cake Stateside—that had a richness and squidginess of texture that this form of cake normally doesn't major in." And she did. Recipe adapted very slightly from How to Be A Domestic Goddess (Hyperion, 2005) —Genius Recipes

Test Kitchen Notes

This recipe fills a niche author Nigella Lawson found was missing in the world of chocolate cakes: a loaf cake with all the density and intensity of rich chocolate cake. Not a chocolate pound cake per se; more fudgy, moist, and “squidgy” as Lawson calls it. Loaf cakes in the U.S. generally take the form of pound cake or quick bread (like the banana and zucchini bread).

This cake gets its signature “squidge” from a few clever techniques. Typically, cakes start by creaming fat and sugar and whipping air into them, ultimately creating a lighter cake with evenly distributed air bubbles. By limiting the amount of time the ingredients are mixed, Lawson creates a denser cake than most. Additionally, by utilizing melted chocolate rather than cocoa powder, you’re left with a batter more akin to brownies than a typically layer cake.

Reviewer Jenn C. says. “This is the moistest, most flavorful chocolate cake I have never made. It’s like one of the chocolate cakes at chain restaurants that are super moist but ruined by layers of frosting. This will be on rotation at our house.” Another tip from reviewers: swap the boiling water with the same amount of hot coffee for a more intense cake that recalls Ina Garten’s infamous Beatty’s Chocolate Cake recipe. Note: as written, the recipe yields enough for a very full loaf pan, and likely a bit of overflow. Lawson suggests baking off a mini loaf or filling a few cups of a muffin tin with the excess. Whatever you do, don’t try to force all that batter into the tin; leave at least an inch of space at the top and place a baking sheet on the lower rack of your oven while it bakes (a great practice for juicy fruit pies, too!) An overfilled cake will ruin the cake (and your day), as you’ll have to spend it cleaning burnt batter off the bottom of your oven. —The Editors

What You'll Need
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Nigella Lawson's Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake
  • 1 cup soft unsalted butter
  • 1 2/3 cups dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces best bittersweet chocolate, melted
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
  1. Heat the oven to 375°F, put in a baking sheet in case of sticky drips later, and grease and line a 9x5-inch loaf pan. The lining is important as this is a very damp cake: use parchment or one of those loaf-pan-shaped paper liners. This recipe is likely to leave you with a bit of excess batter, so if you'd like to bake it off, have an additional mini loaf pan or muffin tin ready as well.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar, either with a wooden spoon or with an electric hand-held mixer, then add the eggs and vanilla, beating in well. Next, fold in the melted and now slightly cooled chocolate, taking care to blend well but being careful not to overbeat. You want the ingredients combined: You don't want a light, airy mass.
  3. Then gently add the flour, to which you've added the baking soda, alternately spoon by spoon, with the boiling water until you have a smooth and fairly liquid batter. Pour into the lined loaf pan. (Note: Don't let this batter come closer than 1 inch from the rim of the cake pan or it risks overflowing. Pour any excess into a greased mini loaf pan or muffin pan and start testing for doneness at 20 minutes.)
  4. Bake the cake for 30 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325° F and continue to cook for another 15 minutes. The cake will still be a bit squidgy inside, so an inserted cake tester or skewer won't come out completely clean.
  5. Place the loaf pan on a rack, and leave to get completely cold before turning it out. (I often leave it for a day or so: like gingerbread, it improves.) Don't worry if it sinks in the middle: indeed, it will do so because it's such a dense and damp cake.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • nannydeb
  • Erica Heinrich
    Erica Heinrich
  • drbabs
  • Kristen Miglore
    Kristen Miglore
  • Amy Krigman
    Amy Krigman
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

124 Reviews

jcolemanx5 May 14, 2023
WOW. This cake is really incredible. Adding the water seemed odd, but it helped create the smoothest texture. I added a little bit of instant expresso powder to the water and a pinch of salt to the batter. When it came out of the oven, I used a little flaky sea salt on top and it was incredible. I don't know that my hacks made it any better, as this was my first time making it, but regardless, the batter is delicious.
MiMi4ez April 2, 2023
I will try this! Thanks!
poop March 24, 2023
This was VILE. It barely had any chocolate flavor and was so oily and disgusting. I literally ran to the bathroom and spit it into the toilet, and after that dumped the whole thing into the garbage. Very disappointing!
CTPChef June 24, 2023
I think you meant to say:

“I cannot bake, and I am mentally unable to follow a recipe. McDonalds keeps me alive. “
poop June 25, 2023
I’m not sure if you think that’s funny or just rude, but either way it’s sad. I hope kindness finds a way into your heart.
sassy12 March 18, 2023
I used a cup of coffee instead of water and extra vanilla instead of the last 2 tbs of water, and an extra 1.5 ounce of chocolate. I used a 9x9 pan (didn’t make sense to use a loaf pan and then a mini). Baked for 20 at first temp and 12 at second temp.

I got a super moist cake but it’s not the chocolate decadence I was hoping for. It is also extremely sweet-but it’s cake!

I’d make it again, but absolutely use dark chocolate and more of it. Maybe cocoa in addition to the melted chocolate.
Deb March 16, 2023
Followed the recipe for the 2nd time! We didn't get enough last time so I doubled rhe recipe and it turned out perfect again. Both loaves fell in the middle too. Now I'm going to put ganache on again. Kicked up the chocolate since this cake doesn't have a ton of chocolate in it.
cakebrowniecookie February 23, 2023
I get a bit annoyed at recipes that have such high ratings, that end up having the exact problems that the reviewers note. (Which I didn't read until after I wasted two eggs and some expensive chocolate.) I made this exactly as the recipe asked, and am a good cook, and the final product is too sweet and not chocolate-y enough. Exactly as many have pointed out. Yes, because of the amount of butter, it's a moist cake. And it's pleasant enough if you're not expecting a "dense chocolate cake." But I have numerous recipes for dense cakes and brownies, and this doesn't even come close. It's a moist, buttery cake that's slightly too sweet and has only a hint of chocolate in it. That's not what it's billed as. If you're someone who knows baking, and particularly someone who knows chocolate, you'll be disappointed.
Mrsstrong February 23, 2023
Very experienced baker, followed the recipe exactly using 1C coffee. I am at 5280 ft elevation. I don’t always have to make adjustments in baking especially in batter that is a little more liquid. This cake really fell in the middle. I checked it at the 30 minute mark to lower the temperature for the remaining 15 min and my cake was already cooked. Any suggestions on what went wrong?
drbabs February 23, 2023
Probably nothing. The cake slumps in the middle. Part of its charm.
Foodheureux May 29, 2022
This is an excellent recipe. I would add more chocolate. You don’t need so much butter.
Liz February 19, 2022
sooo...who here really has the ability to leave this cake sitting out for a day lol!
Jjacobod September 14, 2021
Loved this recipe! Made a few changes based on reviews and personal taste: cut sugar down to 1.5 cups, added 1 tsp kosher salt to flour, added 1 tsp instant coffee to boiling water, and used 70% bittersweet chocolate. Kids and hubby ate it up!
Chajaja September 2, 2021
I’ve just made this. followed it to the T. Converted F to C. 190° for 30 minutes and then 165° for 15. The top has been burnt like a coal!!
SandraMostacci May 22, 2021
This is overly sweet and not very tasty. Definitely needs some tweaking. Maybe sub in some cocoa powder for the flour.
Noelle May 22, 2021
I make this cake often. I agree the recipe as is is too sweet so I sun unsweetened chocolate for semi-sweet and reduce the sugar to 2/3ds. Comes out great
Christine May 22, 2021
Has anyone tried halving this recipe?
Jenn C. March 24, 2021
This is the moistest, most flavorful chocolate cake I have never made. It’s like one of the chocolate cakes at chain restaurants that are super moist but ruined by layers of frosting. This will be on rotation at our house.
lndanielle2 March 8, 2021
Tried this as a loaf before and loved it. Easy and perfect texture. Has anyone tried making this in an 8-9" round cake pan? Curious how it came out. Thanks!
Lukshen May 2, 2021
Anyway that you bake this cake, it comes out delicious.
Of course, be careful with your timing. Sometimes I bake the cake a little longer so that I can use it as a layer cake.
Total fam favorite.
Mary H. January 6, 2021
Why does the "Cook Time" read "20minutes" when the directions
#4. say otherwise?
Kristen M. January 11, 2021
Thank you for catching this, Mary—I've updated the cook time.
Carina G. December 10, 2020
Followed this recipe to a T (except for using a larger loaf pan) and found the end product incredibly indulgent and delicious - however I might add another ounce or 2 of chocolate next time to make it even more indulgent.

I will be making this again
Carina G. December 10, 2020
Followed this recipe to a T (except for using a larger loaf pan) and found the end product incredibly indulgent and delicious - however I might add another ounce or 2 of chocolate next time to make it even more indulgent.

I will be making this again
nannydeb May 20, 2020
I've made this cake many times because my husband requests it often. Not much to look at since mine sinks in the middle every time, but we don't care! We now call it the "squidgy cake".
Amy K. November 25, 2020
Squidgy cake sounds great to me!!
Erica H. May 20, 2020
Followed exactly, it was amazing! And I’m cooking in high altitude. My 6 year old has requested it for his kindergarten celebration dinner, a month later... thank you for the recipe Nigella.