Make Ahead

Margaret Fox's Amazon Chocolate Cake

May  7, 2021
31 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Serves 6 to 8
Author Notes

Meet 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.) This isn't 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. But you don't need to. It's a different animal: light, delicately strung together with cocoa, and not terribly sweet. Adapted slightly from Cafe Beaujolais (Ten Speed Press, 1984). —Genius Recipes

What You'll Need
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons neutral oil (like corn, canola, or vegetable)
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon cider or white vinegar
  • Confectioners' sugar (optional, for dusting)
  1. Heat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Mix together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar, and salt. Sift. In a separate bowl, whisk together the water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar.
  3. Whisk together the wet and dry mixtures. If lumpy, whisk until smooth, or pour through strainer in to a bowl and break up lumps, pressing them through.
  4. Mix again, and pour into a greased 9-inch round cake pan. Tap the edge of the pan against the edge of the counter, or drop from 6 inches to the floor several times to pop air bubbles. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed gently.
  5. Cool before removing from the pan and dusting with confectioners' sugar, or frosting if desired.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Lunadalutti
  • Marcia Lopes
    Marcia Lopes
  • Melanie
  • Windischgirl
  • K.V.
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

207 Reviews

judy October 27, 2023
I have been making this cake for about a year now. (I make a vanilla based version as well). I am allergic to baking powder. The combination of soda and vinegar is the levener. Nice, ALWAYS moist, so no need for a soaker. I have made so many variations on this changing up the liquids, adding cherries and coconut, or nuts or various extracts. It is versatile and forgiving. Also, keeps well --sort of, as we eat it pretty quick. But I make it for my son, and often have to wait a day or two to get it to him. Still moist without getting soggy. works every time, as far as I have experienced.
Lunadalutti August 30, 2022
Like many others reviewers, I have baked this cake to different crowds with great results! Kids, friends and family, Vegan or not, all were pleased and asked for the recipe.
My tips for those who have not achieved great results YET: -- besides the factors mentioned below (old baking soda, cold oven, over mixing or taking too long to bake after combining wet ingredients) I would add the following:
- do not over heat the oven, err on the side of low temperatures
- do not over bake either, you want a moist cake
- mind the quality of your cocoa, as it is the prime star of the show, switch brands and see which pleases you the most
- avoid artificial vanilla flavouring, if you do not have the real thing handy go without
- this is not meant to be a tall cake, if your baking pan is not very wide pour some of the batter into a separate pan, great to use muffin pans for snack sized ones.
Decorate with strawberries and whipped cream and it's birthday worthy!
Marcia L. June 27, 2022
I love this recipe. It is a vegan chocolate cake very easy to make. It doesn't need a stand mixer and takes few minutes to get ready. And is delicious.
Melanie December 19, 2021
I love the ease and adaptability of this recipe. I'm short for time today and wanted to bring a homemade dessert to a holiday gathering. This cake, topped with leftover ganache in the fridge and crushed peppermint candies fit the bill. Looks good and tastes even better! Have made this multiple times. Great just on it's own with coffee.
Windischgirl September 26, 2021
This was one of the first cakes I made as a child, and I love recipes like this because they’re so adaptable. I made a riff on this for a family friend who follows a vegan diet; subbing out a GF flour blend makes it ideal for those avoiding wheat and dairy.

I’ve also made a version eliminating the cocoa (subbing in AP flour or WW flour), adding apple pie spices, and stirring in chunks of too-ripe pear or leftover apple, which transform in the oven to luscious flavors. Can use juice in place of the water. It makes a quick breakfast cake!
Kate V. January 4, 2022
I will absolutely be trying the apple spice/fruit version. Thanks!
Realneonlady June 29, 2021
A few tips for those who have struggled with this recipe:

Preparation is everything. Have your oven preheated, and your pans greased and lined with parchment paper before mixing. This cake relies on the chemical reaction between the vinegar and soda, unlike egg-containing cakes which get some of their resilience from the eggs. From the time you mix your dry and wet ingredients, your leavening timer starts. If you take too long from the time you combine your dry and wet ingredients, you’ll have a lackluster cake. Also, be sure to avoid over mixing, as that will take air out and toughen up your flour. Finally, make sure your soda is fresh. Old soda won’t respond as well. Pretty sure those who had this recipe fail, suffered from one of these problems. My 9-year-old and I have made this recipe repeatedly to rave reviews.
Lunadalutti August 30, 2022
Great tips! I would add the following:
- do not over heat the oven, err on the side of low temperatures
- do not over bake either, you want a moist cake
- mind the quality of your cocoa, as it is the prime star of the show, switch brands and see which pleases you the most
- avoid artificial vanilla flavouring, if you do not have the real thing handy go without
- this is not meant to be a tall cake, if your baking pan is not very wide pour some of the batter into a separate pan, great to use muffin pans for snack sized ones.
K.V. June 8, 2021
Update to my last review: I made this again last night and this time with Bob's Red Mill 1:1 gluten free flour. Still as good as ever, though a bit chewier than with regular flour. It reminded me of mochi, which isn't a bad thing at all.
Charity P. October 12, 2020
I am surprised and impressed! This cake is SO EASY! It was ready before the oven preheated! I doubted this recipe... I thought there's no way it can be good... too simple. BUT it tastes great! It has a fudgy, moist, crumbly texture (no eggs). I served it to my anti-vegan father and he had no idea! He really like it, but suggested it would be better with frosting. I agree. I used coffee instead of water as suggested and it gave a super rich chocolatey flavor. Next time, I will cover it in a rich chocolate ganache. Thank you!
rosecedar August 28, 2020
How wonderful to see a Margaret Fox recipe! I too have been making this one for over 30 years, after finding it in Fox's cookbook Cafe Beaujolais (which I purchased at that wonderful restaurant in the last 80's). The cake is fabulous on its own and goes over the top with chocolate frosting. Another of my go-to cakes is Clay's Almond Cake, from Margaret Fox's other cookbook - Morning Food. It's dense, moist, almond-sweet, like a giant macaroon. Both of these cakes have given me (and many guests) so much pleasure over the past 30 years. Thank you Margaret Fox!
MendoMarg April 23, 2023
I'm thrilled you enjoy two of my favorite recipes! You are so welcome!
karen D. August 27, 2020
I've been making this for over 30 years. Sub coffee for the water. Everyone's favorite! With or without frosting.
K.V. May 22, 2020
This is perhaps the only cake I've made repeatedly. And regardless of the crowd, it pleases everyone. Once people have taken a bite, I tell them it's vegan! (To prevent any bias among die-hard non-vegans.) Thank you a million times over, Margaret Fox.
MendoMarg April 23, 2023
You're welcome! I love this recipe too, and am so glad it's become part of your repertoire.
Sarah O. May 21, 2020
My go-to chocolate cake - so delicious, every time! I use coffee instead of the water and it really does bring out the chocolate flavor.
catalinalacruz January 23, 2020
Has anyone made this with Dutch cocoa?
catalinalacruz January 23, 2020
Receiving no reply, and ready to make this, I used Dutch cocoa with great results. A tender, chocolaty cake with nice rise. I also followed Kate V.'s recommendation to dust the cake pan with dried, unsweetened coconut, and added 1/2 cup of dried coconut to the batter. Also reduced the sugar to 2/3 cup and used coffee instead of water. Guests asked for the recipe.
Kate V. March 17, 2020
Hooray! Glad you liked it!
Kate V. September 11, 2019
Having made this cake 20+ times, I thought I’d share one of my favourite go-to adaptations: chocolate and coconut.
I spray a bundt pan with baking spray, then coat the pan with desiccated coconut; this comes out as a nicely toasted outer layer to the cake. I also throw about 1/2 cup desiccated coconut into the chocolate batter, along with a teaspoon of coconut flavoured oil (the kind of oil you’d used to flavour icing or candy). I use six tablespoons of vegetable oil instead of the original five. Bake for 25-30 minutes and let the cake cool before turning it out of the pan.
catalinalacruz May 21, 2020
I always use melted coconut oil in any cake recipe that calls for oil. It seems to make a more tender cake.
judy April 6, 2021
I also throw in some dried cherries. so good. Since I am not vegan, I add 1 egg and reduce oil to 4 tbsp. One I used butter, and it was just as good.
Vicky S. September 5, 2019
Unfortunately im done with this website and its bad recipes
Hannah July 10, 2019
I find this cake genius, I have made it at least 10 times now! It is my go-to bake sale cake these days since it is so easy, cheap and quick to throw together late at night, and because it suits vegans too. I have served it plain, with confectioners sugar and with a frosting - all options have been very well received! I am baking one again right now, this time I added some organic instant coffee to the dry ingredients and used coffee instead of water - the dough was delicious so I hope it works! Thank you for the tips!
amirah June 11, 2019
One cup of sugar was too sweet for me -- just goes to show that everybody has different tastes. I will continue to make this, just with less sugar, as the recipe is so simple and unfussy.
Stacy January 1, 2019
Truly awful. Shakes my confidence in Food 52's test kitchen and Genius rating system.
Kristen M. January 2, 2019
Hi Stacy, I'm sorry to hear it—can you describe what was awful about it? As you can see below, many other commenters have been happy with their results, and it's a pretty common style of Depression-era cake (sometimes called wacky or crazy cakes). I hope your confidence will give us another chance!
suzanne January 5, 2019
I have to agree with Kristen - I am about to make this cake for probably the 20th time. I always use coffee instead of water, which may help, and it's important to get the oil and vinegar frothy. I use grapeseed oil. Old oil could also make it tase bad. I hope you will give it another try, Stacy, as it really is delicious.
K.V. December 25, 2018
Delicious. The only cake I've made multiple times. Consistent crowd pleaser! Love that it's not too sweet.
Grace M. November 15, 2018
My cake turned out exactly like the one in the picture. So impressed. I think next time I'll add some more chocolate or another flavor element. Texture was perfecto.