Susan Miglore's Fudgy Cream Cheese Chocolate Cake

May  8, 2018
15 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Serves 8 or more
Author Notes

This birthday cake (and barbecue and potluck and dinner party cake) goes back three generations in my family—for the full story, head here. For the chocolate frosting, here are three I recommend: This one, adapted from Hershey’s Perfect Chocolate Cake, is excellent and the closest facsimile to canned frosting. This one from Food52er EmilyC is similar, but whips in cream cheese, for a richer, well-balanced milk chocolatey experience. Or if you really don’t want to take out the mixer bowl again, you can go with a ganache like this, though the deep chocolate flavor is almost too much for a homey cake like this. Recipe adapted from the Fudge Ribbon Cake and Pribble Cake on —Genius Recipes

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Susan Miglore's Fudgy Cream Cheese Chocolate Cake
  • For the chocolate cake:
  • 1 1/2 cups (300g) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (60g) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (113g) butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (125g) milk
  • 2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 cup (235g) boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso, optional for a deeper chocolate flavor (or substitute coffee for the water above)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • For the cream cheese ribbon & frosting:
  • 6 tablespoons (85g) butter, softened
  • 12 ounces (340g) cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup (150g) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (27g) cornstarch
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup (80g) milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • Chocolate frosting of your choice (see note above for recommended recipes)
  1. Heat oven to 350° F. Butter the bottom but not the sides of a 9x13-inch cake pan.
  2. To make the chocolate cake batter: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend the sugar, cocoa, baking soda, butter, and eggs until smooth and well-combined. 

  3. On low speed, blend the milk into the sugar mixture, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then beat on high till smooth.
  4. With the mixer on low, slowly add in the flour and salt until just combined. Blend in the boiling water, espresso powder (if using), and vanilla until well-combined, scraping down the sides and bottom to make sure it’s well-mixed. The batter will be runny.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Wash and dry the bowl and paddle (or pull out a second stand mixer bowl—they’re handy!).
  6. To make the cream cheese ribbon batter: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, cream cheese, sugar, and cornstarch until light and fluffy (start on low speed then increase to medium-high once the cornstarch is all moistened).
  7. Add the eggs, milk, and vanilla and beat till smooth, scraping the sides and bottom as needed. This batter will be runny, too.
  8. Using a large spoon, gently spoon the cream cheese mixture over the chocolate cake mixture and spread it to the edges. Swirl the two batters together gently (Here’s how my mom does it: Working down the 13-inch length of the cake pan, drag a table knife through the batter from edge to edge in a zigzag pattern, with zigzags spaced about 2 inches apart at the widest part.) You may not see any trace of mixing on the surface but that's okay—it will have secretly swirled underneath.
  9. Bake at 350° F until a toothpick poked in a few places comes out clean or with just crumbs clinging—start checking at 30 minutes, but it may take up to an hour to bake. It will poof in the oven, then settle as it cools. The layers swirl a little differently every time and it might look a little lumpy on top, but that’s what the frosting is for.
  10. While the cake is cooling, make the frosting of your choice (see the note above for recommended recipes).
  11. Once the cake has fully cooled, frost generously in swoops. Serve squares directly from the pan with glasses of cold milk.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Taylor Stanton
    Taylor Stanton
  • Little Piggy
    Little Piggy
  • Greg
  • Rebecca Bristor
    Rebecca Bristor
  • Kristen Miglore
    Kristen Miglore
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

38 Reviews

Taylor S. April 6, 2023
I made this for a work birthday party and it was a huge hit! Fantastic cake - the chocolate cake is a moist, old-fashioned boiling water cake and the cream cheese filling is light, custardy, yet still reminiscent of cheesecake. I followed the recipe and it came out perfectly. For the fudgy frosting, I used the first recipe linked in the caption and it was rich yet fluffy; a great complement.
Stacia April 11, 2020
I made this in an 8x8x2 pan and cut the recipe in half. The only thing I didn't half was in the cheesecake ribbon: I used 8oz of cream cheese instead of half of the full recipe's 12oz. And I used two eggs instead of one and a half (the full recipe is three). I wound up baking it for about 29 minutes, and started checking at 20 minutes. I made the frosting from the link to the recipe based on the Hershey recipe. The cake was delicious - we put it in the refrigerator and it was even better the next day.
Gnosis July 30, 2019
Ya'll think I can make this using a circular tin and wax paper? I want to take it out and frost it
Mary L. August 1, 2019
No I don't think that would work. Cake much too dry and heavy.
Little P. July 18, 2018
I was really excited to finally make this cake, but unfortunately, am pretty disappointed with the results. With no frosting, the cake was very bland. The chocolate part was dry and not very chocolaty, and the cream cheese didn't even taste like cream cheese. I used Pernigotti brand cocoa powder, highly recommended by Ina Garten. I made the first frosting she recommended in the recipe, and it does taste very much like store brought frosting which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But with the addition of the frosting, you just can't taste anything else but that. I won't be making this cake again. Bummer.
Kim June 4, 2018
Made this gluten free using Cup 4 Cup and it turned out moist and delicious. The cream cheese did not marble a lot but still flavor was good. Made chocolate buttercream icing and it was perfect.
Mary L. June 4, 2018
I made this cake for a women's sewing group this past Friday. I too found the chocolate layer to be dry and had thought the cream cheese would marble into chocolate more but it stayed as a separate layer. I had to bake it for an hour before toothpick came out without being wet. When I make it again I will drop large dollops of cream cheese mixture randomly then swirl and hopefully it will marble more. I also found this to be an extremely heavy cake due to the cream cheese layer but still very good. I made a chocolate buttercream frosting for it. Why use premade frosting on a scratch cake?
Lori May 20, 2018
This was absolutely delicious. Made it yesterday and followed the recipe exactly weighing all the ingredients rather than measuring. I am finding that with baking I obtain better and more consistent results from weighing. The cheesecake batter wasn't nearly as runny as the video but baked up nicely. I brewed a shot of espresso as part of the liquid, and I also end up adding about an extra 15 minutes to the time checking every 5 or so. (Could be that I used a heavy aluminum pan rather than a dark one?) Both layers were moist. I used the Hershey Frosting recipe using 50/50 dark and regular cocoa powder. Definitely a keeper.
Greg May 14, 2018
Just watched the video and if you look closely at the texture of cut piece of chocolate cake - you will see baking perfection. Awesome work, thank you for taking the time to make and post the video - Greg
Susan May 13, 2018
I made this cake for a dinner party and the chocolate layer turned out a bit dry. The cheesecake layer was fine. I baked it for 35 minutes. What did I do wrong?
Kim May 12, 2018
Going to make this this weekend for my daughter-in-law's birthday and will be using gluten free flour. Is there anything I should change? Do you have a gluten-free flour you recommend? Thanks!
Kristen M. May 12, 2018
I've heard only great things about Cup4Cup gluten-free flour blend. If you can't find that, you could try searching on or asking our hotline—I imagine the Food52 members have discussed this a few times. Good luck!
Lexi R. May 12, 2018
I'm trying this recipe tonight for a potluck tomorrow. Does the cake need to be refrigerated? TIA!
Kristen M. May 12, 2018
No need!
Roberta May 11, 2018
Seems my question was cut short. I was wondering if after you’ve done the zigzag with a butter knife, should you be able to see much of the chocolate on top, or is it still all white? My cake is baking as I type. I did the zigzag thing with a butter knife but as it was still all cream cheese layer on top I gave it another swirl so some of the chocolate layer was visible. Have I taken it too far or will it be ok?
Kristen M. May 11, 2018
Good question—I often won't see any trace of movement on the surface but it will have secretly swirled underneath. I'll clarify this in the recipe. How did it turn out for you?
Roberta May 11, 2018
Thank you for answering so promptly! The cake is certainly delicious, thank you for sharing! I didn’t get to frost it as my family couldn’t wait to eat it! Instead I gave it a dusting of icing/powdered sugar. Yes I’ll definitely add this to my list of ‘cakes I often bake’! It’s a nice change to the usual chocolate slab/sheet cake I often bake. Having 4 teenagers in the house I need to bake big cakes so that everyone at least gets a 2nd, if not 3rd slice! Your recipe is great too in that it’s robust enough to add to a school lunchbox. Mind you it won’t last past Saturday so it looks like I’ll be making it again on Sunday! Thank you again for sharing! Cheers from one happy & busy Aussie mum!
Kristen M. May 11, 2018
Roberta, 4 teenagers! You are a busy mum! So glad the cake was a keeper.
PJ May 10, 2018
Hi! I’m so excited to make this gorgeous cake this weekend for my Mum for Mother’s Day (I’m not sure where you’re from, but I’m Australian).
I was just wondering what kind of sugar you use for both parts of the cake? Is it just normal white sugar, raw sugar, brown sugar, a healthier option? I’m not the chef in the house (BUT I do love cooking), so I have no idea which it could possibly be.
Thank you!
Kristen M. May 10, 2018
Adding this answer here, too for others' reference: Normal, white (granulated) sugar—sorry for the confusion!
Rachel M. May 9, 2018
Any high altitude tips? And does Genius Dessert have any? This looks fab!
Kristen M. May 9, 2018
Hi Rachel, I'm sorry to say that I don't have any high-altitude baking tips (and Genius Desserts doesn't tackle high-altitude modifications). I know how complicated it can be so I think it's best to refer to a dedicated expert, like Susan Purdy—are you familiar with her work? Here's her site:
Rachel M. May 10, 2018
Thanks! I will give Susan’s site a try. Appreciate the advice 😀
Amy May 9, 2018
I have fabulous dutch cocoa I've been using in everything. Would that work?
Kristen M. May 9, 2018
Hi Amy, check out my answer to Deborah Miller below. Since this recipe relies on the reaction between the acidic natural cocoa and the baking soda for leavening, I don't think it would be a simple swap without fiddling with some of the other ingredients.
lsm May 9, 2018
Thank you for the Wonderfull memories. My grandmothers were very old when I was young and passed away when I was still young. So I don't have very many memories. But I did make this cake. Excellent!!!!!! I have a bad habit of just glancing at a recipe the first time. If the recipe comes out the first time, even with all the flubs, it is a keeper. I could hardly wait for it to cool to put the frosting on to get that first piece. Thank you to you and your and your fearless grandmother.
Kristen M. May 9, 2018
Thanks Ism—I love your philosophy about making it through, flubs and all.
nbueno May 9, 2018
Is the crumb stable enough to make into a layer cake or too fluffy?
Kristen M. May 9, 2018
I think it would work! I know from my mom's copy of the recipe that my grandmother's cousin Louise Pribble used various sizes of cake pan for at least the chocolate part of the recipe, and the cream cheese part is pretty dense and stable once it settles back down after poofing in the oven. The only concern would be that the layers might be uneven, but you can either level them out with a knife or unflavored dental floss, or just gob on the frosting to cover it up.
nbueno May 10, 2018
Wonderful--thank you. Can't wait to try it.
Rebecca B. May 9, 2018
Yum, my birthday is this month and I'm going to make this.
Kristen M. May 9, 2018
Good for you! Love the idea of baking as a birthday present to yourself.
Clare M. May 9, 2018
Great story. Looking forward to making this cake for my family.
Kristen M. May 9, 2018
Thank you, Clare Marie—I hope you all love it.
Jay May 12, 2018
Hello I'm not clear if you actually use the espresso and the exact kind of coco. Please clarify in layman terms. Thank you
Kristen M. May 12, 2018
Hi Jay, the espresso/coffee is totally optional—it just helps enhance the chocolate flavor, but the cake will be great without it, too. And natural cocoa just means that it's not labelled "Dutch process" or have "cocoa processed with alkali” listed in the ingredients—that would mean that the cocoa isn't acidic enough to work with the baking soda to make the cake rise. Luckily, most cocoa you'll come across is considered natural but it's good to double-check the label in this case. Here's an article with more info on natural vs. Dutch process:
Deborah M. May 9, 2018
Is the cocoa Dutch -process or natural?
Kristen M. May 9, 2018
Great question—I've been using natural in my tests, as has our test kitchen, and based on Alice Medrich's recommendations here, that's the best bet for older American chocolate cakes that don't specify type: (I'll clarify in the recipe.)