Investigating the Myth of the 5-Minute Chocolate Cake

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Let me start by saying: This is kind of ridiculous.

Let me also say: I know how to make homemade chocolate cake. In the oven. Ask The Angry Chef, my mother, or my friends. I can make simple ones or elaborate ones. I can make complicated cakes with layers and fillings that are piled high with soft, fluffy frosting.

But that’s not what this is. This is one part urban mythology, one part science experiment.

I actually had a hell of a lot of fun figuring it out. So please don’t lambaste me. Sit back and have a laugh. Then go microwave yourself a cake.


And if you’re wondering why I didn’t just scale down a full-size cake recipe, don’t be silly. That would be way too easy (and way too much math).

Here’s my cake:

5-Minute Chocolate Cake: Fact or fiction? (Or, why are you doing this?)

Let me back up.

Recently, a handful of people have asked me—eyes wide—if I’ve heard of the legendary 5-Minute Chocolate Cake. “You know, you make it in a mug in the microwave when you’re hungry in the middle of the night?”

Really?

Really. Google it. (I’ll wait.) If you haven’t heard of it, you might be as surprised as I was. As of tonight, “5-minute chocolate cake” returned 43,500 hits in 0.19 seconds.

Wait, isn’t Betty Crocker already selling that? Sure. But that’s a packaged cake mix. What do you do if you don’t have one in the cupboard at 2 in the morning?

5-Minute Chocolate Cake: OK, game on

So…a chocolate cake you can make—from scratch—in five minutes? That’s a myth, right? In spite of myself, I was intrigued. It sounded too good to be true. So, I thought, let’s see if it is.

And? It is—and it isn’t.

5-Minute Chocolate Cake: Has anyone seen that pesky Goldilocks?

I could use her help testing these cakes. I found a recipe on the internet and started baking. I mean, microwaving.

My goal was to create a cake that was edible—maybe even kind of good—that you could mix and microwave in a few minutes with stuff you probably have lying around in your kitchen. For this recipe, fast and easy trumped any baking best practice that created extra steps.

This first cake was way too dense. It came out like a chocolate sponge. And when it cooled, it turned into a brick.

OK. Too much egg, I reasoned.

I started to fidget with the the dry ingredients. I bumped them up so they were more in proportion with the amount of egg. I added some baking powder to give it a little extra oomph. I swapped in chocolate liquor and chocolate milk for extra flavor, reasoning that lots of midnight munchers might have those on hand. Last but not least, I tossed in some mini chocolate chips, which were just the right size to melt in a few minutes.

I cooked it in a mug first, then a bowl when the mug overflowed. In the end, I settled on a Pyrex loaf pan. It produced a relatively even, flat cake and a lot of folks have one in the house.

After about 10 tries, I managed to make one that was just right. Or, as just right as I think microwave cake can get. If you have all the ingredients on hand, it should take you just under 2 minutes to mix, and just over 3 minutes to cook. (Hence, the 5-minute cake.)

It probably serves two now, instead of one. But hey, you’re bound to have at least one hungry friend, right?

5-Minute Chocolate Cake: So, how does it taste?

All that said, I’m not sure it’s quite OK on its own. Eaten alone, it’s a passable—but pretty mediocre—chocolate cake.

But if you used it as a base for stuff you might have in the fridge, like chocolate sauce, whipped cream, fresh raspberries…if you, say, soaked it in a little Kahlua and crowned it with a scoop or two of Haagen-Dazs vanilla, you might just have something there.

5-Minute Chocolate Cake: Disclaimer and microwave information

I am not a microwave cooking expert. I made this cake in my personal microwave, which is an 800-watt Samsung that I bought a few years ago. If you use a different pan or strength microwave, you’re going to have to monkey around with the directions, as both those things drastically affect cooking time. The pan will also be really, really hot when it comes out of the microwave.

5-Minute Chocolate Cake: Get to the cake, would ya?

Yep, yep. If you try this, please drop me a line. I’d love to know how yours turned out—and what you did with your magical microwave creation.

5-Minute Chocolate Cake

6 Tbls. sugar
5 Tbls. flour
4 Tbls. cocoa powder (NOT hot chocolate mix)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 jumbo egg
2 Tbls. creme de cocoa or any other chocolate liquor
1 tsp. vanilla
3 Tbls. chocolate milk
2 Tbls. olive oil
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
spray oil for the pan

5-Minute Chocolate Cake: Combine the dry ingredients

Put the sugar in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

Add the cocoa powder and the flour.

Toss in the baking powder.

Whisk them together to combine.

Your goal is a uniform mixture.

5-Minute Chocolate Cake: Add the wet ingredients

Add all the wet ingredients to the dry before stirring. Crack in the egg.

Add the liquor, vanilla, chocolate milk, and olive oil. Whisk together to combine well.

Your goal is a smooth cake batter. At this point, it should look like regular chocolate cake batter. Not too thick, not too thin. (Sorry, Goldilocks again.)

So far, so good.

5-Minute Chocolate Cake: Add in the mini chocolate chips

This step is optional, because not everyone keeps mini chocolate chips on hand. If you have them, stir them in now.

Don’t use regular size chips, as they’re too big to melt properly.

5-Minute Chocolate Cake: Microwave your cake

Spray your bread pan with oil. Wipe it out lightly with a paper towel to soak up any excess oil. (If you don’t, it will pool around the sides of the cake and make it gummy.)

Pour the batter into your greased pan, scraping all of it out with a spatula or wooden spoon. It should look about like this:

Put your pan in the microwave, and cook on high for 3 minutes, 25 seconds. If you don’t have an 800-watt microwave, you’ll need to adjust the time up or down a little.

This is what it looked like after about a minute. At this point, it should start to poof up and solidify. It’ll be a little concave in the middle.

This is what it looked like after two minutes. It should be more solid, and the center should rise to be about even with the sides.

After 3 minutes 25 seconds, the surface of the cake should be even, relatively firm, and dappled with tiny bubbles. It should be just pulling away from the edges of your bread pan. When you press on it lightly with a finger, it should spring back, just like an oven-baked cake.

5-Minute Chocolate Cake: Serve and enjoy

Now, what you do with your microwave cake from here is completely up to you. If you need your cake fix right away, have at it. (Just don’t burn yourself.)

I cooled my cake in the pan for maybe 20 minutes. After that, I ran a thin-bladed knife in between the cake and the pan to loosen it. I turned it out onto a rack and cooled it another 20 minutes before slicing.

Edit on November 5, 2008

For another take on this cake, check out my friend Foong’s version on her blog, The Food Site.


Digg!

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Copyright 2008 The Hungry Mouse/Jessica B. Konopa. All rights reserved.

Stonewall Kitchen, LLC

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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie serves as an Associate Creative Director at PARTNERS+simons, a boutique ad agency in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.

38 COMMENTS

  1. When I was low-carbing, everyone on the lowcarb bulletin boards was crazy fr a 3 min chocolate cake made with almond flour. It was pretty darned good actually. This looks like it would be great with ice cream 🙂

  2. I don’t know if I could ever make this, because if chocolate milk, chocolate liquor, and chocolate chips all existed in my house at the same time, I would probably be passed out on the kitchen floor in a chocolate coma.

    But, if I ever develop willpower I will let you know how it goes. I like the idea of having a quick cakey option for making some superb chocolate parfaits.

  3. OK, I hate to admit this (but I plead ingorance in my youth…) I literally grew up on microwaved chocolate cake. I made the recipe all through college. But then again, it was better than cupcakes because it was “baked” in ice cream cones! But the cake itself was pretty good, it could have been better with a bit of espresso or coffee something…just more chocolatey. But well done! It’s doable…but NO not the best ever. Better than a cake mix!!!!! At least this is creating something (which is better than most…sad but true)..hehe

    And here I didn’t even know this was some kind of urban legend!!

  4. 5 minute cake? *raises eyebrows supspicously* Just be glad I trust you….well this is definatley going in my “in case of emergency file. By the way I am starting to post recipes on my blog instead of just torturing people with pictures of other people’s cakes! Have I told you lately how much I love your blog? WELL I DO!

  5. This is a whole new era of “baking”… our grandmas never got to try this kind of thing!
    What a great experiment. Right up there with the custard I worked on creating with the microwave. It all really is a science project, isn’t it?!

  6. Looks good. If you want to try another experiment. Take some melted chocolate. Incorporate into one egg white. Microwave for 1 minute. See what comes out. It’s pretty good! You get different results based on the ratio of chocolate to egg white. You can also stir in a bit of coffee or other liquid.

  7. I recently saw this on Stumble, someone made it in a drinking mug and I was fascinated by it! I wonder if it would work with non-chocolate cakes, like putting some jam in the bottom of the mug/dish and then the “batter” on top. Shame I don’t have a microwave at the moment though!!!

  8. Hmmm, i’ll have to try this when the PMS-induced chocolate craving strikes again. It usually strikes when Law and Order or CSI is on!

  9. Not being a baker, I had no idea such a thing existed. But I am more appalled at the fact your tried it about 10 times!!! wow, dedication to the 5 minutes cake- I usually give up after I mess it up once! 🙂
    It looks pretty good, I have to say. The closest I got was when I was taught to mix Betty Crooker with a can of diet soda- and that’s it! Five minutes to get it to speed, and then whatever to cook it. Useless to say, wasn’t the best cake I had!
    AND, I second Haley, those things can’t be found in my kitchen. Prosciutto and mozzarella, however… anything I can make with those? 😉
    Vanessa

  10. it certainly looks quite intriguing, at least you say that it does taste passable as chocolate cake (a good sign) … 3 min in the microwave does act make it sound like a pretty cool ‘trick’ to impress my mates when they get bored 😀

    But then again, i was thinking this wud be a quick cake i could put together when I want something to go with that gorgeous haagen daz which has been sitting in the freezer for far too many months..

  11. I’ve never heard of the five minute cake! I remember microwave box cakes coming out some years back. What patience you have to play around with it. But I’m glad you did it. I’ll try it when I get that really bad sweet tooth and have nothing to cure it.

  12. Actually, I’ve read a recipe for a 5-minute chocolate cake quite awhile back while buzzing around on Foodbuzz but for the life of me, I can’t remember where!
    Hmmm…I wonder how it’d taste if I add peanut butter to it?
    By the way, I use my 3-in-1 microwave for everything. I don’t have a regular oven so I got a microwave that could convert into an oven, into a roaster, into a steamer, anything with just the touch of a button. That’s technology for you. So, most of my baked stuff is made on that microwave.

  13. Wow, thanks for the great response! Hehe, this is one of the sillier things I’ve done lately. It was a really fun experiment. It’s probably not the best chocolate cake you’ll ever have, but it’s a good option if you have, um, a cake emergency in the middle of the night. 😀

    +Jessie

  14. I’ve seen one of these before that I liked because I had all the ingredients for. It actually may have been the one in the link that someone else commented on. This looks better, but I don’t have a loaf pan. Not sure if we have chocolate liqueur either.

  15. I just finished making the 5 minute chocolate cake and it turned out pretty good. I didn’t have chocolate liqueur so don’t know if it would have been much better but anyway it still was edible. We ate it while it was warm with a dip of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream and it was quite a tasty treat. Certainly quick and easy to make and provided a great chocolate fix.
    Thanks!

  16. I too played around with the 5 Minute Cake recipe when I first came across it. On this side of the Atlantic, we have self-raising flour, which incorporates a raising agent, so that cuts one step out for me. I added hot chocolate drink mix to the cocoa for a more chocolatey flavour, but here’s my kicker–a few turns of the pepper mill. Yep, black pepper. It adds a very nice but not too strong bite to it. And, being lazy, I just cook mine right in the mixing bowl. And cooling 20 minutes, in the middle of the night? Not in this house! Spoon it straight into a bowl with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I can feel my blood sugar rising just thinking about it!

  17. […] Hungry mouse’s 5 minute cake Finally, I tried this one! But instead of using cocoa powder (i stupidly forgot to bring it into the office) I used coffee instead (in my line of work, the whole industry is run on filter coffee). If you’re going into work on monday morning and have 5 minutes in the office pantry and a microwave, and you want to distract your colleagues of the monday gloom .. then TRY THIS! It definitely works and taste abit like sponge cake. Use a few scoops of coffee powder (I just used run of the mill nescafe) and LOTS of chocolate cookie chunks. […]

  18. I just want a frosting that will help the grinds slide a bit easier. All of the recipes are great but no one has an incredible frosting concoction.

  19. Thank you! My husband and I just enjoyed a piece of your cake topped with some homemade whipped cream we had leftover. Pretty darn good – especially when you’re pregnant with sweet cravings unlike any you’ve had before!! I didn’t have any chocolate liquor or chocolate mily, which were the only changes I made. Might have to try it again in a pinch!

  20. I’m posting my own 3-minute microwave chocolate fudgy cake in a mug here. This is the final result of my some 15 experiments I’ve done so far. If anyone knows how to make the top layer crack and dry a bit like real oven-baked, please let me know.

    5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    2 tablespoons un-sweeten cocoa powder
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    tiny pinch of salt
    2 tablespoons sugar (I use splenda substitude)
    1 egg
    5 tablespoons milk
    1 1/2 tablespoons oil

    1. Mix all dry ingredients
    2. drop the egg and mix well
    3. add milk and mix well
    4. add oil and mix well
    5. Microwave 70 seconds at high (1000 watts)

    The whole thing should take less than 3 minutes if you are very skillful in measuring and mixing (like me, after more than 15 tries). The result I have, is, fudgy and gooey in the middle, the bottom has some fudge sauce. Taste ok, I think if I add chopped walnuts or add some instant coffee crystal would enhance the flavor. What I don’t like is the top most layer, yes, the one you see puffing up from the mug and quickly deflates when you open the microwave door. The top is a little bit too dense and pudding-ish. I like the top layer look of your cake. If I microwave this a little bit too long (20 seconds longer), then it becomes too dry. Let me know if you have a chance to try this out.

  21. Here was the recipe I received:

    5 MINUTE CHOCOLATE MUG CAKE

    4 tablespoons flour
    4 tablespoons sugar
    2 tablespoons cocoa
    1 egg
    3 tablespoons milk
    3 tablespoons oil
    3 tablespoons chocolate chips
    A small splash of vanilla extract
    1 large coffee mug (MicroSafe)

    Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly.
    Pour in the milk and oil and mix well.
    Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract, and mix again.
    Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts.
    The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don’t be alarmed!
    Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired.

    I cheated and added the egg, milk, oil and vanilla at the same time and mixed well. And I used a 2-cup measuring cup rather than a coffee mug.

    The result was a dense cake. Good with ice cream.

    Next time I will use a pinch of salt (something short of 1/8 tsp of salt) and mini chips (rather than the regular size).

  22. I definitely will be trying your recipe, Jessie. Probably at midnight when I’m craving chocolate.

    I have the same recipe as Bread Maker. I made it one time with my grandchildren. We all thought the consistency was okay, but we wanted more chocolate flavor. I think I’d add a teaspoon of instant coffee.

    Congratulations on your Holiday Cookbook. I’m very excited to see it!

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