Chocolate cake can be an indulgence, but it doesn't have to be -- at least when it comes to your wallet. While whole cakes can top $30 at a fancy bakery, any self-respecting chocolate lover with an oven and a mixer can make one at home for much less, even with top-quality ingredients. Most cakes are easy to make and can be in the oven with about 10 minutes of prep time. Here are 12 recipes to fulfill every cake lover's dreams.
BASIC CHOCOLATE CAKE
There is nothing more classic than the chocolate cake recipe on the back of a can of Hershey's cocoa powder. The thin batter makes a chocolaty three-layer cake (or a sheet cake, or even cupcakes) with a simple chocolate buttercream frosting.
MAYONNAISE CHOCOLATE CAKE
Some people remember this from their parents' or grandparents' kitchen. It's remarkably simple, and using mayonnaise instead of butter makes the cake moist, rich, and cheap. The author of a Serious Eats recipe recommends a sour cream chocolate frosting, but there's no reason not to use the classic Hershey's buttercream, or even a dusting of confectioner's sugar for minimalists.
MOLTEN CHOCOLATE CAKE
Made in individual ramekins, these cakes ooze chocolate when they're cut. A version by the renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, via Mark Bittman in The New York Times, takes minutes to prep and less than 10 minutes in the oven. No icing is required, but ice cream or sorbet would go nicely. Using the best-quality chocolate makes a difference, and bakers can decide whether they prefer semi-sweet or bittersweet. (Ramekins go for as little as $8 for four.)
CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE CAKE
An ultra-indulgent cake for a special occasion, Saveur's truffle cake is a diet disaster but heaven for a chocolate lover. It's baked in a springform pan, then cut into three layers and brushed with a rum syrup. The light cake is a base for a chocolate truffle ganache that's spread throughout the layers and over the top for a remarkable hit of richness.
VEGAN CHOCOLATE CAKE
There's no reason vegans can't have their cake and eat it, too. A recipe from Vegan Baking substitutes oil for butter and has no eggs, but otherwise is like most other chocolate cake recipes. This is a one-layer cake with a thin glaze that won't harden much, since it has no corn syrup.
GLUTEN-FREE CHOCOLATE CAKE
Due to texture differences, people on a gluten-free diet cannot simply substitute gluten-free flour for regular wheat flour in any chocolate cake recipe. King Arthur Flour's recipe is tender and moist owing to the addition of xanthan gum -- an odorless and mostly taste-free powder that, in larger doses, may cause side effects in people sensitive to it. It makes a nice, big, two-layer cake, and almost any frosting will do.
FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE
Another gluten-free option (and also a great dessert to file away for Passover) is a dense, rich chocolate torte -- a cake with little or no flour. In a recipe from Epicurious, beaten egg whites give the cake some leavening and structure. A rich chocolate and cream glaze finishes it off, although a raspberry sauce posted on Allrecipes might cut a bit of the richness.
CHOCOLATE ANGEL FOOD CAKE
When the occasion calls for a light dessert, or the diet is still important but the desire for chocolate is strong, a chocolate angel food cake fills the bill. Angel food cakes are made with a lot of egg whites but no yolks or butter; they contain no fat or cholesterol. Martha Stewart's version adds cocoa powder and a smidge of semi-sweet chocolate, which increases the chocolate flavor without adding a lot of calories.
GERMAN CHOCOLATE CAKE
This cake looks complicated, but it's really easy (and it isn't German; the German in the name refers to Samuel German, whose company's dark and sweet chocolate was used in the original recipe). Betty Crocker's version is a very simple, super sweet, three-layer cake made with buttermilk. It's really all about the frosting -- a gooey confection of evaporated milk, pecans, and coconut.
86-PROOF CHOCOLATE CAKE
Maida Heatter is chocolate cake royalty; her book of desserts is a go-to for chocolate lovers. It includes a cake featured by The New York Times, which is made with a bit of coffee and plenty of bourbon. This cake has just enough coffee to boost the chocolate flavor without making it taste like mocha. The cake needs nothing on top but a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar, although Heatter suggests a bit more bourbon.
Brownies are something between a cake and a cookie, but it would be derelict to leave them out. Brownies are so simple to make that they are often a child's first baking project. For people torn between cakey and fudgy brownies, the recipe on the back of the Baker's unsweetened baking chocolate box has variations to suit either taste. (The original one-bowl recipe is on the fudgy side.)
SILKY CHOCOLATE CAKE
No compendium of chocolate cake would be complete without a nod to Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of "The Cake Bible." Her recipe, which appears in Food & Wine, is a bit more complicated than the rest, but worth it. The ingredient list includes cake flour rather than all-purpose flour, and an espresso ganache is spread between the layers and around the top and sides.