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Why is there coffee in my chocolate cake?

Coffee and Chocolate Cake

When you bake enough chocolate cakes, or simply look at enough chocolate cake recipes, you’ll notice a trend: many of them include coffee or instant coffee as an ingredient. This isn’t because most people are looking for a mocha-flavored cake. Rather, coffee is commonly included because it is a great way to enhance the flavor of cocoa powder, resulting in a more chocolaty cake – not a coffee-flavored one.

Cocoa powder is a bit bitter on its own, with hints of fruit and spice that are detectable when you get a good-quality cocoa. Coffee has these same flavor elements, and a small amount of coffee in a cake batter – whether you’re using 1 cup of coffee or 1 tbsp instant coffee – will help these cocoa flavors stand out even more than they would on their own. The milk, sugar, eggs and so forth that you add into a cake just helps all that cocoa taste good, not necessarily more chocolaty! You would have to add quite a bit of coffee (or not have much cocoa at all) to get more of a coffee flavor than a cocoa one; chocolate is generally more dominant in a baked good than coffee is.

What all comes down to is that even if you’re not a fan of coffee, having some instant coffee in the cupboard can give a little extra boost of flavor to a chocolate cake and take it from good to great. You can keep a small container of freeze-dried coffee almost indefinitely. Still, if you’re really opposed to adding coffee in any form, you will be glad to know that you can always leave it out. If a recipe calls for coffee, just add water (as coffee is just flavored water) and if it calls for powdered coffee, simply omit the small amount called for altogether, just as you might use less cinnamon if you’re not a fan of it in a cake or cookie.

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  • Laura
    April 20, 2010

    So true about coffee and chocolate. Coffee powder and brown sugar seem to have a similar relationship. And brown sugar and chocolate have a similar relationship. I have made cheesecake flavored with brown sugar and it tasted coffee-like, and I just made a coffee flavored cake that tastes brown-sugar-ish. Brown sugar deepens the flavor of both chocolate and coffee flavors.

  • Emily
    April 20, 2010

    Ive actually been using a little bit more coffee and a little bit less cocoa to get a hint of coffee flavor..if youre into that sort of thing

  • Sarah
    April 20, 2010

    Good tips, but substituting water for liquid coffee might require lessening the amount of leavening, since coffee is acidic and water is not.

  • Melanie
    April 20, 2010

    I’m sorry but I hate the taste of any coffee.
    I can taste it even if it’s trying to be hidden in chocolate.
    I love the smell of coffee brewing but the taste? Yuck.

  • Nicole
    April 20, 2010

    Sarah – That is a great point and something to take into consideration. Fortunately, cocoa powder (and chocolate) are also acidic, so most recipes that call for both shouldn’t need adjustment.

  • Maria
    April 20, 2010

    Great post, thanks!

  • Heather Peskin
    April 20, 2010

    So interesting about the coffee in chocolate cake – I have the Medaglia D’Oro and have used it in baking. It is great.

  • Master in nutrition
    April 21, 2010

    Chocolate chips tend to settle to the bottom so they are easier to get at if you dump the mug out on a plate.
    I like to add some microwave hot fudge to the top of the cake while it’s still warm, it makes it like a chocolate lava cake!

  • gayan7
    April 22, 2010

    it is cool discusion…

  • Daniela
    April 22, 2010

    my name is Dani, Im Italian but I live in China (yeah,..it’s a long story).Anyways, I really love your website and all your recipes look soo delicious!
    I also have a cooking blog, It has just been a few months but I’m already getting some followers and I will also start writing for a magazine here in Shanghai. I was wondering if you can be interested in me adding a link to ur website in my blog and in you doing the same with mine.
    Let me know


    – Dani

  • […] black coffee, or even instant coffee, in your recipe will enhance the flavor of the cocoa and really bring out that rich chocolate taste.  Don’t worry, coffee in a chocolate cake […]

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