Chocolate Loaf Cake Recipe

Certainly not the most attractive cake I've ever baked - but right in so many other ways. Deep chocolate flavor, barely set center, indiscernible crumb, thin Muscovado crust...if you can get over how it looks, you'll love it.

Chocolate Loaf Cake

This cake came out of the oven and I immediately thought to myself, "this cake is so unattractive, no one is going to want to eat it." It was as if the cake could read my mind, and at that point gave up entirely. Over the next ten minutes it exhaled, deflating into what I can only describe as a compact, sway-backed, brick of chocolate-fudge. Or what I'll forever think of as chocolate ugly cake. I set it aside, went out for the night, came back the next morning, and cut off a thin slice. The cake, while still hard on the eyes, was perfect in so many other ways I can't not share it with you - deep chocolate flavor, barely set center, indiscernible crumb, with a thin brown sugar crust.

Chocolate Loaf Cake Recipe

The cake was inspired by a recipe in Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess, her Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake. As many of you who have been readers for a while know, I love a loaf cake, and she describes her chocolate version as "the plainest of plain loaf cakes." She goes on to celebrate the fact that its "dark intensity isn't toyed with, nor upstaged by any culinary elaboration." I tried to keep the spirit of her cake in mind, while making a few tweaks to make it my own. I think I may have crossed into the land of culinary elaborations, and for that I apologize, but whatever happened it was well worth it.

Chocolate Loaf Cake Recipe

Here's what I did...I used dark Muscovado sugar instead of white sugar. I'd argue, this was the most significant change I made. I also zested the pan with fresh lemon rind before filling with batter. Spelt flour in place of all-purpose. And a generous sprinkling of Muscovado sprinkled across the top was finished under the broiler. I was regretting this as I was doing it, it was only adding to the cake's aesthetic issues, but I loved every bite that had a bit of Muscovado crust. Here's the thing. You MUST let this cake age overnight. It makes all the difference in the world.

If you brave the ugly cake, let me know if you like it as much as I did.

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Chocolate Loaf Cake

If you are having a hard time tracking down Muscovado sugar, dark brown sugar is a reasonable substitute.

zest of one lemon
1 1/4 cups / 5 oz / 145 g spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup / 8 oz / 225g unsalted butter

1 2/3 cups / 7.5 oz / 215 g v. loosely packed dark Muscovado sugar

2 large eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 oz / 115 g bittersweet chocolate, barely melted
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
another 1/3 cup / 1.5 oz / 45 g Muscovado sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F / 190C with a rack in the center. Butter a 9x5-inch (23 x 13-cm) loaf pan and line with parchment paper. You have to line the pan if you ever want to get this cake out of it. Sprinkle with the lemon zest and set aside.

Combine the flour baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Cream the butter until light and feathery, either with a wooden spoon or with an electric mixer. Beat in the sugar. Then add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl a couple times along the way. Add the vanilla, then fold in the melted (and now slightly cooled) chocolate, stirring until just barely combined. Now stir in 1/3 of the flour mixture, then 1/3 of the water, alternating until all the flour and water has been incorporated into what seems like an impossibly thin batter. Go with it. Pour into the prepared pan, place on a rimmed baking sheet (just in case there's an overflow), and bake for 30 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325F / 165C and continue to cook for another 15-18 minutes. The cake isn't going to test done like other cakes, but as long as your oven temp is accurate, you should be fine. Here's an optional step - sprinkle the top of the cake with 1/3 cup of Muscovado sugar and place under a low-broiler for about a minute, or just until the sugar melts (do not walk away from the cake while it is under the broiler! It can burn in a flash)...

Place the loaf pan on a rack, let cool completely, and enjoy the next day.

Makes 8 - 10 slices.

Prep time: 15 minutes - Cook time: 50 minutes

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!
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I made this cake this weekend and it is amazing. And I don’t even really like chocolate that much (my husband is the chocolate lover). I made it with all purpose flour and the dark brown sugar. I don’t think I’d use the lemon peel again – maybe orange peel instead.
This cake is amazing with some good French vanilla ice cream. 🙂


I used this recipe as a starting point for my own cake that turned out fabulously! Thanks for the tip on using muscovado sugar, I loved it even though I burnt the top. Next time it will be even better! Here’s my version if you are interested in seeing how a very loose interpretation of this cake turned out:

Anna Ruby

I’m in the middle of baking this right now and I realized I forgot the lemon zest. Shoot! Also, talk about overflow! I’m not sure if my pan was too small or what but I also have chocolate lava spilling out on to my cookie sheet. So thanks for mentioning that. I’ll probably split it into two pans next time and I will make sure not to forget the lemon again. I’m sure it will still be very yummy though.


I made this cake last night, using grated jaggery instead of muscovado/brown/white sugar and no lemon zest since jaggery has a pretty strong flavor. And I let it sit. O MY GOD! It is phenomenal! I am going to make it again soon and try a couple of variations–maybe some slivered almonds on the bottom of the pan and perhaps a bit less butter. This one is a keeper!


Can you substitute RAPADURA (whole cane sugar) for the muscavodo sugar? I’m so happy to find recipes that actually use spelt. many thanks.


Wow. I’ve never tasted anything like this…something of a cross between chocolate cake, a brownie, and a fluffy cloud that just melted in my mouth. Mine didn’t deflate in the middle, so I think that’s why the texture was so fluffy. The changes I made were whole wheat pastry flour instead of spelt, and I didn’t have muscovado sugar so I used a very large grain, free flowing brown sugar (not sure the name, maybe a coarse demerara?) plus a tablespoon blackstrap molasses.


I was rather sceptical of this cake once I had made it- it doesn’ have a large quantity of chocolate so I didn’r see how it could deliver in richness, and sure enough when I tasted it fresh from the oven, it seemed to taste rater like the dishwater it had reminded me of when I had poured the batter into the tin! I wrote it off as a recipe not to use again, and consigned the loaf to a cake tin for the better part of a week, until friends came over and emergency food was required. I tasted the cake again not really beleiving it could have changed, but it tasted like a completely different cake! There is now not a crumb left and everyone raved about it- try this recipe and believe the bit about letting it sit a while before you have a slice!!


Hi Heidi. I really want to make this cake. Just wondering, could you substitute any other whole grain flours?


I was so happy when I first read the description of this cake as I had been searching for days for a cake recipe I could use for my son’s 5th birthday pirate cake. It couldn’t get any better than this. Not only does it look like a pirate ship, sunken middle and all, but it tastes fantastic. Thank you so much for a wonderful recipe and an easy shape to carve into a ship and add some sails.
HS: Would love to see pics!


I shall profess my love of this dense, moist, deliciously tasty cake after only one little corner nibble. A simple cake that my 3 year old loved to help make. Oh spelt, I love you!!


Wow Heidi, this recipe is definitely a keeper. Just made it, much to my boyfriend’s delight. I decided to use chilli infused bittersweet chocolate and to add a few pinches of dried chilli flakes. It’s not particularly hot but has added a lovely warmth. I had never used muscovado sugar before but had seen it at the shop and was a bit intrigued. My man summed it up for both of us when he said “Why can’t all sugar taste like this?”.
Thanks for another great recipe to add to my collection.


Made it the second time and it was delicious! For anyone that is having hard time finding the Spelt flour. You can go to whole pay check, I meant by Whole foods : )


Sooo delicious! I’m not much of a baker, so making a cake with the expectation of it coming out ugly took some pressure off.
Seriously, though, this is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever made. It looked tasty enough that I made it for an event without so much as a test run, and we ate the whole thing before dinner!


I also couldn’t help myself. I added cayenne pepper and it was exactly what I wanted.
Thanks so much for this recipe and all the others. You make cooking irresistible.


I couldn’t help myself, I added 1 T of cinnamon. WOW!!!


I never get tired of chocolate. This sounds like a great recipe. Thanks.


My son wanted a Firetruck cake for his 4th birthday. So I used 11/2 loaves of ugly cake to create his Firetruck (frosting was just whipped cram with a whole bottle of red food dye-thank God for Oxy-clean!!). Only time I have ever been able to make frosting a cake meet in a meaningful way. Anyway all the guests at his birthd-kids and adults alike-loved it and raved over it’s dense fudginess…most of all my little chocolate obsessed fire fighter.
Trying to add picture but not quite getting it to take…you’l just have to take my word for it.


I saw this today and immediately decided to myself, “Jesus, I have to make that!”
So I did.
Words could hardly describe how delicious and unbelievably moist this amazing little cake is. Without a doubt, I will be making this as often as I can.
Thank you so much for a delicious, decadent recipe.


I just made it and the flavor is wonderful! I put some slivered almonds on the top for a bit of crunchiness. I think I will use this for my campus veg club’s chocolate cake contest, if you don’t mind!


Hi Heidi! I made your cake recently and it didn’t sink! It didn’t rise much either. But I must admit I lowered the water amount, I thought my batter was too runny. Here’s my post about it, in case anyone is interested.
My family loved it, thanks!

Miriam/The Winter Guest

This cake was proof to my kids that they should always taste EVERYTHING, no matter what it looks like. Absolutely delish!


Yowza! That’s yummy. I looked up Nigella’s original recipe, and noticed that the lemon zest was an addition–I LOVE it.


you are such an inspiration Heidi! THANK YOU 🙂


I think this cake looks rustic and incredibly fudgy – quality I LOVE in a cake. I can’t wait to make it some day. 🙂

Elina (Healthy and Sane)

Okay, so I braved the loaf cake last night and it turned out beautifully! Er, I mean ugly. I used unbleached all-purpose flour and 1 cup dark brown sugar, 2/3 cup turbinado (which is also what I used to dust the top) and it is moist, delicious, delectable. Definitely one for the archives!


Living in Ga, I found that splet flour is hard to find. Now that I’m visiting my family in Vista, Ca, I am still not finding it. Any suggestions?


I made this last night….I could NOT wait until “the next day” to try a piece. Matter of fact, I had a warm piece (it was good), then I had a cooled piece several hours later (that was so good, that I had yet another piece!). And, now since its “the next day” I had ANOTHER piece! OK, so whoever said to wait to the day was right, it gets really fudgy in the center and is SO good but I’m glad I tried this little experiment for you all 🙂 !


Made this yesterday – added a handful of cocoanut flour, which gave it body and it didn’t “exhale”. I skimped on the muscovado topping and will be sure to spread it on thickly next time – amazing flavour!!!!


Um, does that really say…”enjoy the next day..”. Some serious will power going on here.


This is a fun and easy cake to make. Thanks so much for the recipe.


You make me so happy tht I finally have a kitchen I can cook in for the first time in years. I will be trying this very, very soon. I’ll report back with the results and with the reactions of my family members.

Carole (FibreJunky)

It doesn’t have to look good to taste great! May I have a slice?

myrna vega

It doesn’t have to look good to taste great! I personally think it looks good and it must taste great!


I made this two nights ago and substituted the spelt flour with king arthurs gluten free flour and a bit of xanthan gum. I had people raving about it! They could not believe it was gluten free as it was the Most Delicious Chocolate Cake Ever. Mine was not fudgy at all but perfectly moist and spongy. Yum! and thank you!!


Hi Luz!
Spelt is part of the wheat family – you can use ordinary wheat flour if you want to. There is less gluten in spelt (also called Dinkel btw..), so it raises less than ordinary wheat.
Heidi – I noticed that you’ve used bakind soda in this batter, but nothing acid… It might explain why it turns out the way it does 🙂
Not that there’s anything wrong with fudgy chocolate cake 🙂


Hello. Could anybody tell me what can I use instead of spelt flour. I’ve never heard of it and I don’t think they sell it in my country. I really want to try this cake!!
Thank you

Luz Marina Quiroga Carriel

I’ve made this twice in the past week, once for company and the second time for myself, since I didn’t get any when the company had it! Besure to add the lemon zest. The second loaf I made did not have it, as I didn’t have any lemon on hand, and while it didn’t taste bad, it definitely needed something!


This looks awesome- I love Nigella’s recipe and this seems even better, I can’t wait to try it. If you have any left over to freeze, the gooey pieces are phenomenal partially thawed with a great vanilla ice cream and some berries ( yes, that would be a dessert inspired by extreme impatience)!


Awe- that cake looks like it’s smiling is all. Yet to try it but I’ll bet it’s amazing!

Meghan (Making Love In The Kitchen)

I love that you didn’t give up on the cake…even when it looked sad…it can be edflating when food doesn’t look pretty but there is beauty in the taste….
example – Lasagne!


Thanks for this, Heidi! I am going to go home and make this version right now! Nigella’s version is wonderful and yours looks gloriously fudgy:)

carol stevenson

I made the most delicious sourdough chocolate cake that also looked HIDEOUS.
It was the best thing I’ve ever baked!

Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday

Few days ago tried to prepare Grilled Tofu & Soba Noodles. After few ups and downs must say the ultimate result was delicious!!! It was the yummy treat i prepared when my friends were at my place. Just wanted to request to share your recipe for dark chocolate cake (brownie)… 🙂
Thank You


I made this a few nights ago because I had seen the picture and couldn’t stop thinking about it… tried it with half the butter (a sacrilege?) since we’re trying to cut back on fat, and used kamut instead of spelt flour. Turned out moist and delicious, in spite of its lack of butter 🙂 — thank you!

:: mandy ::

Ugly? This chocolate cake looks dense and delicious!


I love it when my recipes go from “fail” to perfection. I’m tempted to try the blackberry chile syrup with it. Amanda’s right on with the ganache and whip cream. Or even a light cream cheese frosting would work.
I’m checking out a 5 course dessert & port/madeira pairing at Sally’s After Dark in San Francisco. Here are some details


I never use parchment much, just on cookie sheets occasionally, the parchment in this case goes on the bottom, and the lemon zest on the sides right?
BTW, the trench down the center is just begging for a layer of ganache and whippy cream (as my 3 year old once said!) It is beautiful.


I want a slice please.


This actually looks quite tasty, and I plan to make it this wknd. Hard to go wrong with chocolate cakes, no?


I’ve got a question… I baked it withing the exact time prescribed, but it was very soft and seemingly liquid, wobbly. Should I take it off while it’s still liquid like that or wait for it to be firmer? The temperature might have been off, my oven isn’t very reliable, I suppose!
HS: Hi Dennis, It should definitely bet “set” and not at all liquid looking in appearance. If you touch your finger in the middle of the cake it should not be liquidy there either – quite set, but not bone-dry.


I made this last night and had a great breakfast this morning of soft chocolate cake with plain yogurt. I followed directions exactly subbing dark brown sugar for the Muscovado. Next time I won’t broil and I’ll omit the lemon. It doesn’t go with the chocolate flavor.
yum. and thanks!

Sarah Y

Oh, this was so good! I didn’t have a lemon on hand, so I used orange zest, which was still super tasty. Next time I want to try the lemon though, as the orange was pretty strong.
Delicious! Thank you!


Strange – in my version of Domestic Goddess, there is only Muscovado sugar, no white sugar, in this case. And that is the dominant flavour when I make it – it’s barely a chocolate cake at all. In fact, I have been meaning for years to try it without the chocolate at all, to see if the muscovado flavour alone works out, but I fear that it will then be too sweet. Mine has never sunk that much, though it’s always cracked and sinks a bit. I do find Nigella’s oven temperatures are generally way too high, which leads things to cook too fast on the outside, so you end up having to choose between burnt top or sinking middle. I tend to ignore the instructions and cook by feel now…
Anyway, dense and damp is good, so never mind the looks. 🙂


This cake is delicious! I baked it yesterday and somehow, was able to resist it until this morning. It really has a fantastic rich taste – the molasses in the dark brown sugar, the lemon zest, the chocolate! And it really isn’t ugly! Mine didn’t sink at all and the sugar on top gave a great crusty top. I’m not much of a baker, and now that I’m gluten free I was looking for something that I could make easily to have on hand when I desire “a little something” or to bring to a friend’s house to share. Thank you so much for your great recipes! Today I’m making the Honey Balsamic Bean Salad, and along with chicken cutlets I lightly fried last nite with gluten-free breading, the cake is for dessert, we are going to watch the fireworks at West Point, NY overlooking the Hudson River! Happy 4th!


i dont like the picture of this cake


I, like many other readers, also instantly thought of Nigella’s cake when I saw your title. It’s one of the greatest recipes ever. I also had tried tweaking the recipe (although not as much as you did) and ended up with a collapsed, horrifyingly unattractive and deliciously addictive product. (A little sprinkle of powdered sugar goes a long way to covering up blemishes) Thank you for posting this- although your photography somehow makes it look not very ugly at all!


I think yours looks nice with the really dark edges and crusted sugar. I was inspired. I don’t have Nigella’s book and couldn’t check, but all the online versions called for dark brown sugar. The recipe really reminds me of the troublesome but fabulous Guinness Stout Cake from Gramercy Tavern. Similar issues arise with such a very wet batter, heavy sugar content and hot liquids added to the batter. It took me years to get that one to my satisfaction.
Today I baked Nigella’s recipe with only 1/2 cup butter, melted instead of creamed, since you add boiling water any way. I used only 1 cup of water. Baked it 45 minutes at 350. It was perfect. It rose perfectly and stayed there. The outside is crunchy from the sugar, the inside is perfectly moist with just a bit of crumb. Since it’s such a wonderful texture and chocolate taste, I now wish I had added lemon zest per your version. It seems like it could be the perfect chocolate confection for spice and herb additions. A truly great cake for me as I love “unadorned” sweets. Thanks for the wonderful post and the inspiration.


I imagine it tastes great but if you’re worried about the look of it, I wonder how it would taste turned into a trifle? Cut into chunks with cherries and white chocolate pudding…maybe a little kirsch to finish it off? 🙂


I actually don’t think it looks too ugly – and a nice dollop of whipped cream might make it even more appealing.


I don’t think it’s remotely ugly at all! Looks so good, that when your page loaded I was instantly filled with a craving for chocolate cake!

Fit Chick in the City

I made this cake yesterday and mine didn’t turn out ugly!!! I was a bit disappointed! I haven’t tasted it yet– I’m trying to be patient and give it 24 hrs to settle. It’s so hard to see it just sitting there, all that lovely chocolate!




Wow! I made this cake this morning and I have to say, it’s the most moist and delicious cake I have ever eaten. I was afraid it’s going to overflow, so, I took a silicone baking mold and made an individual small bites out of it. As for the cake it self, I couldn’t wait until tomorrow to eat it : ) So, My husband and I had more of the cake and it was delicious! We can’t wait until tomorrow to try some more. Or maybe tonight?
Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful recipes!


I just made a Black Forest Torte, which does not meet my standards when judged by appearance. This did not stop everyone from cleaning their plates as fast as possible. Thank goodness, our palates are the judges.

Cooking in Mexico

Ah! Recognisably the Nigella cake. I’ve made it several times and only once did it not collapse. Someone told me how to adapt the recipe so it doesn’t do this but I can’t remember what!! It’s a great cake, and even better without the “sink”, but how to achieve that again ……….wish I could, despite all the comments here!

Linda Hummel

This cake looks yummy! I’m sure it tastes good as well. It’s a chocolate cake after all!!


I made the original Nigella version, which I also thought had way too much butter in it, and no salt! But she does use brown sugar. Then I made a version with half the butter and the other half an organic shortening, whole wheat pastry flour, and 1/2 tsp salt – I like how you added that. It was better this way. Next I have to get my hands on some spelt flour and give this version a try.


I’m not a huge chocolate fan, but made this cake last night because I couldn’t resist it’s step-child appeal. I omitted the lemon zest and broiling at the end to keep this a fairly “simple” recipe. Glad I did. Although it turned out looking the same, it pretty much was “no fuss, no muss” and amazingly moist. Also, I used a chocolate bar I had on hand, 73% Super Dark Chocolate bar from Trader Joe’s (only 3.5 ounces). The end result isn’t overly sweet or overly chocolatey. I’ll definitely try this one again. Thanks, Heidi!


I love that cake. I will have to give this a try for it sounds really really good!!!1


So here’s what I did: Using ingredients on hand the differences were that I used whole wheat pastry flour adding a tablespoon extra because I read your comment about scaling back on the spelt flour; 2 MEDIUM eggs; 1 cup TJ’s brown sugar and 2/3 cup Turbinado suger and the rest the same as your recipe.
Me, my husband and my best friend LOVED it. My version did not collapse like yours. It had some big cracks in the top crust when I took it out of the oven, and about 10 minutes later I heard an exhale from the kitchen. I thought it was your predicted collapse but I just got a crack down the middle with a tiny bit of cave-in.
Any how—thanks Heidi!!!!!


My “ugly” cake is in the oven as I type this…glad I followed your advice about a pan underneath in case of overflow. As I peeked in before turning the oven down, I saw what can only be described as a volcano of chocolate bubbling over! ( I think my loaf pan was a bit smaller than required) Anyway, I scooped up some of the overflow with a spoon – YUM. Not sure how I will let this sit for your specified time!


I’ve made Nigella’s recipe and I hate to say it but there was just too much butter involved. It seemed greasy when it came out of the pan. We couldn’t even eat it. Ever since, I’ve tiptoed by that particular cookbook. I did find the deflated ugliness quite endearing, though. I’m glad your tweaking of the recipe landed you a delightful cake.


I made this cake last night and it caught on fire under the broiler after 30 seconds! It was salvageable and made a great breakfast this morning. It stayed puffy and didn’t deflate the way you described. I was testing it out for a possible dessert this weekend, and it passed the test! Thanks 🙂


Just think of all the fun things you could fill that “sway-back” with……..peanut butter, or jams, or……….I think it’s time to get out my loaf pan!!!

Printing Hot Spot

This is one of my favorite of Nigella’s recipes, ugly and all. As soon as I saw your picture I thought of Nigella’s cake. I can’t wait to try this version. The muscovado crust sounds amazing!


You know, I’m not really a fan of making foods look pretty. Don’t get me wrong. I love it when other people make gorgeous looking food. I love food photography and food styling. I’m just not into doing in myself. So yeah, this looks ugly. But your descriptions of how it tastes makes me want to try it. Thanks for sharing.


This looks absolutely amazing! I’m dying to try this.


I am going to try with Sucanat in place of the dark Muscovado…including the Ugly Broiling. Since I have a 50 pound bag, why not go all out?
I’ll let you know how it works!


Too much baking soda or powder can cause sinking, so anyone wanting this to come out differently could try cutting back on the baking soda, though I have no idea what may happen given that I’ve never made this recipe.


Will try this, guess I’ll scale down the water.
I use hardly any wheat flour, mostly spelt, and through many collapsed breads and cakes I’ve learned that spelt flour absorbes about 10% less fluids than all purpose flour. Maybe that caused this cake to sag this much?


Further to my last comment… I just thought, maybe the white sugar you mention was in the American version of Nigella’s recipe because you seem to suggest in a few of your posts that dark muscavado isn’t readily available in the US as it is in the UK? That would explain your change!!

lisa fc

This is a great looking cake, and the fine crusty topping is an improvement even on nigella’s original. But I’m confused – you say you substituted in dark muscavado sugar, but I thought that was Nigella’s original recipe – in fact she explains to the reader that the use of muscavado is what gives this cake such a lovely damp quality. The muscavado is a vital part of the original. Thanks for reminding me of this cake, I must make it again, and with your tweaks!

lisa fc

Side note: if you’re going to do the broil thing, DO NOT take your eyes off it. I set the timer for one minute, left the room, and came back as the timer rang to find the top of my cake on fire. Still delicious, but a little bit charcoaly…


I always make a point to never judge a baked good until I’ve eaten it. You just never know. … and it frankly looks delicious. Homemade stuff can often turn out wonky, and that’s what makes them so delicious.


I made this last night for a dinner party tonight for some visiting relatives. I didn’t have spelt flour, but brown rice flour did the trick nicely. It fell *perfectly* in the middle and the texture was so dense, moist and fudgy….well, words fail me here. Definitely a new favorite. Oh, and the family LOVED it. Thank you for making my party a hit!


I have come to realize that the cakes that deflate and give up and disappoint are usually the ones that taste beautiful.
Thanks for sharing, Heidi.


I love rustic, imperfect baked goods so this looks grand! Plus the bowl-like surface just seems to be begging for whipped cream and berries. I’ll try this tonight 🙂


When I looked at your picture, it made me think of chocolate lava cake. Maybe you’ve invented a spelt loaf cousin of the chocolate lava cake. It’s a lava cake big enough to share!


Yeah, I’m pretty much thinking there is no chocolate so ugly I won’t eat it…I’ll have to make this to make sure that is true.


Believe it or not!!!! Hi Altitude Notes from 7,000:
It collapsed a bit, but not as much as your picture depicts, Heidi. I would guesstimate there was a 20% collapse factor which is nothing at H.A. . I followed it exactly…using brown sugar as suggested. I only had a small amount of Moscovado sugar plus brown sugar and used that for topping…what a great idea…lovely crunchy top.
I suggest just adding the word “brownie or fudge” to the title an no one would be the wiser about the collapse issue.
This will be my 4th of July family reunion entry…thanks.


Thank you for “impossibly thin batter”! I should have read all the way through, saw it when I was looking for what I’d done wrong! Now to resist overnight?! Fat chance.

Becky G

Anyone out there know how to make this gluten free? I’ve found that other times, in the thread after H’s wonderful recipes, someone will offer a gf version. I’d love to try this with brown rice and/or all purpose gf flour–does anyone have any specific suggestions?

Katie K

Thanks for the recipe Heidi
CHOCOLATE cakes are my favorite. But i’d like to ask if it’s possible to bake it in Microwave?


it may not be pretty, but it certainly sounds good! sometimes those are the best cakes around 🙂

heather @ chiknpastry

I, too, thought of the Nigella cake, and I agree with Misha re: the recipe and its usefulness. I don’t think either cake is ugly, really, more homely – in the best sense. I like it with a little mascarpone. For the calcium, of course.

Heidi H

Just a note: I had this post on my desktop and a friend sat down at my computer to do something and I said, “Ooh, and this is one of my favorite food blogs…” to which she replied, “And that is the ugliest chocolate cake I have ever seen.” To which I replied, “Why yes! And that is the point!”
She read on and we both declared the post to be a very enjoyable read, and the cake, we decided, was a little less ugly and a little more endearing than when we first saw it.
Just to let you know what goes on while friends read 101 Cookbooks!


Hi there. . . I’ve been following for awhile and have never wrote in. I’m wondering about using cinnamon in lieu of the lemon zest. And maybe trying with almond flour but not that would work. . . any ideas?


This recipe reminds me a lot of the ‘gateau au chocolat Elizabeth David describes in her cookbook ‘French Provincial Cooking’ published in 1960. It is a lot simpler but has the same effect of not being fully cooked in the middle. She even warns the anxious cook beforehand. It it is made with only bitter chocolate, caster sugar, 2 tbsp of flour, eggs and butter and cooked in a loaf pan. It is small and extremely delicious. I usually put a little brandy in the batter! A lot less hassle with the same effect!


You guys are cracking me up with your comments. Happy to see you’re embracing the ugly here. -h


wow – it looks delicious! my mouth was watering just looking at the first picture in my feed reader. I don’t think it looks ugly at all. Plus, it seems like it would be pretty easy to whip up for a worknight dessert.


Well we can’t all be beautiful can we?
This would make a fantastic pudding with small scoops of vanilla ice cream and beautiful fresh raspberries.. Ugly? bring it on.

Jenny Mac

I’m DYING to try out this recipe but I can’t find Spelt flour anywhere!!!
Can you please tell me how much of normal baking flour i can use as a sustitute?


I often give my oven door a deliberate slam about halfway through the backing time. I love the thick fudgy decadence that results.
I call it for obvious reasons The Chocolate Slam Cake. One persons sad mistake is another’s satisfying indulgence.


Some of my favorite cakes are rather… unattractive. The guests forget all about how ugly it is once they try a bite though 😉


Would it be possible to substitute something for the eggs in this cake? My husband was recently diagnosed with an egg allergy, and he’s lamenting the loss of baked goods in his life. Any suggestions?


Ugly? How can a chocolate cake ever be ugly? This one looks so scrumptious, my mouth is watering. Sounds positively heavenly … paired with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream? Can’t wait to try it!

mitzimi @

wow, this looks so delicious!




This looks divine…how about cutting two thin-ish slices and putting some homemade ice cream in between? I bet that’d be the best ice cream sandwich *ever*. 🙂


I think ugly really is the new beautiful! …for what its worth you’ve made me step up and embrace my various baking disasters such as soft macaroons and deflated pound cake not to mention a stunning mixture that was supposed to be a souffle but ended up a gorgeous syrupy goo served with creamy yoghurt. In the past I would have eaten these mishaps alone, behind shuttered windows and in shame but now I’m throwing open the door to celebrate the rustic aesthetic of imperfection…


I’m glad you decided to share this, Heide.
No chocolate cake can be ugly in my eyes. =)


How nice of you to share when something doesn’t go so well Heidi – as well as all your gloriously perfect dishes. Your writing style in this post is wonderful.
I use the Nigella recipe all the time and it is a fantastic dinner party pudding served with creme fraiche and raspberries (which could be used to disguise any ugliness). The old adage is true – don’t be fooled by appearances.

Sally from My Custard Pie

It’s funny, I always love my brownies after they’ve been left out over night. The crust that forms and the chewiness of the cake part because it’s been aired out . . . so good! Leaving this dense cake out was probably the best thing ever!

crescent seward

I’m really obsessed with ugly/cute dogs. You know, the dogs that are probably rescues, total mutts and are so ugly it hurts, but somehow are so adorable that you would never think of ever getting a full breed ever again. That’s what this cake reminds me of. 🙂 Can’t wait to try it.

Adrianna from A Cozy Kitchen

oh my goodness, i agree the cake does not look that attractive…but…how awesome that it tastes fantastic! That’s great!

Bonnie Riffle

Hi Heidi, could someone please let me know what spelt flour is!


It looks sooo rich and inviting–the only thing missing is a cup of coffee with real whipped cream on top! The cake also reminds me of a chocolate cake baked in a large tart pan my mother makes that’s kind of like a brownie except it’s made with ground almonds in place of the flour–very moist and fudgy!
What are your thoughts on using whole wheat sprouted grain flour, add gluten?


You should totally change the name of this post to “Chocolate Ugly Cake”. It’s catchier. 🙂


I didn’t read through all the comments, so I’m sorry if someone already suggested this, but wouldn’t a big spoonful of sour cream go perfect with it if no even make it uglier.


This just goes to show you that looks aren’t everything when it comes to food! 🙂 It looks like a huge brownie cake. yumm

Laura (youngDCliving)

This cake looks SO rich and moist. Utterly delicious.


It’s like the Charlie Brown Tree, you can’t help but love it – Chocolate Brown Treat. I will bake this this weekend for Canada Day.


bwahahahahahaha! I laughed so hard at your introduction I had to read it to my husband b/c he wanted to know what was so funny. You know, sad cakes (the ones that fall in the middle) make me happy b/c they’re so moist and fudgy! And you know, despite the dip in the middle, that creamy center totally makes up for it appearance-wise. mmmmm.


High Altitude Folks out there?
any comments working at H.A?…I am at 7K..and this is what happens to a large percent of cakes anyway…just curious….wouldn’t it be funny if the reverse happens…I’ll play with it tonite and report back. .


You know, I sort of tuned out Nigella Lawson after I saw her cooking show one morning. She filled a bowl with bread cubes, then poured warm milk and sugar over the top and ate it in bed! I’m sure it tasted good, but the idea of it (soggy bread?!) weirded me out.
Let me just say that this cake sounds much better…and your changes (the zest, the broiled sugar crust, the spelt) are worth any ugliness they may have encouraged.


I would kill for a slice of this right now.


My sister in law always bemoans her existence when her platzak sinks in the middle but my husband and I cheer because we LOVE the dense middle pieces-my mouth became a waterfall when I saw the photo and I immediately thought of Lynn’s bread-it also reminds me of a Newfoundland word a friend taught me: “dunch”- which apparently is like al dente in reference to cakes and quickbreads and just the way I like them. I will be very disappointed if the cake doesn’t go ugly when I make it….


Ha Ha, I too made that cake, didn’t crash as much as yours but it definitely needs an overnight to recover and it IS good.
I also made your Beet Green Tart and’s Beet Feta Tart, using your crust for both and what a hit they were. Thanks again. How many times can we say it? thanks again!!


Homely-looking food always seems to turn out delicious. I can tell this is my kind of cake…

Georgia Pellegrini

PS I don’t think the cake is ugly… it’s very “rustic”


I agree with Barbara! Looks like a Colorado high altitude cake to me, too! Cake looks delicious… can’t judge a book by its cover… can’t judge a cake by its appearance either! Yum!!

Kim Fluck

what if you filled the depression in with whipped cream, berries, etc? Not to overwhelm the “ugly cake” which sounds like it can hold its own entirely, but to give it a fun topping? what about a crumb filling, or a fruit/nut combo? It could get interesting, and with the top filled in to a graceful mound up, the cake top arching down, it could look intentional or at least exploited. Delicious, as usual heidi.


Have you ever tried Flo Braker’s method for mixing cakes, to make a butter-sugar-eggs emulsion? It requires a room temp ingredients and a little more care in the beginning. The result is cakes that rise beautifully because the ingredients are bonded together in mixing. I’ve carried the method to other baking; I wonder how this cake would fare under such treatment.


The benefit of “ugly” cakes, in my opinion, is that you’re less likely to share! It looks like the perfect shape to nestle next to a scoop of ice cream or a bowl of fruit, though.
We have an ongoing battle in our house over letting baked good sit until cool, much less overnight. I’m always slapping my husband’s hands away. He always claims that he likes things better out of the oven … even when he’s never tried them before. Sorry, dear, but lemon sablés are better when cool – I don’t care what you say!


It may be an ugly cake, but I bet it was a good cake. My cakes always come out lopsided or deflated or just downright crazy looking but that has nothing to do with the taste!!


If one wanted a slightly less dense cake … what do you think about adding ~1/4 tsp of baking soda (or baking powder?) to the mix – perhaps that would keep the rise?

Ali S

Interesting – wonder how adding nuts or banana to the mix would change it up – will have to give this a go!

Ali S

Ugly or not, it’s chocolate and I’d marry it. 😉


that dip is the perfect place for real whipped cream and maybe some berries 😀 – I thought it looked fantastic!! YUMMY


Were you in Colorado when you made this cake? Cause it looks like a high altitude cake…and I know those puppies well!
They taste fine…and I will sometimes fill crevices with fruit or icing…or also say the heck with it and I applaud you doing just that and preserving the experience for all of us!

Barbara @ VinoLuciStyle

You’re description of the dense chocolate-ness of the cake got me interested…but what *really* got me intrigued was the dusting of lemon zest. Wow! Can’t wait to try it! *smile*


It is funny that you thought that no one would want to eat it- as soon as I saw the picture, I thought- YUM! I need to make that!


Heidi and all, I always use organic whole wheat pastry flour (the one sold in the bulk section at Rainbow’s is so good) so I rarely remember that I’m substituting it into most recipes. It works extremely well in this recipe because this is already a moist cake as it is. I also have the American version of this book and haven’t had any problems with the recipes, as some have mentioned. Perhaps altitude is factoring in…or whole wheat pastry flour evens out all the discrepancies! 🙂 Misha


It might not be ultra attractive, but it’s got personality, and I bet it’s got amazingly gorgeous decadent taste going on, as well. I’m definitely going to try it. I’m not big into the whole ‘celebrity chef’ thing, but I have to confess that Nigella is wonderful – her programmes on telly, her books, her writing, her sense of humour and personality in genera, and of course, her passion for food.
I’m definitely going to make this cake sooner rather than later, if time permits this weekend. Thanks for sharing!


Hi Heidi,
i like this cake, it seems as it was brownie, and i love brownies, not because of its looks but because of its taste. Thanks for all the recipes you share with us.


A molten loaf cake! Perfect.

Ann West

Ahhhh I love when things go wrong but taste so gooood!!
I don’t have a loaf tin but about a million recipes I want to make… am going to start this weekend promise!


I was just thinking to myself the other day: It would be encouraging to see seasoned professionals have a failure now and then, not just me. And then I checked your site and voila! a small smile crept over my face. So thanks Heidi for posting this despite it not turning out picture perfect. Makes me feel more like a seasoned professional. 🙂


this looks decedently amazing to me! I would definitely try it!

Lisa @ Early Morning Run

It’s not ugly. It’s ‘interesting.” 🙂

Lindsay Jewell

You had me at “chocolate”, but you *really* had me at “spelt flour”! This will be tested in my kitchen very soon. 🙂


Just fill that little trough with sweet berries and top with a layer of whipped cream – et voila! ugliness solved and a whole ‘nother layer of flavor!


Oh I think it looks delicious! Reminds me of a horrid-looking zucchini cake I invented last year that actually tasted divine. My husband wasn’t gutsy enough to get over his viewing displeasure and try it, so I was lucky enough to eat the whole thing uninterrupted. Yay for ugly cakes!


I knew right away when you said ‘ugly’ about a chocolate loaf cake I knew it had to be Nigella’s recipe! I have made this cake a few times and it is delicious. One thing that i found is there is a very specific time which you need to take it out for it to hold up and look like the picture in Nigella’s book. But that all depends just how fudgy and flat you want. Because fudgy and flat is certainly delicious.
Another funny thing that happened one of the first times I made it was that I wasnt really sure if my loaf pan was the right size….well turns out it was too small. So, as the cake was cooking it was spiling over onto the sheet pan in the oven and i was scooping it into a bowl and eating it! Yummy! So, now I make it in 2 of my smaller sized loaf pans, which works fine.
This is also not the kind of cake you want to bring to the office 🙂 I brought it and nobody would touch it! (Except me of course). If it isn’t covered in crazy frosting nobody in my office will eat it. Save it for the people that will ‘understand’ and appreciate a rather ugly, not-too-sweet, totally delicious cake.


Is is possible to substitute spelt flour for all-purpose in most recipes? Under what conditions is it NOT alright?


As long as it tastes great, that’s all that matters…hehe…ya know what they say about books, ‘never judge a book by its cover’ well the same goes for a recipe! Enjoy Heidi…I’m sure it’s delicious.

The Healthy Apple

I think the French expression for “beautiful ugly” is “jolie laide”. And, I second the previous comment… who cares what it looks like, it’s CHOCOLATE!


Damn, that’s an ugly cake. 😉


Hi Heidi,
I’m inspired to try this, BUT I live in Colorado where altitude is a whole ‘nother factor to deal with…I’ll bet it falls even further…I’ll let ya’ know.
Thanks for the yummy looking recipe…I can’t wait to try it!
HS: Quite frankly, I’m not sure that’s even possible. Any flatter it’d be inside out 😉 Godspeed to you.


as soon as I saw the description of this cake I thought “that sounds like the Domestic Godess cake” that I have made over and over. Yes, the looks are not great (I do NOT think Nigella is homely..) but the taste is sublime. You can eat slice after slice and think “oh my God”. I will try it with the changes, but I do know her verision is beyound belief.
Great great cake.


I make this cake all the time! it is even more unbelievable with pureed raspberry sauce….


Thanks for sharing Heidi! Baking can be such a gamble sometimes and even something that looks terrible, comes out tasting absolutely delicious. Will def have to try this one out and be sure to let it sit overnight!


nigella’s cake is the first (and only so far) that i have baked from scratch. i love that recipe! 🙂


I love homey/homely cakes like this. I’m betting it would benefit from a cleaver — chop it up, make a cool little pile, and serve with good ice cream, who wouldn’t love it?
And Heidi: sharing your IMperfections is wonderful, since so much of what you do is pretty damn dreamily perfect. As always, thanks for the inspiration!

Eric Gower

Hey, my Grandma always said that if a cake falls, it will be the best tasting cake you’ve ever had. And that woman was right! I make a loaf cake that ALWAYS falls in the middle, and it’s the best loaf cake I’ve ever made. It’s not pretty enough to give as a gift, -unless of course the giftee has experienced it before, but that’s okay, -I’ll be happy to keep it. : )
HS: Oooh! Please share the recipe Shari – sounds pretty darn intriguing. I love hearing people’s “best ever” recipes.


Hmmm…I’m up for a challenge. I will brave this and let you know how it turns out!
And thank you for sharing an “ugly” dish here and there- along with the gazillion pretty ones- makes us (or me) feel a little better about our ‘at-home, never-to-be blogged about ugly dishes…sad but true:).

Torrie @ a place to share...

can any other flour be used? teff, buckwheat?
what would be a good substitute?
HS: Hi Ana – I think you’d have success swapping in whole wheat pastry flour, or even white whole wheat flour. Some of the other flours like teff or or oat or buckwheat have less (or no) gluten-forming proteins, so it might take more experimenting to get it right using those. Rye flour might be interesting to play with as well. Good luck!


Wowzers. Umm…this loaf cake looks utterly decadent and divine! And the photographs! Heidi this treat looks gorgeous and not-at-all like an ugly cake!


Not the prettiest dish you have ever made, but MAN ALIVE does that sound tasty!


I wouldn’t throw that in the compost bin. I am another one who looks into the oven and WILLS cakes to get prettier when they start looking a little…how shall I put this…unique. But I think this one looks divine and gooey (gooey has been the saving grace for many-a-cake in my house!) even in its most rustic state. Little vanilla cream or ice cream and I would be very happy. =)


Why not just call it Chocolate Ugly Cake?


(I got too excited)


Who cares if it’s ugly? IT’S CHOCLATE!


I love cakes like this. Reminds me of the ‘ugly but good’ cookie from Perbacco. I love Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess book too, but I agree – I’d have used Muscovado intead of white sugar.


You may think that cake is chocolate ugly cake, I think that it’s a beauty- no matter what you think! I mean, just look at that amazing crumb, Heidi! That chocolate-y goodness is just killing me!
Lovely post, Heidi!
BTW, silly question- where’d you get your loaf pan? I am getting tired of baking in our old, dark, loaf pan because it always over-bakes everything… Plus, we need a few more pans, and I want to get one that’s good- not one of those cheap one’s from Macy’s…
HS: Embrace the yard sale Kamran – yard sales, garage sales, flea markets – that’s where I always find my favorite pans 🙂

kamran siddiqi

Mmmm… I’ve admired that Nigella cake for years, but never given it a go. I dare say this will nudge me over…


Woah, woah. This looks intense! I totally believe you with the aging over night. I know that spaghetti, lasagna, and chili always taste better the next day.

A Teenage Gourmet

This is probably the one cake I’ve made the most from her cookbook. The addition of sugar to the top must be amazing. Next time, I’ll definitely try it with the crust!


I have been meaning to make this loaf cake for the longest time now! You just gave me another reason to after posting those gorgeous photograph. LOVE it.

Shaheen {The Purple Foodie}

No words, just the need to wipe my chin.


The cake as a whole may not be the most attractive, but the slice looks delicious – so rich and moist.
I’ve never experimented with flours before, but maybe since the all-purpose canister was taken over and filled with protein powder while I was at work, I will begin to try. This recipe looks as good as any; can’t beat chocolate.


Hey Heidi–Just curious: Did you possibly use sprouted spelt instead of regular spelt? (my Whole Foods now sells both in bulk, right next to each other.) I only ask because is exactly how my last quick bread loaf (date cake) turned out, and I think it was because of the sprouted flour. Again, like yours, it was still delicious, and even better the next day, but certainly not beauty-pageant material 🙂
HS: Hi Amanda. It wasn’t sprouted. Just regular spelt flour.


I actually think it looks beautiful. Is that strange?

Georgia Pellegrini

I like the no frills nature of this chocolate cake recipe. I’m intrigued with the idea of lemon zest in the pan prior to pouring the cake batter. It sounds wonderfully decadent, especially with the sugar crust.

Christine @ Fresh Local and Best

By using the spelt flour v. AP does it make it more dense? How does it change the texture? I haven’t used spelt much.

Andrea @ Fork Fingers Chopsticks

Poor little cake – I don’t think it’s ugly necessarily, just not as pretty as some other chocolate cakes. 🙂 Still looks good though!

Tabitha (from single to married)

Yum, that looks delicious. I few bright berries on the plate would make it look pretty but I wouldn’t care either way. I’m adding this to my list of recipes to try. There are lots of chocoholics in my family.


Even though it’s ugly, I know it’s delicious. Can’t wait to try it!


You had me at chocolate! I don’t think this cake is ugly at all. The photo left me dying to pick off some of the Muscovado crust (I usually have to refrain myself from doing that to my loaf cakes as soon as they come out of the oven). I was also wondering if whole wheat pastry flour would be a good substitute as well. I have to thank your website for introducing me to it, as I had not had the best luck with regular whole wheat flour. Now I use ww pastry flour for everything, and my husband, who wrinkles his nose when make “healthy” food is none the wiser!
Since I can no longer comment on the recipe directly, I wanted to let you know that I finally got around to making the baked doughnuts for brunch last week, and they were a huge hit! I made the dough the night before and they came out perfect the next morning (even after I let them sit out for well over an hour before baking). Thanks for all the great recipes!


Do you think this could be made with whole wheat pastry flour instead of spelt? Or maybe oat flour? I don’t spelt but do have the other two.
HS: Hi Nisha – I think whole wheat pastry would be a safe bet. Please report back if you try it.


while I haven’t tried this, everything chocolate is right up my alley. I have heard, though, that the recipes in that book are quite off – the American conversions didn’t quite make the translation? Did you have to deal with this in adjusting for your own recipe? Just curious…
HS: Hi MO, in this case I scaled back the amount of flour a touch – because it is spelt and seems to absorb more.


Oh I think that cake looks pretty wonderful!

Simply Life

I often find that the ugliest foods are the tastiest, and this one looks particularly moist and delicious to my eye. I love loaf cakes too… especially on a rainy weekend day, late in the morning – and with coffee of course. Shall we call it beautiful ugly? I know there is a French word for that… but I only had one year of French in high school, and so, I do not know it.

The Gardener's Eden

Heidi, that cake looks as though it would taste great – it looks a little fudgy and brownie like……and in any case, who wants a cake that is all looks and no substance……….


I have made this loaf cake before and everyone LOVED it!

Jessica @ How Sweet

I will brave this ugly cake today for my kids, if I can squeeze it into my schedule… and I will tell you about!

Miriam/The Winter Guest

My cakes often get described as rustic looking, mostly I think due to my inability to resist opening the oven door to see how they are going. Taste is what counts and I bet that if this were heated up, with a dollop of cream, everyone’s mouth would be too full to comment on how it looks.


Think of it as “rustic” looking – looks great to me, I can imagine myself diving in for a piece 🙂


Sometimes an ugly cake/dish can be absolutely delicious. I approve of the changes you made. I have to admit that I’m not a fan of Nigella’s. I first heard of her when I happened upon her cooking show, and I just couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw her cooking style. Very old-fashioned, very 50s house-wifey, very unconscious of nutrional value. When she served plain white noodles with ketchup for a kiddie birthday I changed channels with a disgusted snort.

Babs (gleefulfood)

One quick follow-up! I hand mix this (because I don’t own a standing mixer) and have found that melted butter results in a denser, squidgier cake with a crustier top, while softened butter results in a softer top, and a bit more height without making it less rich. I imagine that using a mixer warms the butter with squidgier results.


Nigella’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess is one of the most-used cookbooks in my collection (or most read since her writing is so entertaining), and this dense chocolate loaf cake is the most-used recipe. I call it the no-fail chocolate cake because I’ve made plenty of pretty cakes that didn’t taste as lovely as they looked, but this cake ALWAYS tastes heavenly. My usual variations are to substitute in brown sugar or raw caster sugar and add some cocoa or cacao powder – I’ve found this helps to bolster the richness when I can’t find my usual bittersweet chocolate bar. To make it look more palatable to kids and co-workers, I spread a thin layer of bittersweet chocolate ganache over the top. No fail! Also, Nigella recommends eating a cold slice of this spread with a thin layer of cream cheese. Think black-bottomed cupcakes, but a sophisticated substitute.
Excellent addition here!


Who cares what it looks like? It’s CHOCOLATE!! I used to cook and bake without thinking so much about the final presentation. Isn’t it funny that blogging has changed our perspective. I personally love imperfect looking meals. Makes it more real and not so unattainable! I will definitely try this out.

Laura @ Family Spice

i usually approach an emotional collapse when my baked goods come out looking less than appetizing… but i kind of though this looked super delicious in that first picture and will brave it for a pictionary party tuesday.

Melissa, Bakin' Love

Yum! Sometimes, aesthetic failures are so delicious that we have to share them with the world. I feel you, girl.
And hey, dolloped with whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream, this would make a very presentable dessert!

Coco @ Opera Girl Cooks

Funny, when I looked at the pictures before reading the text, I thought of Nigella’s cake. The cake may be a bit homely (Nigella’s is, too), but slice me up a piece. I bet it tastes grand.


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