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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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.


Heidi, 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! Best, Misha


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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