High Ratio Chocolate Cake Recipe

As with the high ratio yellow cake recipe, emulsification is king here. The recipe is built accordingly, making a process allowance for the cocoa powder. An interesting feature of cocoa powder is that it delivers double the chocolate flavor if you combine it with boiling milk or water before you add it to your mix (another trick from the world of box cake formulators). Since I can’t abide wasting perfectly good chocolate flavor, I’ll be doing that.

I should add that this cake can be made with butter if you wish. As it is it won’t be exactly like a commercial cake because most of us don’t have access to emulsified shortening or high ratio flour, which are usually used to make high ratio cakes. But butter will work here. For more moisture you can substitute oil for some of the fat (olive oil is best since it also adds emulsifiers and tightens the crumb. This recipe will make three 8″ round layers or one 11″ x 14″ x 2″ sheet cake (I should add that if you’re baking in a pan of that size, but the soda back by 1/4 teaspoon to help ensure the cake doesn’t fall in the middle)

12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) boiling water
1.65 ounces (1/2 cup) cocoa powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
15 ounces (3 1/3 cups + ) cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda (1/4 tsp. less if you’re making a large sheet cake)
15 ounces (2 cups, 2 tablespoons) sugar
6.75 ounces (1 cup) shortening
3 eggs
6 egg yolks

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Pour the water into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the cocoa powder until it’s completely incorporated and allow the mixture to cool. Add the vanilla. Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the salt, baking powder, baking soda and HALF the sugar. Set that aside also. Next, combine the remaining sugar and shortening in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle (beater) and cream them thoroughly, about two minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then the yolks all at once. Stir in about a third of the flour, then half the chocolate mixture, another third of the flour, etc. until everything is incorporate. Scrape the mixture into a greased, parchment-lined cake pan and bake on a middle rack for about half an hour until the cake springs back in the middle when touched.

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37 Responses to High Ratio Chocolate Cake Recipe

  1. Eva says:

    Hi Joe,

    Thanks for the “Ah Ha!” moment. I always wondered about why you had to add boiling water to the cocoa powder in so many recipes. I always thought that it was to make it more like melted chocolate pieces. But it’s a flavor thing. That’s wonderful as I love deep chocolate flavor!


    • joepastry says:

      Pretty neat, eh? It’s a nice thing to know as you bake. No more wasted chocolate!

      Thanks for the comment, Eva!

      - Joe

  2. Linda says:

    I did not know it improved flavor!! I always assumed it was to make the cocoa powder blend better and keep it from flying all over when you turn on the mixer…not that I ever had that happen. Thanks, Joe!

  3. Susan says:

    Why shortening and not butter Joe?

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Susan!

      The reason is because you get a more even emulsion with it, and that emulsion is very important for the texture of this style of cake. You can make high ratio cakes with butter, but these formulas really work best this way.

      - Joe

  4. Thames says:

    Oh I want to comment on restaurant experience! That should open up a flood. My one and only experience was at Food for Thought in DuPont Circle, DC. It was veggie/vegan/hippie place. I learned nothing about cooking there but a lot about the restaurant business. I appreciate everyone in a restaurant now because of that experience working as a sandron (sandwich maker), prep chef, cook and waiter.

  5. Henry says:

    Alice Medrich thinks that heat actually destroys some of the subtler notes of cocoa powder rather than enhances it: http://alicemedrich.blogspot.com/2011/03/cocoa-curiosity.html

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Henry!

      I’d say that’s something of a subjective judgement, though I’m not doubting that heat does a number on some essential oils and/or flavor components. However it’s also true that without moist heat up to half of the flavor in cocoa powder stays locked up in the solids. Considering the batter is going to be baked at 350 Fahrenheit anyway, I think you’ll only gain by using this process step.

      - Joe

    • CJ says:

      Medrich’s blog post suggests avoiding simmering or boiling, but that is not the typical method of moist heat recommended for cocoa in cakes, in this recipe or elsewhere. The typical process is (as here) to mix cocoa and hot water off heat and let it cool to room temperature.

      • joepastry says:

        Indeed. I was once in that camp myself, until a food scientist proved to me how much flavor boiling water releases. I understand the camp that says boiling water destroys some essential oils, however in my own opinion it’s worth the trade-off.

        Thanks CJ!

        - Joe

  6. Tora says:

    I have a ton of eggs kind of on the brink of death (expiry) – so I’m definitely making this tonight (you know, just to get rid of the eggs… yeah…) COUGH.

    But I was wondering how this is meant to be served? Whipped cream? Creme fraiche? Frosting? Berries? A serving suggestion would be grand, Joe – GRAND!

    Thank you!

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Tora!

      The recipe is ready now. As I suspected I needed more liquid. Also a bigger pan! Let me know how this works for you. As for how you finish it, these kinds of cakes are usually frosted on top, but whipped cream will work just fine!

      - Joe

  7. What if you’re using Dutch-processed cocoa powder? How would you adjust the recipe?

    • joepastry says:

      That’s a good question, Samantha. I’m not really sure I know the answer to be honest. I’d need to experiment with it since Dutched cocoa is still acidic to some degree. Sorry about that.

      - Joe

  8. Hello,

    Please may I use the followings for the two high ratio cakes:

    1. Cake flour = A.P Flour + Corn Starch

    2. Shortening = Butter or Margarine



    • joepastry says:

      Hey Wale!

      1. Yes (substitute corn starch for one to two tablespoons of the flour)
      2. Also yes…margarine will be better!

      - Joe

  9. Amy Handler says:

    I’m confused about the shortening quantity in this recipe. Butter and vegetable shortening are both formulated to have 1:1 ratios of volume to weight, that is, 1 cup =8 ounces. Of course, they’re also 20% water. Perhaps that’s not so with high-ratio shortening.

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Amy!

      Shortening has no water in it. Does that help matters any? If not, write back to let me know what you’re confused about! ;)

      - Joe

      • Amy Handler says:

        I think shortening actually does, as it’s full name is hydrogenated vegetable shortening.

        How much butter should I use? 1 cup or 6 3/4 ounces?

        If I use butter should I remove an ounce and a quarter of the water?

        • joepastry says:

          Hi Amy!

          Hydrogenation is about adding hydrogen atoms to liquid vegetable oil to make it solid. You can trust me on this, shortening is all fat with no water. I think your conversion will work well!

          - Joe

  10. louise says:

    Hi Joe – I’m in the uk so can’t get hold of pastry flour here – what’sthe best substitute? – also a famous tv chef over here recommended lurpack spreadable for baking sponge cakes- how do you think it would work here?

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Louise!

      I should think that just using a weaker, all-purpose flour would be fine. Avoid the strong bread flours, and if the result is too firm, try substituting corn flour for three tablespoons of the wheat flour the next time. Does that make sense?

      - Joe

  11. Tara says:

    If I want to sub some of the fat with oil how much and where along the recipe should I add it? Thanks

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Tara!

      Add it with the yolks. Since you won’t be creaming the butter and sugar, obviously, you can put in all the sugar at once. Good luck!

      - Joe

  12. Danielle says:

    I just made this recipe into cupcakes for my nephew’s birthday party, and I am absolutely thrilled with the results! Every time I try to make a cake from scratch, it turns out too dense for my taste. This recipe is perfect – even made with butter. I used German buttercream to frost them (got the idea from your post, used my own pastry cream recipe) and I am completely in love. Thank you so much for this entire site – I’ve spent hours on it since discovering it less than a week ago.

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Danielle!

      I’m delighted you’ve had such success. Welcome to the blog and please feel free to ask any questions you’d like at any time! I’m pretty much always around.

      Nice to have you aboard! ;)

      - Joe

  13. Jenette says:

    I’ve seen coffee used a lot in chocolate cake recipes. Could we substitute Thayer for water? Would it enhance the flavor?

    • Jenette says:

      Thayer= that

    • joepastry says:

      Hello Jenette!

      Coffee definitely does enhance the chocolate flavor, though I’d be inclined to add it as a powder at the boiling water step. You’ll get more coffee flavor that way. Liquid coffee tends to get a little lost in a batter like this.

      Let me know how it goes!


      - joe

  14. Dana Lanier says:

    Hi Joe,

    I made this recipe but scaled back the liquid (water and eggs) by 1/3 and used my doughnut depositor. Let me also say that I’ve made your vanilla cake doughnuts with the doughnut depositor, too, and they were wonderful. These chocolate ones, however, were an EPIC fail. The depositor dropped beautiful rings of chocolate dough into the oil and then within moments completely dissolved! There was a residue on top of the oil and nasty crumby sludge at the bottom. Any idea what happened??

    I was thinking of trying to convert a cake doughnut dough from a recipe book that calls for making a dough that is rolled out. Would I just increase the liquid so that it would pass through the depositor?

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I am considering opening a scratch-made doughnut shop and am trying to develop recipes at home.


    • joepastry says:

      Hi Dana!

      I’m very sorry to hear that! One day I really need to nail the formula and procedures down for high-ratio cake doughnuts. Curse me and my lazy ways! I have made chocolate cake doughnuts with this, but the batter was so thick as to be nearly paste-like. Probably the best thing to do, unless you really want to spend time on these, is to go the route you’re thinking and thin a dough to the point that it drops through. That’s a technique I used when I was testing doughnuts recipes and for the most part it worked. Let me know how it goes!


      - Joe

  15. jen says:

    Hello Joe,
    i just started baking again after a very long while. im re-learning basics and already did some cakes. it was good but need improvements. i want to understand the ratio of your chocolate recipe. for a 2-cup sugar recipe = 1/2 cup cocoa powder dissolved in 1 1/2 cup boiling water?

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Jen!

      Sorry for the late reply. Yes, those are the proportions in the recipe. What exactly can I answer for you?

      Cheers and promise not to be so late next time,

      - Joe

  16. rez valenzuela says:

    Good day. Do you have a recipe for small bathc. I love to try yours but it will be too costly for me. Tnx.

    • joepastry says:

      Hello Rez!

      This recipe is for just one cake, though you can scale it down as small as you need.


      - Joe

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