I’ve made all sorts of chocolate cakes over the past 15 years or so as a baker, a pastry chef & a home baker. I have absolutely loved each and every one of them, but this cake from my childhood tops the list to this date!
This is a simple chocolate cake that you can make with pantry staples but it is so nostalgic to me. This is one of the two cakes I learnt to bake as a little girl alongside my Mom. A good butter cake and this chocolate cake were two things we never missed to bake during the New Year (Sri Lankan New Year falls in mid April). Though cake is not very traditional over there, these light and moist treats were much loved amongst many other overly sweet, oily, deep fried sugary sweets.
The main difference of this cake batter is that it uses margarine and NOT butter as the fat. I have made this same cake using butter later on but it never turned out the way I remembered. Margarine mostly is made with vegetable oil and will make cakes extra moist (have you made Olive oil cakes? then you know). Also it gives a unique taste (different to that of butter). This unique flavor is so nostalgic to us Sri Lankans that we refer this as “Sri Lankan Chocolate Cake”.
Also back in the days we used a Sri Lankan cocoa powder, Kandos, made using single origin cocoa grown on the island. The cocoa is grown as an underplanting in coconut and rubber plantations and is not considered a major export, so it may not be commonly available in international markets.
If you want to replicate the exact version, you cab buy this specific cocoa powder from an online store or from an Asian grocer. But any Dutch processed cocoa powder works great for this cake!
Frost or not to frost?
I honestly prefer the non-frosted version of this cake. It is moist, light and sort of melts in your mouth, so for me this is just perfect as it is. But my husband loves the addition of chocolate buttercream. And I know that a lot of people that I know love a bit of extra sweetness on this cake. So it is up to you.
We never frosted this cake when we made it in the new Year season, there were already enough sweet stuff flowing around. But if you are making this cake for a celebration (this makes a great birthday cake!) then a light coating of chocolaty frosting is a must!
I use butter to make the frosting and not margarine. Butter gives the best tasting frosting and unlike cake, margarine doesn’t play a roll in the frosting. So use good quality salted butter. I also add extra salt to balance the sweetness. It is up to you though! If you like to really bring out the intense cocoa flavor, add a splash of espresso to the frosting.
You don’t have to use my frosting for this cake, any cake frosting will do! Even vanilla buttercream, Italian meringue buttercream or mocha buttercream will marry perfectly with this cake.
Gather the ingredients and follow these simple steps!
Make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature. I used Imperial Margarine but any vegetable butter should work. Avoid olive oil spreads as they can be too strong.
I’m using vanilla extract as that’s what I used originally. If you have vanilla bean paste, feel free to use that.
Use good quality sea salt, that’s what we used
My eggs weighed about 45g. If you have got large eggs (>55g) use 4.
Sifting the dry ingredients is crucial to get that light crumb. So do not skip this step.
Simply combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and sift using a fine mesh for about 4-5 times.
Repeated sifting will ensure that everything is evenly mixed and that there are no lumps. It also aerate the flour mix making the batter light and fluffy. This may sound wired but later at bakery school I learnt that this is true!
Important as well!
Beating the fat and the sugar until light, pale and fluffy. Having all ingredients at room temperature (soft margarine) helps achieve this faster.
Also if your sugar is in large crystal form, consider blitzing it in a food processor/grinder to a much finer granule. Super fine caster sugar is the best. Fine sugar will dissolve faster and fluff up easily.
To this fluffy mixture, add one egg at a time and beat at a moderate speed until the egg disappears before adding another.
If the mixture curdles, add a teaspoon of the flour mixture and continue to beat until smooth.
Once all the eggs are added, it’s time to fold in the flour. Add flour and milk alternatively. Use a big spoon to add flour to the mixture and beat the lowest speed, then add a splash of milk. For best results fold by hand. Video below!
Continue until all the flour is added. Always try to end with flour and not milk. That way you can ensure the batter is well emulsified and not too runny.
Milk will help loosen the batter, so if you don’t have to use all of it, it’s fine. I end up using all of it most of the time.
The final batter should be luscious, smooth, voluminous and not too thick.
Batter curdled/separated? Refrigerate the bowl for 10 minutes and add a table spoon of extra flour and beat on high for 3-4 seconds
Fold flour by hand using the mechanism shown in the video. Fold and cut through! This is the best way to incorporate flour to a batter without splitting the mixture.
This will also incorporate some air to the batter making it light and fluffy. This helps in achieving the supper light crumb.
Deposit the batter into prepared pans. I’m using two 8 inch round cake pans. This batter fits a 9 by 9 brownie pan too.
You can also bake this batter in 5 individual 6 inch cake pans too. The baking time may vary depending on the pan you use.
Once the batter is distributed, tap the trays on a table several times to release any trapped air pockets.
Bake in a preheated moderate oven (175 °C/ 350 °F) for about 25 minutes.
9″ by 9″ pan – 30-40 minutes
6″ pans – about 15 minutes
Test with a cake tester. If the tester comes out clean, the cake is done. Remove and leave to cool completely.
Frosting is optional for this cake! It is usually served with tea (milk tea) and this light cake slides down easily.
A little frosting can make this cake celebration ready though!
To make the frosting simply whisk butter until pale and fluffy, add the sifted icing sugar and cocoa powder and beat until incorporated. Use whisk attachment and beat on high for a 2 minutes to make it fluffier.
Feel free to adjust the amount of cocoa/sugar to your taste.
A pinch of salt will help dial down the sweetness a notch!
Once the cakes are fully cooled, frost them however you fancy!
I brush the tops with a little sugar syrup to calm the crumb and to make it even moist. This will help spread the frosting easily. This is optional though!
Bring 1 part sugar : 1 part water to a boil and simmer for a minute until sugar dissolves and syrup is slightly thickened