You Won't Believe the Secret Ingredient in this Scary Chocolate Cake

No tricks to see here — this cake is the total treat!

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October 26, 2019

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In the last year or so, I began to see intensely dark, moody and chocolaty desserts cropping up on some of my favorite Instagram accounts. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was just filters and lighting that created such a dark, almost black hue — but then I noticed these desserts had one ingredient in common: black cocoa.

What was this magical ingredient? Did it involve charcoal or food coloring? A quick Google search reassured me that it was simply another version of unsweetened cocoa powder.

For a year or so I admired these desserts (and their inherent drama) from behind my computer screen and then I got the very exciting news that Food Network Magazine wanted all the drama of a Black Chocolate Cake for their October issue. I raised my hand for the assignment faster than you can say “scary.”

Before I could mix up my cake batter, though, I had to spend some time researching this mystery ingredient. I found that black cocoa is a highly alkalized and unsweetened cocoa powder. Because of this, it has its own unique flavor and properties and cannot always be interchanged with other kinds of cocoa.

Why you may ask? To help this make sense, here's how it compares to the two most commonly used types of cocoa.

Unsweetened Natural Cocoa

  • Is reddish brown in color
  • Has a bitter chocolate flavor
  • Is made from roasted, dried and ground cocoa beans and has had the cocoa butter removed
  • Most recipes using it call for baking soda to help neutralize its acidity.

Dutch Processed Cocoa

  • Is darker in color, almost brown
  • Has a smoother chocolate flavor
  • Lacks the acidity of natural cocoa
  • Most recipes using it call for baking powder only.

Black Cocoa

  • Is black in color
  • Is a highly Dutched processed cocoa
  • Has a very strong flavor; most people prefer to mix it with Dutch cocoa for a more rounded dish
  • The most famous black cocoa cookie around is the Oreo.
  • Can be purchased online or in specialty baking stores.

Armed with all the research, I was ready to bake and chose a style of cake that was both light and fluffy. To start, I whipped together eggs and sugar, creating thick ribbons of batter. The end result was a lovely mixture that had a deep dark cocoa flavor, but also a light and airy texture.

Then I got to work on the frosting. I tried my hand at a German buttercream, which is essentially a very thick pudding that is cooled and whipped into butter, and it was perfect! Not only was it creamy and glossy, but it was also buttery and easy to swoop with an offset spatula. The cake and frosting ended up being almost the exact same color and were so beautifully dark that it didn’t need a single sprinkle or sugar for decoration.

The final result passed the ultimate test: my 4-year-old gobbled it down (granted he adores chocolate like his mama) and my colleagues around the kitchen kept sneaking over for just one more taste.

Whether you are just looking for a new great chocolate cake to add to your recipe queue or are looking for a dramatic Halloween dessert that every guest will love, this is the cake for you!

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