Chocolate cake is a decadent dessert that pairs well with other foods such as ice cream, fresh fruit, and, what we focus on, coffee. Mixing the two can create a whole new experience, scientifically affecting how the chocolate cake tastes. Whether making it from scratch or a box mix, you might be inclined to add extra chocolate to create a rich chocolate flavor. This could mess with your cake’s consistency and overall outcome, so before you do that, consider another option—coffee!
According to Jenifer Tirrell, coffee interacts with many of the cake’s parts to alter the end product. Coffee interacts with the flour, fats, and sugar to create a more moist cake and a richer flavor. You can increase the chocolate flavors by using a darker or more acidic coffee roast.
It is best to use a dark chocolate cake recipe since coffee can bring out a richer chocolate taste when there is a higher concentration of cocoa; however, using dark chocolate for a cake on its own can lead to a more bitter taste. So, by adding both coffee and dark chocolate, you can create a perfect balance of chocolatey goodness. Coffee can temporarily alter your taste receptors to create a pleasurable chocolate taste from bitter dark cocoa. Alexander Fjaeldstad did a study on the effects of coffee on human taste receptors, and he found that “two minutes after regular coffee consumption, the detection threshold for the sweet tastant was increased while the threshold for the bitter tastant was significantly decreased.” He showed that this is the reason for the popularity of dark chocolate and coffee pairing.
When we made these cakes, our panel of judges (our taste-testing friends) found that our adapted recipe, where the water was replaced with warm, brewed coffee, ended up with a richer chocolate flavor. This delicious combination is all due to science!
As restated from the original article, when you mix a cake, the flour forms minimal gluten to give the cake a bouncy texture, while the eggs bind all the ingredients together. The water and oil help retain the moisture in the cake so that it does not dry out when baked. Each ingredient plays a role in making the cake turn out just right.
- Flour: structure building, forms minimal gluten to create a bouncy result
- Baking soda: leavening agent; creates gasses when reacting to acids to create an airy texture
- Cocoa Powder: provides the chocolate flavor and is acidic so it reacts to the baking soda
- Sugar: sweetener, hygroscopic, so it helps retain moisture in the cake
- Oil: helps retain moisture in the cake
- Eggs: help emulsify the ingredients and create a smooth batter
- Coffee: much like water, the coffee molecules interact with the compounds in the flour, eggs, oil, and sugar to help retain moisture in the cake. This added moisture, combined with amplifying the bitterness of the dark roast coffee, increases our sensitivity to sweetness and dulls our sensitivity to bitterness, leaving behind a taste of sweet and rich chocolate.
You can see our original recipe here!
Fincher, Melanie. “This Simple Ingredient Is the Secret to the Best Chocolate Desserts .” Allrecipes, Allrecipes, 21 Jan. 2022, https://www.allrecipes.com/article/secret-to-best-chocolate-desserts/#:~:text=Add%20Espresso%20Powder%20or%20Instant,teaspoon%20to%20do%20the%20trick.
Fjaeldstad, Alexander W., and Henrique M. Fernandes. “Chemosensory Sensitivity after Coffee Consumption Is Not Static: Short-Term Effects on Gustatory and Olfactory Sensitivity.” Foods, vol. 9, no. 4, Apr. 2020, p. 493. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.3390/foods9040493.
Tirrell, Jennifer. “What Does Coffee Do to a Chocolate Cake?” CakeRe, 23 Oct. 2022, https://www.cakere.com/what-coffee-do-to-a-chocolate-cake/.
- Combine the boxed cake mix with the eggs and oil. add in one cup of brewed coffee. Stir for two minutes to combine.
- Pour into an oil-coated cake pan and bake for time instructed on box.