Dense, moist, and decadent, this Chocolate Water Cake calls for ingredients you likely have in the cupboard, and the cake doesn’t use any butter, milk, or eggs (meaning the cake itself is dairy-free and vegan). The chocolate frosting does include dairy, but if you’d like to keep the recipe vegan, feel free to top the cake with any vegan frosting you prefer—we promise the cake will still be just as good. This cake comes together in one bowl, and because it’s so moist and rich on its own, we don’t fuss with layering and stacking several layers of cake. This recipe is designed to require the frosting of one perfectly thick layer and moving on with your life. The cake is made of a simple batter of flour, brown sugar, and cocoa powder mixed with vegetable oil and hot water. The lift and tenderness of the cake comes from the incorporation of baking soda and apple cider vinegar, and the sweetness of the cake is balanced with just the right amount of salt. As for the frosting, a simple chocolate ganache is made in the microwave by melting together chocolate chips and butter and then whipping this ganache with cream cheese, powdered sugar, and a small amount of strong coffee to create a tangy and rich chocolate frosting that’s easy to spread. Finally, we top the frosted cake with a sprinkling of flake salt to elevate and compliment the cake’s richness.

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Ingredients

Cake
Frosting

Directions

Instructions Checklist
  • Make the Cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch cake pan with vegetable oil and line bottom with a circle of parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking soda, and salt until homogenous. Add water, oil, and vinegar. Whisk until no pockets of dry ingredients remain. Pour batter into prepare pan and bake until the cake pulls away slightly from the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes back with a few dry crumbs, 50 to 55 minutes. Allow to cool completely before inverting out of pan.

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  • Make the Frosting: Place chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds; stir until chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined (if chocolate is still not fully melted, microwave for 10 seconds more and stir again). Using the whisk attachment of a mixer, combine chocolate mixture and cream cheese until fully incorporated. Add coffee and beat until combined. Add powdered sugar and incorporate on low; increase speed to medium-high and beat until glossy, about 3 minutes.

  • Place cake on serving plate, scoop frosting on top of cake and spread to edges. Use a spoon to make decorative swirls and finish with a sprinkling of flake salt.

Chef's Notes

If you don’t have espresso powder but still want to enhance the chocolate flavor with coffee, substitute the 1 3/4 cups hot water for 1 3/4 cups strong coffee—in our test, this worked just as well and didn’t overwhelm the cake with coffee flavor.