Kitchn Love Letters

This Easy Chocolate Dump-It Cake Is My Favorite Birthday Tradition

published Jan 30, 2021
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cake sits on a glass cake stand with a slice of cake ona white plate in front of it
Credit: Jennifer Zyman

While I generally prefer cooking to baking because there’s more room for experimentation, there are certain baked goods I require of myself to feel like a whole home cook. A homespun chocolate cake with chocolate frosting is near the top of that list. Ease is vital because I’m often too lazy to lug my mixer out of the kitchen cabinet. Enter: Amanda Hesser’s Chocolate Dump-it Cake, which gets assembled in a pan on the stove.

Hesser, CEO and cofounder of Food52, adapted the recipe from her mother Judith Hesser’s homemade chocolate cake. She likens the dense and moist cake to something you’d get from famed pastry chef François Payard, and she isn’t far from the truth. In addition to being impossibly easy (stir, dump, bake, frost), each bite is packed full of flavor.

There’s also something magical about the sour cream frosting. It’s hard to believe all you have to do is melt chocolate chips (I do it in the microwave instead of a double boiler), let the melted chocolate come to room temperature, and mix with room-temperature sour cream. Why room temperature? The chocolate will turn the frosting grainy if the sour cream is too cold, so be patient. I learned this the hard way. If you do find your frosting stiffening up, I find a tablespoon of powdered sugar smooths it out. 

I’ve made this cake many times with many riffs. Sometimes I fill it with a layer of freshly made raspberry coulis and frosting. Sometimes I add a dash of espresso powder to deepen the cake’s complexity and top it with crunchy flakes of Maldon sea salt. The cake gets a shower of colorful sprinkles for birthdays, and the recipe easily translates into cupcakes. Just make sure you use paper cupcake liners because the crumb of the cake is quite delicate. I can now make a homemade chocolate cake so exceptional that my daughter requests it over any bakery alternative on her birthday. It’s hard to top that.

Credit: Jennifer Zyman

If You Make This Chocolate Dump-It Cake, a Few Tips

  1. Splurge on the ingredients. The better the ingredients, the better the results, so I like to splurge on fancy unsalted French butter like Plugra for the cake, as well as quality sour cream for the frosting. While the recipe calls for Nestle chocolate chips, I prefer fancier brands like Guittard, which I like to use for baking because of its superior quality.
  2. Try a double-decker cake. Hesser suggests using a tube pan, but since this is such a sticky cake, the pan is unpredictable if you don’t grease it well enough. Instead, I use two very well-buttered 9-inch cake pans and make a double-decker cake. I sandwich a thick layer of frosting between the two cakes and then frost the towering confection.   
  3. Keep it at room temperature. The recipe suggests that you refrigerate the cake, but I find it is best at room temperature and keeps for days on the counter. When you use the berries, they gradually seep into the cake, making it fruity and keeping it moist. If you’re concerned about the sour cream, you can keep it in the fridge and bring it to room temperature before serving.

Get the Recipe: Chocolate Dump-It Cake