Monday, July 6, 2009

Steamed Moist Chocolate Cake (Improved Version)

I am definitely a greenhorn when it comes to baking. Most of the time, although my cakes turn out tasting all right, my repertoire has always been limited to regular non-frosted cakes. That's why today's cake is a milestone for me. Of all the cakes that have ever emerged from my humble little oven, THIS has got to be the most photogenic of them all. 

It's the first time I have ever frosted an entire cake, and naturally I wanted to start with the least challenging. I found the perfect role model in Nigella, who plainly admitted (in her Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake episode) that although she loved frosting a cake, it was not something she was terribly good at. Good to know she is as human as we are!

I took the cue from her and frosted my cake using small swirls, to give it - in her words - "a homemade, slightly messy look". I thought that was a smashing idea! A forgiving style was just what I needed. So yes, although my cake was far, far from picture perfect, it certainly looked "old-fashioned" and very "homemade" indeed.


I tweaked my favourite Steamed Moist Chocolate Cake recipe this time, just to experiment and see if I could concoct something better:
- substituted butter with a healthier blend of canola/olive oil
- used fresh milk in place of evaporated milk
- added 1/4 tsp of salt
- added 1 sachet of instant coffee to give the cake some kick
- used a completely different recipe for the frosting altogether

I made this cake for someone's birthday today. I'm happy to say, the birthday girl and my kids loved it. And yes, it is true, coffee does enhance the flavour of chocolate, albeit subtly. It gives the cake depth. I think I might even add an extra sachet of instant coffee the next time! 

A little digression: steamed cakes are nothing new. Before the advent of the electric oven, cakes were traditionally made by steaming rather than baking. Steaming actually has many benefits: the cake retains its moisture beautifully, there is no risk of burning, and seldom do you see a cracked top. Well, if you don't have an oven at home, give this cake a try!

Finally, I want to credit the person who came up with the original recipe. It's such an easy, fool-proof cake, even my 10-year old daughter can make it. Whoever you are, if you're reading this, I think you're brilliant.


Steamed Moist Chocolate Cake (Improved Version) 
- 1/2 cup light oil (I used Fairprice's brand of Canola/Olive Oil blend)
* If you prefer butter, please refer to the original recipe
- 225g (1 cup) castor sugar
- 200ml fresh milk (just about 1/2 cup)
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten with a folk
- 110g plain flour (about 1 cup ... I used cake flour for a lighter texture)
- 60g good quality unsweetened cocoa powder 
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 packet instant coffee (I used 1 sachet Nescafe 2-in-1 which is 11g)

1. Heat up your steamer or wok before making the cake.

2. Line and grease a 9-inch pan.

(A) Combine castor sugar, fresh milk and instant coffee in a saucepan. Stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. You do NOT need to come to a boil. Once all ingredients are combined, turn off the fire and leave it on the stove to cool.

(B) In the meantime, sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda and salt into a large mixing bowl.

4. Once (A) is cooled*, add the beaten eggs, vanilla extract and oil, and mix thoroughly. Finally, pour the entire mixture into the cocoa/flour and stir till well combined. The final batter should be runny.
* Very important that (A) is cooled before you add the eggs, else you will cook the eggs and end up with custard! 

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and place it in the steamer. Make sure that your cake tin is NOT touching the water. Cover the top of the pan loosely with a sheet of aluminium foil.

6. Steam over medium heat for 45mins.

7. Cool the cake in pan before turning out for further decoration. 

Chocolate Frosting (adapted from here and here)
- 100g semisweet chocolate
- 115g unsalted butter
- 300g confectioner's sugar (I would reduce this to 260g next time)
- 1 tsp of vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup milk (added slowly until desired consistency is achieved)

Combine the chocolate and butter in a bain-marie and let them melt. In another bowl, combine sugar and vanilla extract, then add in melted chocolate. Add in milk a little at a time until desired consistency is achieved. You do not need to finish using up the milk. Let frosting cool and thicken before decorating your cake. Frost your cake in small swirls if you're a novice like me ;) Chill frosted cake immediately upon completion. 


  1. Count me in. I am also not good at cake frosting. Love your blog!

  2. Wow! Steamed cake! My favourite! Especially with moist chocolate! Beautiful cake!

  3. I love the "slightly messy" look! Hahaha I call it "rustic"! I'm not a big fa of perfectly-frosted cakes, they lack personality! I like to see a few traces and bumps and grooves and swirls in my frosting.
    This steamed cake sure looks intriguing! A must-try drecipe for sure!

  4. Ellie: G'day mate! Thanks. The feeling is mutual :)

    Bits of Taste: Thank you. You're so kind :D

    Marta: You are so right! I totally agree about the "personality" part! It's true ... homemade, rustic cakes have more character than the perfectly frosted ones. Hurray for homemade :P

  5. Glad to know I'm not the only one bad with frosting whole cakes! I love the fact that it's steamed, and uses oil instead of butter. I'm a fan of oil in chocolate cake, as opposed to butter. Since you've tried both methods (oil and butter), do you feel that there's any difference in taste/texture?

  6. The frosting looks fine, you can usually get away with frosting a chocolate cake quickly because it is dark. Anyway the cake looks delicious and appetizing, and I love strawberries with or dipped in chocolate!

  7. ovenhaven: LOL! Bad frosters unite! Like most cakes using oil, this version keeps the cake soft even after refrigeration. We cut the cake after chilling for 2 hours and it was still soft, unlike regular butter cakes. Butter may give the cake a more robust flavour (as some people would insist) but really, this being a *chocolate* cake, the key ingredient is really good quality cocoa powder. And now that I have added coffee in the recipe, who needs butter?! I have also tried both baking and steaming, and the steamed version makes the cake rise better, resulting in a cake that is rich in taste, light in texture. Hope you'll try it some day and let me know :)

  8. chocolate cakes: Thanks for dropping by :) THAT'S the reason why I chose a chocolate cake for my first frosting attempt - because it is more forgiving than light-coloured cream. And I do appreciate your encouraging words :D

  9. I've always wondered -- do steamed cakes end up moister?

  10. those frosting really amazed me, I am drooling now with sure a deisre of the cake!

  11. an awesome delicous cake, lovely frosting!

  12. Big Boys Oven: Thank you, how kind of you! But really, you could teach me a thing or two about frosting!

  13. Wow, I found a nice blog here!

  14. KennyT: And similarly, I found a nice blog over at yours! :)

  15. This is perfect for winter. You know how they have steamed choc puddings? With a choc sauce to pour over? I'm gonna try this instead. (Maybe without the frosting but with a hot choc sauce). I love hot puddings.


  16. Gayle: That sounds oh-so-decadent! Great twist to the recipe! Try it and tell me how it goes, please!! :)

  17. wow, great job! It looks SO good and gleaming! How could you resist a giant bite of this glorious thing?

  18. burpandslurp: Thanks :) a giant bite was what I had!

  19. Comparing this with the original version using evaporated milk, how's the texture? I don't usually have evaporated milk at home so I'm thinking of using fresh milk instead.

  20. Not an apple-to-apple comparison cos I changed other ingredients too. But I would say the taste wouldn't differ much. To me, the main thing that makes or breaks the cake is still the quality of cocoa, which I always emphasise.

  21. You are brilliant! I agree - tried both versions and I find the taste and texture quite similar. Since I'm a fan of chocolate orange, I substituted the vanilla with orange extract and added a splash of cointreau. It was perfect! You get just a hint of citrus but can still taste the richness of the cocoa that was enhanced by the coffee. (I added about I teaspoon of instant espresso).


  22. Hi,
    You adding the egg with the oil.
    Ahh.. no wonder my batter turn weird. I add my oil with the sugar and milk and they dun seem to mix well :P

  23. Hi,

    Can I use only olive oil intstead of the canola/olive oil blend? Also, is it possible to reduce the amount of sugar without affecting the texture?
    Thanks! Love your blog btw. =D

  24. Hi hi,

    I tried your steamed moist chocolate cake recipe and it turned out perfectly soft, moist and chocolaty! :) One interesting observation during baking here. As my wok was rather shallow, my cake tin came into contact with the boiling water and wobbled throughout the steaming process. My heart sank as my thoughts were like "die die die, baking fail again". But when I did a taste test, I was pleasantly surprised by the result. It was my best home-made cake by far! :)

    I have one question to ask you. Pertaining to your step 4, would it be alright to stir until all the lumps are gone? I was worried that I might over-stir the batter. Pls advise. Thanks a lot! BTW, great pictures of the frosted cake :P

  25. Ling: Congrats! Well, it's never a good idea to stir too much, BUT this type of batter is rather forgiving. So, to answer your question, yes it's OK to.

  26. Thanks for the reply! :D

  27. Hi Ju,

    Sigh, it was a bad idea to stir until the lumps were gone as the cake turned out to be tough. I wonder why I always get so many lumps. May I know whether you let your butter mixture cool all the way to room temperature before mixing it with the flour mixture or it was still slightly warm? And when you stir, was it in circular motion or folding in?

    Thanks a lot!

  28. Hi Ling, for this cake, I:
    1) stir when the mixture is at room temp,
    2) in a circular motion,
    3) using a whisk, cos too watery to fold.

  29. Thanks for sharing your method and replying so swiftly, Ju! I shall give it a shot again :D

  30. Hi Ju,

    I tried out your suggestions to prevent lump formation in my chocolate cake batter and it worked like a dream! I also used the whisk to mix up the dry ingredients thoroughly before adding the wet ones. Wow, they mix well so soon and the cake turned out to be even softer than before.

    I made this cake for my mother in-law's birthday and she said "hao chi" twice. She's a good cook and baker btw. :) Thanks for the tips! :)

  31. Hi Jul!

    Any idea if this cake can be used as a birthday cake with fresh cream frosting? How long can this keep soft in fridge? Will it turn hard if I keep it in fridge fror 1 day with the fresh cream frosting?

    Thanks! :)

  32. Can i use top flour instead of cake flour?