RE: The 5-minute chocolate cake email: How desperate are you? (P.S. Here's something better.)

So, I’m plowing through my inbox this fine frosty October afternoon, and I see an email from my mom. The subject line reads like this:

Fwd: FW: Really quick choco…

Well, of course I can guess the rest of “choco…” So how can I resist seeing what this “really quick chocolate” something is?

I open the email, and it’s obviously one of those messages that’s being forwarded around the world and will be opened by a million people by nightfall. You know, like one of those JibJab videos or the latest Obama/McCain/Palin/Biden jokes. Here’s what the email said:

“This is for all you chocoholics! We used a 12 oz. mug in our 1000 watt microwave and it turned out great! Now we’re in trouble!”


4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons baking cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons chocolate chips ( optional )
3 tablespoons oil
a small splash of vanilla extract
1 coffee mug

“Add dry ingredients to mug and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract, and mix again. Put your mug into the microwave for three minutes at 1000 watts (vary the time just a little either way according the the wattage of your microwave). The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don’t be alarmed. Allow to cool and tip out onto a plate if desired. EAT! (This can serve 2 if you want to feel sightly more virtuous).

“Why is this the most dangerous cake recipe in the world? Because now we are only 5 minutes away from chocolate cake at any time of the day or night.

“Send this to 20 of your chocolate lovin’ friends….”

How could I resist? I ran right into the kitchen to try it, camera in hand, so I could share with you.

The result? Don’t try this at home. Unless you’re TRULY desperate. The best I can say for this chocolate thing is that it’s warm and chocolate. It was cake, kind of. A really rubbery cake. And (why didn’t I notice this?) without salt, very flat-tasting.

OK, don’t take my word for it; be like me, seduced by the ease of instant gratification. Go ahead, make it yourself. But don’t say I didn’t warn you!

SIGH. Maybe, with some salt (about 1/8 teaspoon?), a teaspoon of espresso powder, slightly less than 3 minutes in the microwave so it’s not QUITE so tough… I just KNOW you’re going to try this. So let me know how your version comes out.


Start by whisking together the flour (King Arthur Flour, of course), sugar, and cocoa.


Of course I didn’t follow the directions exactly—who among us ever does? I whisked together the egg, milk, oil, and vanilla…


…and added to the flour mixture along with the chips. OPTIONAL chocolate chips? C’mon, when are they ever optional?


I also didn’t use a coffee mug. I figured a 2-cup measure would be commodious enough to prevent any lava-like eruptions. Hey, I spend enough time cleaning the microwave from its regular bath of sputtering, popping melted butter.


Three minutes on the nose. Looks like the surface of Pluto, maybe?


Plop onto a plate. Dig in. Like chewing a sponge, and I mean cellulose, not cake. A chocolate sponge, but still… At least the melted chocolate chips were tasty.

P.S. If you’re the originator of this recipe, kudos for sharing. I’m not dissing you, really. It’s not to my taste, but I think little kids would be fascinated, college kids might go for it, and any chocolate is better than no chocolate, so… thanks.

P.P.S. So OK, I had to fool around with this. Thanks to Julia’s suggestion, I tried the Mystery Mocha Cake pudding cake recipe in a single-serving cup. The result? Better than the original 5-minute cake. My colleague, Halley,  took a bite and said, “This is truly bad.”

Halley’s  6-year-old daughter, Daisy, was here visiting just as the cake came out of the microwave. Daisy told us her first-grade class had the day off because “We can read really long words and the teacher thought we were too smart.” Daisy took a bite and said, “This is GOOD.”

Which leads me to believe this cake would be just fine for little kids, older kids, even college kids, and perhaps adults with omnivorous tastes. But so not worth the calories—even after its makeover—for those of us used to espresso fudge devil’s food cake with bittersweet ganache icing (and no, I don’t have a recipe for that particular treat—yet!)

So, here we go again:


There’s no recipe to link to here, so pay attention: In a microwave-safe 2-cup measure, stir together a heaping 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder. Add 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) milk, and a teaspoon of vanilla.


Stir till smooth.


Mix 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon cocoa, and 3 tablespoons hot or cold coffee.  Pour into the cup.


Gently swirl it in; don’t mix thoroughly.


Cook in the microwave (I hesitate to call this “baking”) for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, depending how powerful your microwave is. You’ll figure it out after the first time you make this cake. (If you actually do make this cake.) When done, it’ll look set on top, and kind of mushy around the edges.


Turn the cake onto a plate. It’ll be layered with… well, let’s call it sauce. It’s actually semi-baked batter, but since there are no eggs in here, it’s fine.


Serve to your favorite kid.


“She likes it! Hey, Daisy…”


And round and round we go… For another, more traditionally cake-like (and quite yummy) version of this 1-minute cake (pictured above), this one using sourdough starter, check out Heather Horn’s The Amazing 1-Minute Chocolate Cake, from The Atlantic Online.


And for you snowbirds and other residents of the warmer parts of the country, here’s a picture of our frosted plants. So much for the flowers… hello, 7 months of winter. I can hardly wait to try my new ergonomic snow shovel!

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. Caused a fight

    Well my wife and I made your recipe vs the simple one. we didn’t have cocoa powder so used hot cocoa mix instead it threw up all over the microwave and caused a fight in the house as I blamed my wife for not measuring more carefully and she blamed the hot cocoa mix and your recipe!
    Sorry to hear about the mess and the fight. Each microwave will vary depending on it’s wattage. The safest way to go is with a larger container such as the glass measuring cup pictured in the blog. This will accommodate any sudden eruptions. ~Amy

  2. wendyb964

    Ahhh, glad to know there are other mad science geeks out there! IMHO texture is as important as taste, and if a sticky pudding type cake is ok, go for it. Some of us dislike cake batter and cookie dough (heresy?) so this is a marginally better option. I think I’ll stick with the wacky cake made into black-bottom cupcakes for a relatively quick fix. Today I’m making your KAF guaranteed chocolate cake into an Almond Joy Cake the good ol’ fashioned way. There ARE benefits to having the luxury of time. Thanks for the entertaining read. I also love that forum about kitchen/baking disasters. Warning: use the restroom first and do not have hot coffee in your mouth when reading!

  3. Laura

    Tried the new 1-minute recipe from The Atlantic Online that you reference above. Super easy to make and quite good!

    And now I’m thinking if sourdough starter works – how about a simple combination of flour and water, or flour and cream? Is there something special about the sourdough that helps the cake? Hmmm…. I’m going to have to try this again, Laura. PJH

  4. Lori

    I tried the original 5 minute recipe today with two 11 year olds and one 15 year old. None of us finished our mug. Not too great. Then hoping for something better, came upon Nora’s recipe. I tried it because it wasn’t complicated… the whole point! It’s really good. One thing, I did by mistake, but liked was when I checked it at 1 minute I realized I forgot the chocolate chips, so I dumped a bunch on top. I would suggest putting them in the cake and maybe add them to the top for 30 seconds. Yum!! I have 8 girls here on Saturday for a gift exchange and plan to have them all try it! Thanks Nora!

  5. Rachael

    I just tried this recipe, it’s actually pretty good compared to other 5 min chocolate cake recipes. Too bad all the cake batter can’t be fully cooked!


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