Steaming a traditional chocolate cake batter produced a light, moist cake, and let us avoid using the oven. Brown sugar and espresso powder gave the cake complexity, while sour cream added richness and a welcome tang. We liked the cake dusted with powdered sugar or topped with whipped cream. If your Dutch oven has a self-basting lid—dimples or spikes on the underside—lay a sheet of parchment or foil over the top of the pot before putting the lid in place to prevent water from dripping onto the surface.

Set two timers — one for the total time that the recipe will take (23 minutes) and then set another timer for a shorter time so that you can check on the cake's progress.

Tip: Don’t open the Dutch oven too often while steaming, but do ensure that the water is at a very gentle simmer. You should see steam emerging from the pot. If the heat is too high, the water will boil away before the cake is cooked.

Courtesy of Christopher Kimball's Milk Street


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 6 tablespoons salted butter, melted (or ¾ stick)
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract


Serves: 8


Step 1 of 4: Prep The Dutch Oven and The Cake Pan

Cut an 18-inch length of foil and gently scrunch together to form a snake about 1 inch thick. Shape into a circle and set on the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Add enough water to reach three-quarters up the coil.

Coat the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray, line with kitchen parchment, then coat the parchment. Place the prepared pan on top of the coil.

Step 2 of 4: Sift, Whisk, and Mix

Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking soda into a medium bowl, then whisk in the salt. In a large bowl, whisk the sugar and eggs until slightly lightened, about 30 seconds.

Whisk in the water, espresso powder, sour cream, butter and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and whisk gently until just combined.

Step 3 of 4: Cover and Steam

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Cover and heat on high until the water boils. Reduce heat to low and steam, covered, until the cake is just firm to the touch at the center, about 23 minutes.

Step 4 of 4: Cool, Cut, and Serve

Turn off the heat and remove the lid. Let the cake sit in the Dutch oven until the pan is cool enough to handle. Transfer the pan to a wire rack, then run a paring knife around the edges.

Let the cake cool completely, then invert onto a plate and remove the parchment. Invert again onto another plate.