Suzanne’s Chocolate Cake

My friend Suzanne served in the Peace Corps for two years in Kenya in the late Eighties. The Peace Corps at that time published a recipe book for their volunteers that provided a chocolate cake recipe that was special in that one could mix it in one pot, use vegetable oil, which was more readily available than butter, and cook in the same pot over a charcoal brazier. Suzanne perfected the recipe, especially for cooking over the brazier, and since she had the only home for miles around with a cement floor, a tin roof, and good water, she would often play hostess to nearby volunteers and serve them this cake (usually sans frosting).

Once Suzanne returned to the States, she then spent months of trial and error, and several burnt cakes, to adjust the recipe for oven cooking (and layering and frosting). It is now her family’s favorite cake, which they dub “Kenya Cake”. A rich, easy to make chocolate cake, with a great history. Thanks so much Suzanne!

Suzanne’s Chocolate Cake Recipe

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • 1 ½ tsp baking soda
  • 2 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup + 2 Tbsp cocoa
  • 1 cup + 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 cup + 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 5 large or 4 extra large/jumbo eggs
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla

Frosting:

  • 1 box powdered sugar (1 pound or 454 grams)
  • 3/4 cup cocoa (use Van Houten, Droste, or other dark, high quality alkalized unsweetened cocoa)
  • A flavoring liquid (water, vanilla, rum, cognac, kirsch, or amaretto)
  • 1 1/2 cup butter - firm, not cold, not too soft

Method

Cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

1 In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and cocoa.

2 Add 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of water and 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of canola oil. Mix for 1 minute.

3 Add eggs, 3/4 cup of water, vanilla. Mix 5-6 minutes with a whisk, 3-4 minutes with a hand mixer, or 2 minutes with a KitchenAid mixer.

4 Pour into three 10" cake pans, bake at 350°F for 25-35 minutes (adjust for convection); test by placing and removing a toothpick through the center at 25 minutes. When toothpick comes out clean, loosen from pans and then put back in the pans. Let cakes cool for 15 minutes. Keep in the pans, wrap in foil, and put in the freezer for at least 2 hours.

Frosting:

This part is a little harder as it is really done to taste.

1 Put powdered sugar and 3/4 cup cocoa into a food processor. Pulse until blended.

2 Drizzle in, until about the consistency of firm butter, several tablespoons of flavoring liquid (water if you aren't looking for flavor beyond the cocoa and butter). To not put in too much liquid, but if you do, add cocoa or sugar. Taste. When the flavor and consistency is right,

3 add 1 1/2 cup of butter (firm, not cold and not too soft). A good rule of thumb is that both the butter and the sugar mixture should be slightly firmer than you would want it to be to spread it, since the mixing action of the food processor will warm it slightly. Pulse until blended.

Assembling the cake:

Remove the cakes from the freezer and from their pans. Stack, frosting each layer as you go. Let sit for an hour before serving.

67 Comments

  1. Michelle

    Can we also have the instructions for cooking the cake in a pot over a charcoal brazier (or over a fire)? ;-)

  2. Suzanne

    Lyn, yes, you can make it without a food processor. You can do it in a kitchenaid, or with a hand mixer, but you will fry the motor of a hand mixer pretty fast. I had none of these in Kenya, and the few times I made it in Nairobi, where we could get butter, (and an oven) I simply had friends to help with the mixing. This last way is a lot of work, and it is difficult to beat it enought without softening the butter too much.

  3. Chr

    I love this recipe and that it uses cocoa for flavour. Usually, I don’t buy chocolate in bulk, but cocoa is always there :) Thanks

  4. katiejay

    I am definitely going to try this one! I love the fact that you included the size of the eggs, and how many for the different sizes.
    Thanks!
    katiejay

  5. Sharon

    I’m very glad and thankful that I found this recipe, my husband loves choclate. He truly apreciates this cake and prefers to eat it warm.
    I’ve baked it frecuently but still without the frosting (I’m not fond of taking too long in the kitchen). Still it’s a success at home.
    I decided to cut the recipe in half and bake it only in one pan it comes out short but nice.
    Next I’ll try baking thae brownies that I found in this website. Once again, thank you.

  6. Ann

    This has become one of my favorite cake recipes. I made it yesterday for a friend’s b-day. Only had two layers instead of the three and made cream cheese frosting. It was a huge hit.

  7. Simone

    ..this cake looks absolutely delish! I plan on making it for my sis’s bday next week – can’t wait! But first, a quick question.. if I wanted to make 2 layers instead of 3 … would I need to decrease amount of ingredients in the recipe? Thanks!

  8. becky

    This is the bbbbeeeesssst cake ever and so easy to make. I make this for birthdays all the time and it is always a HUGE hit. Thank you and I want more of suzanne’s best I’ve made the brownies too two thumbs up for everything. Thank you thank you!

  9. huda

    May I substitute the canola oil with other type of oil? I can’t find any at my place.

    Try using olive oil, not extra virgin though, just plain olive oil. Make sure it is fresh (olive oil goes rancid like any other vegetable oil when stored too long). ~Elise

  10. Puteri Bunian

    Can you please tell me what kind of water you use to make this? Is it warm water or cold water?
    Thanks.

    Water from the tap which is neither chilled nor hot. Cool or room temp. ~Elise

  11. Diane

    Is there any reason this cake is put in the freezer, instead of allowing it to cool on the counter?

    Freezing the cakes, after allowing them to cool for a bit, will make it much easier to frost. Less crumby. ~Elise

  12. Anonymous

    I just had a piece of this wonderful cake. It tastes so delicious and it’s so moist. It’s one of the best cakes I’ve ever tasted and I have to say I work in a confectionery! I definetly do it again as my whole family loved it. Thanks for passing on the recipe.

  13. Mrs Edwards

    Chocolate cake is one of my favourite desserts. I have looked for a good recipe for yrs and somehow none really appealed to me as this one. My husband comes from a big, loud family and they love chocolate cake; and I love to cook for them. They usually buy one every week from Woolworths. Now,I can make this one, which is just as delicious, if not,better! Thank you so very much, Susanne and Elise!

  14. Stacey

    I’ve made this cake three times. EXCELLET every time.
    1. First time I tried it as is
    2. Second time I added about 3-4 tbsp instant expresso granules to the batter, added brandy as my flavoring liquid to the icing along with a little more expresso granules
    3. Third time I made cupcakes and only added 1 tbsp + 1 tsp expresso granules to the batter and made a white chocolate icing accented with a few teaspoons of brandy.

    I have to say the addition of the espresso granules is a must for me as it enhances the taste of the chocolate. Add more if you want to taste the coffee flavor, less if you want to just enhance the chocolate flavor. This cake is heavens above any chocolate “buttermilk” (a popular ingredient for chocolate cakes) cake I’ve ever had. Thanks Suzanne! for all your tinkering to get it right for ovens!!

  15. liz

    I tried to bake this cake yesterday and it turned out so good. The recipe was so unbelievably easy and all the ingredients were right there in my cupboard.

    It’s my best friend’s birthday 3 days from today and I’m planning on baking another cake and giving it to her. The only thing I think I’ll change is to use less of the almond extract (maybe about a teaspoon and a half and just add some water) for the frosting. My first one, I think I used about 5 or 6 teaspoons of the extract, tasted a bit off. Also, I’d try Stacey’s suggestion of adding espresso to the batter.

    Can’t wait to bake Suzanne’s Chocolate Cake again.

    P.S.
    Elise, thanks so much for sharing all these recipes on your site. It’s a recipe hunter’s gold mine. =)

  16. Laura

    Made this cake for my boyfriend’s birthday last week- it turned out great (the cake was moist and not too sweet) but the frosting was way too buttery and rich- 1 1/2 cups of butter! wow- I only used half of the frosting to do the cake and it was still too much. If you don’t have a huge sweet tooth consider only frosting the top or use an alternative frosting.

    I also only had 2 baking tins so I mixed the leftover batter with a cup of cold coffee, walnuts, and a healthy dash of cayenne pepper and baked it for 25 min in a glass pie pan. They turned out to be spicy brownies and a huge hit at a party I brought them- fantastic.

  17. rose

    I scaled this recipe to half and only made the cake (I was making an ice cream cake) and it was SO GOOD. Thank you so much for sharing – this is definitely my go-to chocolate cake recipe from now on!

  18. Purvis

    I didn’t want to make a 3-layer cake, so I calculated the square inches in 3 10″ round pans, and found that if I cut that in half, it equaled EXACTLY the size of a 13″ x 9″ pan! So I cut the recipe in half, used the 13×9 pan, followed the baking directions exactly, and it came out perfect. I can’t believe how moist and fluffy this cake is! And how easy it was to make a cake this good. Usually, I won’t make something like this without butter, but I wouldn’t change a thing here–well, one thing. Next time I’m going to add allspice, which goes GREAT in chocolate cake (I usually add this to chocolate cake mixes). I didn’t use frosting b/c I was lazy and am generally not crazy about frosting anyway, but I think it would be fun to make a small, frosted sheet cake this way.

  19. Jason - 16 years old - from Belgium

    I want to say that this recipe is a all-time favourite at home. “All-time”, even if I just made it twice, ’cause I know I’ll make this amazing cake again. This recipe is simply perfect, the moister of the moist, the tastier of the tasty! I prefer to use water for frosting, and I also prefer to make a smaller cake ’cause I just live with my mother and my sister and we don’t have guests everyday. A half recipe make a perfect double layer cake. Perfect. Perfect. Thanks a lot.

  20. Siddiqa

    My husband loves chocolate cakes especially moist ones. When I found this recipe it looked really yummy in the picture so I gave it try. OMG it is the best chocolate cake recipe I have ever made. It was so delicious so I made it for my husband’s birthday and he can’t stop complimenting me every time he’s eating it.
    I used a different frosting that is not so sweet and it goes really good with the cake. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful recipe.

  21. sumaiyya

    I loved this recipe. I was wondering if it’s possible to use solid semisweet chocolate instead of powder? If so, how?

    Baking is chemistry. If you change one of the fundamental ingredients, you change the whole thing. You would need to find a different recipe if you wanted to use solid chocolate instead of cocoa powder. ~Elise

  22. angie tepa

    Just for my curiousity what if I do not have powdered sugar available on hand at the time of doing the frosting is any type of sugar be good to make the frosting instead?

    No, for the frosting for this cake powdered sugar is needed. ~Elise

  23. Jade

    Wow, this was delicious. V moist. I made the cake 3 days ahead and froze it. Added 2tsp of instant coffee to bring out the chocolate flavour and decorated with chocolate ganache filling and swiss buttercream frosting (thanks to smitten kitchen) for my brother’s 18th. Thanks Elise!

  24. Cathi

    Just made this cake this morning, well parts of it are still in the oven. Made a mini teddy bear, a mini bundt and 20 cupcakes.

    So far the cake and frosting have turned out great!!
    Going to fill it with dulce de leche *already had a tester cupcake, and YUMM!

    Thanks from Spain!

  25. sara jay

    I just made this cake, and I gotta say its really really good! Very moist. Perfect texture. I’ve been looking for a good choc cake for a while. So thank you for this delicious recipe that I’m sure will make a huge hit with my family.

  26. Reta and Laras

    Hi Elise,

    Thanks so much … it was a great chocolate cake. The recipe was very simple, fast, and easy to bake. My daughter brought in cupcakes to school for her birthday and Haiti bake sale fundraising, and the kids loved them. The taste of the cake was just right and the frosting was excellent. We decorated the cupcakes with Hershey’s chocolate kisses on top. It will definitely stay in our family recipe book for a long time. Keep up the good work.

  27. Phelina

    This is one of the most delicious chocolate cakes I have ever tasted. My family and friends love it. I always bake this for birthdays now.

  28. Ann

    I just made this and it baked up wonderfully. I must say that instead of her recommended frosting, I made your chocolate mousse recipe – tripled the recipe but used only 5 whites and no yolks – and it became my frosting on Suzanne’s Kenya cake. I tripled it to ensure I would have enough but I could have doubled it but then I wouldn’t have leftovers for me! You see I gave it away as a birthday cake. I heard it was a great hit and received compliments from all who had some. And Suzanne’s direction to freeze the cakes was great – so easy to handle those 3 layers and it kept my mousse frosting at the right temp. I can ALWAYS count on your recipes for working. I do quite a bit of baking and at 7000′ elevation it’s important that my baked things come out the way they do for you flatlanders!

    So glad it worked out for you, and love the mousse frosting idea! ~Elise

  29. Yan

    Like others, I’m only hoping to bake a double layered cake. I was wondering how much would I need to cut down the recipe by? Thanks.

    I’m guessing by one-third. ~Elise

  30. Phelina Knowles

    I make this cake all the time and it is very delicious and everyone who tastes it wants more. I love this site.

  31. Elle

    Can I substitute canola oil with corn oil or sunflower oil? Thanks.

    I would say maybe. You need a neutral oil for this recipe, one without a strong flavor, which is why we are using canola oil. ~Elise

  32. Irina

    Just wanted to say THANKS!! I’ve made this cake dozens of times. The size makes it festive. It’s become my standard for special occasions and work potlucks because everyone just loves it, especially when I add a cup or two of walnuts to the frosting! Thanks for helping me impress my grandma!!

  33. naila

    Hi Elise, the cake looks yum and the ingredients are ready in my kitchen pantry. The baking instruction says “Pour into three 10″ cake pans, bake at 350°F for 25-35 minutes”.

    I have a normal gas oven. Are the cakes supposed to be baked at the same time. how can i do that? my oven is wide enough just to hold one tray at a time. if i bake them separately one after the other the cake batter will be effected. can i bake the cake into one big piece and cut the layers later. or should i make the batters separately after one cake is ready. i havnt made a layer cake before so this silly question. will really apprecite ur reply Elise. Thanx

    Hi Naila, I asked Suzanne about this and here is her response: “You can normally put in two layers, even in a small oven… put in the second rack; bake those first, and then the third. The batter will be fine.” ~Elise

  34. Niyati

    Hi Elise,
    Would it be alright to substitute vegetable oil for canola? Canola isn’t very easily available in India.
    Thanks in advance!
    Niyati

    Yes, that would work. ~Elise

  35. Fauzia

    Hey I made this cake and it was delicious:) now I just have one question can I use this recipe in a rectangular pan? Thanks

    Probably, but I have no idea about the baking time. ~Elise

  36. Lisa

    I made this recipe to help celebrate a friend’s birthday. In my 12 years of grown-up cooking, I think it was the best I ever did at getting the cake and the icing correct. Instead of a three-tiered 10-inch cake, I made cupcakes (approx. 25 minutes). And instead of three sticks of butter in the icing, I just used one (I felt too guilty adding 1.5 cups of butter.) I also mixed together some amaretto (1/8 cup) and milk to the icing for a little flavor and creaminess. Everyone enjoyed the taste and the presentation, and I was thrilled with how it turned out. It’s a keeper! Delicious!

  37. Ann

    Am making this for the second time now – my boyfriend’s birthday. Now I can usually just put the bowl straight into the dishwater, but this is so good, I just licked the beaters and bowl so clean they could almost go right back on the shelf! Can’t wait for the cake. Love, Ann

  38. Anna

    I don’t cook very often (like almost never). But, for some reason, I really wanted to make a chocolate cake. I found this recipe– and for the cake, I followed it to the letter, and it turned out great! For the icing, I just used water, no additional flavoring, and it was fantastic. I halved the icing recipe, and only added 60% of the recommended butter, and it was perfect.

    I just went and finally tried a piece and all I can say is WOW, I can’t believe I made it. I mean, I would order this in a restaurant. Seriously, I feel like I could honestly make this for someone special’s birthday and be proud of it. This is probably the best chocolate cake recipe I’ve ever used.

    I hope Suzanne has other recipes she’ll share with us!

  39. Purvis

    I have made this cake many times, but this last time I modified it so that a vegan friend could eat it–I just replaced the eggs with 1/4c applesauce each, and then used store bought vegan frosting. It turned out great! Everyone loved it.

  40. Andrea

    The first time I have made this cake for our son’s 5th birthday but not the first one I have tried from Elise’s blog and like all the other recipes this cake came out just perfect! I made a little change, I used freshly squeezed orange juice, pulp and zest instead of water which gave it a lovely tangy fragrance and taste. It was a winner! Thank you Elise.

  41. karam

    hi Elise,
    I tried the recipe and it was amazing. this cake is very famous in KENYA…it came out perfect. I would like to know if there is a way to make the same cake but without eggs as some of my friends are pure vegetarians.

  42. Erin

    Just wanted to add that I used a combination of vanilla and milk which was much creamier than using water as a flavoring liquid. Thanks for the great recipe!

  43. Jaclyn

    I am soooooooo in love with this cake! Thank you Suzanne and Elise! Just some changes I made to the cake (to suit my personal liking), I used Nutella instead of frosting. I added a layer of Nutella inbetween the layers, as well as on top and then I poured granola all over the top and finished it with some icing sugar.

    PERFECT!

  44. franana

    Can this cake be frozen for a couple weeks before frosting? If so, how long should it be out of the freezer before frosting? Thanks!

    I’m guessing that this cake, like any cake, freezes well. A good way to frost it is to do what is called a thin “crumb layer” of frosting on the frozen cakes. Then refreeze, and when you are ready to frost again, when you apply frosting you can do so without worrying about dredging up crumbs. As for how long it should be out of the freezer? No idea. Perhaps someone else reading can make a suggestion. ~Elise

  45. Kristina

    I used a bundt cake pan, it fit the entire batter. I was wondering if the cake time would be a little longer since the bundt pan is bigger. Should I test it out using a knife in the center?

    Yes, I think it would need to cook longer. Testing with a skewer or knife to the center is a good idea. ~Elise

  46. Sarah

    Thanks for the recipe!
    I just made a lot of delicious cupcakes today.
    This cake is both moist and chocolately, but fairly simple to make. It also works great for making cupcakes.

  47. Becky

    GLUTEN-FREE VERSION

    Exact recipe except:
    125 grams of Millet flour
    125 grams of Sorghum flour
    125 grams of Sweet white rice flour
    in place of the 3 cups of wheat flour

    Elise,
    I followed you for years but then I found out I have celiacs disease. I read on gluten-free girl that most recipes adapt well if you add the same weight of gluten-free flour instead of wheat flour. This recipe adapted beautifully. I made it for my son’s birthday party and people couldn’t tell that it was gluten free. Thanks for keeping my family well fed.

  48. Kristin Zhea

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this recipe. This is the best chocolate cake recipe I’ve ever made. Moist and flavorful! And the frosting–oh goodness–yum! For the flavoring I added vanilla and coffee, because I didn’t have anything like amaretto, and it turned out amazing. Addictively delicious.

  49. Danielle

    This recipe looks so good.I want to make it for my daughters birthday this sat but i want to make a three tier cake n cover it in fondant. I also will be using her favorite almond buttercream to crumb coat it. I have a 9×9 inch square and a 9in round I’m gonna be working with. Will it cook the same…taste just as good? And can i sub the 1/2 tsp vanilla w raspberry extract?

    Your guess is as good as mine. ~Elise

  50. Nicolle

    Oh. My. God.
    I made this yesterday for my daughter’s birthday and it is amazing. I was asked for the recipe 3 times and it was just a family gathering!
    Thank you soooooo much for sharing this with us!

  51. Nenda Fadhilah

    I wonder how many grams is 3 cups of flour?

    There is a measurement converter in the left side-bar of the site. ~Elise

  52. Mercy

    I have used this recipie since last August when I was in need of a quick cake. I like it because it is simple to mix and best of all it is delicious. It has become very popular with my famiy and friends, some even asking for the recipie. I have to say that this is one of the best cake recipies I have come across in a long time.
    Just a tip: When making the frosting I found that if I cut the butter down to 1/2 a cup it comes out perfect.

  53. Sarah Bridals

    This looks delicious. Thank you for the recipe. Can one use chocolate instead of coacoa and do away with the sugar? Seeking a sugarless option or minimum sugar possible. I love the recipe though! Thanks!

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