Warm Chocolate Pudding Cake
We seem to remember the gooiest desserts best. Puddings and cakes that feel familiar gratify us like no dolloped, perfectly assembled, fancy sweet ever can.
Almost every reference to Chocolate Pudding Cake comes with a heap of nostalgia. People remember the one-pan dessert when they think of their grandmothers, their church groups, and the way they cooked in the 1980s. The method is miraculous, and it wedges itself in your memory. Here’s how the process goes: after you stir together the thick batter, you sprinkle sugar and cocoa on top, then finish the assembly with hot water. The oven transforms this odd organization into a light chocolate cake that sits on top of a lush chocolate pudding. You scoop up from the bottom, so every portion gets cake and pudding and tastes like a fluffy brownie topped with hot fudge. Ice cream happily melts on top.
The recipe appeared on the HERSHEY’S Cocoa can in 1992, 1993, and 1997, though an early version appears in the archives as far back as 1981, according to Linda Stahl, manager of HERSHEY’S Kitchens. The recipe was already iconic by then, circulating among family and friends. The back-of-the-can recipe has a decent amount of sugar, some of it brown sugar, which heightens the chocolate-y taste from the cocoa.
Though the pudding cake is a classic, you can ramp it up with a few updates. Nuts, coconut flakes, and chocolate chips can go in the batter, and coffee can replace the hot water, all without damaging the intricate chemistry of this comforting cake. And how does that chemistry work, exactly? Here’s how Stahl explains the mystery:
We have three layers—the cake batter, the sugar and cocoa layer and the layer of water. The water dissolves the sugar and as the cake bakes it rises up, pushing the heavier cocoa/sugar/water mixture to the bottom. As it passes through the batter it can’t help but pick up some of the flour which helps to thicken the cocoa/water mixture making the “pudding”. We made a version where we ignored the instruction “Do not stir” and what you get is a very moist spongy cake that looks more like a wet brownie.
Did you eat this cake growing up? I’d love to hear your recipes and variations!
This post is sponsored by The Hershey Company. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting the sponsors that keep Big Girls, Small Kitchen delicious!
- 1¼ cups granulated sugar, divided
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa, divided
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup milk
- ⅓ cup butter, melted
- 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ cup packed light brown sugar
- 1-1/4 cups hot water
- Ice cream, for topping (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a 1½-quart baking dish (an 8 by 8-inch square works great), combine ¾ cup granulated sugar, the flour, ¼ cup cocoa, baking powder and salt. Stir in the milk, butter and vanilla, and mix together until smooth. Spread the batter out smoothly in the pan. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining ½ cup granulated sugar, remaining ¼ cup cocoa, and the brown sugar. Gently pour hot water over top; do not stir.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until center is barely set. Remove from the oven and let stand for 15 minutes. Scoop into in dessert dishes, spooning sauce from bottom of pan over top. Garnish with the ice cream.