Adapting a well-worn recipe for Kahlua Cake to use wholesome ingredients & take it to meet your husband’s boss for the first time…it’s taking a risk
Are you a risk taker?
Would you take an untested recipe to meet your husband’s boss for the first time? I’d say I’m a moderate risk taker…I like to try new things, especially if creativity is involved. And I have a moderate amount of confidence in my culinary abilities. Sometimes it backfires, and I kick myself for not realizing…whatever it was that didn’t work. Sometimes it does work, and I give myself a mental forehead swipe with a non-verbal “whew, I got away with that!” while the heaps of praise come my way (or at least I hope for heaps of praise. I’d settle for a “well done” and a pat on the head…yes, I’m an approval junkie). Well, Kahlua Cake has always been a family favorite and crowd-pleasing recipe. It’s a rich chocolate bundt cake studded with chocolate chips, the flavor of Kahlua peeking out to add another layer of flavor. While some bundt cakes have some sort of glaze, this one really doesn’t need it, and generally I just dust it with powdered sugar for a pretty presentation.
(Why are you giving us a review of a cake? Don’t you save reviews for scotch?) Ok, I’ll get to my point (finally!). Don’t be snarky or I won’t give you a piece (sorry…)
I was going to visit my husband’s new workplace and wanted to bring something that transported well (I was going to take a train from Boston to Providence), so Kahlua Cake came to mind. However, the recipe that I’d been using for years called for a box of Devil’s Food cake mix and a box of Vanilla pudding, in addition to eggs, sour cream, oil, and chocolate chips (oh, and a healthy amount of Kahlua, to be sure). Early in my blogging career (i.e. six months ago), I said in …and now to explain the “& Scones” that I’m trying to not use commercially made products when I cook if I can make said product myself. So here was my dilemma: could I adapt my recipe to maintain the wonderful taste and texture that I know and love while using more wholesome (read preservative-free) ingredients? And if so, how?
I like to tinker a bit
I’m not a recipe-writer, nor am I a food chemist, but I do like to tinker here and there. I started by calling upon recipes that I knew worked from sources I trusted: King Arthur Flour’s Devil’s Food Cake and The Smitten Kitchen’s Chocolate Stout Cake. What I wanted was to adapt my Kahlua Cake recipe in order to edit out the boxed cake mix and instant pudding. The Devil’s Food Cake was a basic layer cake recipe…it provided me with the ingredients and amounts to make the cake mix, and had the right amount of eggs that corresponded to my recipe. However, bundt cakes tend to be denser and richer than layer cakes. Also, this cake used the butter-sugar creaming method that gives layer cakes that lightness, and I didn’t need or want that for my cake. I needed to tweak this recipe a bit to get the texture I wanted.
The Chocolate Stout Cake is a bundt cake that uses Guinness as the underlying flavoring and sour cream to add the moistness that I love in my Kahlua Cake. The cake itself was from scratch (no box mix or pudding here!), and the method of using melted butter was more in line to the canola oil that I had always used. However, the amount of eggs, melted butter, and sour cream didn’t match the old recipe, and I was afraid that since the Guinness was more bitter than Kahlua, the recipes would be too sweet if I just substituted one-to-one.
So here was the risk…how to combine the three recipes and achieve my goal. Here was my first attempt…
"From Scratch" Kahlua Cake
- 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks, 8 oz, 230g) or canola oil (7 oz, 198g) , see Recipe Notes
- ¾ - 1 cup Kahlua (175ml), see Recipe Notes
- ¾ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder (2 ¼ oz, 64g)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (8 ½ oz, 241g)
- 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar (12 ¼ oz, 347g)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup sour cream or yogurt (8 oz, 240ml)
- 1 cup chocolate chips (8 oz)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease & flour or spray a bundt pan well (you want all the spaces well covered).
- Melt the butter (if using) with the Kahlua in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until there are no lumps and the mixture is smooth. Cool slightly (you don’t want the hot liquid to cook the eggs when you add this mixture in).
- Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a hand mixer), beat together the eggs and the sour cream until combined. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until it’s just combined, then add in the Kahlua mixture, again mixing until it’s just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand.
Method 2 (Updated from Recipe Notes below)
- Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a hand mixer), beat together the eggs and the sour cream until combined. Add the canola oil (if using) and Kahlua and mix well. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until it’s just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan, then bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean (for my oven, that’s around the 50-minute mark. I suggest you start checking at 45 minutes, and watch closely if you have to go up to an hour).
- Let the cake cool 15-20 minutes (or completely if you’re so inclined so as not to have any stuck parts) in the pan, then invert and transfer to a wire cooling rack.
So, how did the cake turn out, I hear you ask? Did the risk pay off? Well, in all honesty, everyone liked it but me. No, it’s not that I didn’t like the cake, it’s more like I thought there was room for improvement. The cake had a strong chocolate base flavor, and the taste of Kahlua was there but not quite as strong as my original recipe. The texture of the cake was wonderful — dense and rich but a little drier than I had expected. What to do…what to do…how about take another risk?
Tomorrow night I’m having my next door neighbors over for dinner. We’ve long wanted to get together, and finally set up a date. Yes, you guessed it…Kahlua Cake 2.0 is on the menu. What did I do differently? I first called King Arthur Flour’s Baker’s Hotline at 855-371-BAKE (2253)…they’ve got professionals on the other end that can answer most any baking question put to them (I should know…I’ve asked some pretty detailed questions in the past). My original recipe called for canola oil, not butter, so the KAF expert suggested that since oil is 100% fat (as opposed to butter which is 80/20% fat to water & milk solids), that extra fat would be missed. With that tidbit in mind, I substituted 1 cup canola oil for the butter. I also upped the Kahlua to 1 cup to intensify that flavor. I changed the method by whisking in the cocoa powder with the flour mixture and adding the oil and Kahlua to the beaten egg/sour cream mixture before the flour went in. I did cheat a little this time and made 2 small loaves as testers, and 1 large loaf to serve (instead of using the bundt pan). The result? Chocolate Kahlua yumminess! This cake had the right texture, moistness, and flavor that I knew from the old recipe. Yay!
I realize this is a very long post, and I appreciate anyone who has gotten this far…you’re either hanging on my every word (wow, I’m flattered!) or a cake nerd that just needs to know the ending (I’m with you on that as well). It was fun (and anxiety-provoking) experimenting with a cake recipe that I’ve made countless times over the years. I had the joy of thinking creatively, testing, and learning how to bake a better cake that benefitted from removing some of the artificial ingredients we just don’t need. I urge you to try cooking something and serving it in a way so that it has a little risk to it. What could go wrong?
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!