This easy, small single layer chocolate cake with chocolate ganache is perfect for weeknights, date nights, birthdays, and parties. Only one bowl needed and so quick to make – no butter, eggs, or mixer required!
True story: I was not planning to share this one layer chocolate cake recipe on here. In fact, even after Brian and I made it together for my birthday this past weekend, and demolished nearly half of it in 24 hours, I still wasn’t planning to share it.
It’s…simple. Humble. Unassuming. Not really earth shattering – just a good, back-pocket smaller chocolate cake with a tender, light crumb. And chocolate ganache, because chocolate ganache may sound fancy, but it’s actually the easiest thing to make.
We made this cake because I wanted a simple, unfussy cake for my birthday. Ever since I joined him in Chicago a few years ago, Brian has been making me a homemade birthday cake each year, and I try not to make it hard for him. He’s quite good as a baker, actually, but he requires very clear instruction and limited steps, or else he gets nervous. So I don’t like to give him difficult recipes to contend with in hopes he’ll make me cake more often 😉
Last year, we made a chocolate fudge bundt cake from King Arthur Flour, and man, was it good. Super dense, super fudgy, intensely chocolate. The only problem? It was a LOT of cake for two people.
You know in the depths of February in Chicago, no one is leaving the house unless absolutely necessary — so it was just us, alone with a giant chocolate cake for days. Not a bad problem to have, some might say. We managed.
But I knew I could find a chocolate cake just as satisfying, just as chocolatey – in smaller portions.
I needed a small birthday cake
For my 30th birthday — yes, 30th, I don’t even know how I got here — I wanted a single layer chocolate cake; something approachable and manageable, unfussy yet still a bit decadent. I didn’t want Brian to be bothering with making multiple layers and frostings. I’m actually (*gasp*) not the biggest fan of fluffy cake frostings, anyway. I probably should have my baking blog license revoked.
I remembered seeing another, smaller chocolate cake recipe on King Arthur Flour’s site, one I’d also seen in a cookbook I have of theirs: the “cake pan” cake. Also called wartime cake or wacky cake, it’s an old cake recipe that relies on the reaction generated by combining baking soda (a base) and vinegar (an acid), rather than traditional butter and eggs, to provide the rise and tender crumb we expect from cakes.
When butter and eggs were in short supply during WWII, people would make this cake instead. I’d made this recipe a couple times in the past, and remembered liking it – and I knew I could make some tweaks to make it even better.
A One Layer Chocolate Cake Recipe!
And make it better, I did. Let’s talk about the amazing properties of this single layer chocolate cake, which I’ve now made twice in one weekend with no regrets:
- No butter, no eggs. And you won’t miss them! The good news is that not only is this cake lighter while still having an amazingly fluffy yet dense texture, it’s also a great option for vegans or for those with egg allergies or intolerances. Chocolate cake for everyone!
- No mixer required. Because we’re not creaming butter and sugar and we don’t have to whip in air to create a rise, you don’t need any kind of mixer – just a bowl and a whisk! Speaking of…
- Only one bowl needed! Nope, I’m not kidding. Whisk the dry ingredients together, dump in the wet ones, and stir it all up. Done.
- Use coffee for the deepest chocolate flavor. There’s something about coffee that brings out the flavor of chocolate. Ever had a mocha? You know what I mean. You can use decaf, regular, whatever you want — and if you don’t like coffee, you can use milk or water too. No worries.
- Takes 45 minutes to make, including baking time. YES.
- Tastes better the second day. This is a cake that only gets better with time. The cake does NOT get dry as long as it’s well-covered, and the chocolate flavor just deepens with a day’s rest. It works around your schedule.
- Chocolate Ganache. Everything is better with ganache on top. And it’s SO EASY. Can you use a microwave? You can make ganache.
How to Make Chocolate Ganache
Look how shiny and beautiful that ganache is. If you’ve made ganache before, you know how ridiculously easy it is, despite its fancy name.
If you haven’t, here we go:
- Heat heavy cream in the microwave or on the stove until bubbles appear on the edges, just before boiling.
- Pour the hot cream over chopped chocolate or chocolate chips in a bowl.
- Wait 30 seconds.
- Stir, continuously, until a smooth, shiny chocolate pool of happiness is formed, about 30 more seconds.
- DONE. Pour it warm over the cake OR let it cool to room temperature so you can spread it on.
- For WHIPPED chocolate ganache frosting: once cooled to room temperature, use a mixer to beat the ganache on medium to high speed until fluffy and lighter in color. It makes a great chocolate frosting!
Just use an equal volume of a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend with xanthan gum (I like Bob’s Red Mill Cup for Cup or King Arthur Flour Measure for Measure).
Yes – just use vegan chocolate and use canned coconut cream instead of heavy cream.
This is fine to leave at room temperature for 24 hours, but I would refrigerate it after that for up to 5 days due to the cream in the ganache. The cake itself (unfrosted) is perfectly soft at room temperature for up to a week!
Cut the entire recipe in half and bake in a 6-inch round cake pan for 18-21 minutes at 350 degrees F, or until cake springs back when touched and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Works like a charm! You could also bake the full recipe in 2 6-inch cake pans and use whipped ganache (instructions above) or a sturdier buttercream frosting to make a layer cake.
This cake may be humble, but it is mighty. It’s just the kind of recipe we all need in our back pocket, whether it be for Valentine’s Day, a loved one’s birthday, or just a Monday. It’s exactly what I wish for you today.
More Chocolate Recipes:
Single Layer Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache
For the cake:
- 1 and 1/2 cups (188g) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (21g) unsweetened cocoa powder (can use natural or Dutch process)
- Scant 1 cup (185g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional; brings out chocolate flavor)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup (237ml; 227g) brewed coffee (regular or decaf, can be hot or cold)*
- 1/3 cup (78 ml; 67g) olive oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar)
For the ganache:
- 1/2 cup (118 ml; 113g) heavy cream
- 3/4 cup (4 oz; 127g) chopped dark chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips
For the cake:
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan (you can also use an 8-inch square pan). I also like to line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, to give extra insurance that the cake will come out cleanly. Just trace the bottom of the pan on a sheet of parchment paper and cut it out, then place inside the pan.
- In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients: flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, espresso powder, and baking soda.
- Pour in the wet ingredients: coffee, olive oil, vanilla, vinegar. Whisk it all together until a smooth batter is formed. You’ll notice it might get a little foamy – that’s the baking soda/vinegar reaction happening. Stop whisking when the mixture is combined and no lumps remain – don’t overmix or the cake will be tough.
- Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake for 28-32 minutes, until cake springs back when touched and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. You might need a couple minutes more if you’re using an 8 inch square pan.
- Let cake cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert the pan onto the rack to release the cake, remove the parchment from the bottom, and flip back right side up onto a cake plate. Let cake cool while you prepare the ganache.
For the ganache:
- In a microwave-safe measuring cup or bowl, heat the heavy cream until bubbling but not boiling, about 30-40 seconds in my microwave. You can also heat it on the stove.
- While the cream is heating, place the chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let stand for about 30 seconds. Whisk the mixture until a smooth and glossy ganache forms, about 30 seconds. Pour over top of the cake while warm! It will harden once it cools.
Like this recipe for a small one layer chocolate cake? Please rate it and leave a comment, and sign up for my email list to receive my recipes straight to your inbox every time I post!