Chocolate Cake Day: 12 Cheap but Lust-Worthy Recipes

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COCOA BUFFS

Chocolate Cake Day is Jan. 27 -- just about the time the will to keep New Year's resolutions starts to wane. While a chocolate cake good enough to make diet-busting truly worthwhile can cost $30 or more at a high-end bakery, any self-respecting chocolate lover with an oven and a mixer can make one at home for much less, even with top-quality ingredients. Most cakes are also very easy to make and can be in the oven with about 10 minutes of prep time. Here are 12 recipes to fulfill every chocoholic's dreams, from simple to extravagant, diet-conscious to decadent, and even vegan or gluten-free.

BASIC CHOCOLATE CAKE

There is nothing more classic than the chocolate cake recipe that has long been on the back of a can of Hershey's cocoa powder. The thin batter makes a nice, chocolaty three-layer cake (or a sheet cake, or even cupcakes) with a simple chocolate buttercream frosting.

MAYONNAISE CHOCOLATE CAKE

Some people remember this from their parents' or grandparents' kitchen. It's as simple as can be, and using mayonnaise instead of butter makes the cake moist, rich, and cheap. The author of a recipe at Serious Eats recommends a sour cream chocolate frosting, but there's no reason not to use the classic Hershey's buttercream, or even just a dusting of confectioner's sugar for minimalists.

MOLTEN CHOCOLATE CAKE

Made in individual ramekins, these cakes ooze chocolate when they're cut. They are rich and decadent but not too overwhelming, because they're small. A version by the renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, via Mark Bittman in The New York Times, takes mere minutes to prep and less than 10 minutes in the oven. No icing is required, but ice cream or sorbet would go nicely. For this recipe, using the best-quality chocolate really makes a difference, and bakers can decide whether they prefer semi-sweet or bittersweet. (The ramekins go for as little as $8 for four at Bed Bath & Beyond.)

CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE CAKE

An ultra-indulgent cake for a special occasion, Saveur's Truffle Cake is a diet disaster but heaven for a chocolate lover. It's baked in a springform pan, then cut into three layers and brushed with a rum syrup. The light cake is really just a base for a chocolate truffle ganache that's spread throughout the layers and over the top for a remarkable hit of richness.

VEGAN CHOCOLATE CAKE

There's no reason vegans can't have their cake and eat it too. A recipe from Vegan Baking substitutes oil for butter and has no eggs, but other than that is no different from most other chocolate cake recipes. This is a one-layer cake with a fairly runny glaze that won't harden much, since it has no corn syrup. The cake and glaze use cocoa powder rather than bar chocolate.

GLUTEN-FREE CHOCOLATE CAKE

Unfortunately, people on a gluten-free diet cannot simply substitute gluten-free flour for regular wheat flour in any chocolate cake recipe. The texture is completely different -- the dreaded gluten is the thing that holds it all together. Gluten-free baked products are notoriously gritty as a result. King Arthur Flour's recipe is tender and moist owing to the addition of xanthan gum -- an odorless and basically taste-free powder now found in health food stores and the gluten-free aisles of larger grocery stores. It makes a nice, big two-layer cake, and almost any frosting will do. It's dairy-free, as well, although it does contain eggs.

FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE

Another gluten-free option (and also a great dessert for Passover) is a dense, rich chocolate torte -- a cake with little or no flour. In a recipe from Epicurious, beaten egg whites give the cake some leavening and structure. As a result, it comes out of the oven light and puffy, like a souffl�, but then sinks to a thin, compact disk of concentrated flavor. A rich chocolate and cream glaze finishes it off, although a raspberry sauce from Allrecipes might cut a bit of the richness.

CHOCOLATE ANGEL FOOD CAKE

When the occasion calls for a light dessert, or the diet is still important but the desire for chocolate is strong, a chocolate angel food cake fills the bill. Angel food cakes are made with a lot of egg whites but no yolks or butter; they contain no fat or cholesterol. Martha Stewart's version adds cocoa powder and a smidge of semi-sweet chocolate, which increases the chocolate flavor without adding a lot of calories.

GERMAN CHOCOLATE CAKE

This cake looks complicated, but it's really easy (and it isn't German; the German in the name refers to Samuel German, whose company's dark and sweet chocolate was used in the recipe). Betty Crocker's version is a very simple, super sweet, three-layer cake made with buttermilk. It's really all about the frosting -- a gooey confection of evaporated milk, pecans, and coconut.

86-PROOF CHOCOLATE CAKE

Maida Heatter is chocolate cake royalty; her book of desserts is a go-to for chocolate lovers. It includes this cake featured by The New York Times, which is made with a bit of coffee and plenty of bourbon. Mixing chocolate with alcohol is not exactly novel, but the bourbon really makes this bundt cake stand out. It also has just enough coffee to boost the chocolate flavor without making it taste like mocha. The cake needs nothing on top but a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar, although Heatter suggests a bit more bourbon.

BROWNIES

Brownies are something between a cake and a cookie, but it would be derelict to leave them out. Brownies are so simple to make that they are often a child's first baking project. For people torn between cakey and fudgy brownies, the recipe on the back of the Baker's unsweetened baking chocolate box has variations to suit either taste. (The original one-bowl recipe is on the fudgy side.)

SILKY CHOCOLATE CAKE

No compendium of chocolate cake would be complete without a nod to Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of "The Cake Bible." Her recipe, which appears in Food & Wine, is a bit more complicated than the rest, but the extra steps are worth it. The ingredient list includes cake flour rather than all-purpose flour, and the three-layer cake comes out fine-textured and richly flavored. An espresso ganache is spread between the layers and around the top and sides.