July 16, 2004

RECIPE: a thought into cheater's cake

Thursday, July 15  
I have been playing around with the microwave cake recipe that I found a few months back. Changing ingredients and quantities, I must have tried almost ten different variations - some of them turned out pretty disappointing, while some of them proved really good, not just for a cake made using the microwave, but as a cake in general. A few of them were so good that I thought I could even share their recipes with those who are interested.

The original recipe (in Japanese) was for a chocolate cake. I am not translating the exact recipe into English here, chiefly because of intellectual property issues, but at least I can tell you that the recipe itself is pretty simple - using common ingredients such as butter, eggs, sugar, flour, and unsweetened cocoa powder. And what I did was converting metrics into US standard measurement, adjusting the quantities of ingredients to make measuring simpler, and replace some ingredients with something else. I substituted butter with oil, tried soy milk instead of eggs, omitted cocoa powder and added green tea powder, made completely oil- and dairy-free version, etc. After several trials, I came to a conclusion: I can reduce the amount of oil/fat content without ruining the taste of resulting cake, but entire oil-free ones weren't as good; soy milk actually works better than eggs; and ones using cocoa powder tend to taste better than those without.

The best part of making those microwave cakes, obviously, is that it usually takes only ten minutes or so to make; measuring the ingredients, preparing the batter and cooking, all inclusive, unless I put something involving extra preparation (e.g. roasting and chopping nuts). Another good thing I think is that I don't need too many utensils or bakeware; I typically use only three stuff: a tablespoon, a whisk, and a microwave-proof storage container (I prefer to use a Ziploc 4-cup square container).

Ironically, the best-tasting version was that very close to the original; plain chocolate cake. This one also happens to be the easiest to prepare, so I shall use this version to present my "basic" microwave recipe.


Cheater's dark chocolate cake

2 Tbs. butter or vegetable oil
3 Tbs. sugar
3 Tbs. plain soy milk (or 1 egg, alternatively)
2 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder

Melt the butter in a 4-cup (approx. 4") square container using the a microwave. If using vegetable oil, just measure the oil into the container (do not heat).

Add the sugar and stir well.

Add the soy milk and stir well.

Add the cocoa powder and stir well.

Add the flour and baking powder, and stir well.

Put the lid on the container; do not "snap & seal" - just put it one the container so that an excess steam can be released out of the container while cooking. Put the container in the microwave, and heat for 2-2.5 minutes. Take the container out of the oven immediately when the cooking is done, take the lid off, and let cool for at least a few minutes. Cut into four squares. Serve.

Unlike regular baking, I usually don't measure the ingredients beforehand when making this cake; I measure the stuff as I need over the process of making the batter, i.e. scoop sugar with a tablespoon out of the bag into the container, measure soy milk using the same tablespoon and pour in the batter, wash or wipe clean the spoon, and measure cocoa powder, and so on.

The quantities of ingredients are approximate. Sometime I use 1 or 3 instead of 2 Tbs. of butter/oil, while reducing the amount of soy milk from 3 to 2 Tbs.
I often use brown sugar, but it can be substituted with any kind of sugar.
Soy milk should be pure, plain one, i.e. ones made of soybeans and water only; no added sugar, flavorings, or preservatives and alike.
I don't sift dry ingredients (cocoa powder, flour and baking powder), although it is of course up to you.
Also, I usually measure baking powder by eye, so I don't have to use a 1/8 teaspoon!

Often when making a cake batter, I would try not to overmix once I add flour. For this cake however, I somehow feel comfortable in stirring the batter vigorously so all the ingredients are mixed into one smooth batter.

As is the case with any other microwave cooking, the cooking time substantially varies by oven. My microwave is 950 kw, and the cooking time is based on this - so adjust to your own microwave. Also like any other microwaved stuff, the cake tends to dry very quick. I wouldn't really recommend to keep the cake even overnight.

The cake is usually good just as is, but it can be served with sprinckled powdered sugar on top, or with whipped cream or ice cream on top.


I made this plain chocolate cake this afternoon. As I stirred in the ingredients, I found out that I was running out of cocoa powder; I only had one tablespoonfull of it, so I used melted dark chocolate in addition to cocoa powder - probably about one tablespoonful or so (I didn't measure). Served with Haagen Dazs' macadamia nut brittle ice cream, the cake was very rich and delicious.

Starting with this version, I tried a bunch of other stuff in place of, or in addition to, the cocoa powder, including the following (please note: I didn't take note every time I made this cake, so the quantities are approximate):

- black sesame, using:

1 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 Tbs. black sesame paste
2 Tbs. sugar
3 Tbs. soy milk
2 Tbs. ground black sesame
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder

This turned out to be really sesame-y, but might have been a bit too dry.
verdict: decent

- matcha (green tea),

by substituting 2 Tbs. of green tea powder for the cocoa powder in the recipe for plain chocolate cake.
It tasted fine, but the 2 tablespoonful of green tea powder was too much - I should have used 1 spoonful instead.
I served a slice with matcha ice cream, making it really green-tea-y!
verdict: intention was good

- creme de marron (sweetened chestnut paste), using: 

1 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 Tbs. creme de marron (sweetened)
1 Tbs. sugar
3 Tbs. soy milk
2 Tbs. cocoa powder
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder

Probably because of the addition of the thick chestnut paste, it took a bit longer to cook the cake - it was about 3 minutes total. For the same reason, the cake was kind of heavy which I didn't really like. Nevertheless, served with marron cream (mixture of creme fraiche and creme de marron), the cake looked fancy and tasted pretty good.
verdict: not bad

- orange and thyme, using:

2 Tbs. vegetable oil
3 Tbs. sugar
1 egg
1 Tbs. orange juice
3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. grated orange zest
1 tsp. finely chopped leaves of fresh thyme

As I said in a post several days ago, this one turned out decent, but didn't taste as exciting as I had hoped. I used an egg this time, but suspect soy milk would have been better. I wonder if it would be better if I add cocoa powder....
verdict: needs refinement

- peanut butter and jelly, using:

1 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. sugar
2 or 3 Tbs. unsweetened peanut butter
3 Tbs. soy milk
3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1-2 Tbs. of red currant jelly for topping - place small portion of jelly on top of the finished batter and lightly mix with a knife to obtain a marbled effect. Substitute with any other jelly, such as raspberry or grape.

This one turned out amazingly good; probably as good as the plain chocolate cake, or even better (well, I love peanut butter). I confessed that my recent attempt to bake peanut butter & jelly squares using my old good recipe only resulted in creating a horrible batch of fatty mixture of peanut butter and flour, but this microwaved cake turned out to be almost the same as the other, except this one was a lot more crumbly and fragile.
verdict: excellent

Other versions I tried but would not really worth sharing the recipes of include:
- Creme de marron, without cocoa powder. It was too sweet and tasted bland.
- Cream cheese. It wasn't bad, but not particularly good, either.
- Chocolate cake with orange zest and slivered almond. Again, itt wasn't bad, but I would rather keep it simple.
- Chocolate cake with rum/grand marnier. Mmmmm... maybe I just put too much liquor.

I like making microwave cake because it is so easy and quick to make, and the recipe is versatile and allows a range of variations. And on top of - or maybe because of - these reasons, I find it particularly useful for experimenting with a new flavor or combination for a cake. Like I tried the pairing of orange and thyme, I can casually try a new things in a very small batch of cake and see how it turns out. If it is good, I can try it in other regular cakes, and if it doesn't quite work - well, I don't have much to waste!

I hope you will find these cake very easy to make, and even enjoy the process of trial and error as much as I do!


Santos said...

i like chestnut, i like green tea, i like peanut butter...i loooovvvve black food. there's something so...wrong about it that attracts me. and, i am quite fond of pushing buttons on my microwave--now i can combine 2 culinary sins in one!

i will definitely try one of your recipes, i just can't decide which one to do first.

Reid said...

Hi Chika,

Thanks for posting this recipe! I'm going to try the original chocolate cake as that would probably be my favorite. Next I'm going to try the matcha! =) Will let you know how they turn out.

chika said...

Hello again,

Santos - I must be fond of pushing the button on the microwave, too (mine's got only one button, though) otherwise I wouldn't be pushing it so much every day :-)

Reid - Yeah, I'd think the plain chocolate one would have the least chance of failing ;-)

I guess I will try and make matcha one again, using a lot less green tea and probably use cream or cream cheese or something... maybe even white chocolate. I think green tea sweets most often taste better with milky or creamy stuff.

Santos said...

i just're putting chocolate on the sofa again!! :-)

chika said...

Well spotted, Santos... that's their favorite spot in this house. You know, chocolates and cakes like to relax at a cozy place, just like humans ;-)

Lynette said...

Mariko referenced your cheater's cake recipe on your site so I popped over to read. Very inventive. Thanks for sharing the recipe(s). I have a 14-yr future chef, and she's going to love coming up with her own variations.

Thanks again.

chika said...

Hi Lynette,
Sweet! I hope that tidbit of recipes could be something the future chef in your family could use to experiment :-)

Estelle said...

Dear Chika,
Thanks a lot for sharing this recipe! I had a microwave chocolate cake recipe that I used to do a lot back when I was a student. It was delicious and really impressive. This recipe is unfortunately thousands of miles away at my parents's place in France, but I am so glad I found yours! I tried it today and it turned out well, you can see a picture on my blog and find my comments on my blog, Merci !!

chika said...

Hi Estelle,
Glad to see that this recipe worked for you and more or less stood in for your good old micrwave cake recipe back home! I don't think the plastic container is supposed to safe for a 2-minute cooking (or at least so I hope), but ceramics are always better, I agree!

Anonymous said...

I stumbled onto your blog and enjoy your enormous creativity and courage. Cooking is no problem for me ( I do it all by microwave) but the intricacies of baking always frighten me. I have a theory that people seem to prefer one (cooking) or the other (baking) but not both equally.  

Posted by Blanche Schneider-Cohen

Anonymous said...

I think your blog is great, so beautiful and evocative. I'm a journalist for a paper called the Epoch Times ( we would love to feature your micro cake recipe in the london edition of our paper, and a little bit about your blog. If you interested please do get back to me.

Posted by Joanna Conway

Anonymous said...

I think your blog is great, so beautiful and evocative. I'm a journalist for a paper called the Epoch Times ( we would love to feature your micro cake recipe in the london edition of our paper, and a little bit about your blog. If you interested please do get back to me.

Posted by Joanna Conway

Anonymous said...

I tried this recipe with Soy flour, since I cannot use regular flour, and it turned out pretty good.  

Posted by Giselle

Anonymous said...

I was craving chocolate cake, but was too lazy to drive to get some and this worked out perfectly--I had all the ingredients in the house!!! I made the plain chocolate cake and then spread peanut butter over the top for icing....delicious! THANK YOU! 

Posted by elizabeth

Anonymous said...

Hello! I happened upon your site by a search for "chocolate steam cake". I am so happy I found your recipe for the "cheater" cake! But I am also hoping (and this may be a long shot) that you could help me with something? I bought a chocolate frozen steam cake from my local japanese grocer...but unfortunetly I'm not quite sure how to "enjoy" it. I was just going to let it thaw room temperature...but then I wasn't sure if it needed thawing in the microwave or some sort of cooking. I know this probably isn't helpful seeing as how you don't have the package right in front of you...but if you have any ideas or thoughts it would be greatly appriciated!
Thank you!

Posted by Alison

Anonymous said...

hi chika

i came across your site while searching for 'microwave cake recipe'...and i love your blog!! :) i just wanted to know you use a regular microwave oven? or a convention + microwave oven?


Posted by Rose

Anonymous said...

i just made the plain chocolate cake. we had it with vanilla ice cream & it tasted good, but it was kinda crumbly. my flour & baking powder was kinda old & the soymilk has a little sugar cane suger in it - could any of those been the culprit for the crumbly cake? also, would it be ok to substitute whole wheat flour for the flour? thx for the so simple fast easy dessert recipes! i plan to try the peanut butter & jelly next time. 

Posted by mk

catherine said...

nice.. i'm glad i found your blog.
this is easy cake to make with less cookware..since i don't really have many... 

Posted by catherine

KeishaLyn said...

I love baking, but rarely have the time or patience. I stumbled across your blog and made the PBJ cake. OMG, it was great! I added a little cinnamon and nutmeg for extra spice. Thank you for posting.

inconvenient truth said...

i was wondering if my microwave is around 1000 watt,how long should microwave the cake?Please help!

Anonymous said...

What is all-purpose flour? i only have plain and self-raising so would i be able to make it, and what should i change?

christie said...

heii there i'm christie and i'm from wales. i'm slightly confused with the peanut butter and jelly version because my brother pointed out that this could be am american site and jelly to americans is jam to the uk so can i ask which it it. i used jam in the end but now i'm wondering if i weas wrong in doing so. the chocolate cake was nice.

Anonymous said...

I made the peanut butter one, am also in the UK and used strawberry jam. Very nice thank you chika :-)

Anonymous said...

I absolutley love the cheater's cake.
I like it dark..

Fantastic and easy!

I substituted soy milk with regular milk and the outcome was just as fine as I thought the soymilk should be.

But, it did have a little bit of of harder spots in it?
Is this a result of using cow milk, or just a result of the microwave?

penny said...

Just what I was looking for at midnight when taking the time to make our normal decadent "liquoured brownies" from is never going to happen.

I've made one microwave brownie/chocolate cake before and it was eh, okay. It did use egg, so I'm excited to try soy milk, although I'm not sure what action it replaces. I always thought egg helped bind, but maybe it's just there for moisture?

One time I wanted to share though about the cocoa powder. A richer chocolate flavor can come from adding the cocoa powder into the warm melted butter first before the other ingredients. It's called blooming the cocoa, and I think it helps emulsify the chocolate flavinoids into the fat.
I forgot to shuffle this step in my last microwave attempt, and I think it was the difference between okay and delicious.

Looking forward to exploring the rest of your site!

penny said...

Oh! just had to come back and tell you the cake was a success (chocolate recipe). Bloomed the cocoa in hot butter as mentioned before. Very tasty and took only 2 -2 1/2 minutes in my 1000 watt micro. I may need to replace my baking powder as my cake didn't rise as much as the ones pictured (used a 4 cup round glass container) but the taste was excellent and looks don't matter much here. Either my powder has ku-put, or I'll just use the mini silicone bread pans I have that hold 2 cups. I was hoping to have a reason to use them....

Oh and the er, 4 took only one of me to finish the bowl...heh. Yeah, it was good.

Justine said...

I've made your cakes lots of times when I'm craving a late night snack, but I always replace oil with applesauce without much trouble. Today I made a gingerbread version!

~3 T. flour (I used graham, but whole wheat or white would be fine)
~1/8 t. baking powder
~1/4 t. ginger
~1/8 t. nutmeg
~1/8 t. cinnamon
dash of allspice
dash of cloves
2 1/2 T. applesauce
1 T. molasses
1 T. soymilk (I used lite vanilla)
(stir and taste ... if you like it sweeter, add a touch of maple syrup)
Microwave on high for a minute or so. Serve with vanilla soy dream!

Anonymous said...

I just made the peanut butter one and it is SO good! I added like 2 table spoons of coco powder and its super yummy

Jenifer Cros said...

this very grt easy recipe!!
I am always in search of microwave recipes.

I have one doubt here, can you please tell me how to pre heat microwave oven?
I have never done that before.
I will be delighted to know it!
Thanks very much for sharing this nice recipe.
Breville Smart Oven

chika said...

Jenifer - i have no idea how and i don't think i actually said you need to preheat a microwave oven here?