Mother-in-law’s chocolate cake

Back in 2006, when I was still getting to know my mother-in-law, she emailed me this recipe for a simple chocolate cake. This is the sort of chocolate cake that you might serve at casual gatherings when house guest comes over for tea. It is likely a chocolate cake that she served me on a visit in Quebec, which I asked for as a means of making conversation.

The recipe swaps also played a big role in how I learned French from her. There is nothing more visceral about a language than trying to make meaning of basic French 101 words like “lait” and “sucre“, and then converting it into a baked dessert – delicieux!

This is an adaptation of that recipe, with a few differences. Over the years, I have developed my own baking preferences and also came to understand the baking choices that MIL also made herself. The original recipe is a bit more muted, like a milk chocolate cake.

In this adaptation, I’ve amped up the chocolate flavor by blooming the cocoa powder in butter, and adding instant espresso powder and a bit of melted baking chocolate.

One last note – my mother in law uses brown sugar, likely to replace white sugar. If you notice that the batter seems to be a bit dry, or the flour doesn’t combine well with the rest of the ingredients, you can adjust the batter by adding a bit more milk (or water). My MIL tends to be of a frugal sort, so I might guess that is why she would suggest a bit of water.

This should make a single layer of cake, so if you want to make a layered cake, the recipe can be doubled. Bon appetit!


1/2 cup of butter
2 pieces of baking chocolate
2 cups of brown sugar
1/2 cup of chocolate powder (I like Ghirardelli’s)
1 teaspoon of instant espresso powder (I use Medgalia d’oro)
1/2 cup of sour milk or creme fraiche (if not using creme fraiche, you can add a little teaspoon of white vinegar or a squeeze of lemon in the milk)
1 1/2 cup of AP flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
A pinch of salt


1. Prepare a 9-inch baking pan or a springform pan, and grease well. Cover in AP flour and empty out excess flour. Pre-heat the oven to 350F.
2. In a double boiler, melt the butter and the baking chocolate. Add the cocoa powder.
3. Add instant espresso powder if using. Let cool a bit, while you move on to step 4.
4. In another bowl, beat the eggs and cream in the brown sugar.
5. Temper the eggs and sugar by adding just a bit of the chocolate mixture – you don’t want scrambled eggs! If it looks like it’s OK, you can include the rest of the melted chocolate mixture.
6. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda and salt.
7. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, until well combined.
8. Finally, add the milk (or creme fraiche). If it’s a bit dry, you can add small amounts of water (or a bit of milk).
8. The recipe calls for baking the cake for 55 minutes.

MIL’s additional note: The oven temperature and time can really depend on your oven, for example, she says her oven runs hot. I recommend monitoring the cake periodically. I usually will check it at the 30 minute mark by using a toothpick. You know your cake is done when the toothpick comes out clean.

Icing: For a tea cake, we normally don’t add any icing. But, if you want a bit more flourish, a simple whipped cream icing is preferred, and perhaps with a dusting of chocolate powder.

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