Cook’s Illustrated Sour Cream Chocolate Cake

Two weeks ago I tried out a sour cream chocolate cake recipe, in my hunt to find the perfect chocolate cake.  The recipe was easy to put together and it was fluffy and moist, but was missing a deep chocolate taste.  I got a comment from a reader, Meryl, who recommended the sour cream chocolate cake recipe from Cook's Illustrated.  Meryl was also kind enough to email me helpful tips on making the cake, and suggesting that I serve it with whipped cream.

The recipe had a few extra steps compared to the other chocolate cake recipes I've tried, as well as a few extra ingredients.  But if it was really that good, then I guess it would be worth the extra effort.


It wasn't hard to put together, but there were a lot of steps. And for some reason, I was making quite a mess and managed to feed my clothes a bit of chocolate batter.  Meryl had commented that the cake tastes even richer the next day, after letting it sit, but I couldn't wait that long.  I could barely wait for the cake to finish cooling!

I served the cake with whipped cream, which I thought was the perfect complement to the cake. The cake is moist and had a very rich, decadent, chocolate taste. I think any icing would be too much for the cake.  The whipped cream is light and not too sweet, and helps the cake from being too overwhelmingly rich.  I enjoyed the cake, and think it's my favorite chocolate cake recipe so far.  My siblings, who have tasted the various chocolate cake recipes, liked the cake a lot too. Little Sis, who loves chocolate flavored desserts, was especially excited to try this cake, and enjoyed it.  

I followed the recipe as written, except that I didn't do the cake release.  Instead, I just used some baking spay.

Cook's Illustrated Chocolate Cake (recipe found at OddMuse)

Printer friendly recipe here


Cake Release (I used a baking pan spray and didn't do this part)

  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa


  • 3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa (2 1/4 ounces)
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
  • 3/4 cup water (boiling)
  • 1 cup sour cream, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), room temperature
  • 2 cups light brown sugar (14 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 5 large eggs, room temperature
  • confectioners' sugar for dusting


FOR THE PAN: Stir together butter and cocoa in small bowl until paste
forms; using a pastry brush, coat all interior surfaces of standard
12-cup Bundt pan.  Adjust oven rack
to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees.

CAKE: Combine cocoa, chocolate, and espresso powder (if using) in
medium heatproof bowl; pour boiling water over and whisk until smooth.
Cool to room temperature; then whisk in sour cream. Whisk flour, salt,
and baking soda in second bowl to combine.

3. In standing mixer
fitted with flat beater, beat butter, sugar, and vanilla on medium-high
speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium
and add eggs one at a time, mixing about 30 seconds after each addition
and scraping down bowl with rubber spatula after first 2 additions.
Reduce to medium-low speed; add about one
third of flour mixture and half of chocolate/sour cream mixture and mix
until just incorporated, about 20 seconds. Scrape bowl and repeat using
half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining chocolate mixture;
add remaining flour mixture and beat until just incorporated, about 10
seconds. Scrape bowl and mix on medium-low until batter is thoroughly
combined, about 30 seconds. Pour batter into prepared Bundt pan, being
careful not to pour batter on sides of pan. Bake until wooden skewer
inserted into center comes out with few crumbs attached, 45 to 50
minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert cake onto parchment-lined
wire rack; cool to room temperature, about 3 hours. Dust with
confectioners' sugar, transfer to serving platter, and cut into wedges.

18 comments on “Cook’s Illustrated Sour Cream Chocolate Cake”

  1. Hey Kirbie,
    I’m glad everyone loved the cake!

  2. Mmm… looks great! I will definitely be trying this. And probably using baking spray too!!!!

  3. Thanks again for recommending the recipe! The cake was a big hit and I can’t wait to make it again.

  4. Baking spray is definitely easier. There’s a couple out there like Joy of Baking. The one I used was by Pam, and it’s a spray especially for baking (it has oil and flour already inside the spray). It’s worked really well on my bundt cakes.

  5. Looks moist and delicious

  6. You should definitely try it out! It’s a great cake for chocolate lovers.

  7. Pingback: Sour Cream Chocolate Cake | Kirbie Cravings

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  9. I just made this and honestly it was very disappointing. Not rich or flavorful at all. Well below average. I followed everything to a T, including room temp butter and eggs, real vanilla, etc. The search continues.

    • I’m sorry you feel that way. I found the cake very rich and this is my favorite chocolate cake recipe. And I know a lot of other people love it too.

  10. sometimes people have so much delicious rich food that nothing impresses them!

    • Haha. I wonder if maybe something might have gone wrong in his version. I know he said he followed the recipe, but I’ve had experiences where I think I followed the recipe perfectly but I did mess up. I’ve always found this cake recipe to be super rich and this is my first time hearing it wasn’t rich from someone.

  11. Absolutely! Thank you for publishing this recipe. I know from reading your post that I can trust you because you mentioned you were on the “hunt to find the perfect chocolate cake”, just like I am. I have been looking for years for the best choc cake recipe. And, you are spot on, this is the BEST I have come across so far. The cake I whipped up following this recipe looks exactly like yours. I love how the bottom part tends to sink and become dense and moist at that layer. Nevertheless, it is a lot of work. I just don’t like using my electric hand mixer – I got a bit of butter + sugar & chocolate batter over my clothes and on the floor! I LOVE THE CAKE!!! I’m keeping the last 3/4 for myself (shared the rest with family) for the entire week coming up! 😀

  12. I have this recipe from the cook illustrated magz i bought few christmas ago. It used “Natural cocoa” and not “Dutch process”. The reason they said “It’s assertive flavor with fruity undertones stood up better to the sour cream in the recipe”. I guess its a matter of preference. Either chocolate is good 🙂 Very good indeed!

  13. By the way if you are looking for a great very chocolatey cake that melts in your mouth that is black and heavenly…try Regan Daley from the book “In the sweet Kitchen” Black Chocolate Espresso Cake with Bittersweet Glaze.

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