Making High Ratio Chocolate Cake

For those looking to imitate the sort of chocolate cake you get from a boxed mix, or you want a chocolate sheet cake like like you’d get from a larger commercial bakery, this is your ticket. This cake has the tight crumb and relative durability you want, plus it bakes up well in broad cake pans. This formula is enough for one 11″ x 14″ x 2″ sheet cake pan or three 8″ x 2″ round layer pans. It can be easily scaled up or down depending on your needs.

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease your pan(s). Here’s I’ve also lined this big 11″ x 14″ with parchment for easy extraction. I recommend it.

To begin your batter, bring the water to a simmer and combine it with your cocoa powder:

…and whisk it thoroughly. Allow that to cool, then add the vanilla.

Next, sift the cake flour into a large bowl.

Add half the sugar, the salt and the baking soda and baking powder.

Whisk it. Whisk it good.

Next combine the other half of the sugar and the shortening in the bowl of a mixer.

Beat that for 2-3 minutes on medium-high until it is extremely light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl down…

…and start adding your eggs one by one, then your yolks. Beat thoroughly after each addition and scrape regularly. If the batter develops a clumpy or curdled look, fear not and press on.

Once everything is beaten and scraped, add a third of the flour.

Stir that in on medium-low, then add half the chocolate mixture. Yours will be thinner than this (I added more liquid after the fact because I didn’t have enough in there). Stir, add another third of the flour, stir and scrape. Keep going in this manner until everything is incorporated and the batter is smooth (you don’t want to over mix, so don’t go hog wild on the stirring).

Scrape the batter into your pan(s) and spread it around evenly.

Bake on a middle rack for 35-40 minutes until it looks about like this.

Allow it to cool about ten minutes, then place a cooling rack on top and flip everything over. The layer will drop out. Place another rack on the bottom, flip everything back again and remove the rack from the top. Allow the cake to cool completely before decorating. The top of the cake probably won’t be perfectly even. I like to trim off the outer half inch completely, then shave any bulges off the top with a serrated knife before I start to frost it.

31 thoughts on “Making High Ratio Chocolate Cake”

  1. I cheat. If you turn the cake upside down that nice flat bottom becomes a nice flat top! Works as long as the top isn’t too crowned.

  2. Rose Levy Beranbaum reckons that using milk in a chocolate butter cake dulls the chocolate flavour, whereas using water releases the full flavour of the cocoa. What’s ur take on this?

    1. That’s interesting. I have no idea why that would be, but she has a lot of experience with cake making. This recipe will work equally well with water if you want to go that direction!

      – Joe

    2. Hey Henry!

      I went looking through my cake books and while I can’t seem to get an answer on exactly why water is superior to milk in a cake batter, pretty much everyone does it. So…when in Rome!

      I’ll see if I can get Rose to tell me why that is. Thanks for pointing that out!

      – Joe

  3. Hmmm what would be a good sub for the shortening? That is one thing I have looked for a know I can’t find short of buying a case from the import place in Stockholm (I am a tad bit north.)

    1. Hey Kitty!

      Butter is a fine option. You won’t get the same smooth emulsion, but it’ll work just fine.

      – Joe

  4. I suppose all these egg yolks have to be raw to achieve what you are wanting from the extra egg yolks and I can’t use up the extra boiled egg yolks this time. I will have to try this one. Looks like a great cake even if I will miss the butter for flavor.

    1. Hehe…very true Linda, you cooked yolk champion, you. You can make this cake with butter if you like. Many bakeries (especially boutique cake bakers) use a high ratio cake formula with butter. The crumb won’t be as fine, but it will still be a dandy of a cake.

      – Joe

  5. Hi Joe,

    Any suggestions on what to do with all of the left over egg whites?


    1. Soufflé for dinner! Or use it to make meringue cookies or a meringue buttercream for the top!

      – Joe

      1. I need to make a project out of pavlova one of these days. I’m overdue!

        – Joe

  6. Or freeze egg whites until you get enough to make an angel food cake. I do that with recipes that use a lot of yolks. I’m not a fan of egg white omelets so I usually keep a running tab of egg whites in a freezer container with a piece of tape on top to show the count. When I hit 12 I thaw the container and make an angel food cake. Seven minute icing is also amazing on a chocolate cake–the darker the chocolate, the better. Why not ice your high ratio chocolate sheet cake with a seven minute icing to use a few egg whites? It’s old-fashioned enough that most people haven’t had it or haven’t for a long time and will really like the change. It does revert to sugar more quickly so I’d wait and make it the day you plan on serving the cake if you make the cake in advance but it whips up fast…in seven minutes! And you apply it warm. Good stuff.

  7. Joe, is there a reason why 3 – 8 in. pans vs. 2 – 9 in. pans? Just curious if there is a specific reason why you’d pick 8 in. pans vs. the more common 9 in. size. Thanks.

    1. Hey Linda!

      You can certainly use two 9″ layers but you’ll have some extra I think. Three eights were just a convenient fit. I was really looking for a quantity that would do a sheet cake, either a 9″ x 13″ or 11″ x 14″, the maybe convert it over for anyone who was interested in layers. Just so long as you keep the pans less than half full you’ll be good!

      – Joe

  8. I have 3 x 9 in. round pans that usually work for slightly larger cake recipes. Just wanted to make sure there wasn’t a reason that factored into the texture. Thanks!

    1. Nope it’s just about quantity and layer height. That’s pretty much it!

      – Joe

  9. Incidentally, do you have experience with SP emulsifier-based cakes? They’re extremely popular in Asia especially in Taiwan. It has a soft, spongy texture, extremely moist and is low in fat.

    1. Hey Henry!

      I don’t, but it makes sense that an emulsifier would make a very spongy cake. Where do you get the product in the States? Asian food shops?

      – Joe

      1. As you can get those in Asian supermarkets! The cakes made by upscale Taiwanese bakeries are really nice – but perhaps my tastebud is biased!

  10. May I ask what these “high ratio” cakes taste like, or are they strictly for decorating?

    1. Hi Lissa!

      They are firmer, sweeter and a little drier than butter cakes. Quite good in fact, though I have to say I like butter cakes better!

      – Joe

  11. Hey Joe!
    I’ve been a fan of your blog since I’ve resolved to turn my hobby into a business. I love the nerdy approach to baking. The science brings an edge to baking, as I would always tell my friends. Anyway, I commend you for putting an effort into crafting a recipe based on the texture ready-made cake mixes or commercialized cakes. I highly prefer butter cakes for their flavor and texture. Sadly, most people I know are not too enthusiastic with such cakes… unless presented artistically. :p I would love to give these high ratio recipes a try for cupcakes. How many do you think these will make? 30? Thanks a bunch!

    1. Hey April!

      I got so many requests for a box-style cake I finally had to give in. But there’s something cool about being able to make your own Duncan Hines, I have to say.

      As for the cupcakes, 25-30 sounds about right, but I honestly don’t know for sure. Get back to me with numbers if you try it. Other readers will want to know!

      Cheers and thanks for the very kind comment!

      – Joe

      1. Hey Joe 🙂

        Sorry for the late reply, been busy for the past months. The batter makes around 32 cupcakes for me. The recipe’s great. 🙂 Just as I expect it to be, firmer and drier than butter cakes. So far, yours is the best I’ve come across with. Cheers!

        1. Thanks so much, April!

          I greatly appreciate the response and the compliment!

          – Joe

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