So what is “mud cake”?

That’s a good question. From what I can tell, the animating idea behind it is similar to that of a flourless chocolate cake: a dense confection for those times when conventional chocolate cake simply isn’t enough. Though this cake is lighter and was probably invented earlier. Nearly all of the recipes I’ve found call for melted bar chocolate in the mix, and usually cocoa powder besides. Many have a topping. The American versions — which I’m noticing are often called “Mississippi mud” cakes — are generally topped with marshmallow, the European versions with meringue.

Another thing that unites most mud cakes is the mixing. Almost all of them employ the muffin method, the wet and dry ingredients are mixed in separate bowls and then gently combined before panning and baking. Very simple, in other words. I’m starting to see why these are so popular in places!

Here I should insert that “Mississippi mud” cakes are very different from “Mississippi mud” pies, the latter being very sweet custard-type chocolate pies baked in chocolate cookie crumb crusts. Neither one from what I can tell hails from the state of Mississippi or any other state along the river’s banks. My guess is that the “mud” cake idea came first, and “Mississippi” was added later in an effort to make the name a little more fun and musical. Ain’t it neat to beat your feet on the Mississippi mud…

I’d go further and say I can’t be sure at this point whether this cake is even American originally. The chemical leavening and overall richness and thickness would suggest that, but really…who knows? If anyone can find any evidence either way I’d be interested. So far I’ve found next to nothing!

26 thoughts on “So what is “mud cake”?”

  1. I recall Mississippi mud cake from my youth. It seemed to be a popular dessert for a while in the 70s. It didn’t have the chocolate flavor of a flourless chocolate cake (similar to the taste of ganache, neither of which appeal to my tastebuds) but was more like brownie meets cake.

    I also recall the serving being very large, much to the scandal of my parents and to my delight! 😀

    1. Yes that was probably a poor comparison on my part. Brownie would have been more apt. Did it have a topping?

      – Joe

      1. Memory is vague on a topping. I think whipped cream or ice cream were a possibility. Or maybe a fudge sauce?

        It was quite a while ago and I had it at more than one restaurant …

  2. From the beginning, when you asked for project suggestions, I keep thinking “ice cream” when mud cakes and pies (mud dessert = ice cream to me) are mentioned. I’m looking forward to your recipe and pics.

  3. If it is popular in Finland perhaps it has something to do with rye flour having been used at the time of it creation, which would naturally lead to a denser structure. I also remember reading an article long time ago about a type of chocolate substitute being used in Northeastern Europe in ex USSR territory, but for the life of me I can’t remember details. Perhaps the mud texture was a result of shortages in the area which forced people to work with only what they had.

      1. As far as I remember from my childhood in 80’s and 90’s, the chocolate substitute we had was with high soy content and its taste was much less chocolate-y than would be necessary for such cake. Actually, in Latvia most of chocolate cakes were baked only with cocoa powder, as it was more available than good chocolate.

        1. Hey Antuanete!

          Adding bar chocolate to a cake is a relatively new thing here in the States as well. When I was a kid it was a rare thing to see a cake that employed anything other than cocoa powder. Honestly I’m still not sure I see the value of using bar chocolate in a cake since the cocoa solids are what’s most important. Chocolate chips are another matter of course. Not sure I could live without those.

          Thanks for the comment!

          – Joe

    1. To my knowledge mud cake has always been here “American” recipe. I think I first heard about it 10 years ago and the name was Mississippi Mud Cake (in English), later we got the Finnish translation and nowadays people refer to it mostly by the Finnish name. It has never (again to my knowledge) had anything to do with rye flour (as the cake is a modern recipe, not something our grannies baked 😀 ) But who knows…

    2. No, we don’t use rye in cakes or any kind of pastry in Finland. Even the oldest Finnish cookbooks don’t have a single sweet dessert recipe that would use rye. We use rye mainly for bread, maybe sometimes for porridge. The only Finnish dessert that I know of that includes rye is the traditional mämmi. (Yes, I know, it resembles something you’ve already eaten and passed. Personally I don’t like it but many Finns do, including my wife, so I’ll leave it at that.)

      Mud cake is definitely a modern import in Finland and everyone I know considers it American. All the recipes I’ve seen include lots of melted dark chocolate and cocoa powder. The cake is never fully baked so the center remains “muddy”. It should look like an ordinary chocolate cake before you cut it. When you do, heavy semi-liquid sticky chocolate goo slowly flows on the plate from the center. It’s a mess. A delicious mess.

      Ice cream is a great companion. Whipped cream too. Or meringue. Or anything light to contrast that immensely heavy chocolatey buttery thing.

  4. I love a good mud cake – I remember Boston Mud Cakes being my favourite dessert when I was young. The ones I had, though, were generally just a really dense, almost fudgy chocolate cake, covered with ganache, I think – no meringue or marshmallow topping.

    Not sure what the difference between a Mississippi Mud Cake and a Boston Mud Cake is, but it might just be the name chosen by the cake store my parents frequented!

  5. I have a recipe for Donauwellen, given to me by my hostess when I was an exchange student in Germany in ’87. She compared it to a Mississippi Mud Pie, and it’s alternating layers of chocolate cake, blond cake, vanilla ‘buttercream’ and chocolate ganache, with a layer of sour cherries in the middle. I tried duplicating it when I got home, but buttercream means frosting here in the States, while in Germany, it’s really a sort of custard. My first attempt was impossibly sweet, with that thick layer of frosting in it!

    1. Hey Chris!

      Yes that does sound more like a mud pie. Our buttercream can be a sort of frosting, that’s true. However the buttercreams on this site are more traditional…not so sweet but quite rich. I would suggest giving one of them a try if you’re up for another attempt!

      Thanks for the email,

      – Joe

  6. I’ve never heard of mud cake before. But I ate a slice of mud pie when I was 13 and thought it was the best thing ever!

    I have more chocolate/cocoa than I know what to do with right now, so I think I’ll probably have to give this one a try. I think my coworkers would enjoy it too. 🙂

    1. I’ll try to get a recipe up today, Sherry. There are so many to choose from, at the moment I’m a little overwhelmed!

      Cheers,

      – Joe

  7. Hey Joe Australians love a mud cake and it is a staple in cafes all over the country. I agree about the block chocolate and cocoa but all my recipes have a high proportion of water giving the cake a very moist interior with a great structure that is, less dense than a brownie. I love the strength and structure of the cake so much I often use it as the base for a formal wedding cake as it can tolerate a mountain of frosting, icing and decorations. Who knew mud was so strong! Rick

    1. Fascinating, Rick. Would you mind pointing me to one of those recipes? I may end up going with something denser, but I’d still be curious to try the formulation. Thanks very much for a very interesting comment!

      Cheers,

      – Joe

  8. I found some information on The Old Foodie blog from July 13, 2007. It reads that it is an American recipe from the 1970s. It’s cousin is the Mud Pie and they are both decedents of the Brownie and Fudge. The Dirt Cake was the last to be born from this family. Also, early Mud Cake recipes contain marshmallow. I am not sure if any of this is true, but it’s all I got so far. I love a good mystery!

    1. Ah Janet…what a sweetheart! You reminded me that I need to get in touch with her soon. Thank you, Liz!

      I greatly appreciate the research on my behalf! My limited findings are similar to yours. Can’t find anything from before the 70’s. But dirt cake! That cracks me up. It sure looks funny, but in the right hands can actually be quite good. Thanks for the terrific comment!

      – Joe

  9. well, dammit. You’re telling me my mother lied to me when she served up cake made from actual mud and told me it was mud cake?

    So many childhood memories ruined :/

    CfDU

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