We tested every mistake you can make when baking the perfect chocolate cake using Dominique Ansel's Go-To Chocolate Cake recipe

  • Insider's Lisa Paradise made 17 iterations of chocolate cake to try and find out how every single mistake or ingredient swap affects your final bake.
  • Starting with Dominique Ansel's Go-To Chocolate Cake recipe as a base, she tried everything from not using too many eggs to only using baking powder or baking soda.
  • Some iterations actually resulted in a happy accident, including not using enough flour when the cake was super moist and chocolaty.

Lisa Paradise: There's a lot that can go wrong when trying to make a perfectly moist, gooey, chocolaty cake, so we made 17 different chocolate cakes to find out how every common mistake affects your bake.

This is pâtissier Dominique Ansel's go-to chocolate-cake recipe. The simple batter incorporates dry ingredients, including cocoa powder, with oil, milk, and eggs to create a smooth, velvety batter that, when baked at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, rises evenly. The cake rises to about an inch and a half on the sides and 2 inches in the center, creating a small dome. The color's a rich, dark brown that's pretty even from edge to center. The cake is spongy and breaks apart easily with a fork that, when dipped into a cold glass of milk, is dry enough to absorb some moisture, but not so much that it falls apart. It's chocolaty, moist, and not too sweet. With big crumbs that stick together, the cake doesn't break apart easily.

Want a more complex chocolate flavor? Switch out the cocoa powder for melted chocolate, or even combine the two. The batter with just melted chocolate is much thinner and paler, while the one with both is thick and rich. Both rise evenly and begin to crack slightly at the end of the bake, leaving the cake on the left with a discolored dome and the cake on the right with long, deep cracks. While melted chocolate was a bit taller, the cakes rose to similar heights. The cake with both chocolates was spongy and easy to cut into, while the one with only melted chocolate was much more dense. Only using melted chocolate led to a darker color with some discoloration around the edges of the cake, whereas combining both gave the cake a rich, dark color, which might explain why the cake had the most decadent chocolate flavor of the lot. But with the added sugar in melted chocolate, this was much more sweet than rich.
Waiting for the oven to preheat might seem like a waste of time, but it's actually a really important step. It takes longer for the cake to begin rising, and when it does, it begins to break and collapse, leaving large cracks around the entire diameter. The center of the cake sinks in on itself, leaving the edges lighter and the center dark brown, almost like a brownie. Because it collapsed, the cake packed in on itself, leaving it so dense it's hard to get a fork into.

If you're looking for a more decadent cake, you can always trade out the vegetable oil for butter or, trying to seem healthier, for Greek yogurt. The top of the butter cake turns a light brown and cracks quite a bit through the center, whereas the Greek yogurt leaves the cake darker with large bubbles across the surface. The biggest differences in these two cakes are flavor and moisture. The butter makes the cake, well, buttery, and though it's a bit more greasy than its counterpart, it's super moist. The Greek yogurt, on the other hand, adds a nice tang and gives the cake a soft, moist bite. Letting your cold ingredients hit room temperature gives the oven less work to do.

Mixing up cold ingredients and popping it right in the oven is like only letting the oven preheat halfway. This will leave the cake with a large crack down the center and allow large visible air pockets to form throughout. The cake is lighter in color than the original, and the texture is super dry. Where the original was like Play-Doh, this one breaks apart like damp sand.

You're really only supposed to fill your cake tin halfway, but you got a little -- or a lot -- of extra batter left over, and you wanna make sure it all gets in that cake. In the oven, the cakes grow so large and need so much extra time to finish cooking that the tops begin to burn. With a slight overfill, the top of the cake still stays round, but keep going, and it begins to overflow like a giant muffin. Because they burn slightly, both are dense and hard to cut, and you visibly see the discoloration from the edges beginning to overcook. Under the burnt tops, the cake barely holds up with a fork, so dry and crumbly they disintegrate inside a glass of milk.

Believe it or not, there's a reason all those "Bake Off" contestants sit in front of the oven rather than opening it. Each time you open the oven door, the temperature can drop 50 degrees or more, so the baking process pauses and restarts each and every time. Eventually, the cake gives up and begins to fall, leaving a crater in the center. It's full of air pockets, especially in the center. And it's because of the uneven bake that its color is uneven as well. Overall, the cake is a hot mess. It's dry, it's crumbly, and it falls apart right on the fork. Ansel's original recipe calls for 220 grams of flour. Throw in 100 grams more or less, and you're looking at two very different cakes. With less flour, it takes more time in the oven to begin to rise. At the end, they both develop pretty significant cracks, but the one with additional flour is much more dramatic. With more flour, it's dry and a bit burnt, but with less, it's buttery-soft, with a deep, rich color. And with a touch less flour, the chocolate is really allowed to shine, making it an incredibly moist, chocolaty, and delicious happy accident.

Adding the wet ingredients into the dry might seem arduous. Why not just throw it all in the same bowl and give it a mix? It's much harder to incorporate all the ingredients at once, so you end up overmixing the batter, leading to a cake that struggles to rise in the oven, resulting in deep cracks and a sloped rim at the edges. The color and height are similar to the original, so it might not seem like a huge deal, until you take a bite. But inside the cake is a bit dry, while also being chewy and sticky in a really unsatisfying way.

The original recipe calls for 2 grams of baking powder and 3 grams of baking soda. Don't have one or the other, and it might be tempting to just use 5 grams of whatever you got. In the oven, the tops of both cakes cracked to the point of almost falling off, with more smaller cracks filling up the rest of the surface. With just baking powder, the cake rises much more, leaving it almost 2 centimeters taller than the original and shades paler in color than just using baking soda. When dipped in milk, it's easier to see the large air pockets that formed while baking, which explains why both cakes were so dry.

Can't get enough chocolate and thinking the 45 grams Ansel lists could never be enough? Then double it. You'll get a thicker, darker batter that rises evenly but does crack. In fact, this cake cracked all around the very edge of the cake as though the whole top risked falling off. Inside, the cake is full of large air pockets, but the color is an alluring deep brown. While the taste is rich and chocolaty, it's so dry inside that it quickly takes in milk, leaving powdery crumbs.

Ansel calls for two eggs in this cake. One more or one less might not seem like a huge deal. With extra eggs, the cake rises to a peak and cracks like a volcano waiting to erupt. And while it's not as dramatic, the one with just one egg isn't lacking in cracks either. Both cakes are springy and easy to cut with similar coloring. Though, when it comes to moisture, the cake with three eggs is moist and dense like a brownie, though the flavor is a bit more eggy, whereas its counterpart is much drier, with granulated crumbs.

So, if you're trying to experiment your way into the perfect chocolate cake, there's a lot that can go wrong. But, with some happy accidents, you might just find your ideal slice.