Scientifically Sweet: Chocolate-Vanilla Marble Cake

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Chocolate-Vanilla Marble Cake

Baking powder is an ingredient that gets overlooked in the recipe world.

Butter gets much attention for its quality grades and variation. Chefs encourage the use of high quality butter for flavour and performance.

Flour quality is even worth another post, and definitely gets more attention than baking powder.

Eggs vary from caged to free range and home grown - and you can generally can see and taste the difference.

However, although baking powder performs a very important functional role in our cakes, muffins and scones, it doesn't get much thought when put into recipes. After all, without it, our cakes would not be cakes; our scones would be hockey pucks and our muffins would be duds.

We need leavening to give our creations lift and lightness.

The problem is that baking powder is not standardized. The blend or recipe of different chemical components is up to the manufacturer. So, your baking results will vary depending on what type of baking powder you choose to use.

Some very poor brands are blended with over 40% rice flour or corn starch which can reduce their efficacy. Since they're diluted, you would have to use more to get the necessary rise, unless of course that recipe was tested with the exact baking powder you are using.

That's because food standards and regulations generally do not require manufacturers to list components of ingredients for baking powder.

The food code states that baking powder should be a combination of sodium or potassium bicarbonate (baking soda), an acid-reacting material, starch or other neutral material... but it does not state requirements for levels or specific types. So, any manufacturer can have their own recipe or blend. It could be fast-acting, slow-acting or double-acting, and some are better and more effective than others.

Now, how 'bout this Chocolate-Vanilla Marble Cake?

It's just the definition of class. It's sophisticated and simple. It is something you'd expect to see sliced on a plate next to a hot pot of tea at a Bed & Breakfast. The perfect pairing of chocolate and vanilla has never been so incredibly obvious and delicious. What you won't taste in this gorgeous cake is baking powder, but it will lend an undeniably uniform crumb. It is tender and tight and melt-in-your-mouthpolooza.

I think it goes without saying that using the best quality chocolate and vanilla extract is absolutely mandatory here. Look for "Bourbon" vanilla extract, which is made from vanilla beans grown in Madagascar. They are extremely aromatic unlike anything else.

To get an evenly swirled swirl, spoon the two different flavoured batters into the pan alternately. This will ensure it gets swirled up and down and all around so that each slice displays plenty of ying-yang.

Try and find an occasion this is not perfect for. Impossible.

Dessert tonight? Done.
Breakfast tomorrow? No worries.

Chocolate-Vanilla Marble Cake
Makes one 8x4-inch loaf

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup boiling water
¾ cup plus 1 tbsp sugar, divided
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup whole milk, at room temperature 

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter the short sides of an 8x4-inch loaf pan and line it with a piece of parchment paper, letting it hang over the long sides; set aside.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together cocoa, 1 tablespoon of sugar and boiling water until smooth and set aside to cool.  

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and vanilla until creamy. Slowly stream in sugar and then beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until well combined after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add flour mixture in three parts, alternating with milk. Set aside 1/3 of the batter in a medium bowl and fold in the cooled cocoa mixture.

Spoon batters into the prepared pan in 2 layers, alternating spoonfuls of vanilla and chocolate to simulate a checkerboard. To create marbling, run a table knife (or wooden skewer) through the batters in a swirling motion.

Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer pan to a rack to cool 10 minutes. Turn out cake from pan and cool completely on the rack. Cake can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

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  1. Those photos are amazing!
    This cake is delicious. ^^


  2. OMG! I have to make this. So is there a certain kind of baking powder that you would recommend over others?

    1. Look for "double-acting" baking powder, or one with "monocalcium phosphate" in the ingredient list.

  3. Thanks for posting about Baking Powder! It is definitely an ingredient I struggle with especially when I don't get enough rise as I would like and my bread or cupcakes don't come out as tall as the photos! Appreciate the tip and love your blog....

  4. This looks like a marble cake in a Jewish deli. But what do you recommend for baking powder? Making your own or is there a brand you prefer? But now I see the above. Thanks!

  5. I made this cake last night. It was beautiful and the texture was really nice. However, it tasted awful and I regret wasting the time and ingredients on this cake. When I think what I could have been doing instead...sleeping, running, reading, baking something yummy.=(

    The cake was actually bitter, possibly from the amount of baking powder (I used Rumsford aluminum free) and the relatively small amount of sugar for a cake of this size. I would double the vanilla, at least triple the amount of sugar in the chocolate mixture, and possibly increase the amount of sugar in the batter overall if I were to ever make it again (which I won't).

    1. There's more than enough sugar for a cake of this size, at a 1:1.3 ratio with flour by weight. It is likely your cocoa that is very bitter - avoid alkalized or Dutched cocoa which can have a smokey taste. I recommend good quality natural cocoa.

  6. Your food photos are amazing. You can share your mouth watering photos with us at is a new food sharing site and we actually try our best to promote your food photos. At all your food photos will be published without any editorial review so I really hope you come and join us.

  7. To anonymous...I made this cake. Actually, I made 2 They were perfectly sweet and far from bitter. Are you sure you didn't use salt instead of sugar. Did you measure properly?
    I've added this recipe to one of my ultimate favorites.

  8. I've made marble cake for the first time in my life recently, because... in Germany, where I grew up, it is the exact opposite of what you describe - marble cake is a children's birthday cake and even is a bit... vulgar! But I am so glad I stepped over my shadow, it is a truly wonderful cake.
    Cheers, Lisa

  9. Ohh how I love marble cake ..this one looks fantastic as well! I think that was the first recipe Of cake that I baked as a kid ever.


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