Did you know there is a difference between French chocolate cake and American chocolate cake? Learn how they differ, which chocolate cake the taste testers picked as their favorite, and which chocolate cake you should bake this weekend!
Two weeks ago, Nick at Macheesmo kindly invited me to write a homemade trial on chocolate cake. I researched chocolate cake recipes to develop a simple, no-frills chocolate cake that is decadent and delicious. My friend Benjamin, of FrenchTogether.com, recommended I look for a chocolate cake recipe from French recipe sites because French people love chocolate cake and make mouthwatering cakes. True enough!
Following Benjamin’s advice, I found several recipes for gâteau au chocolat. However, the French chocolate cake recipes looked nothing like the American chocolate cake recipes. The ingredients list was different, the techniques were different, and the results looked very different.
You know how much I love taste tests to figure out these questions ?. So, let’s do a taste test on which cake my Americans friends and neighbors prefer: American or French chocolate cake. Which do you think will win?
RELATED: Read the results of other taste tests.
Difference between French vs. American Chocolate Cake
Now, I realize that there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of styles of French and American chocolate cakes. Some have nuts, fruit, liqueur, or all of the above.
Let’s generalize. My definition of an American chocolate cake is what I find when I google “chocolate cake recipe”. Similarly, I define a French chocolate cake as what I discover when I google “gateau au chocolat recette”.
If you perform the 2 searches, you’ll find that both French and American chocolate cakes have flour, eggs, sugar, and salt. But that’s where the similarities end.
The difference between French and American chocolate cakes are huge. Let’s dive in.
French Chocolate Cake
French chocolate cakes follow the lead of European tortes, which tend to be smaller and thinner but richer and denser than American cakes. Here are the ingredients in a typical French chocolate cake:
- Butter: Instead of oil
- Baking chocolate: Most recipes call for semi-sweet or dark chocolate, usually 50% cacao or higher.
- Very little flour (~1/4 cup): Just enough flour to bind the ingredients so the cake is more similar to flourless chocolate cake or lava cakes
- A lot of eggs (4-6 eggs): The egg whites are beaten to stiff peaks to make the cake rise and no chemical leaveners like baking powder are used
- Nut flours: Freshly ground almonds and hazelnuts are frequently added
You melt the butter and baking chocolate together. Then mix the dry ingredients (sugar, flour, and salt) and egg yolks into the chocolate mix. Then you beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. The cake bakes in about 20 minutes.
American Chocolate Cake
American chocolate cakes are similar to British cakes, which have a fluffy, light texture and a moist sponge. Here are the ingredients in a typical American chocolate cake:
- Oil: Instead of butter
- Cocoa powder: Instead of baking chocolate
- Baking soda and/or baking powder: The carbon dioxide created from these chemical leaveners is the main mechanism for aerating the cake structure and texture.
- A lot of flour (~2 cups): Flour makes up a lot of the structure of the cake rather than eggs
- Fewer eggs (2-3 eggs)
- Milk, sour cream, and/or buttermilk: Adds a lot of moisture to create a soft, moist crumb
- Boiling water and/or brewed coffee
You mix the dry ingredients until blended. You mix all the wet ingredients until blended. Then you add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix it with a stand mixer or hand mixer for 2 minutes. Bake for 1 hour for a one-layer mega-thick cake or split the batter into round pans and bake for 25-40 minutes to make a multi-layered cake.
Based on these differences, here are my opinions about the cake making process.
- Time & Effort: It’s faster and less work to make American chocolate cake because you don’t need to beat the egg whites. Measuring out a few more ingredients is way faster than beating egg whites to stiff peaks and folding them.
- Skills Required: The French chocolate cake requires finesse to avoid overbeating egg whites. You also have to know the correct technique to gently fold the egg whites into the batter without collapsing them.
- Taste Differences: American cakes are sweeter, fluffier, and way bigger. The French cakes are richer, less sweet, denser, and smaller.
Taste Test: Which Chocolate Cake Tastes Better?
I followed the Macheesmo Classic Homemade Chocolate Cake For High-Altitude Bakers recipe for the American chocolate cake and David Lebovitz’s French Chocolate Cake recipe.
I recruited 3 neighbors, 1 friend, 2 coworkers, and 1 husband to participate in the taste test. 6 out of 8 people picked the American chocolate cake as their favorite. (Alex and I were the lonesome 2 people who picked the French chocolate cake as our favorite.)
Many of the taste testers commented that the French cake had a richer, chocolatey flavor and tasted “torte-like”. They told me they liked the American cake better because of how light and moist it is. My friend Cris made an astute comment saying, “Maybe I just like the American cake because that’s how I expect a cake to taste.”
The American chocolate cake won the taste test by a landslide, and it’s easier to make. That makes the American cake the clear winner and will be the chocolate cake recipe that I’m likely to reach for if I’m baking a cake for someone’s birthday (if they’re American, of course).
RELATED: Check out the taste test for hot chocolate vs. hot cocoa.
What to Drink With Chocolate Cake
NOTE: Alex and I wonder whether my execution of the French chocolate cake botched the taste test. Despite baking the French chocolate cake 7 times and trying 4 different recipes (including David Lebovitz’s recipe, this Marmiton recipe, this other Marmiton recipe, and this Odélice recipe) including adjustments for high altitude baking, thanks to Nicole at Dough Eyed, I’m still not sure the French chocolate cake was the best version possible. I will try to reproduce this taste test next time I’m in California to see if the American cake wins again.
Are you surprised that a group of Americans (plus 1 German) picked the American chocolate cake as their favorite? Are you on team American chocolate cake or team French chocolate torte?