Pudding cake is one of those classic, homey desserts that I’ve always heard about but never tried for myself. I don’t know why it took me so long, because as a lover of everything sticky-gooey-chocolatey, it’s basically all of my favorite things in one messy, ugly, so-wrong-it’s-right package.
Pudding cake is kind of a magical concept: during the baking process, the dessert separates into two layers: a tender cake on top, and a rich chocolate pudding on bottom. When served together, the pudding becomes a luscious chocolate sauce for the crackly-topped cake. You have to love a dessert that practically garnishes itself, right?
Next item of business: inventing a dessert that whips its own cream and macerates its own berries. To the Baking Laboratory!
If you’ve never made a pudding cake before, let me provide a visual word of warning: it is not a pretty process. This is truly what the cake looked like before going into the oven.
And this is the post-baking picture. I guess it’s “better,” in the sense that it looks like some kind of dessert, but it’s still not terribly appetizing, in the sense that it looks kind of like a scab. (I’m already sorry I said that…many apologies.)
But! It’s not all about looks around here, because I’m willing to overlook a whole lot of ugly if the taste is pretty, and this cake was a winner at our house. I added chopped strawberries to the cake batter, and a layer of strawberry puree as well, so it’s got a fresh berry taste that keeps it from being too intensely chocolatey. Even Jason, he of the “ohhhh, I only like pure chocolate, not chocolate cake” pretentions, enjoyed this a lot…and that’s saying something.
You could also make this cake with an equal amount of fresh raspberries instead of strawberries, or if you’re low on fruit, you can omit the berry portions entirely for a pure chocolate dessert.
Chocolate Strawberry Pudding Cake
For the Cake:
12 ounces fresh strawberries
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar, divided use
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup good-quality cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the Topping:
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup good-quality cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
3/4 cup whole milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 2-quart casserole pan with nonstick cooking spray or coat it with a thin layer of butter. (A tall 9×9-pan will also work.)
Coarsely chop the strawberries. Set half of the berries aside, and place the remaining half in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar and the lemon juice, and bring the berries to a boil. Once they are giving off juice and extremely soft, remove them from the heat and puree them in a food processor or with an immersion blender. Strain the puree through a fine wire-mesh strainer to remove as many seeds as possible; set aside for a moment.
In a large bowl whisk or sift together the flour, cocoa powder, remaining 3/4 cup of granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the milk, melted butter, and vanilla extract, and stir everything together. At this point the batter will be very stiff, much like a thick cookie dough. Add the remaining chopped strawberries and stir until they’re well-incorporated.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Spoon the strawberry puree over the top of the cake batter.
In a small bowl, whisk or sift together the brown sugar and cocoa powder. Scatter this dry mixture all over the top of the cake, then pour the boiling water and whole milk on top. Don’t worry if it looks absolutely terrible—it will all come together as it bakes!
Place the cake on a baking sheet, to catch any spills, and bake the cake in the preheated oven for about 40-45 minutes, until the top is dry and set. It will still be liquid and bubbling around the very edges.
Remove the cake from the heat and let it cool for at least 20-30 minutes, then serve it warm, with plenty of the chocolate pudding spooned over the cake layer. Garnish with whipped cream and additional berries, if desired.