I never thought I’d meet a chocolate cake I didn’t like — until we tasted 14 cakes side by side. From gargantuan high-brow restaurant slices to humble local bakery offerings, most cakes revealed some unexpected strengths and weaknesses in relation to the other cakes.
Let it be noted that while each cake underwent a rigorous critique of flavor, texture, appearance and cake-to-frosting ratio during the tasting, if you were to indulge in any of the following slices, you'd likely be pretty happy with your life choice. However, read on to find out what may be your ideal cake if you prefer fudgy over fluffy, lightness over richness, more frosting versus less frosting, and our overall top three favorite cakes.
Cakes were selected through word-of-mouth nominations and extensive online research. Each cake was randomly assigned a number and subsequently rated during a blind taste test in four categories on a scale of 1-10: cake flavor, cake texture, frosting flavor and frosting texture.
Only local bakeries or restaurants that serve cake by the slice made in-house were incorporated in the tasting, and only cakes that fell into the “classic chocolate cake” category were included — which meant as close as we could get to just chocolate cake and a chocolate buttercream or ganache. Chain restaurant offerings were excluded from the tasting.
For Classic Cake Lovers:
Benjy’s: The famous single-layer chocolate sheet cake at Benjy's is rumored to be made daily by the owner’s mother. It’s a classic chocolate cake with a straightforward cocoa profile and a rich icing that's grainy with sugar. The cake is relatively moist, with a lingering chew that, like its appearance, was vaguely reminiscent of a brownie. A scattering of pecans and a garnish of chopped strawberries helped prevent this otherwise simple cake from becoming monotonous. Overall it was a strong cake, particularly if you like rich icing.
Dessert Gallery (Mom’s Chocolate Cake): Unfortunately, this cake received low rankings — despite a light-colored cake and frosting that looked beautifully classic, it had a dense and slightly commercial taste that didn’t pack a lot of flavor. The creamy milk chocolate buttercream erred toward the dense, ganache-like end of the spectrum, but wasn't quite enough to overcome the slightly dry cake texture. Most tasters did not enjoy the chocolate chips that were studded throughout the cake layers, but if you enjoy chocolate chips in your cake, this is the one for you!
Dacapo's: This was one of the smaller (and cheaper) slices in the mix that received among the lowest rankings. It was, unfortunately, marked down by a majority of tasters for its coarse and dry crumb. The frosting was notably sugary and extremely sweet, but even the generous slicks could not remedy the textural issues of the cake. However, for a neighborhood spot, this is not a bad way to get your fix of homemade chocolate cake.
Empire Café: Empire’s cake — which comes from local small-batch bakery Take the Cake (which also supplies the cakes at Pho Binh, among other restaurants) — had one of the squishiest crumbs and a deep cocoa flavor. The lusciously velvety crumb, taken together with an extraordinarily creamy, almost runny frosting, makes for a cake that almost sticks to your mouth. An outer coating of chocolate cake crumbs contributes an extra element of texture to the overall mouthful for a very satisfying cake. It's definitely worth a visit, particularly on Half-Price Cake Mondays, when Empire sells all cake slices for half price.
For Rich-and-Fudgy Lovers:
Dessert Gallery (Chocolate Euphoria): This cake performed much better than the Mom's Chocolate Cake, with thick layers of rich, decadent whipped ganache sandwiched between thick layers of dark chocolate cake. Although the cake erred slightly on the dry side, the crumb was much softer than in the Mom's Chocolate Cake. As a whole, the rich ganache, the deep chocolate cake and the additional draping of dark chocolate ganache over the entire cake make for an extremely rich cake that most tasters found a bit over-the-top. For chocolate lovers, this is a must-try.
B&B Butchers: This beautiful cake was a favorite for overall presentation: A glass-slick layer of ganache glides over three layers of chocolate cake filled with a fluffy, mousse-like frosting. The main complaint about this cake was that tasters wished the chocolate flavor were more prominent. The cake itself is slightly underwhelming and leans a bit dry, but this flaw is generally counterbalanced by a strong ratio of frosting to cake. The accompanying raspberry sauce was appreciated for providing an accent of flavor.
Red Dessert Dive: The most distinguishing characteristic of this cake was a subtle smoky flavor that deepened the overall chocolate flavor. This is a very moist, spongy cake that sticks to your mouth, particularly when paired with the über-soft chocolate frosting. This had one of the best overall chocolate flavor profiles and was pleasing to most tasters. Red Dessert Dive changes up its cake flavors daily, so you can’t always be guaranteed a slice of this chocolate-on-chocolate cake, but it's equally delightful with any of the other frosting and filling combinations that Red Dessert Dive serves.
For Over-the-top Cake Lovers:
Ruggles Black: Aside from its mammoth size, the chocolate cake from Ruggles Black stood out for two things: an abundance of garnishes (a classic Ruggles dessert touch) and its strong hints of espresso. This cake is composed of six layers of cake, with frosting of almost equal thickness in between the layers, causing some tasters to wish for slightly less frosting since it tended to overpower the cake in bites. The accompanying passion fruit sauce was an interesting acidic, fruity way to cut the richness of the cake, but perhaps the wrong choice for an espresso-spiked cake. If you love a lot of frosting and coffee-chocolate flavor combinations, this is the one for you.
Katz’s: Billed as the "World’s Tallest 7 Layer Cake: as tall as a New York Skyscraper and as rich as a Texas oilman," this 24-hour diner's cake was certainly one of the fudgiest-looking cakes, if not the tallest. Served with a drizzle of chocolate sauce over the top, this one was praised for its moist, dense texture and a very rich and sweet frosting. The cake itself would have received close to perfect scores from many tasters had it not been severely marked down for a funky aftertaste that tasted to some like an unfiltered water flavor.
Ooh La La: A mammoth slice that rivaled the Chocolate Bar in size, this cake had an unusual cake-to-frosting distribution with a thick swath of slightly runny, mousse-like frosting in between two extra-thick cake layers. The cake had a rather coarse, open crumb that leaned dry. On the plus side, the presentation was beautiful, with a fancy drip and chocolate chunks on top. Still, most tasters felt meh about the runny, almost syrupy frosting and the average-tasting cake.
For the "Chocolate-Light" Lover
House of Pies: The cute slice of cake from House of Pies almost resembles an ice cream sundae with its layers of soft cake topped with a pile of cinnamon-spiked, super-fluffy whipped frosting and a cherry on top. Most tasters did not enjoy the notes of cinnamon in the frosting in conjunction with the chocolate cake, but the light plume of frosting on top helps keep this cake on the delicate side, which provided a brief breather from the extreme richness posed by many other cakes. For those who may enjoy chocolate (just not a ton of it), this one might be for you.
Top 3 Chocolate Cakes
Third Place: Chocolate Bar (Aunt Etta’s): Many tasters noted that this cake looked the most like the classic Matilda cake — that is, enormous and threateningly chocolate-y. At a stunning four layers of dark chocolate cake sandwiching a classic chocolate buttercream, this one was a behemoth of chocolate that won third place thanks to a crowd-pleasingly ultra-moist crumb and a fudgy yet soft and rich icing. The one complaint with this cake was that the flavor of the cake itself was that of low-quality chocolate — but in one this size, who really cares?
Second Place: Oui Desserts: Oui Desserts dresses its cotton-soft-crumbed chocolate cake in an über-fluffy, mousse-like “Nutella” frosting — though the Nutella element is muted to a barely perceptible, very subtle nutty flavor. Some tasters compared this cake's texture to that of boxed cake because the crumb was that ethereally even, fluffy and light. As a whole, this cake works brilliantly with the pairing of the silky, creamy frosting and the delicate cake, and earned second place handily in the tasting.
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First Place: Chocolate Bar (Uncle Darryl’s): Uncle Darryl’s might win any competition based on looks alone — the gargantuan slice comes topped with a heavy-handed sprinkle of toffee and whipped ganache slathered between thick chocolate layers with another drip of ganache around the top of the cake. The only complaint is that — as with the other Chocolate Bar contender — the moist, finely crumbed cake had a slightly muted flavor despite the richness suggested by its extravagant appearance. Still, this higher ratio of cake to frosting meant that bites weren't completely overwhelmed by the sugary frosting, making this cake a clear first-place winner to many of the tasters.
While our taste buds began to go into chocolate overload partway through the tasting, it became clear over the course of tasting the 14 cakes that the institutions you might expect — bakeries — are churning out the highest-quality cakes with the closest attention to cake flavor and texture. Despite the aesthetically pleasing restaurant and diner offerings, most couldn't stand up to the other contenders.
My personal top three included: The Chocolate Bar (Uncle Darryl's), Dessert Gallery (Chocolate Euphoria) and Red Dessert Dive, followed by Empire Cafe and Ruggles Black (reflecting my deep love for moist, squishy cake and penchant for really decadent, ganache-like frosting).
If there's one chocolate cake you have to eat in Houston, I really do think that Uncle Darryl's is the king of chocolate cakes. However, I also have a soft spot for the adorable aesthetic and overall performance of Red Dessert Dive's products and Take the Cake (behind Empire's cakes) makes a really excellent cake — so you should definitely try, at the very least, all three. If you think we missed a place, let us know in the comments!