Desserts

Eat the Best Chocolate Cake in Houston


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.

Methodology

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.


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Erika Kwee is a freelance food writer, photographer and contributor to the Houston Press who particularly enjoys exploring the many unique sweet spots around Houston. She is constantly on the hunt for exceptional pad thai, vegetarian dumplings and pancakes.