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Mug cake: In theory, it sounds like an amazing idea. Just combine a few ingredients in a cup, microwave for a minute or so, and enjoy a single-serve, homemade dessert. But in practice, even a simple mug cake recipe can flop big time. An odd combination of ingredients, variations in microwave cooking times, and unattractive final results that look nothing like what you saw on Pinterest turn what should be a quick indulgence into a bona fide kitchen disaster. The potential for disappointing mug cake results are so great that Buzzfeed has gone so far as to declare the mini desserts “the biggest f*cking lie in the world.”
So, what’s the problem with mug cakes? For one, microwaves aren’t ideal for baking since they heat food differently than a conventional oven. Nuking your ingredients may be quicker than traditional baking, but there’s a fair chance you’ll end up with a dessert that’s under- or overcooked, has a weird texture, tastes like scrambled eggs, or suffers from other problems.
“I started with some of the most popular mug cake recipes I could find online,” writes Katherine Sacks, who tested numerous mug cake recipes for Epicurious. “As mediocre mug cake after mediocre mug cake came out of the microwave, I wondered what all the fuss was about. Some of the cakes were rubbery and too eggy-tasting, and some looked airy but had a texture similar to styrofoam.”
After some trial and error, though, Sacks discovered a mug cake recipe that actually worked. One key to success was skipping the egg. A little bit of baking powder was enough to make the cake rise and also keep it from developing an unpleasant texture and flavor. A caramel sauce keeps her chocolate cake moist and flavorful, while peanuts add crunch. A scoop of ice cream finishes off this near-perfect mug cake recipe.
Chocolate Microwave Mug Cake with Caramel Sauce and Peanuts
This mug cake is “loaded with chocolatey, caramely flavor and topped with crunchy nuts,” says Sacks. This mug cake just takes minutes to make, and Sacks notes it’s a winning dessert.
You’ll want to use a 12-ounce microwave-safe mug with thin walls to make this mug cake (a bowl works too). The instructions are for cooking in a 1200-watt microwave. If your microwave has a lower wattage, increase the cooking time slightly.
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 heaping tablespoons microwave caramel sauce (see below) or store-bought caramel sauce, divided
- 1 teaspoon coarsely chopped roasted, salted peanuts
- Vanilla ice cream (optional)
For the microwave caramel sauce
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- Pinch of salt
Directions: To make the caramel sauce, place butter in a 12-ounce microwave-safe mug and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, cream, and salt; stir to combine, and microwave on high for another 30 seconds. Carefully remove, stir, and microwave on high for 15 seconds. Stir and use immediately or keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Mix flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in mug. Add cream, oil, and 3 tablespoons water and mix until smooth. Using a spoon, make a well in the center; spoon half of the caramel sauce into well. Microwave on high for 60 seconds. Carefully remove from microwave. Top with ice cream (if desired), peanuts, and remaining caramel sauce. Serve immediately.
This mug cake recipe is easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s foolproof. For the best results, make sure you measure carefully. Add too much baking powder, for example, and your cake will overflow the mug while cooking and then sink, resulting in a too-dense dessert. And if you do add the peanuts (or other nuts) to this cake, make sure you do so after cooking. Cook them in the microwave and you’ll end up with chewy rather than crunchy nuts.
You also want to resist the temptation of overfilling the mug. Yes, more cake may be better than less cake, but if you’re not careful, your dessert will end up all over your microwave. If you’re extra hungry or cooking for two, double the recipe and cook it in a microwave-safe bowl, or just make two separate mug cakes.
Finally, mug cakes are not a make-ahead dessert. Even the best single-serve microwave cakes need to be eaten quickly, since once they cool, the texture changes, and not in a good way. Be sure to dig in immediately for maximum deliciousness.
Follow Megan on Twitter @MeganE_CS