From Five-Minute Mug O’Fail to Lemon Fluff

Early this week, I sat in the break room salivating over a Serious Eats post on Microwave Chocolate Cake in a Mug.

I grew up on microwaved scrambled eggs and microwaved California mix, so, while I’m not completely opposed to the microwave, I reserve it for melting butter and reheating leftovers.  Not for cooking proteins or [gack] pastries.  But I became hell-bent on the idea of a warm chocolate cake made with ingredients already stocked in my pantry, ready to eat in five minutes.

The recipe called for the following ingredients:
4 Tablespoons flour
4 Tablespoons of sugar
2 Tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa
1 egg, whisked
3 Tablespoons canola oil
3 Tablespoons chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Additional mix-ins like nuts & candies

After dinner, I lovingly and methodically measured my ingredients into a mug and mixed until combined (Cue the music from the episode of Portlandia where a woman posts ads for her lost kitty on a telephone pole).  Technologically challenged, I could not find my microwave’s wattage and made two servings of mug cake.  Even if I overcooked one cake, how bad could a chocolate cake possibly taste?

I microwaved the first mug of cake for three and a half minutes.

Beautiful, eh?

Fresh from the microwave, the cake was dense, dry, and spongy.  I ate a few more bites in the name of wishful thinking before passing the mug to Jake, whose reaction was also “meh.”

Then, I microwaved my second, back-up, mug O’ batter for three minutes, the recommended time for a 1,000 wattage microwave.

I shoved my fork deep within the steaming depths of mug cake with the same results.  A not quite sweet enough, chocolate sponge.

A black hole vortex of perfectly decent ingredients.  After a few minutes of trying to eat my cake while repeating, “It’s not so bad,” I cast aside my mug o’ sponge.

Die, microwave mug o’ chocolate hate!  Die!

Destroyer of substantial amounts of Ghirardelli cocoa powder, raw cane sugar, organic almond extract, organic walnuts, local milk, and part of a dark chocolate-espresso candy bar.

I aired my grievances on Facebook where people poured from the woodwork to defend the microwavable mug cake.

All of the suggested variations involved nuking the cake for at least half of my recipe’s suggested time.  Others mentioned success using boxed mixes or different proportions of ingredients.  I was also amused to read a King Arthur Flour blog post that cites the offending recipe as appearing in email forwards.  The author continues to discuss how to vary the recipe with improved results.

Lemon Fluff
With the taste of chocolate sponge still lingering in my mouth, I baked a lemon pudding cake the next evening.  I have fond memories of baking lemon pudding cake during my childhood and remember feeling pleasantly surprised as I snuck bites of my tangy creation at every chance.

I followed a simple recipe for Baked Lemon Pudding Cake, from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, 11th Edition, found on Judy Hallman’s Favorite Recipes web page.  The finished cake will yield a creamy pudding covered by a fluffy, meringue-like topping.

Of all the lemon pudding or souffle cakes, I chose this recipe because it’s simple, I had all of the ingredients, and it didn’t use all of my eggs.  Since I do not own an electric mixer, I beat the egg whites by hand and they never made it past the floppy point.  Using a mixer may result in a fluffier cake.  For a tangier cake, I would recommend swapping in more lemon juice for milk.  

1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
Zest from two lemons
1/4 cup (or more) freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 Tablespoons melted butter
1 1/2 cups milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter a two-quart baking dish.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a small bowl.  Stir in the salt and one cup of sugar.
Separate the egg whites and yolks, placing the yolks in a large bowl.  
Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.  Then, gradually beat in a 1/2 cup of sugar, spoonful by spoonful. 
Using the same whisk, beat the egg yolks until they are light and frothy.  Add the lemon rind, lemon juice, melted butter, and milk. 
Add the flour to the liquid mixture and beat until smooth.
Gently fold the egg whites into the batter and pour into the buttered dish.  Place the filled dish on a pan filled with a 1/2 inch of hot water. 
Bake for approximately 45 minutes.  The top should be golden brown.  

It is often recommended that one chills the cake overnight before serving.  We enjoyed the cake directly from the oven and I snuck chilled spoonfuls for breakfast the next morning.  


  1. Kris

    I recall trying a similar microwave chocolate mug cake recipe a few years ago with equally unimpressive results. Your lemon fluff, however, looks delicious! I don’t bake or keep many sweets in the house since we’re willpower challenged but I might have to give this a go.

  2. Jen

    We don’t usually bake sweets either, but this is nice and light. Plus, it would be great with more tangy lemon juice.

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