Big Al's Decadent Chocolate Cake is a dark horse in the cutthroat local chocolate cake arena. It looks less like your typical cake, for one, and more of a goth lasagna: Big Al's bakes their cakes in aluminum tins, then tops them off to the brim with chocolate icing.
And that chocolate icing—the best part of Big Al's! Imagine McDonald's hot fudge, or the ganache draped across the Goldilocks chocolate roll of your childhood, but extra thick, super gooey, and deeply chocolatey. Pair that with a tender chocolate cake and it must be what pure happiness tastes like—and why Big Al's is one of our most requested food hacks.
On Cocoa Powder
You’ll notice that this recipe mentions three types of cocoa: unsweetened cocoa, Dutch processed cocoa, and black cocoa.
- Unsweetened cocoa is the classic, standard-issue cocoa powder you’ll find in groceries, from Ricoa to Hershey’s.
- Dutch processed cocoa is cocoa that has been dutched or treated with alkali, giving it a deeper, less bitter flavor and darker color. Some bakers prefer it for its more chocolatey flavor.
- Black cocoa is extra-Dutch processed cocoa with a much darker color and mellowed out chocolate flavor. It's what gives Oreo cookies their pitch-black color and distinct flavor. Black cocoa is optional in this recipe—we use it to achieve that dark Big Al’s-colored frosting without resorting to food coloring.
If you have to buy one type of cocoa for this recipe, get Dutch processed cocoa. Otherwise, unsweetened cocoa powder will serve you just fine.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- ½ cup cocoa powder
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 cups white sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup full-cream milk
- ½ cup canola oil
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp coffee powder
- 1 cup boiling water
Hot Fudge Chocolate Icing
- ½ cup condensed milk
- ½ cup full-cream milk
- 1 small packet (33g, about 5 tbsp) powdered milk
- ¼ tsp salt
- 250g semi-sweet compound chocolate, roughly chopped
- 6 tbsp black or Dutch processed cocoa powder
- 6 tbsp powdered sugar, sifted
- 2 tbsp light corn syrup
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 60g cold unsalted butter, cubed
Make Chocolate Cake
Prepare for baking: Preheat oven to 325°F / 162°C. Prepare a 9x9-inch aluminum cake pan or two aluminum loaf pans.
Make cake batter: Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir with a whisk until ingredients are well-mixed, making sure to break up any clumped cocoa. Add white sugar and stir to distribute. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla extract. Carefully pour the wet ingredients into the dry mix and stir with a whisk or rubber spatula until batter is smooth.
Dissolve the instant coffee powder in the hot water. Pour hot water coffee into the batter and stir to combine. This step blooms the cocoa and intensifies its flavor.
Bake cake: Transfer cake batter into the prepared pan. If using multiple pans, fill each one up about halfway—the cakes will rise further while baking, and you want to keep them low to make space for the frosting. Gently tap pans on the counter to release any bubbles from the batter.
Bake until a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean, about 30–35 minutes in a big pan. Let cakes cool in their pans to room temperature, about 1 ½–2 hours, before adding the frosting.
Make Hot Fudge Chocolate Icing
Make icing: Combine condensed milk, full-cream milk, and powdered milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a gentle simmer, whisking constantly until powdered milk is dissolved. Add chocolate compound and mix until melted, about 1-2 minutes. Add cocoa powder, powdered sugar, and light corn syrup. Stir until smooth and lump-free, about 1-2 minutes.
Remove from heat, add vanilla extract and cold butter, and stir to combine. Your icing should have a smooth, glossy surface with a thick yet fluid consistency. If it's too thick, thin it out with a bit of milk or water.
Pour icing over cakes: Pour the warm icing over the cooled cake, filling the tin up to the brim, if possible. If your cake developed a high mound in the middle (it happens!), you can level your cakes by slicing off the excess—you'll cover it in icing, so no one will be able to tell. Chill cakes before serving, or dig in immediately if you can't resist.
Substitutions & FAQs
This recipe was originally published in December 2021. It has been updated with adjustments and rewritten steps.