mocha spice cake

12    |   
Prep Time:
30 minutes    |   
Cook Time:
35 minutes

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mocha cake

This is the week to be cozy, so I baked my friend Victoria’s mother’s mocha spice cake. It’s old-timey, it smells incredible while it’s in the oven, and it’s served in squares so no complicated layers. And it’s got a secret ingredient: prunes (or what marketing people now call “dried plums” to get away from, you know, the reputation that prunes have). You don’t really taste them; they just add moistness and density to the crumb…oh, and fiber too. It’s the frosting that makes the whole project fun (I even piped it onto the edges with a pastry bag — show off!). But you could eat the cake without the icing; all it needs is a mug of tea or coffee and it’s a great New Year’s breakfast. The diet starts next month.


1 generous cup dried plums (aka prunes)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temp
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (see note)
1 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, allspice
1 cup buttermilk

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1/3 cup half-and-half
1 cup sifted powdered sugar


To make the cake, place prunes in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil; simmer for 5 minutes or until prunes are softened. Drain, let cool slightly, then chop roughly.

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 13×9-inch baking dish; knock out excess flour.

In a bowl with an electric beater, whip butter, sugar, and eggs until light and fluffy. Sift flour into another bowl with baking soda, baking powder, salt, espresso powder, and spices. Mix together buttermilk and prunes. Beat one third of the flour mixture into the butter mixture, then beat in one third of the buttermilk and prunes. Repeat, alternating dry and wet ingredients, until all is mixed. Pour batter into prepared baking dish and bake on center rack until a toothpick inserted in middle of cake comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cake cool in dish for 10 minutes, then, if desired, remove cake by loosening the edges with a knife, then inverting onto a baking sheet, then placing another baking sheet on top of cake and flipping again so cake is right side up. Cool cake on a rack. (Or just cool cake in baking dish on rack and serve from pan.)

To make the frosting, melt chocolate, butter, and espresso powder in the top of a double-boiler or in a metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water. When smooth, remove pan from heat and gradually add half-and-half and powdered sugar, stirring until consistency is right (if frosting is too thick, add more half-and-half by the tablespoonful). Spread frosting on cooled cake.

note: don’t use ground espresso that you’d put in your coffee machine; it won’t blend in. Use a commercial instant brand such as Medaglia d’Oro.