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Taking coffee out of a cake

I was thinking about making this cake (from a recipe in the NY Times) for a New Year's Day party. However, I know one of the hosts doesn't like coffee. If I decided to go ahead with this cake, how would the taste be effected by removing the coffee (replaced with water, of course)?

Obviously, it wouldn't taste like coffee, but would the cake lack a certain complexity, since it was designed to be made with the coffee? Should something else be added to make up for that?

Chocolate Whiskey Cake

TOTAL TIME 1 hour 25 minutes

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, more for pan
85 grams unsweetened cocoa powder (about 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
1 1/2 cups brewed strong coffee
1/2 cup whiskey
200 grams granulated sugar (about 1 cup)
156 grams light brown sugar (about 1 cup)
240 grams all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)
8 grams baking soda (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
3 grams fine sea salt (about 3/4 teaspoon)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
Powdered sugar, for serving (optional)


1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 10-inch springform pan. Dust with 2 tablespoons cocoa powder.
2. In a medium saucepan over low heat, warm coffee, whiskey, 12 tablespoons butter and remaining cocoa powder, whisking occasionally, until butter is melted. Whisk in sugars until dissolved. Remove from heat and cool completely.
3. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, pepper and cloves. In another bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla. Slowly whisk egg mixture into chocolate mixture. Add dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Fold in chocolate chips.
4. Pour batter into prepared pan. Transfer to oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack, then remove sides of pan. Dust with powdered sugar before serving, if you like.
YIELD 8 to 10 servings

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  1. Up the cocoa, but if he is sensitive to caffeine that may not change things. Or of course, up the whiskey? That's probably what I would do.

    But if it's just the taste of coffee he doesn't like, and he doesn't have a physical problem with it, I wouldn't go crazy.

    1 Reply
    1. re: coll

      I agree. The coffee will deeply enhance the flavor of the cocoa and make it taste richer. I doubt anyone will actually notice with all that chocolate and whisk(e)y.

    2. Coffee intensifies the sense of chocolate; it's one of the reason many deeply chocolate recipes include things like a spoon of instant coffee.

      1. I would say to leave the coffee, but make it weak if you're concerned. Though, I don't think I've ever actually tasted coffee when I've used it in chocolate desserts (if taste is the only issue.)

        1. Perhaps try using a weaker coffee instead of a strong one. You could even switch to a decaffeinated coffee if the caffeine is an issue.

          1. That is a lot of coffee, it does not take 1 1/2 cups to up the taste of chocolate. That cakes seems like more of a mocha flavor from the ingredient amounts.

            1. To clarify, the person doesn't like the taste of coffee--it's not a caffeine issue.

              I was debating back and forth whether the blend of flavors (i.e., the coffee not being recognizable as coffee) would fix things, but I'm picturing her tasting it and putting the piece of cake down.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Scott_R

                I wonder if you added a couple tablespoons of malt syrup or hazelnut syrup into the water to make the 1 1/2 cups of liquid....might give you the depth of flavor without adding too much of a new flavor.

                1. re: jmcarthur8

                  i almost always add coffee PLUS a booze to my chocolate baked goods. they ever taste overtly of either. try upping the booze and adding some water if you feel like the coffee flavor will be too much for your host.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    I agree. Even if it would not be noticable, why use an ingredient the person for whom you are making it does not like ?

                2. re: Scott_R

                  I'm not sure there is a prevalent coffee taste in this cake. I would just leave it as is.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Agreed, especially if this person eats/drinks mocha-flavored treats.

                3. There are so many chocolate whiskey cake recipes, I would look for one that didn't have coffee, like maybe this one:

                  1. The coffee is simply there to add bitter complexity to the chocolate. Make it as it is and it won't "taste of coffee"

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Brandon Nelson

                      I tend to agree with you but I would be inclined to change 1/4 cup of the semi-sweet chips to bittersweet ones to get the bitter element in. Or I would add some orange liquor to the mix and eliminate the vanilla, think orange and chocolate do go well together.

                    2. I'd probably make something different. That's just me, though.

                      1. Why not just pick a 'safer' recipe than risk having this one not turn out well?

                        1. Have you ever tasted this cake? I ask because I have made a banana cake that calls for coffee (from "Ladies, A Plate" by Alexa Johnston), and I honestly can't taste it in the final product, although it is obvious in the raw batter. I don't drink coffee or particularly like the taste.

                          As a substitute, I suppose you could use strong black tea. It would add a similar bitter, "dark" taste, although not as strong.

                          I would probably make something else, though.

                          1. In that ratio, I don't think he'd taste the coffee so I'm with the group that says do it as is. Coffee adds an intensity to the chocolate flavors and when I've substituted water, the cakes taste flat.

                            1. I've made a variation of this cake--a riff on Maida Heatter’s 86-Proof Chocolate Cake. The recipe I made calls for 1/4 cup instant espresso powder. It does NOT taste of coffee whatsoever. As others have mentioned, the coffee just amps the chocolate.

                              1. I ended up making it, dropping down the amount of coffee (8 ounces of average-strength coffee, topped off with hot water).

                                It went well; no one noted a coffee taste.