Rich and decadent, Port Wine Chocolate Cake has deep chocolate flavor enhanced with a hint of berries. Topped with a ganache made with port wine, this extraordinary cake is for adults-only chocolate lovers!
[Side Note: a version of this post first appeared on my OutlanderCast column, February 12, 2020]
Why this recipe works
- Dark chocolate goes especially well with the plum, black cherry, and berry notes in port wine
- Port wine chocolate ganache underscores the full intensity of the port wine and chocolate
- You can choose the size of the cake that works best for you
If you love chocolate, you'll love this cake. I mean really love this cake.
You can find any number of rich dark chocolate cake recipes, and most are accentuated with coffee to deepen the chocolate flavor. Red Wine Chocolate Cake is also popular, replacing the coffee with wine.
I've upped the ante with Port Wine Chocolate Cake. And it's frosted with Port Wine Ganache. It's truly for chocolate lovers. Adult chocolate lovers, that is.
- Why this recipe works
- What you need
- A baking tool that makes a difference
- How to make a chocolate cake with wine
- Questions asked and answered
- Pro tip: Sizing the cake to fit your needs
- Pro Tip#2: Make chocolate truffles with the extra ganache
- Thick, rich, and exceptionally chocolatey
- Related Recipes
What you need
For this cake, I’ve added port wine to the usual chocolate cake ingredients: flour, sugar, canola oil, an egg, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, and salt. It takes the cake to a whole other level.
The purpose of buttermilk in a cake is to give an acid for the baking soda to react with, thus lifting the cake. However, I generally don't have it at hand, so I use some great buttermilk substitutes.
For 1 cup of buttermilk in a recipe:
- Use ½ cup each water and sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt). Stir well
- For 1 cup of milk, remove 1 teaspoon and replace it with 1 teaspoon lemon juice or white vinegar. Let sit for 5 minutes before using
- Use 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons sweet buttermilk powder. Just whisk the buttermilk powder in with the flour mixture. This is my method of choice since buttermilk powder is shelf stable. It's become a standard item in my pantry
This cake is frosted with a basic chocolate ganache recipe, just equal parts of heavy cream and chocolate. Here, I've replaced some of the heavy cream with port wine.
Like with the chocolate cake batter recipe, the addition of the port wine to the ganache just enhances the berry undertones of the chocolate without really calling attention to itself. However, here the alcohol isn’t cooked out, so there is a kick to it.
This cake is for adults…be warned.
A baking tool that makes a difference
I love to use my Bake-Even strips when I bake cakes. They insulate the outside part of the cake pan, allowing the center of the batter to bake…well…evenly with the outer edges. What you get is a flat-topped layer cake that then doesn’t have to be trimmed. One less thing for me to mess up.
Here's one of the layers before and after baking. See how even it looks? There's no cracked domed on top.
How to make a chocolate cake with wine
Step 1: Mix the dry ingredients
Making the batter is a straightforward process. Start by mixing the dry flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt (photo 1).
Step 2: Add the wet ingredients
Whisk together the buttermilk powder and hot water. You can skip this step if you're using warmed buttermilk instead.
Add the eggs, buttermilk mixture, canola oil, and vanilla to the cocoa mixture and mix well (photo 2).
Step 3: Mix in the wine
Slowly add the port wine. Mix gently, being careful not to over-mix the batter (photo 3).
Step 4: Bake the layers
Divide the batter evenly between the cakes pans, and tap out the pans on the counter to release any trapped air bubbles.
Bake the layers at 350°F for 30 to 33 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out with a few crumbs (photo 4). The cake is fudgy, so be careful not to over-bake the cakes. Every oven heats differently, so start checking your cakes at the 25 minute mark.
Step 5: Make a ganache frosting
Stir together the heavy cream and port wine and heat until steaming and bubbles begin to form (photo 5). Remove from heat.
Add the chopped chocolate, then cover and let sit for two minutes.
Open the lid and whisk the mixture until it's totally smooth (photo 6). Set aside for about 30 minutes to cool. You want the ganache to be thicker and easily spreadable, but not too thin.
Step 6: Assemble the cake
Place one layer on a cake stand. Be careful because the layers can be delicate.
Pour some of the ganache onto the center of the cake and push the ganache off of the side so that it drizzles down the sides of the cake. Stack another layer on top and frost with ganache. Repeat with the third layer. If desired, frost the sides of the cake with ganache (photo 7).
Decorate as desired.
Questions asked and answered
Here are some questions you might have...
I like the deep flavor that dark chocolate brings to a cake, but feel free to use regular cocoa powder in the cake and semi-sweet chocolate for the ganache. The flavor might be a bit less intense, but I won’t judge.
There will be a small amount of alcohol that remains in a cake after baking (like with Kahlua Cake), but it's the flavors that remain rather than the alcohol.
Since the wine is adding undertones and enhances dark chocolate, the more intense the red wine is, the more you'll notice. Use a full-bodied wine that you like to drink.
Pro tip: Sizing the cake to fit your needs
I made a mini cake this time (which is what you see pictured). It is a two-layer, 6-inch cake made in two 6-inch round cake pans. This cake is very rich, and a little goes a long way.
I adapted the recipe to the smaller pans by dividing the ingredients I’ve given in my recipe below in half. It's a perfect size for small gatherings!
If you divide the recipe in fourths, you can make a single-layer 6-inch cake.
Another fun use is to make mini 3-inch snack cakes. I found these adorable heart-shaped cake pans, and made 10 using half the recipe. They were perfect to ship to my far-away family for Valentine's Day.
Pro Tip#2: Make chocolate truffles with the extra ganache
Depending on what size cake you make, you might end up with extra chocolate ganache. You could grab a spoon and dig in, or you can take this opportunity to make port wine truffles. You won’t believe how easy it is and how yummy they taste!
All you have to do is scoop the extra ganache into little mounds onto a parchment- or wax paper-lined baking pan (a small cookie scoop works well here), refrigerate them, then roll them with your hands into spheres.
Here are more detailed instructions for truffles should you want them.
Thick, rich, and exceptionally chocolatey
Red wine and chocolate are a great pairing – many times cocoa has fruit undertones that can be paired with different wine flavor profiles. Dark chocolate goes especially well with the plum, blackberries and black cherry notes in wine.
Port wine, a red wine fortified with brandy, accentuates the chocolate while adding hints of red berries in the background. The alcohol from the port wine is baked out of the cake itself. The cake is very moist and fudgy, and you can notice a hint of berries underneath all the chocolate goodness.
The port wine chocolate ganache underscores the full intensity of the port wine and chocolate together.
When you pair cake and frosting, the results are magical. Try these fun ideas for cake!
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Port Wine Chocolate Cake
- parchment paper
- serrated knife
For the cake
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- ¾ cup dark chocolate cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons sweet cream buttermilk powder, or 1 cup buttermilk, warmed, see Recipe Notes
- 1 cup water, hot, omit if using buttermilk, see Recipe Notes
- ½ cup canola oil
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup port wine, at room temperature
For the ganache
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- ¾ cup port wine
- 16 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (2⅔ cups)
- Make the cake: Prepare three 8-inch round cake pans by spraying them with baking spray, then lining them with parchment paper circles. Spray the parchment paper circles.
- Soak the Bake-Even strips (if using) in cold water for 5 minutes. Press out the excess water (do not wring), and wrap them snugly around the cake pans.
- Preheat the oven to 350 °F.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or large bowl, if using a hand mixer), whisk together the flour, sugar, dark chocolate cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk powder and hot water. You can skip this step if you're using warmed buttermilk instead. Add the eggs, buttermilk mixture, canola oil, and vanilla to the cocoa mixture and mix well.
- Slowly add the port wine. Mix gently, being careful not to over-mix the batter.
- Divide the batter evenly between the cakes pans, and tap out the pans on the counter to release any trapped air bubbles. Bake the layers for 30 to 33 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out with a few crumbs. The cake is fudgy, so be careful not to over-bake the cakes. Every oven heats differently, so start checking your cakes at the 25 minute mark.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then remove to cooling racks to cool completely. If you're not using Bake-Even strips, level the cakes before stacking.
- Make the ganache: In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stir together the heavy cream and port wine and heat until steaming and bubbles begin to form. Remove from heat.
- Add the chopped chocolate, then cover and let sit for for two minutes.
- Open the lid and whisk the mixture until it's totally smooth. Set aside for about 30 minutes to cool. You want the ganache to be thicker and easily spreadable, but not too thin.
- Assemble the cake: Using the cake lifter, place one layer on the cake stand. Be careful because the layers can be delicate. Pour some of the ganache onto the center of the cake and use a small offset spatula to gently push the ganache off of the side so that it drizzles down the sides of the cake.
- Stack another layer on top and frost with ganache. Repeat with the third layer. If desired, frost the sides of the cake with ganache.
- Decorate the cake as desired. You can whip some of the ganache and pipe roses on top, or use sprinkles and cocoa nibs to decorate. Any leftover ganache can be scooped into balls and made into truffles...use those to decorate the cake.
- Chill the cake to firm up the ganache before slicing. Serve and enjoy!
- For a single layer mini cake: Divide the ingredients by 4 (use a whole egg). Bake in a 6-inch round cake pan for 25 to 28 minutes.
- For a two layer mini cake: Divide the ingredients by 2. Bake in two 6-inch round cake pans for 25 to 28 minutes.
- For a two layer cake: Bake the full recipe in two 9-inch round cake pans for 30 to 32 minutes.
- For a sheet cake: Bake the full recipe in a 9- x 13-inch baking pan for 30 to 32 minutes.
- For mini heart cakes: Divide the ingredients by 2. Scoop ¼ cup batter using a large cookie scoop into the wells of two mini heart baking pans. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes.