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Let Me Introduce You to the Easiest Chocolate Cake Recipe Ever

You don't even need an oven (or a pan) for this hassle-free dessert.

Making cake in a cup
Mix all the ingredients right in the cup!
James Martin/CNET

This story is part of Try This, CNET's collection of simple tips to improve your life, fast.

Ice cream, popsicles and snow cones are fabulous treats to enjoy on a hot summer's day, but there's one dessert that's deliciously satisfying year-round. No, it's not the cookies stored in the back of the pantry. It's a gooey chocolate cake, and there's a recipe that doesn't require an excruciating amount of time or effort to whip up. It's called the 5-minute mug cake. 

There are three main reasons to love the humble mug cake. First, it takes 5 minutes. Second, you prepare, bake and eat it in a coffee cup, so you can make a quick, single-serve cake when you don't want to wash a ton of dirty dishes. Third, mug cakes are an ingenious shortcut for people without an oven to cook tasty baked goods at home, since all you need is a microwave. 

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I only recently graduated to an apartment with a conventional oven. Before that, I lived in a tiny college dorm and then a New York apartment, both sans ovens. Before I caved in and bought a toaster oven, I was able to turn out good chocolate and peanut butter mug cakes in my microwave. 

Whether you're looking for a hassle-free dessert or an oven-less cake recipe, here's how to make a chocolate cake in a coffee cup that'll satisfy your cravings. I've also included a few ways to modify this recipe, if you have dairy- or egg-related dietary restrictions. You can also easily make mug cakes gluten free by using gluten-free flour blends you buy or make from scratch. For more tips, here's how to cut a cake without a knife, how to pit an avocado without stabbing yourself and a 5-minute activity to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

@cnetdotcom Cake in a cup doesn’t get better than this. #baking#chocolatecake#cakeinamug#bakingtok#trythis#lifehack#bakinghack♬ Celebrate the Good Times - Mason

Chocolate mug cake recipe

During my tenure making mug cakes, I experimented with recipes from the Food Network, New York Times, Allrecipes and Tasty to uncover the simplest way to make a delicious chocolate mug cake -- one that requires minimal time and skill to prepare, and with ingredients you likely have on hand. 

A lot of recipes look fairly similar to the one below, with the main ingredients being flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, milk, oil and an egg. Some recipes, however, called for less common ingredients that you may not have in your pantry, like chocolate hazelnut spread. Others even called for butter (instead of vegetable oil), which required a separate cup to melt in and some skill to avoid scrambling your egg when it's hot. I tried to keep this one simple by sticking to pantry basics and oil, which is easier to incorporate and helps keep this quick-cook cake moist.

For a basic chocolate mug cake recipe, all you'll need are these staples: 

  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons sugar (depending on how sweet you want your cake to be)
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder 
  • ¼ teaspoons baking powder 
  • A pinch of salt 
  • 3 tablespoons milk 
  • 1 egg 
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 
  • A few drops vanilla extract 
  • Chocolate chips to taste (optional, but if you have them, I recommend)

1. Add flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt to a standard-size (12-ounce) microwave-safe mug. Note that if you are using a smaller cup, your cake may rise and spill over the rim. Mix thoroughly with a fork until ingredients are well combined. 

2. To the same mug, add the milk, vegetable oil, vanilla and an egg. Whisk all the ingredients together with a fork until the mixture is homogeneous and free of lumps. Stir in chocolate chips, if desired. 

3. Microwave your mug cake uncovered for 90 seconds. Allow the cake to cool for a few minutes before eating -- trust me, it gets hot!

4. Top the mug cake with more chocolate chips as desired, powdered sugar or ice cream, and enjoy. 

Coffee mug cake with chocolate chips

After taking it out of the microwave (and waiting for it to cool), your mug cake is ready to enjoy. 

Alexandra Garrett/CNET

How to make your mug cake dairy- and egg-free 

Whether you choose to omit dairy and eggs from your diet, have allergies or want to dodge increasing egg prices, you can easily hack a mug cake recipe to exclude milk or eggs. 

For the recipe above, simply replace the egg with an extra tablespoon of oil. It's important to note, however, that this does affect the texture of the cake, and it will not rise as much while cooking. To make the recipe dairy-free, simply use a milk alternative such as almond milk, oat milk or soy milk. The results are just as good.

A microwave door open

This cake cooks in a microwave. 

Alexandra Garrett/CNET

How does a microwave cook a cake?

The microwave's history can be traced back to 1955, when the appliance was first introduced for home kitchens, but the mug cake's lineage is less clear. One of the earlier references to a microwavable dessert cooked in a coffee cup surfaced in a 2009 YouTube video titled "The most dangerous cake in the world." The woman in the video skeptically tries a recipe from her neighbor, and she concludes that it's "dangerous" because you can have a moist cake ready in less than 5 minutes any time of day. 

Microwaves use super-speedy electromagnetic waves to cook the food item by vibrating the water in the food. This means cooking a cake (and other dishes) can be done much quicker in comparison to ovens, which use gas or electricity to warm up the entire inside of an oven to cook food. A plus for ovens, however, is they can also caramelize and crisp up food, creating a nice crust on baked goods. For baking cakes, this means the color and texture of your dessert will be different when cooked in a microwave instead of baked in an oven.

For more, take a look at the six essential kitchen tools to elevate your cooking, CNET's recommendations for the best microwaves and countertop ovens. Plus, what's the difference between sheet pans, cookie sheets and baking pans?