A halved loaf of Nigella Lawson's dense chocolate loaf cake.

Nigella Lawson’s recipe for dense chocolate loaf cafe, well traversed in the blogosphere, needs no tinkering. Moist, rich, tender, chocolatey — what’s to improve?

Well, when my box of Fair Trade treats arrived, and I saw the bag of coffee and chocolate nestled together, I couldn’t help think that coffee, known to heighten the flavor of chocolate without imparting much coffee flavor at all, might make a subtle difference.

And because a splash of booze is often a nice addition to quick breads/loaf cakes, what would be the harm in replacing the final two tablespoons of water with brandy? And because every cake needs a pinch of salt, a pinch of salt would be added, too.

The result? Intense chocolate, subtle coffee and booze, perfect sweetness, complete deliciousness. This cake gets better by the day and is as impossible to resist with morning coffee as with postprandial cordials. Coffee, booze, salt — somehow I think you (and Nigella) would approve.

So, Friends, as you know it is October, when we celebrate all things Fair Trade, from chocolate to coffee to quinoa. Let’s review what Fair Trade means:

What is Fair Trade?

  • Products that bear the Fair Trade logo come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated.
  • Fair Trade helps farmers (more than 1.2 million worldwide) in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities.
  • Fair Trade ensures that farmers follow internationally monitored environmental standards and also provides financial incentives and resources for organic conversion, reforestation, water conservation and environmental education.
  • Fair Trade empowers women to play an active role in their families and in their co-ops by starting businesses with guaranteed access to health care, certain job rights and freedom from harassment.
  • Fair Trade supports education with revenues set aside to build schools and maintain enrollment.

In Nigella’s cake I used Guittard semi-sweet chocolate, though bittersweet works well, too, and Equator Mocha Java coffee:

Fair Trade Guittard Chocolate and Equator Coffee

Don’t be tempted to pour the whole batter into one 8.5×4.5-inch loaf pan — it will overflow. That said, if you have a 9×5-inch or 10×5-inch loaf pan, you can fit the entire batter in it.

ready for the oven
Nigella Lawson's dense chocolate loaf cake with brandy and coffee

If you can resist, let it rest for a full day before cutting:

Nigella's dense chocolate loaf cake, sliced.
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Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake

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Source: Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess

Changes I’ve made include: 

  • Reducing the brown sugar from 1 2/3 cups to 1 1/2 cups. I find dark or light works just fine. 
  • Replacing the water with coffee and booze. I use my Nespresso machine to make espresso, which I add water to to make 1 cup. If you don’t feel like adding booze or coffee, simply use 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water instead.
  • Upped the vanilla.
  • Added salt. 


  • 1 cup (228 g) soft unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 g) brown sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups (170 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon (4 g)  kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces (113 g) best bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted
  • 2 tablespoons (28 g) Brandy or Bourbon or Grand Marnier, see notes above
  • 1 cup (227 g) brewed coffee, see notes above


  1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Line a 9×5-inch or 10×5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper. Grease the inside ends of the pan if they are exposed. If you only have an 8.5×4.5-inch loaf pan, prepare it along with another small vessel with parchment paper — do not be tempted to bake the entire batter in it as it will overflow. 
  2. Cream the butter and sugar, either with a wooden spoon or with an electric hand-held mixer, being sure not to overbeat it.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  4. Add the eggs and vanilla to the butter-sugar mixture and beat until combined.
  5. Next, fold in the melted and now slightly cooled chocolate, taking care to blend well but being careful not to overbeat. You want the ingredients combined: You don’t want a light, airy mass. Add the brandy and coffee mix to combine.
  6. Finally, add the flour mixture and mix only until the flour is absorbed. The batter should be smooth and fairly liquidy.
  7. Pour into the lined loaf pan, being sure the batter does not come closer than 1 inch from the rim of the cake pan or it risks overflowing. Bake for 30 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325ºF and continue to cook for another 15 to 20 minutes more. (If baking some of the batter in a small pan, remove after the first 30 minutes.) Remove the pan from the oven. The cake will still be a bit squidgy inside, so an inserted cake tester or skewer won’t come out completely clean. Place the loaf pan on a rack, and leave it to get completely cold before turning it out. (Leave it for a whole day if you can resist.) Don’t worry if it sinks in the middle — it will do so because it’s such a dense and damp cake.
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Category: Quick Bread
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: American