Chocolate Velvet Cake

This week I’ve been testing recipes for good old-fashioned (halal) southern food. It’s a fun and tasty job, but not always so easy. This cake, for example, was almost eaten up entirely before a single photo was taken!

Brown Velvet Cake

I devoured the cookbook, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, by Martha Hall Foose. She writes a loving memoir of southern cooking and recipes- you’ll want to try every single one and make them your own. Brown Velvet Cake is the result of my craving for Red Velvet cake without the red coloring.  I always wanted to make it without the use of red food coloring, which is typically how it’s found on supermarket shelves in a box and the only way I’ve ever eaten it growing up.

I used Mexican chocolate, typically used for hot chocolate, or atole, instead of her recommendation for bittersweet chocolate. The only difference really is that Mexican chocolate has a bit of a kick to it due to the addition of cinnamon. I used El Popular brand chocolate, which also has almonds in it. I think it was this chocolate that made the cake look more like brown velvet than red velvet, hence my nickname for it.

One other change I made was to make my own corn syrup.  I did this for several reasons. For those of you who are frequent readers of this blog, you may know that I am particularly averse to high-fructose corn syrup  and genetically-modified foods, one of which is typically corn and corn-based products. The ‘corn syrup’ in this recipe is actually a simple sugar syrup, but works just as well to make a delicious frosting that fits well with this traditional, all-American, super-moist cake.

Brown Velvet Cake

Start with the highest quality ingredients you can afford to get the best results possible. You won’t regret that.


Chocolate Velvet Cake Ingredients

Cake Serves 8-10

  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 and 3/4 cup brown sugar or cane sugar
  • 5 oz. Mexican dark chocolate (spiced with cinnamon), or 5 ounces milk chocolate plus 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (1 cup), softened
  • 1 and 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour or cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 large egg whites

Corn Syrup Ingredients

Corn Syrup recipe makes 2 cups

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 pinch salt

Frosting Ingredients

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon light corn syrup
  • 1 teapoon vanilla extract (without alcohol)

Chocolate Velvet Cake Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.
  2. Using softened butter, wipe an entire 9-inch springform pan with the butter, then dust it lightly with cocoa powder. Set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan over very low heat, combine 1/2 cup of the buttermilk, 3/4 cup of the brown sugar, and the Mexican chocolate. Cook and stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool.
  4. Add one of the egg yolks to the chocolate mixture and cook and stir until it thickens, about 2 minutes.
  5. In a stand  mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and remaining 1 cup brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
  6. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 egg yolks and remaining 1/2 cup buttermilk.
  7. To the stand mixer add the flour, alternating with the buttermilk mixture, beating at low speed. Mix until just combined. Stir in the cooled chocolate mixture.
  8. Dissolve the baking soda in 1 tablespoon of warm water and fold gently into the mixture.
  9. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites to soft peaks. If you are doing this by hand, it will take a very long time. Try to use an electric mixer instead, making sure the egg whites actually turn to soft, white peaks.
  10. Fold the whites into the chocolate batter. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for a few minutes.
  11. Gently run a butterknife around the sides of  the pan. Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan and cool completely.

Corn Syrup Directions

  1. Add all of the ingredients to a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce to a simmer and cover for 3-4 minutes.
  3. Remove lid and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Allow to cool.
  4. To store, add mixture to a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Label and date it. It should keep for approximately 2 months.

Frosting Directions 

  1. In a large metal bowl set over a saucepan filled with 2 inches of simmering water, combine the egg whites, sugar, 5 tablespoons water, the cream of tartar and corn syrup.
  2. Whip for 7 minutes with a hand-held electric mixer, scraping the sides often with a rubber spatula. The frosting is almost done when it has a nice spreading consistency. Stir in the vanilla at this point.
  3. When the cake has cooled completely, frost it all around with the warm frosting. Do not refrigerate the frosting or it will be too hard to spread.
  4. After frosted, allow the cake to cool for 30 minutes before serving.

Bismillah and Bon Appetit!

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  1. oh, i _love_ that you made your own corn syrup!!!!! i’m not even done reading this post yet, but i had to tell you that that fact makes me love you more!!!! 🙂 what a great idea!!! i skip a recipe with corn syrup but now i don’t have to any more!!! you’r e a genius, thank you!!!!!!!!! 😀

  2. Hello Yvonne, I just seen the cake. It looks delicious, like I can just grabe it and eat it . This will be something I I will bake when I move. Your pictures look great! Keep up the good work. Your only Mom!

  3. I don’t have a hand held mixer, is there another way to make the frosting with a stand-up mixer? Also, does this sit well, meaning, can I make this tomorrow morning but not serve until the evening. This looks fantastic and I have some wonderful Mexican chocolate that I would love to use for this recipe! Thanks!

    1. @Sage: yes, you can absolutely use a stand mixer for the frosting. The cake does site very well when making it ahead of time. so I don’t see any problem in what you plan to do. Mine tasted great for several days while it was well-covered, unrefrigerated.

  4. MashaAllah, this is a nice twist on a Southern classic. In Georgia (the home of the ORIGINAL, don’t let anybody tell you different lol) though, we never use corn syrup to make frosting, only sugar, and red velvet cakes are always made with homemade cream cheese frosting. You can’t have a red velvet cake without the cream cheese frosting, it just tastes off.

  5. Assalamoo 3alaykum,
    Looks delicious! One question though…Is cream of tartar okay to use? I’ve looked it up and it says it’s make as a byproduct of wine making, is there a particular brand that is halal?

  6. I think this brown velvet cake looks lovely, much more so than the red cakes.

    * A substitute for cream of tartar is a small amount of lemon juice. The purpose is to add acidity, which stabilizes meringue.

    * An alternative to corn syrup, if you want to buy something ready made, is tapioca syrup. I am not sure how easy it is to find. Sometimes it is called isomaltooligosaccharide (IMO) syrup. Sometimes stores catering to home alcohol brewing carry these odd ingredients, or natural and Asian groceries. Some people (especially outside the US) use Lyle’s golden syrup, which is a bit thicker than corn syrup and also a golden color as opposed to clear. One thing worth noting about Karo syrup is that it no longer contains high fructose corn syrup. There is also a non GMO corn syrup on the market, but it too looks golden in color.

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