The Cake Slice: Espresso Cake with Hot Kahlua Syrup and Milk Chocolate Ganache


It’s a miracle that I survived this month’s cake challenge. And that the cake actually did get baked…just in the nick of time. And that I actually have pictures to show you.

The forces were definitely against me this month.


Notice how the majority of my pictures depict the ingredients rather than the final creation?

When I first learned of the chosen cake for March, espresso cake with hot Kahlua syrup, I was really looking forward to baking it. Coffee and chocolate are some of my favorite things. Add to that a splash of Kahlua, and now we’re talking.


The first indication of trouble was when I read through the ingredient list in preparation for my next shopping trip. Flour, eggs, cocoa powder….all typical cake stuff.

And then, espresso powder. Hmmm???

First, what is it? And second, can I just substitute coffee grounds?


So, I began by googling “what is espresso powder“ and quickly learned that it’s finely ground espresso beans, basically instant espresso, that is sometimes used in recipes to intensify the flavor of chocolate.

Ok. That made sense.

So, then I googled “espresso powder substitute” and that’s where things got interesting. There is no good substitute. Nothing.


Long story short: three weeks passed, my baking deadline was imminent, four grocery stores in two states had been searched, and no espresso powder was to be found. Fortunately, I made a stop at a high-end grocery store near my office as a last ditch effort, and there it was. Espresso powder. Two lovely ounces for $4.39.

Espresso powder in hand, I made my way home, ready to bake. It was Friday night. The plan was to whip up a batch of homemade mac and cheese, watch a little TV with the family, and then get baking as soon as I put the kids to bed. That’s not exactly how it went.


You see, this recipe requires a good amount of prep time even before it goes into the oven. First, you have to dissolve the espresso powder into boiling water and set it aside to cool. Then, you have to triple sift the dry ingredients – I cheated and only single-sifted. After more mixing, whipping, and sugar adding…one tablespoon at a time over the course of 6 to 8 minutes, per the recipe, the cake is finally ready for the oven.

The cake bakes for an hour. After that, you let it cool for 15 minutes in the pan, while you prepare the hot Kahlua syrup, and then the cake has to sit at least another hour while it drinks in the flavorful syrup until absorbed, and then, THEN…you can finally invert the cake onto a cake plate to remove it from the pan. Did I mention the ganache? Well, that’s the next step once the cake is finally out of the pan. You have to prepare the ganache, let it cool to thicken slightly, then drizzle it over the cake. At that point, you’re FINALLY done.

It’s a good thing I read through the recipe in its entirety before getting started with it on Friday night…or I would have been up all night. Just reading through it was exhausting enough, and convincing enough to reserve the project for Saturday.


And so, Saturday was spent prepping, mixing, whipping, stirring, baking, syruping, and glazing, all for the love of coffee and chocolate, with the prospect of expanding my baking skills. Until…I grated my thumb along with the lemon and turned the lovely, fragrant lemon zest an unlovely shade of crimson. After all the yelping and cursing and throbbing, all I could find was a Spongebob band-aid, that lasted no more than a few minutes before soaking through…it was a very deep cut. Still, I persevered.

When the cake came out of the oven, I poked some holes in it to help the syrup tunnel through, which in the end weren’t very necessary because the syrup (a mix of Kahlua, water, and honey boiled until thickened) never got syrup-y. So, I poured the runny liquid over the cake and watched as it pooled on top and prayed that it would eventually soak in without creating a soggy mess.


Five hours later (after errands and dinner out), I returned home to finish the project. I ran a knife around the edges of the bundt pan hoping it would slide right out easily. WRONG.

It shattered into several pieces, with some remaining pieces left to be coaxed out of grooves of the pan. SERIOUSLY. Again, I persevered.

I grabbed a plate, fit the pieces back together like an edible jigsaw puzzle, then made a double batch of milk chocolate ganache to drizzle over all the imperfections. The ganache was a mix of equal parts heavy cream and chocolate chips with a few splashes of Kahlua mixed in. Of course, the Kahlua caused the ganache to be a bit thin, so it ran down the cake more than I had hoped – honestly, would you expect any less at this point?


When it was finally time for the first bite, I was so upset with this cake and this recipe and this whole ordeal that I wanted throw it at the wall. The cake, the espresso powder, all of it.

And yet.

I decided that if it was worth all this effort, than at least it was worth a taste. So, taste it I did.

And it tasted…heavenly.

If you’d like to try your luck at baking this cake (good luck – you’ll need it), check out Carole Walter’s cookbook Great Cakes. Also, click the link below to see how my fellow cake club members’ cakes turned out.


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12 thoughts on “The Cake Slice: Espresso Cake with Hot Kahlua Syrup and Milk Chocolate Ganache

  1. Melanie Stuff March 20, 2014 at 8:56 am

    Wow, you had quite a time with this cake 🙂 But the plated piece looks delicious and I’m glad you ended up thinking it was worth all the effort. I think this cake was the best one yet!

  2. Anabel Arias March 20, 2014 at 10:26 am

    Melanie, I’m so glad you agree this cake is worth the effort! My whole family loved it as well!
    Listen…now don’t go abandoning the espresso powder in your pantry! Its wonderful in chocolate cake! My chocolate cake recipe calls for hot coffee, I simply dissolve a teaspoon of espresso in the hot water. Love it! I’ve also used it in a Swiss coffee buttercream! Can I tell you there is no words to describe this butter cream! I simply dissolve espresso about a tablespoon in hot water (about 5 tablespoons) and add about 2 to 3 tablespoons of amaretto liqueur. I add this mixture to the last minute or two of the buttercream mixing. Its heavenly!

  3. Anabel Arias March 20, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Okay…..I’m a complete idiot! Why on earth did I call you Melanie???? So sorry Amy! Ugh! Its early…LOL!

  4. Sandra Garth March 20, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Yes the prep time was a monster and so was finding the espresso powder. I found mine in the very last place I thought of, the grocery store I shop at every week. LOL!!! Love your pictures!

  5. Paloma March 20, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Miracles do happen and I am sooo happy this was one of them… you not only overcame all the obstacles and survived the making of this cake but ALSO enjoyed it! I am so happy the flavor brought the reward for all your hard work! Beautiful pictures! I wouldn’t be able to tell you went through so much! 🙂

  6. Felice/All That's Left Are The Crumbs March 21, 2014 at 12:50 am

    I definitely admire your tenacity in getting this cake to the finish line – and it looks great. I especially like how you ganache coats the cake and I’m definitely going to try it that way next time.
    On a side note I have the same espresso powder that you do, but I’ll switch prices with you if you like (mine was $7.99 here). I bake a lot of bundts (I’m in a bundt baking group) and I swear by Baker’s Joy sprayed in my pans – the cakes easily release every time.

  7. theninjabaker March 21, 2014 at 2:24 am

    Thank you for honest sharing, Amy. Helps to know that someone else doesn’t always have a smooth run with a recipe….And so very inspirational to see you persevere and be victorious with a scrumptious cake!

  8. spinthemeal March 21, 2014 at 10:29 am

    Good suggestion, Felice! I’m definitely going to pick up some Baker’s Joy.

  9. spinthemeal March 21, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Thanks for the tip on the espresso powder, Anabel. I’ve already used it to make a really tasty espresso martini!

  10. Laura@Baking In Pyjamas March 21, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    Oh now, sounds like it didn’t go to smoothly with baking the cake. Glad it was worth the eating of it 🙂

  11. EmilyC March 23, 2014 at 10:01 am

    I skipped the expresso powder but had to buy a bottle of Kahlua at RM95.00 a bottle. I was smart in that I released all the cakes from their pans (and then putting them back in again) before adding the syrup! All in all…. you win in terms of hardship!! but you and your cake survived! Awesome picture!

  12. Diana Gale April 20, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    So glad you liked the cake after all that effort! Your cake came out so pretty!

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