Brown Butter Cocoa Cake

Brown Butter Cake with Dark Cocoa and Coconut

Valentine’s Day and chocolate make a perfect match, but even though chocolate has been eaten for centuries, it wasn’t until 1861 that the two would begin to unite. 

The cacao tree is native to Mesoamerica and it is believed that cacao beans were fermented and used as an alcoholic beverage as early as 1400BC. Aztecs and Mayans highly prized the cacao beans which were even used as a form of currency.

By the early 1600s the love for chocolate swept across Europe. In London “chocolate houses” that served a variety of chocolate drinks became extremely popular. During the 1600s and 1700s chocolate was often combined with ingredients such as orchid bulbs, orange blossoms or sweet almond milk and touted as a health drink.

Valentine’s Day is attributed to two different Roman martyrs named Valentine, but it did not have a link to romantic love. Geoffrey Chaucer’s 1382 poem “Parlement of Foules,” which linked romantic love to Valentine’s Day, was the beginning of the modern-day celebration of Valentine’s Day. During medieval times the Knights of Europe would give their maidens roses, poems and songs, but sugar was still a precious commodity, so candy was not exchanged between lovers. 

By the 1840s Valentine’s Day was celebrated as a romantic holiday over most of the English speaking world. In 1861 Richard Cadbury was looking for a way to make drinking chocolate more palatable at his British candy making company when he invented “eating chocolates.” He designed heart shaped boxes with pictures of Cupids and roses in which to present the chocolates.

By the turn of the century, Valentine’s Day was a full-on commercial holiday. In 1907 the chocolate pioneer Milton Hershey began production of a tear-drop shaped chocolate “Kiss.” In 1923 the Russell Stover candy company was born in Denver, making “bungalow candies” in a home kitchen. After moving to Kansas City, Russell Stover opened several candy factories and went on to sell their famous Valentine’s Day chocolates packaged in heart shaped boxes. Marketing to big-box stores, they quickly became popular Valentine’s Day gifts due to affordability and their grab-and-go access. 

Today, chocolate comes in all shapes, sizes and varieties. Dark chocolate has the highest amount of compounds called flavanols that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant powers. Reach for chocolate that has 70% or higher cocoa percentage for the highest amount of healthy compounds. The word chocolate, cocoa, or cacao should appear first on the ingredient list. If the label says “Dutch-processed cocoa” it is most likely lighter in the healthy compounds because of the way it is made. 

This Valentine’s Day, treat your love to some heart healthy dark chocolate and coconut oil by splurging on this delicious chocolate cake recipe!

Have fun in the kitchen!


Cooking spray

6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3 oz.)

7 ½ ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 3/4 cups)

½ cup unsweetened cocoa

½ cup packed light or dark brown sugar

1 ¾ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup plus 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar, divided

1 ¼ cups whole buttermilk

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons coconut oil

½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Spray a 9-inch round cake pan with 2-inch sides or a 9-inch spring form pan with cooking spray. Line pan with parchment paper; spray with cooking spray.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low, swirling pan occasionally, until butter is foamy and starting to brown on the bottom, about 5 minutes. (It should smell like hazelnuts.) Scrape browned bits from bottom; remove from heat, and cool 5 minutes.

Whisk together flour, cocoa, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar in a large bowl until no lumps of brown sugar remain. (Break up lumps with hands, if necessary.)

Whisk together buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla in a medium bowl until no visible bits of egg remain. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture, whisking just until blended (a few streaks of flour are fine). Add brown butter and coconut oil, and whisk just until blended.

Pour batter into prepared pan; sprinkle with coconut flakes and remaining 1 tablespoon granulated sugar. Bake at 350°F for 35 minutes or until coconut is golden brown, cake pulls away from the sides of the pan, and a wooden pick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Cool cake in pan 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan to a wire rack; cool to room temperature.


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Susan Vander Maas is a graduate of Ohio State University/ATI Wooster. She is co-owner of Doc’s Deli, established in 2007.