Wellesley Fudge Cake Recipe

fudge cake
Photographs and original illustrations: Cakespy

Wellesley Fudge cake, a deeply decadent chocolate cake topped with a slab of fudge frosting, seems an unlikely sweet to associate with the prim-and-proper ladies of Wellesley (the college featured in the classic feat of cinema Mona Lisa Smile). But it's true: fudge and the cake both have strong ties to ladies' colleges.

While as a baking project it's a little fussy to make, requiring a modicum of candy-making prowess, it is ultimately worth the effort, and once finished, it is astoundingly easy to eat. Some versions call for an unfrosted cake; others, which I favor, feature a double dose of chocolate, the base of which is brownie-like, coated with a more fudge-like frosting. A friend passed this recipe on to me; turns out, it's from Cook's Country Blue Ribbon Desserts.

Recipe Facts

Active: 60 mins
Total: 3 hrs
Serves: 12 to 16 servings

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For the Cake:

  • 2 1/2 cups (about 12 1/2 ounces) flour

  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 3/4 cup hot water

  • 1/2 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa powder (Hershey's Special Dark also works)

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

  • 2 cups (about 14 ounces) granulated sugar

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 cup (about 8 ounces) buttermilk, at room temperature

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the Frosting:

  • 1 1/2 cups (about 11 1/4 ounces) packed light brown sugar

  • 1 cup (about 8 ounces) evaporated milk

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 3 cups (about 12 ounces) confectioners' sugar, sifted


  1. For the Cake: Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease and flour two 8-inch square or round baking pans, then line the bottoms with parchment paper. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

  2. In a small saucepan, melt chocolate with hot water. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and granulated sugar together with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Mix in 1/3 of flour mixture, followed by 1/2 cup of buttermilk. Repeat with half of remaining flour mixture and remaining 1/2 cup buttermilk. Add remaining flour mixture and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add cocoa mixture until incorporated.

  3. Give batter a final stir with a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly combined. Scrape batter into the prepared pans, smooth the tops, and gently tap pans on work surface to settle batter. Bake cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Let cakes cool in the pans for 15 minutes. Run a small knife around the edges of cakes, then flip them out onto a wire rack. Peel off the parchment paper, flip cakes right side up, and let cool completely before frosting, about 2 hours. (Cakes can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.)

    chocolate cake
  4. For the Frosting: Stir together brown sugar, 1/2 cup of the evaporated milk, 4 tablespoons of the butter, and salt in a large saucepan and cook over medium heat until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan, 4 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until large bubbles form and mixture has thickened and turned deep golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup evaporated milk and remaining 4 tablespoons butter until mixture has cooled slightly. Add chocolate and vanilla and stir until smooth. Whisk in confectioners’ sugar until incorporated. Let frosting cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour.

  5. Line the edges of a cake platter with strips of parchment paper to keep platter clean while you assemble cake. Place one of cake layers on the platter. Spread 1 cup of the frosting over the cake, right to the edges. Place second cake layer on top, press lightly to adhere, and spread remaining frosting evenly over the top and sides of cake. Refrigerate cake until frosting is set, about 1 hour. Remove parchment strips from the platter before serving.

    chocolate cake

Special equipment

Parchment paper, 8-inch round or square cake pans

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
628 Calories
27g Fat
91g Carbs
7g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12 to 16
Amount per serving
Calories 628
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 27g 35%
Saturated Fat 16g 82%
Cholesterol 74mg 25%
Sodium 364mg 16%
Total Carbohydrate 91g 33%
Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Total Sugars 68g
Protein 7g
Vitamin C 0mg 2%
Calcium 119mg 9%
Iron 5mg 27%
Potassium 255mg 5%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)