The simplest answer is… don’t try. The complicated answer is… yes. Cocoa powder is often the ingredient used in chocolate cake and a simple change from cocoa powder to flour won’t work for all kinds of scientific reasons. But, you CAN if you are willing to do a little bit of baking science and NOT hold me accountable for the results :). Here’s what to try…
When converting a chocolate cake into vanilla:
- Reduce the sugar of the chocolate cake recipe (maybe by 1/3?)
- If the chocolate cake recipe calls for boiling water replace the boiling water with milk or buttermilk (room temp)
- If the chocolate cake recipe calls for vegetable oil replace it with butter.
When converting a vanilla cake into a chocolate:
- Add cocoa powder to your recipe. For a standard cake I would try 1/4 cup of cocoa.
- Increase the sugar of the vanilla cake recipe by the same amount of cocoa you added to counteract the cocoa.
- Replace the milk product in the vanilla cake recipe with boiling water (to “bloom” the cocoa).
- Substitute the fat product (butter, coconut oil, etc) with vegetable oil that has less flavor to conflict with the cocoa.
The scientific reasons for the processes above…
You cannot simply replace the cocoa powder with flour, because when compared to flour, cocoa powder:
- Contains more fat
- Is more acidic
- Is far, far more flavorful than flour (good for chocolate cakes!)With cocoa removed from the recipe the flavor may be too sweet. You might want to try reducing the sugar of your recipe to counteract that sweetness. Often by at least a third of the original recipe.
-Boiling water is often used in many chocolate cake recipes, to “bloom” the flavor in the cocoa. When you take out the cocoa you often should take out that water, as well. But, you still need to keep the liquid in the recipe. Generally, you would want to substitute it for milk, buttermilk, or even coconut milk.
-One last thing…oil. Most chocolate cakes use vegetable or canola oil because it doesn’t interfere with the flavor of the cocoa. When changing a chocolate cake to a vanilla cake you often want to swap out the vegetable oil for it’s more flavorful cousin butter (or even coconut oil!)
So yes, you can change a chocolate cake to vanilla or vice versa but it may be far more trouble than it’s worth! I would simply use a chocolate cake recipe or a vanilla cake recipe and save yourself the trouble. Although, I’m well known for adding 1/4 cocoa and 1/4 cup sugar to my boxed vanilla cake mixes!