Yes, prunes belong in chocolate cake

A decadent one-bowl chocolate cake with an "underrated" secret ingredient

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published February 24, 2023 6:15PM (EST)

Chocolate Prune Cake (Mary Elizabeth Williams)
Chocolate Prune Cake (Mary Elizabeth Williams)

In "Quick & Dirty," Salon Food's Mary Elizabeth Williams serves up simplified recipes and shortcuts for exhausted cooks just like you — because quick and dirty should still be delicious.

Why do some foods seem to become trendy overnight, embraced by big box retailers and wellness influencers alike? You go most of your life having no strong feelings one way or the other about kale, then you suddenly can't go out to a restaurant without seeing a massaged salad on the menu.

You watch with whiplash as avocados go from a normal piece of produce, to famous enough to get their own emoji, to a disparaging shorthand for all that's supposedly wrong with an entire generation. Meanwhile, other delicious, versatile and nutritionally powerful foods languish in the culinary basement of perpetual uncoolness.

Prunes are old people food. They're boring. They're nature's laxative. In other words, yuck.

Prunes, however, deserve so much more.

Over the past few years, in an attempt at an image makeover, prunes have sometimes been renamed "dried plums." But the notion of a granny sipping on prune juice to keep her regular holds fast in the collective imagination.

That's why I was recently surprised to read an article on CNBC in which registered dietitian nutritionist Lauren Manaker revealed that her "most underrated" energy-boosting food was the humble prune. Yes, prunes are high in fiber. (Calm down — so are kale, cauliflower and and avocados.) They contain iron, potassium and vitamins C and K. And, as Manaker notes, they're also "a good source of energy in the form of natural sugars."

When I need convincing about a particular food, I usually find that throwing a little chocolate in the mix helps make the case. I was in London earlier this month, where a spectacular dessert at Ottolenghi reminded me of just that. While Ottolenghi's prune-infused sticky chocolate loaf takes its cues from the classic British sticky toffee pudding, my own chocolate prune cake, inspired by a simple recipe, is a more pared-down affair.

Hungry for more great food writing and recipes? Subscribe to Salon Food's newsletter, The Bite.

Cake recipes with dried fruit usually involve soaking it in boiling water or alcohol. To further deepen the chocolate flavor here, I instead put my prunes in hot coffee, which helps bolster the chocolate essence of the cake. (If you're not a coffee person, substitute water, tea or rum.) I've also doubled the amount of cocoa and added dark chocolate chips — so rest assured, this is a decisively chocolatel-y dessert.

I know prunes are a tough sell. Despite never eating a prune in his life, my spouse refused to touch a slice of this decadent dessert. He was quite spooked by the dried fruit's geriatric reputation. My daughter and I, however, gleefully pounced on the cake, without a moment's regard for the fact that there might actually be something vaguely healthy in it.

But I swear this recipe is amazing. A one-bowl dessert that takes minutes to prepare, it's rich, moist and deeply complex. It's the chocolate cake for when you want something more than regular old chocolate cake, which makes it the most persuasive case I can think of to convince you that prunes, of all things, are pretty cool.

* * *

Inspired by and Ottolenghi

Decadent Secret Ingredient Chocolate Cake
 8-12 servings
Prep Time
 10 minutes 
Cook Time
 45 minutes


  • 1 cup prunes, pitted and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup hot brewed coffee (or 1 cup boiling water and 1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso)
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa



  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a bundt pan.
  2. Sprinkle the baking soda on the prunes. Pour the coffee over the mixture to plump and soften them.
  3. While the prunes are cooling, beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl or stand mixer.
  4. Add the eggs, then the drained prunes and chocolate chips.
  5. Slowly add the flour and cocoa. Mix until well blended.
  6. Pour the mixture into the pan and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the cake springs back lightly when you press it.
  7. Remove from the oven and let cool before removing from the pan. Dust with powdered sugar or a drizzle of chocolate ganache.

Cook's Notes

I know not everyone has or wants a bundt pan. For a layered cake, you can instead divide the batter into two cake pans and bake for about 30 minutes. I'd sandwich it with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Salon Food writes about stuff we think you'll like. While our editorial team independently selected these products, Salon has affiliate partnerships, so making a purchase through our links may earn us a commission.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

MORE FROM Mary Elizabeth Williams

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Baking Cakes Chocolate Desserts Food Prunes Quick & Dirty Recipe Secret Ingredient