Recreating the Prolific Oven’s Chocolate Orange Almond Cake

11 minute read

August 31, 2019 was a dark day in the Bay Area: after almost 40 years in business, the Prolific Oven closed down. Growing up, the Prolific Oven had always been my family’s go-to place for birthday cakes, graduation cakes, and generally cakes for any occasion. Its closure leaves the Peninsula a sadder, less delicious, more generic place.

My particular favorite from the Prolific Oven was their Chocolate Orange Almond Cake. To me, this was The Cake. The delicate orange-almond flavor balanced perfectly with the thick fudgy chocolate frosting to create the taste of celebration. I couldn’t just let this cake go.

So right before the Prolific Oven closed, I bought one of the last Chocolate Orange Almond Cakes. I took the cake home, sliced it into pieces, and then, like a science fiction author desperately trying to write himself out of a corner with a last-ditch attempt at cryopreservation, I froze the pieces so that I might one day attempt to revive it through as-yet-unknown methods.

A few months later, I finally had time to thaw some of the slices and devlop a clone. And I’m happy to report that it worked! It’s not perfect, but it’s really close - close enough to taste, emotionally, like the original. Here it is, along with some research notes1.


According to the Prolific Oven’s website, the Chocolate Orange Almond Cake consists of four components:

  1. A layer of orange almond cake
  2. A layer of chocolate cake
  3. A thin layer of orange cream cheese frosting between the layers of cake
  4. A thick layer of rich chocolate frosting on the top and sides of the cake

Below, you’ll find the recipes for each layer, followed by a section on assembly. I’ve also included an aggregated shopping list if you want to know what the total set of ingredients is.

The orange almond cake

This was the hardest part to get right, and the most important for the emotional impact of The Cake. After a false start with a Middle Eastern orange almond cake that was delicious but had entirely the wrong texture and flavor, I decided to start with a plain almond cake and add orange flavoring. I adapted the Golden Almond Cake from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s classic The Cake Bible, and it worked perfectly.


  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp orange extract
  • zest of 3/4 orange (zest the whole orange and reserve a quarter for the cream cheese frosting)
  • 166 grams (~1 2/3 cup) sifted cake flour
  • 35 grams (~1/3 cup) almonds or almond flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 12 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for the cake pan


  1. If using almonds, preheat a frying pan over medium-high heat. Chop the almonds coarsely (or use pre-sliced almonds), then toast in the frying pan until browned (don’t chop the almonds too fine or the smallest pieces will burn). Remove from heat and process in a food processor or spice grinder until they resemble a coarse flour.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  3. Butter and flour the bottom and sides of a 9-inch-diameter cake pan.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix together both eggs, 2 tbsp + 2 tsp sour cream, almond extract, vanilla extract, orange extract, and orange zest just enough to combine.
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the flour, ground almonds, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Run the mixer at low speed until evenly mixed.
  6. Add the butter and the rest of the sour cream (1/2 cup) to the dry ingredients and mix on low until evenly dispersed.
  7. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally to make sure everything’s getting mixed.
  8. Add the wet ingredient mixture a little bit at a time, making sure that each bit is mixed into the dry ingredients (and scraping down the sides) before you add the next bit.
  9. Using a rubber spatula, transfer the batter to the pan.
  10. Bake 35-45 minutes, until the top of the cake pops back when you poke it gently and a toothpick comes out clean. If your finger leaves a depression in the top of the cake, it needs more time.
  11. Set on a wire rack to cool.

The chocolate cake

This part was pretty easy. The Prolific Oven website describes their cake as “rich American-Style sour cream chocolate cake”, so I had a good idea of what to look for. The chocolate cake layer does not contribute a lot of flavor to The Cake, so if you have a go-to chocolate cake recipe that includes sour cream, I’d suggest you just use that. Don’t use a flourless chocolate cake recipe here; they’re the best chocolate cakes on their own but don’t work as part of an ensemble because they have too much flavor and not enough structural integrity.

As with all chocolate baked goods, my go-to recipe comes from Lori Longbotham’s fantastic Luscious Chocolate Desserts. I’ve just halved the cake section of the Luscious Chocolate Layer Cake recipe since that recipe makes two layers and we only need one.


  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 166g (~1 1/8 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for the cake pan
  • 7/8 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cup sour cream


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Butter and flour the bottom and sides of a 9-inch-diameter cake pan.
  3. In a heatproof measuring cup or small bowl, mix together the cocoa powder and the boiling water.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and salt until evenly mixed.
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and vanilla thoroughly on medium speed until the mixture coheres into a uniform consistency (there shouldn’t be any separate, pea-sized pieces remaining).
  6. Add the egg and beat until it’s well combined with the other wet ingredients.
  7. Reduce speed to low and add a bit of the dry ingredients, then a bit of the sour cream, then a bit of the dry ingredients, etc. until you’ve added all of both (don’t overmix).
  8. Add the cocoa slurry and mix until the batter is even in color.
  9. Using a rubber spatula, transfer the batter to the pan.
  10. Bake about 40 minutes, until the top of the cake pops back when you poke it gently and a toothpick comes out clean. If your finger leaves a depression in the top of the cake, it needs more time.
  11. Set on a wire rack to cool.

The orange cream cheese frosting

This turned out to be surprisingly tricky. Most of the cream cheese frosting recipes I found are super flavorful because they’re meant to go on carrot cake, which generally tastes like damp cardboard. For example, the Cook’s Illustrated recipe adds vanilla and sour cream to amp up the tanginess and help you forget that you’re eating carrot cake.

The problem is that the cream cheese frosting in the Chocolate Orange Almond Cake is not supposed to contribute a lot of tanginess. It’s mostly there to provide some moisture on top of the orange almond cake layer, which is quite dry. The frosting also helps amp up the orange flavor (which is not particularly strong in the cake), but its flavor contribution needs to blend with the orange almond cake rather than sticking out. It’s another part in the Chocolate Orange Almond Cake barbershop quarter, not a soloist.

I ended up not going with the Cook’s Illustrated recipe. Instead, I adapted the recipe from the Flour cookbook2: I increased the ratio of confectioner’s sugar to cream cheese to get a thicker, less tangy frosting and added orange zest to get the orange flavor.


  • 3 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • zest of 1/4 orange
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar


  1. Using a stand mixer or food processor, beat the cream cheese until it’s smooth. This won’t work if the cream cheese is too cold - make sure it and the butter are at room temperature before you start making the frosting.
  2. Add the butter and orange zest and beat until smooth and homogeneous. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and beat for a little extra to make sure everything is uniform.
  3. Add the confectioner’s sugar and beat well until no lumps remain.
  4. Transfer to a sealable container and put in the refrigerator.

The rich chocolate frosting

This was also really tricky to get right. The chocolate frosting is one of the hallmarks of Prolific Oven cakes, and its thick, buttery chocolate flavor was critical to faithfully recreating the flavor of The Cake.

First, I tried a straight-up chocolate ganache from the Flour cookbook, but it was too bitter and not buttery enough. Then I tried the whipped chocolate ganache frosting from Luscious Chocolate Desserts (part of the Divine Devil’s Food Cake recipe), which had the buttery taste but the wrong texture and color. In the end, I adapted the Luscious Chocolate Desserts recipe, omitting the whipping, and that captured the taste, color, and feel of the original.

Two important notes for this recipe:

  1. You must use semisweet chocolate (~50-55% cacao) rather than bittersweet chocolate (> 65% cacao) for this frosting. I normally prefer a more bitter chocolate flavor and tend to use darker chocolate in everything, but for this application it just doesn’t work. The bitterness of the chocolate totally clobbers the subtle orange-almond flavors from the cake and the cream cheese frosting and it doesn’t taste anything like the Prolific Oven recipe.
  2. Make sure you have the rest of the cake assembled before you make this frosting (see the section on Assembly below). You’ll want to pour the frosting over the cake while it’s still liquid enough to pour smoothly, and this recipe is super quick.


  • 7 1/2 oz semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • (optional) 50g sliced almonds


  1. Heat the cream in a thick-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until bubbles just barely start to form at the edges, whisking occasionally to prevent a skin from forming.
  2. While the cream is heating, chop the chocolate into very fine pieces and cut the butter into small chunks.
  3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the chocolate, whisking until smooth (you want to make sure the chocolate has fully melted from the residual heat of the cream).
  4. Add the butter and whisk until smooth.
  5. While the mixture is still hot, pour over the assembled cake.
  6. If desired, decorate the sides of the cake with sliced almonds.


  1. Bake the orange almond cake and chocolate cake first and let cool (I find that if I do the orange almond cake first, I can make the chocolate cake batter in the time it takes the orange almond cake to bake).
  2. While the cakes are cooling, make the orange cream cheese frosting.
  3. Remove the cooled orange almond cake and chocolate cake rounds from their pans and trim off the tops until they are level. Hopefully they’re around the same height, but it’s fine if one is slightly larger than the other.
  4. Place the orange almond cake round on a wide plate.
  5. Gently spread (or, if you have a piping bag, pipe) a thin layer of the orange cream cheese frosting over the top of the orange almond cake round (the layer should be less than half a centimeter thick).
  6. Place the chocolate cake round on top of the layer of orange cream cheese frosting, making sure it lines up with the edges of the orange almond cake round.
  7. Refrigerate the assembled cake and make the chocolate frosting.
  8. Remove the assembled cake from the fridge and pour the still-hot chocolate frosting over it, making sure you coat the top in a thick layer and have enough left over to completely cover the sides of the cake.
  9. Using a rubber spatula, spread the chocolate frosting up the sides of the cake. Depending on how long you refrigerated the cake for, the frosting will probably be hot enough that it will keep running down the sides. That’s fine, just keep spreading it back up until it cools enough to stay. If you have any extra chocolate frosting, collect it into a separate container and chill it so that you can pipe it on later as decorative swirls.
  10. If desired, cover the outside of the cake in a layer of sliced almonds.
  11. Put the cake back in the fridge and let it chill until the frosting has thickened; at least an hour. If desired, you can pipe the excess chocolate frosting onto the cake as decorative swirls once the frosting has thickened.
  12. The Prolific Oven website recommends taking the cake out of the fridge 1-2 hours before serving to let it come up to room temperature.

Aggregated ingredient list

  • 166 grams (~1 1/8 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 35 grams (~1/3 cup) sliced almonds (or almond flour), plus 50 grams sliced almonds for decorating (optional)
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 166 grams (~1 2/3 cup) cake flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 3 oz cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 orange
  • 1/2 tsp orange extract
  • 5/8 tsp salt
  • 7 1/2 oz semisweet chocolate
  • 1 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 7/8 cup sugar
  • 23 tbsp (almost 3 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract

I hope this cake brings you as much joy as it has brought me. If you’ve managed to recreate any of the other Prolific Oven recipes (especially their Chocolate Mocha Cake or their Rum Cake), please let me know.

  1. I’ve included Amazon Affiliate links to the source materials I used. If you click through those links and end up buying any of the cookbooks I mention, Amazon will send me some money. 

  2. If you’ve never been to Flour, I highly recommend it. I always make sure I have time to swing by whenever I’m in the Boston area.