Mug cake – what’s that all about then?

I was in the baking section of my local super market and did  double-take when I saw the instant mug cake. If there’s a powder version, it must have really made the main stream. It was a rainy, dull day. I decided to do some research and see if there was a pattern to mug cakes. I now have a go-to recipe.

Vanilla and raspberry - simple and satisfying.

Vanilla and raspberry – simple and satisfying.

The pleasure of mug cake is that it’s fast: you stick some things in a mug, blast it with microwaves and ta-dah! – dessert. If you have to make more than one or two it becomes a faff and you might as well make a cake. But as a near-instant sugar fix, it’s useful. It’s portion controlled, you don’t need any special tools and can use ingredients that re probably already in your cupboard. Having seen the light, I wanted to develop an easy-to-use recipe for my personal online cookbook.

Making mug cakes: all it takes is a mug and a few simple ingredients. And a microwave oven.

Making mug cakes: all it takes is a mug and a few simple ingredients. And a microwave oven.

I googled dozens of recipes looking for a plain vanilla mug cake. There are lots of different varieties out there, some use egg and butter, some use curdled milk for lift. I opted for a vegan recipe since I wanted a one-cup, minimal mess cake. Extrapolating, I came up with a basic recipe of 3 parts dry to 2 parts wet, or 4 tbsp plain white flour, 2 tbsp soft brown sugar, 0.25 (to a half) tsp baking powder, 3 tbsp soya milk, 1 tbsp oil, 0.25 (to a half) vanilla essence.

You can serve it straight from the cup. Personally, I think it looks a little pale on it's own so I like to serve it on a plate. I know. I'm missing the point completely, aren't I?

You can serve it straight from the cup. Personally, I think it looks a little pale on it’s own so I like to serve it on a plate. I know. I’m missing the point completely, aren’t I?

The cakes puff up in the microwave, then deflate when they come out. I like to let them sit a few minutes before eating or decanting onto a plate. It gives them a bit more integrity.

Dry ingredients

  • Flour: most of my experiments used simple white plain flour. I also made one cake that used half wholegrain rye. I really liked that. It had a nuttier flavour. Swap one tbsp of flour for cocoa and you have chocolate cake. You’re welcome.
  • Sugar: My first experiment used white flour and white sugar. It was fine but bland. So I shifted up the sugar and what a difference that made!
  • Baking powder: I have a 0.25 tea spoon measure but I realise not everyone does. Baking powder leaves a nasty taste so you don’t want too much but if you use a bit more than 0.25 tsp, don’t worry.

Wet ingredients

  • Milk: my first attempts used almond milk. They all collapsed and had a very tender crumb. With soya milk, it was much better. I think the difference is the protein content: 3.3 in soya, 0.4 in almond.
  • Oil: I was out of almond oil so used walnut oil instead. That too is neutral in flavour. You can use vegetable oil too. I prefer something very neutral like almond or very flavoured like hazelnut.
  • Vanilla essence: a hint of vanilla is nice, don’t overdo it.


  • Cinnamon cake: straight vanilla with half a tea spoon cinnamon in the batter and a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon on top.
  • Dark woods: a happy jolly take on Black Forest – 1 tbsp of cocoa instead of 1 tbsp flour, 0.25 tsp almond essence, 3 cherries.
  • Chocolate chip: chop up a square of chocolate and mix through the batter.
  • Orange: swap the milk for orange juice, add a sprinkle of orange zest.

Have fun playing with this.

Vanilla mug cake
Preparation time
Cooking time
Total time
This is a basic mug cake recipe that can be adjusted in many ways: swap one tablespoon of flour for cocoa and the raspberries for cherries; add a good pinch of cinnamon for a spiced cake. Add some orange zest or a couple of chopped hazelnuts - have fun.
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Serves: 1
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar (soft, brown gives colour and flavour; golden castor works too)
  • 0.25 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tbsp milk (soy works well)
  • 1 tbsp oil (a neutral flavour is best)
  • 0.25 tsp vanilla essence
  • 4 raspberries
  1. The size of the cup is important: this recipe is for a standard British tea cup, of about 200 ml.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients in the bottom of the cup.
  3. Add the wet ingredients and mix until well combined.
  4. Gently push the raspberries into the batter.
  5. Cook for 1.5 minutes (90 seconds) in a 900Watt microwave oven.



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About Caroline von Schmalensee

Cooking, eating and drinking is fun as well as necessary. I do food for fun and I write for a living. Good food makes the world a more delicious and satisfying place. Good writing, meanwhile, can make the world a less confusing place.

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