Ok, I've only ever made chocolate cakes using only or mainly melted chocolate but recently I've been looking for a devil's food cake. The first recipe I made smelled like Ammonia, I kid you not! It called for 2 tsp of baking soda and 3/4C of natural cocoa, no more acid (that should have been my clue). Trashed it. Taste-wise it was a good, normal tasting chocolate cake but that smell-- yes I tasted it. I am my own guinea pig first. Always.
I only have natural cocoa so I made Martha Stewart's One-Bowl Chocolate cake which is pretty much identical, it calls for 2 tsp baking soda, 1 C natural cocoa, except it has extra acid (1C buttermilk instead of plain milk). I love the cake, tastes great BUT why does it smell different? Not Ammonia this time. It's a sort of earthy, cocoa meets baking soda meets something else in the batter, almost organic-y. Can't put a finger to it but this cocoa cake smells its nothing like the 'chocolate' smell I'm used to with melted chocolate cakes.
To be sure my leaveners and cocoa were okay, I did a mix in a cup, heated in microwave to activate the cocoa, baking soda and powder, no weird smell, baking powder okay, activated when the mixture was heated, cocoa darkened as expected. So the cocoa, and leaveners are fine.
Could it be that the cake has too much baking soda? Or are natural cocoa chocolate cakes supposed to smell well, um, different?