The BEST Chocolate Cake
A recipe and tutorial on how to make my favorite chocolate cake with a simple homemade chocolate buttercream frosting. This recipe is easy to make and turns out perfect every single time!
If you’ve ever felt intimidated when it comes to making cakes from scratch I promise that it’s not too hard. Sure it takes a little extra time, but the feeling of baking something completely from scratch is completely worth it.
So today I wanted to share my updated homemade chocolate cake recipe with you. You’ll love this simple recipe because it’s:
- Incredibly soft, light, and fluffy
- Super moist
- Made completely from scratch
- You can make the cake layers in one bowl using just a whisk
- And it’s the best chocolate cake you will every try!
I’ve also included step-by-step instructions showing you how to make the cake and frost it. And if you don’t want to bake a three-layer cake, I’ve included directions for how to bake this cake in different-sized pans too.
Ingredients For This Recipe
While this may seem like quite a few ingredients, I promise this cake isn’t difficult! Let’s break down each ingredient you will need for this easy chocolate cake:
- All-Purpose Flour: This is what provides the structure for the cake. As always, when measuring your flour make sure to use the spoon and level method. Too much flour can lead to a dense cake instead of a soft, light, and fluffy cake.
- Natural Unsweetened Cocoa Powder: This is what provides the chocolate flavor! I highly recommend using natural unsweetened cocoa powder instead of Dutch-processed cocoa powder. This will ensure that the cake has enough acidity in it to rise properly.
- Baking Soda, Baking Powder, & Salt: I’ve tested this cake with varying levels of baking powder and baking soda and 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of each one is the perfect amount. There’s also some salt to help balance out the sweetness.
- Sugar: You’ll be using a mix of brown sugar and granulated sugar in this cake. The brown sugar adds moisture to the cake as well.
- Oil: I recommend sticking with a neutral flavored oil like canola or vegetable oil. Coconut oil will be fine too, but if you do use it, just be sure your other ingredients are at room temperature so that it doesn’t solidify when you mix everything together.
- Buttermilk: The buttermilk adds moisture and helps to create a tender crumb. If you don’t have any on hand, you can make your own with my homemade buttermilk substitute.
- Eggs & Vanilla: The eggs provide stability and the vanilla adds a little extra flavor.
- Boiling Water & Espresso Powder: The boiling water helps to bloom the cocoa powder and create a deeper, richer chocolate flavor. I also like to add some instant espresso powder which enhances the chocolate flavor even more. You can omit the espresso powder, but you’ll still want to add the boiling water if you do.
And for the chocolate buttercream frosting we’ll be using:
- Unsalted Butter: This will give you a beautiful buttery flavor in your buttercream frosting. I recommend sticking with unsalted butter for the frosting as well.
- Powdered Sugar: Also known as icing sugar or confectioner’s sugar this helps to sweeten the frosting and make it thicker so you can frost your cake and pipe decorations.
- Unsweetened Cocoa Powder: To add some chocolate flavor to the frosting.
- Heavy Whipping Cream & Vanilla Extract: The heavy whipping cream helps to thin out the frosting just a bit so it’s easier to spread and pipe. If you don’t have any heavy whipping cream on hand, you can use milk. You’ll also be using a little extra vanilla extract in the frosting.
How To Make A Chocolate Cake From Scratch
Once you’ve gathered your ingredients, it’s time to prepare your cake batter! Here’s a simple break down on how to make the chocolate cake layers:
- Grease and line your cake pans with parchment paper: This will make it much easier to remove the cake layers from the pan, trust me!
- Sift the dry ingredients together: This will help ensure that everything is well combined and remove any lumps of cocoa powder.
- Whisk in the sugars: I typically add sugar along with the wet ingredients, but I prefer to whisk the brown sugar and granulated in along with the dry ingredients in this cake.
- Add the wet ingredients (except for the boiling water): Once the dry ingredients and sugars are mixed together, you’ll mix in your buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract. The batter will be very thick like the picture above on the right, similar to a fudgy brownie batter.
- Mix in the boiling water & espresso powder: For the last step, you’ll whisk together your boiling water and espresso powder, then mix it into the batter. The batter will be very thin at this point, this is okay!
- Pour the batter into your cake pans: Once the batter is ready, you’ll divide it evenly between your cake pans.
- Bake the cake layers: The baking time will vary depending on the pans that you use. For this recipe, I prefer to use three 8-inch cake pans which takes about 30 minutes. Two 9-inch cake pans will take about the same amount of time.
- Allow to cool: You’ll want to let the cake layers cool completely before adding the frosting.
While the cake layers are cooling you’ll prepare your frosting. For this cake, I used my chocolate buttercream frosting. If you’ve never made it before I have a full tutorial for how to make chocolate frosting here. Here’s what you’ll need to do to prepare the frosting:
- Beat the butter until smooth: This will help ensure a creamier, smoother frosting!
- Mix in the powdered sugar: I recommend mixing in the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time to ensure that it’s fully incorporated.
- Mix in the cocoa powder: Make sure to sift your cocoa powder first to remove any lumps, then mix it in. It helps to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl at this point and mix again.
- Add the heavy whipping cream, vanilla, & salt: I just mix these in all at once. Feel free to stop and scrape down your bowl again if needed to make sure everything is fully combined.
How To Frost The Cake
Once the frosting is ready and the cake layers have cooled, you can assemble your cake. Want to make the frosting process a bit easier? Freeze your cake layers for 30 minutes to 1 hour before frosting your cake. This will make the layers firmer and it will be easier to spread the frosting on them. Here’s how I prefer to frost this cake:
- Level your cake layers: I like to use a cake leveler for this, but you can just use a knife to cut the tops off and level the layers.
- Place one of the cake layers on a cake stand or large plate: I like to place a cardboard cake board down first in case I need to transfer the cake somewhere else, but this is completely optional.
- Add the frosting & repeat with the other layers: Spread some of the frosting on top, then add another layer, spread more frosting on top of it, then add your final cake layer.
- Add the crumb coat: This is completely optional! A crumb coat is essentially a coat of frosting around your cake that catches any crumbs so they don’t end up in your final layer of frosting. Hence the name, crumb coat. I like to apply just a thin layer of frosting around the cake first to catch the crumbs.
- Frost the top and sides of your cake: Once your crumb coat is added, use the rest of your frosting to frost the top and sides of your cake. Feel free free to pipe some designs on top or around the bottom of the cake too!
Simple, right? You don’t have to have anything fancy to frost this cake either, I find that just an angled spatula is all you really need!
How To Bake In Different Size Pans
To make a three-layer chocolate cake, I used three 8-inch round cake pans. If you don’t have this size pan or want to use a different size pan, here’s how you’ll need to adjust the recipe and baking time.
- 9-inch cake pans: Divide the batter evenly between two 9-inch cake pans and bake at 350°F (177°C) for 28-32 minutes. My chocolate frosting recipe is enough to lightly frost a two-layer cake, but if you prefer more frosting I suggest multiplying that recipe by 1.5 for a thicker layer.
- 9×13 pan: Pour the batter into a 9×13 pan and bake at 350°F (177°C) for 35-40 minutes. Use just one batch of my chocolate frosting linked above.
- Cupcakes: Line cupcake or muffin pans with 32 cupcake liners. Evenly distribute the batter between all of the liners. Bake at 350°F (177°C) for 17-20 minutes. Want to make fewer cupcakes? You can use my chocolate cupcake recipe here to make just 16 cupcakes.
Different Frosting Options
Since this is a chocolate cake, I went with a chocolate buttercream frosting. If you want to try something else, here are a few other options:
- Vanilla Buttercream Frosting – this post includes a strawberry and caramel version too!
- Cream Cheese Frosting
- Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
- Stabilized Whipped Cream – for a lighter option.
- Chocolate Ganache – I recommend using the 1:1 ratio if you’re wanting to add a drip on the cake.
How To Store And Freeze This Cake
You can store this cake in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. If you want to keep this cake fresh longer, then I recommend storing it in the refrigerator. Just keep in mind that if you store it in the refrigerator, you may want to set it out ahead of time so that it can come to room temperature before serving.
The cake layers and frosting will freeze well for up to 3 months. Thaw the cake layers and frosting overnight in the refrigerator, bring the frosting to room temperature, and mix well before frosting the cake layers. You can also freeze the frosted cake for up to 3 months, thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.
- Make sure to spray your pans with nonstick cooking spray and line them with parchment paper to make it easy to remove the cakes from the pans.
- I prefer to level and freeze my cake layers for about 1 hour before frosting the cake. This will make the crumb coat dry quickly and make the layers firmer, so it’s much easier to frost the cake.
- To get clean slices of cake, place the cake in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour after you frost it.
For the chocolate cake:
- 2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour, spooned & leveled
- 3/4 cup (65 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (200 grams) brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (120ml) canola or vegetable oil
- 1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup (240 ml) boiling water
- 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder optional, but recommended
For the chocolate buttercream frosting:
- 2 cups (460 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 6 cups (720 grams) powdered sugar
- 1 cup (90 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
- 6-7 tablespoons (90-105 ml) heavy whipping cream
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
To make the chocolate cake:
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Spray three 8-inch cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk in the granulated sugar and brown sugar until well combined. Then, add the oil, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla extract and mix until just combined.
- Add the instant espresso powder to the cup of boiling water and mix until fully dissolved. Add to the mixing bowl and mix until everything is just combined. The batter will be thin.
- Evenly distribute the batter between all three cake pans. Bake at 350°F (177°C) for 28-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean and the tops spring back when lightly touched.
- Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the chocolate frosting:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed for 1-2 minutes or until smooth.
- Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time, making sure to mix well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the cocoa powder and mix until fully combined.
- Add the heavy whipping cream, vanilla extract, and salt and mix on medium speed until fully combined, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
To assemble the cake:
- Level the tops of each cake with a knife or cake leveler. Place one of the cakes on a cake stand, top with a layer of frosting, and smooth it out into one even layer. Repeat with the second layer of cake. Place the third layer of cake on top and use the remaining frosting to frost the top and sides of the cake.