A recipe and tutorial on how to make my favorite chocolate layer cake with a simple homemade chocolate buttercream frosting. This recipe is easy to make and turns out perfect every single time!
Last Thursday I shared a post on how to make my favorite chocolate buttercream frosting. So this week I’m going to show you a few different ways to use that frosting, starting with this decadent chocolate layer cake.
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 worth it.
The chocolate cake for this recipe can be made in one bowl and mixed up using just a whisk. To make it easier, I’ve included step-by-step instructions showing you how to make the cake and frost it as well. And if you don’t want to bake a three layer cake, I’ve also included directions for how to bake this cake in different sized pans!
How To Make Chocolate Layer Cake – Step by Step
First things first, start out by spraying your cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and lining them with some parchment paper. I made the mistake of not lining my pans the first time I made this cake and they would not come out of the pan. So, save yourself a little frustration and line those cake pans.
Tip: Turn your cake pan upside down and use the bottom of the pan as a guide for cutting out your circle of parchment paper.
Next, sift together your dry ingredients and whisk them together. It’s important to sift together the ingredients to remove any lumps of cocoa powder. Then whisk in your brown sugar and granulated sugar until well combined.
After the sugar is thoroughly mixed with the dry ingredients, you’ll whisk in some eggs, oil, buttermilk, and vanilla extract until just combined. Your batter should be pretty thick at this point, similar to a fudgy brownie batter.
Then, pour in a cup of boiling water mixed with a teaspoon of instant espresso powder. I really love King Arthur Flour Espresso Powder because a little goes a long way. The espresso powder is optional. It doesn’t make your cake taste like coffee, but instead, it enhances the chocolate flavor in the cake. You can also just use 1 cup of strong brewed hot coffee instead or water.
Once you’ve mixed up the batter, you’ll pour it into your prepared cake pans and bake them.
How To Frost Chocolate Layer Cake
You can frost this cake however you like and there’s really no “correct” way to frost a cake, but here’s the easiest way that I’ve found.
- Start by leveling the tops of your cakes. This cake leveler is similar to the one that I use, it’s super handy and much easier to use than a knife. A turntable will also make frosting your cakes A LOT easier, this is the turntable I use and really love.
- Place one of the layers of cake on a cake stand, or whatever you plan to serve the cake on, and pipe or spread a layer of frosting on top. I like to pipe a layer of frosting to make sure I get an even amount between layers and then spread it out evenly with an offset spatula (I can’t find the exact ones that I use, but this set is similar).
- Repeat with the second layer then add the third layer on top with the bottom facing up. Apply a thin layer of frosting to the top and sides of the cake. This is known as a “crumb coat” and essentially catches any cake crumbs in this layer of frosting to prevent them from getting in your final layer of frosting. I freeze my layers of cake for 1-2 hours so they’re nice and cold and it makes frosting the cake MUCH easier! The crumb coat will also dry pretty quickly so there’s really no need to refrigerate it before adding your final layer of frosting.
- Then, use an offset spatula or piping tip to apply a thicker layer of frosting to the top and smooth it out with your spatula. Apply the remaining frosting to the sides of the cake and smooth it out some with your spatula or a cake scraper. Here’s the cake scaper that I use for my cakes, it’s inexpensive and works great!
- Use a small offset spatula to fill in any spots that look like they need more frosting.
- Scrape the cake with a large offset spatula or a cake scraper and continue to smooth out the frosting.
- Once you’re finished, use an offset spatula to clean up the top edges. I still had a little frosting on mine when I scraped the top in this picture, so it’s not perfect. It’s best to wipe your utensil off with a paper towel or on the bowl of frosting after each scrape.
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 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 all of the batter into the pan and bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes. Use just one batch of my chocolate frosting.
- Cupcakes: Use this chocolate cupcake recipe here.
Baking Tips for Chocolate Layer Cake
- 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.
- When measuring your flour, don’t scoop it out of the container with the measuring cup. Instead, stir the flour around, spoon it into your measuring cup, and level it off with the back of a knife.
- I recommend using espresso powder in this chocolate cake for the best flavor. If you don’t have espresso powder, you can use 1 cup of strong brewed hot coffee in place of the water and espresso powder.
- I prefer to level and freeze my cake layers for 1-2 hours before frosting the cake. This will make the crumb coat dry quickly and make the layers firm, so it’s much easier to frost the cake.
- I doubled my chocolate frosting recipe for this cake, but you can reduce it down and multiply that recipe by 1.5 for less frosting.
- To get clean slices of cake, place the cake in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour after you frost it.
Chocolate Layer Cake
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. 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 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.
Prep time does not include cooling time.
Store leftover cake in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days.
To make ahead of time: Cover cake layers tightly and store in the refrigerator or at room temperature for up to two days. Frosting can be prepared 2-3 days in advance, cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator. Allow frosting to come to room temperature, mix the frosting well, and frost the cake.
Freezing Instructions: Cake layers will freeze well for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Frosting will also freeze well for up to 3 months, thaw overnight in the refrigerator, bring to room temperature and mix well before frosting cake. You may also slice the cake once it's frosted, store the cake slices in an airtight container or freezer bag, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.
Chocolate cake recipe slightly adapted from Hershey’s
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