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.
Hi Danielle, loved your works very much 🙂 super yummy. Thanks for the recipe. Soon I’ll try this for my daughters birthday. By the way its OK if I’m not bake it? ? We don’t have an oven so I want to know if its OK if I steam it?? Thanks and God bless!!! 🙂
Thank you, Angelica! I’m not familiar with what you mean by steaming it? I would really suggest baking it if you can.
Hi Danielle, love this recipe! I was wondering for the espresso powered, can we use on shot of espresso out of an espresso machine? Or is there a certain amount of espresso we need to use? Thanks!!
Thank you, Sara! That would probably be fine, but I would mix some hot/boiling water with the shot of espresso until it reaches 1 cup, stir it around, then add it to the batter. Or you can just mix 1 teaspoon of espresso powder in with 1 cup of hot/boiling water.
Can I use butter instead of oil?
I wouldn’t suggest it for this recipe, Daniela. You really need the oil to help keep the cake moist, since cocoa powder can dry out baked goods. Butter would also change the texture of the cake.
So I made this chocolate layer recipe with your ganache recipe and it came out awesome!!! So delicious!!! Your recipes are amazing and I’ve been spreading the word anytime I talk about recipes with friends and family!! Thank you for sharing with us!!!
So happy to hear that the cake turned out great, Raquel! And thank you for sharing my blog with your friends and family too! 🙂
I am loving this recipe, I am planning on making it for my friends daughter’s 10th Birthday. Sadly I don’t have an oven that can fit 3 pans, it can only fit one pan at a time. Is it bad to leave the batter standing, the last pan will have to stand 1 hour?
If the batter sits for too long, it won’t rise quite as well. Do you have multiple racks in your oven where you could rotate the pans? If not, you could use 9-inch cake pans and make a two-layer cake.
Hi, I was just wondering how I could convert this recipe to use in my 9 by 2 inch round pans? I’m a first time cake baker, so I’m not quite sure what I’m doing, haha!
Yes, absolutely! I have notes in the post on how to use 9-inch cake pans. Just divide the batter evenly between two 9-inch cake pans, baking time and temperature remain the same. I would recommend reducing the frosting for a two-layer cake too.
Your cakes looks amazing. I am just wondering what will happen if I don’t put buttermilk in the recipe? It’s hard to find buttermilk here. Thanks in advance.
The buttermilk helps keep the cake moist and make it tender. You can make a buttermilk substitute by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to a measuring cup, fill it to the 1 cup line, stir it around, and let it sit for about 10 minutes.
What can I use in place of espresso powder? Coffee work?
You can use 1-2 teaspoons of instant coffee or use 1 cup of hot coffee.
Hi Dannielle,am new to your blog but am also glad I found it .What kind of milk can be used for the buttermilk substitute, evaporated, condensed or dissolved powdered milk. I’ll appreciate your response as I will like to try out the recipe and I can’t fine buttermilk where I live.
Hi, Grace! You can make a buttermilk substitute by adding 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to a measuring cup, fill with regular milk to the 1 cup line, stir well and set aside for 5-10 minutes, then use in the recipe.
This was hands down the best chocolate layer cake recipe. It was rich and moist. It was also an easy recipe!! I did not reduce the frosting for 2 9 inch and there was only a little left over
So glad you liked the cake, Susan!
hi when the hot water ( hot coffee) being mixed to the butter it should be hot/ it will be fine with room temperature water? please help me thanks
Not sure what you mean about the hot water/coffee being mixed with the butter? You do want the water to be warm for the cake batter though, you can microwave it if you need to.
Can I freeze the layers for one day before frosting?
You can, but if you’re just making them one day ahead of time I would just refrigerate the layers so you don’t have to thaw them out.
Your recipes are amazing.
For this chocolate cake recie, can I use cake flour instead of all purpose flour?
I haven’t tried it, but I think it will be okay. A good rule of thumb when substituting cake flour for all-purpose is to use 1 cup + 2 tablespoons cake flour in place of 1 cup all-purpose flour so I would use 2 and 1/4 cups cake flour.
Thank you for your reply. Good luck to your future projects!
Brown sugar in the recipe , packed down or loose?
I lightly pack the brown sugar.
Hi Danielle! I was wondering if you think it would work to marble together your chocolate and white cake recipes? Thanks!
I haven’t tried it, but I’m not sure how it would work out. This cake batter is much thinner than the white cake batter, so it may not work very well. I would suggest using a cake batter where you add chocolate to half of it to make a marbled cake. I’ll definitely add marbled cake to my list of recipes to work on this year too!
I made this yesterday for my daughter’s birthday and it was amazing! So moist, with a rich chocolate flavor. Everyone raved about it and said it was the best chocolate cake they’d ever eaten!
So happy to hear that, Kristine!
Can I reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe. I am not a big fan of sweet cakes, can I use 1/2 cup of brown sugar and 1/2 cup of granulated sugar? Thanks in advance for your response.
You can reduce the sugar by 1/2 cup, but I wouldn’t reduce it any more than that because it will affect the taste and texture of the cake.
is it possible to freeze the frosted cake? I just think that would be easier than only frosting half of it. My small family just can’t get through a whole cake very fast. Hope that made sense, thank you. Cool website.
Yes, absolutely! You can slice it up and freeze the frosted cake, then just thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
hello! I want to make a 2 layer 6in cake. How could I adjust this recipe for my cake?
I haven’t tried it, so I’m not quite sure. You may be able to cut the recipe in half and have enough. This guide may be helpful for you too: https://food52.com/blog/13239-how-to-make-your-baking-recipe-fit-your-pan-size.
Hello..I made 4 cakes (2 in oven at a time) and they all sunk in the middle. :(. Any idea why this might have happened?
Sorry to hear that, Jana. Did you make any adjustments to the recipe to get 4 cake layers?
Hi. I am an avid baker who sells cupcakes and cookies. I have been wanting to try this recipe so I did today. It was so easy. The taste is fantastic and it’s so moist. Thank you so much for a delicious easy recipe.
So glad you enjoyed the cake, Caroline!
Hi I want to make this cake for my son’s 10th birthday next weekend, though it is for at least 30 people so I was wondering how can I adjust the recipe to make a 3 layer cake but with 9’ inch pans instead of 2 so the cake is bigger and taller! It is the very first time ever making a cake for his birthday (I always buy it) but I want to make it xtra special this year since it’s his first decade ?. Please advise thank you!
I haven’t tried it, but you could probably increase the cake recipe by 1 and 1/2 to make 3 layers. Or you could make the recipe, then divide the recipe in half and make another cake layer. If you make it all at once, just be careful not to overmix the batter.
Is it possible to make this cake in the following pans.
It’s a 7″ by 1″
How long would I leave it in the oven?
I think that would be fine. You may end up having to make 4 layers though so they don’t overflow the pans. I’m not sure about the baking time, I would just keep an eye on them and test them with a toothpick to make sure they’re done.
Hi! The cake seems amazing! But can I use heavy cream or just milk instead of buttermilk? We dont have that in my country…
Thanks a lot!
You can make your own buttermilk with some milk and either vinegar or lemon juice. I have a tutorial for how to make buttermilk here.
Hello!!! Can I use just one 8×3 pan instead? What about baking time for just one pan?
I’m not sure that would be large enough.
Plan to bake in 9 × 13 pan. I have a convection oven, how long will it take to bake.
You can either reduce the temperature by 25°F or just cut down on the baking time slightly.
Hi! Is the listed recipe for the buttercream frosting already doubled or no?
Yes, the amounts listed in the recipe are already doubled.
Made a cake for my son’s 10th birthday with chocolate swiss meringue buttercream and homemade honeycomb filling. It was a huge hit. The cakes came out level and moist! Didn’t change anything in the recipe. I used a 3% fat buttermilk and cake pan strips. Thank you for the wonderful recipe.
How deep are the 8 inch round cake pans that you use?
They’re 2 inches deep.
How fine should the salt be?
I use table salt.