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.
I’ve made this recipe 3 times now, once using all purpose flour , regular baking cocoa and strong coffee, and just this week I did a test run of two versions: one with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour Mix (not the 1:1 version; xantham gum not included), instant coffee, and regular baking cocoa powder and the second with regular all purpose flour plus the instant coffee and regular baking cocoa. In a blind taste test my husband liked the all purpose version, my mother preferred the GF version and my brother couldn’t tell the difference. I want to take it to the next level with natural cocoa powder and espresso powder to see if they make a difference, but I’m having trouble finding natural cocoa powder. My grocery store has Dutch-processed baking cocoa powder or cacao powder, and I’ve read cacao and natural cocoa are not the same. Any thoughts on that? Looking forward to trying you other recipes after so much success with this one. Thank you!
Hi, Jenn! Dutch-processed and natural unsweetened cocoa powder aren’t quite the same. Dutch-processed cocoa powder is less acidic, so it doesn’t react with baking soda the same as natural unsweetened cocoa powder. I have tried Dutch-processed cocoa powder in this cake and it caused it to sink some in the middle.
My husband loves peanut butter cups. I used this chocolate cake recipe and the peanut butter frosting to make his birthday cake! It was beyond delicious. The cake was so moist and the frosting was the perfect balance. Thanks for such a great recipe!
Hi, I have baked this cake recipe before and it was absolutely delicious!
I am hoping to use this recipe to bake a tall cake. I have x2 6 inch cake tins and I am hoping to do it four deep(ish) layers. Would you be able to advise me on how to possible achieve this please?
You could do 4 layers with the batter and just wait to bake the last two until the others are done. If the pans are deep enough, you may be able to divide most of the batter between both of them and slice them in half to make four layers. Hope that helps!
Hello Danielle….this sounds like a great cake, can’t wait to try it….I’m just wondering about the oven temperature for a fan forced oven….thanks
Hi, Sue! If you’re using convection, I would reduce the oven temperature to 325°F (163°C).
This cake is the best I have ever made! Great consistency and very moist. I made a whipped cream frosting instead of this one, but I bet it tastes just as good as the cake! Five-star cake.
Do you think I can slip the baking soda & the buttermilk and replace it with baking powder? I actually still feel the metal like taste of baking soda. (I’m based in Switzerland, I’m wondering perhaps there’s something unusual with the buttermilk I find in stores here. ). PS. You’re m’y favorite baking website. Delicious and beautiful! I have done tons of your vanilla cupcakes, chocolate cupcakes, chocolate ganache, etc and everyone loves them.
Hi, Rana! So glad you’re enjoying the recipes on my site! I haven’t tried skipping the baking soda in this recipe, so it’s hard to say. You may be able to replace it with more baking powder, I have a post here that explains how to substitute one for the other. Keep in mind that it will change the texture of the cake and you will still need to use the buttermilk.
I’m super excited to give this a go tonight!
Do you think it is sturdy enough for a drip cake with quite a bit of chocolate on top?
Yes, I think that would be fine!
I am not the best baker, the cakes I’ve made in the past have always turned out dry and ugly – but I made this cake for a party and it was amazing. It turned out beautiful and I decorated it with strawberries and little swirls of frosting. Really soft and moist, I added just a third of the powdered sugar that you recommended into the frosting (with slightly less cream) because I don’t like my cakes too sweet, and for me it was the perfect sweetness. Really really delicious and easy to follow recipe for an amateur baker like me!
I’ll be 14 in 15 days so instead of my parents having to spend so much money on a birthday cake this year, I’ve decided to bake a homemade layered cake. Although I don’t like chocolate I believe it’s gonna taste really good. Thank you so much for this recipe!
Could this be adapted for a 3x7inch layer cake instead?
Yes, that would be fine! You will probably have a little bit of batter leftover, but you can use any extra batter to make cupcakes.
Can we talk cake pans? (Purchasing new pans this week!)
For the three 8″ layers, would you recommend 2″ or 3″ deep pans? Does it matter?
Can’t wait to try this recipe!
Hi, Deb! Either one would be fine, the pans that I use are 2-inches deep.
I think this recipe tasted delicious. It was moist. And I loved it. The only problem I had was the cake stuck to the pan and I wasn’t able to get it off so I could layer it. I did Grease the pans with Crisco but they still stuck. I’ve been working with flipping cakes out of pans for many years and have no trouble. Any any comments as to why this happened?
Did you make sure to line the bottom of your pans with parchment paper? This cake is very soft and moist and can stick, that’s why I added to line your pans with parchment paper in step 1 of the recipe 🙂
I’m about to make this using 6inch tins. How long would you roughly bake it for?
I’m not sure on baking time, I would just keep an eye on them and test them with a toothpick to make sure they’re cooked through.
I haven’t made the cake yet but wanted to know if cake four is okay to use? I made your red velvet cake recipe and called for cake flour. It turned out very good.
I use cake flour in a lot of my cake recipes, but don’t find it necessary for this one since it’s really soft and fluffy. You can use cake flour if you prefer though, but you would need to substitute the 2 cups of all-purpose flour with 2 1/4 cups of cake flour.
Hi is there anyway I could make 3 layer 9 inch? If so how long would you bake for? Thanks!
Yes, you can multiply the chocolate cake recipe by 1.5 and divide it between three 9-inch pans. The baking time should still be around 30 minutes.
Could i substitute the oil for butter in the cake by any chance ?
If possible how much would i use?
I haven’t tried it, but I imagine that you could use an equal amount of melted butter. If you do use melted butter, I’d make sure all of your other ingredients are at room temperature.
This is such a wonderful recipe and I appreciate how you can scale it to fit different sized cake pans. I used it to make one layer 8″ cake and the taste and colour were divine. I only have one 8″ springform pan and want to make a 2 layer cake so I would multiply the ingredients by 2/3 and bake it in one pan. Do you think it be too much batter in one cake pan to bake evenly?
Hi, Angie! I think that would be fine, if it seems like too much batter you can use the extra batter to make a few cupcakes.
This is by far the best chocolate cake I have ever tried!
Made it for my son’s bday and everyone loved it!
I made this for my birthday cake. It was so moist, fluffy and tasted great! I enjoy baking your recipes because they are easy to follow and always turn out perfect every time! Thanks for sharing your recipes. My family and I thoroughly enjoyed my chocolate birthday cake!
Thank you, Heather! That means so much to me! I’m so glad everyone loved the cake!
Hello! I’ve been meanig to try this recipe for some time and am excited to prepare it tonight! Wondering if you by chance have the nutritional information, specifically the carb count? My little 5 year old has type 1 diabetes and this information would be so helpful. No worries if not, just thought I would inquire. Thank you!
Hi, Elizabeth! I’m not sure on the nutritional information and it can vary some based on the products you use, how many servings you slice the cake into, etc. I’d recommend plugging everything into an online calculator like My Fitness Pal to get an estimate.
I use three one inch deep 9in rpunds for this. They still bake for 30 minutes and come put just as soft and fluffy. This recipe is always a hit when I make it. I make my own cream cheese buttercream frosting to go with it, though. Definitely a great flavor pairing. Thanks for this recipe!
Hi Danielle, Is it possible to double this recipe and make a 4 8″ inch layer cake? I wanted to make this for a birthday party for alot of people so wanted to make a taller layered cake. Would making a chocolate cake with butter make it sturdier as I know some chocolate cakes can be quite moist and may not hold in a taller shape! any advice would be much appreciated, thanks 🙂
Hi, Amna! If you double this recipe it would probably be too much for four 8-inch pans. I would increase the recipe by half and use any leftover batter to make cupcakes. This cake holds up pretty well with 3 layers, so I think it should be fine to make 4. I hope that helps!
Thanks For Sharing this amazing recipe. My family loved it. I will be sharing this recipe with my friends. Hope the will like it.
Can i make this in 3 6in pans?
Yes, that would be fine. You may have some extra batter leftover, but you could use that to make cupcakes.
Can i use this for a 2 tiered cake?
Yes, that would be fine. You may need to increase the recipe though depending on the size of your cake.
What is the limit of how full a cake tin can be? Halfway full? Thinking of using different-sized pans but not sure how full they can be till the cake spills over as it’s baking, or till the cake starts to bake unevenly due to the large volume.
I typically only fill mine about halfway or a little over halfway full.
Hi! You mentioned putting the cake in the freezer for 30-60 minutes prior to frosting, but should they be in plastic wrap for that? If not, can they be touching one another or separated? I’ve had disasters before with moist chocolate cakes where they fall apart quickly, so I’m a little nervous about it!
I don’t wrap them, since it’s such a short amount of time. I keep them separated too.
I’m making this cake this week and can’t wait! Quick question for you…do you measure out the ingredients or do you weigh them when you make this cake?
I typically weigh out my ingredients, just because it’s quicker. I’ve made this by measuring the ingredients out in cups as well. Either way is fine!
I’m excited to make this cake … so many raving reviews! 🙂
As far as removing pans from oven, I typically let cakes rest in pans for 10 minutes before flipping to wire racks to continue cooling. Do you do this or remove from pans as soon as out of oven?
Hi, Elaine! Sometimes I’ll let the cake layers cool in the pans for 20 to 30 minutes, then remove them. It would be fine to remove them after about 10 minutes, just be sure they’re cool enough to handle so they don’t break.
Hi! Can I substitute the buttermilk with whole milk + lemon juice? Or do you have another suggestion for buttermilk substitution for this recipe?
Yes, that would be fine! You can add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to a measuring cup, fill with milk to the 1 cup line, stir and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes before using it.
Hi! I’m in a country where I cannot buy brown sugar. What can I do to compensate for this? Thanks!
Do you have molasses? If so, you could make your own brown sugar. I have a post on how to do that here. If not, coconut sugar or light muscovado sugar would be a good substitute.
Hello would this recipie be able to use three 6in rounds?
It’s probably enough for four 6-inch round pans. If you have some extra batter left over, you can use it to make cupcakes.