This two-layer marble cake is made by swirling together chocolate and vanilla cake batter. The whole thing is then topped with a rich and creamy chocolate frosting!
Can’t decide whether to make a chocolate or vanilla cake? Then don’t! This chocolate vanilla marble cake recipe is the best of both worlds.
What I love about this easy marble cake is that the chocolate and vanilla cake batters are made using the same base. The base cake batter is divided in two, and a little cocoa powder is stirred into half of it to make the chocolate cake batter. The rest is left as is and acts as the vanilla part of the marble cake. So simple, right?
I topped this cake with my favorite chocolate buttercream frosting, but you’re welcome to use another frosting if desired. This marble cake makes a great addition to any holiday dessert table but is easy enough to make during the week just because!
Ingredients in This Recipe
I tried to keep the ingredients list for this homemade marble cake as simple as possible. Although you’ll be making two different types of cake batter, they both use similar ingredients to save you time. Here’s what you’ll need for this easy cake recipe:
- Cake flour: Results in a lighter, fluffier cake. If you don’t have any on hand, refer to my baking tips section.
- Baking powder & baking soda: Helps the cake layers rise in the oven.
- Salt: Balances out the sweetness of the cake and enhances the vanilla and chocolate flavors.
- Buttermilk: Should be at room temperature before making the batter. The buttermilk reacts with the baking soda and creates a soft, tender cake.
- Oil: This helps to keep the cake moist, even after several days. Be sure to use a neutral-flavored oil like canola or vegetable.
- Vanilla extract: Pure vanilla extract delivers the best flavor.
- Cocoa powder: This is used to make the chocolate cake batter and also beaten into the frosting to make it ultra chocolatey.
- Water: Make sure to use hot water, this will be mixed with the cocoa powder. You can microwave the water for 20 to 30 seconds or until it’s hot.
- Butter: For a rich, buttery cake. Always use unsalted butter because the amount of salt in salted butters can vary between brands.
- Granulated sugar: I used 2 cups of sugar in this recipe, but remember that you’re making two cake layers.
- Eggs: The eggs add structure to the cake and must be at room temperature before making this recipe. If you forgot to set them out ahead of time, place them in a bowl of warm water for about 10 minutes.
How to Make a Marble Cake
You’ll begin by making the cake batter (the same base is used for both flavors of cake). Whisk together the dry ingredients in one bowl, and the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla in another bowl.
In separate mixing bowl, whisk together your cocoa powder and hot water until the mixture is smooth. Set it aside to cool while you prepare the batter.
To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add the butter. Beat the butter until smooth, then gradually add in the sugar. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, this process will take about five minutes, so don’t try to rush it. By beating the butter and sugar together for several minutes, you’ll incorporate more air into the batter and end up with a softer cake.
Mix in the eggs one at a time, making sure to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl between each addition.
Then, add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk mixture to the bowl. You’ll want to alternate between the two, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Make sure to mix in each addition on low speed and not to over mix the batter, which can result in a denser cake.
At this stage, you’ll need to divide the cake batter. Add 2 cups of the prepared vanilla cake batter to another mixing bowl, then stir the cocoa powder mixture into it until well combined.
Add about 1 cup of the vanilla cake batter to two parchment paper-lined 9-inch cake pans. Then, alternately dollop the remaining chocolate and vanilla cake batter into the pans. Gently swirl the chocolate and vanilla dollops together using a knife.
Bake the chocolate vanilla marble cake layers until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let the cake layers cool in the pans for about 20 minutes, then invert them onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Once the cake layers are cool, make the chocolate frosting. I used my chocolate buttercream frosting for this recipe, but increased it slightly to make enough for a layered cake. I also swapped out the heavy cream for whole milk, which makes the frosting super smooth and easier to spread!
From there, it’s just a matter of leveling out the cake layers with a cake leveler or serrated knife and assembling the finished marble cake!
Can I Make This Recipe in a 9×13-inch Pan?
Yes! Grease a 9×13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray, pour about 2 cups of vanilla batter into the pan, and then spread it around into one even layer. Alternately dollop spoonfuls of the chocolate cake batter and the remaining vanilla cake batter into the pan.
Use a knife to swirl the batter to create a marble effect (make sure not to swirl too much). Gently shake or tap the pan on the counter to level out the batter. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Can I Use Another Type of Frosting?
I love the chocolate buttercream frosting on this easy marble cake recipe, but you can also frost it with classic vanilla buttercream, peanut butter frosting, or chocolate cream cheese frosting. Chocolate and vanilla pair well with pretty much anything!
- It’s important that you beat together the butter and sugar for about five minutes. This incorporates lots of air into the mixture and makes for a fluffier cake.
- If you don’t have cake flour or buttermilk, you can make your own substitutes. Here is my cake flour substitute and here is my buttermilk substitute.
- Be careful not to swirl the chocolate and vanilla batter together too much. You want the cake batter to have distinct swirls in it!
More Layer Cake Recipes to Try!
- 3 cups (345 grams) cake flour (spooned & leveled)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk (room temperature)
- ¼ cup (60 ml) canola or vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) pure vanilla extract
- ⅓ cup (30 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¼ cup (60 ml) hot water
- 1 cup (2 sticks, or 230 grams) unsalted butter (softened)
- 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs (room temperature)
- 1 ¼ cups (2.5 sticks, or 285 grams) unsalted butter (softened)
- 4 cups (480 grams) powdered sugar
- ⅔ cup (60 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 4 to 6 tablespoons (60 to 80 ml) whole milk
- 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
To make the marble cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray, line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper, and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together until well combined. Set aside.
- In a large bowl or measuring cup, whisk the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla extract together until well combined. Set aside.
- In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the cocoa powder and water together until well combined and no lumps remain. Set aside to cool.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld mixer, beat the butter until smooth.
- With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the granulated sugar. Once all of the sugar is added, increase the speed to medium and continue mixing for another 4 to 5 minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Mix in the eggs, one at a time, making sure to stop and scrape around the bottom and sides of the bowl after each egg.
- Add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the buttermilk mixture (begin and end with the dry ingredients) on low speed. Mix in each addition until just combined, making sure not to over mix the batter.
- Use a rubber spatula to scrape around the bottom and sides of the bowl to ensure that everything is well combined.
- Remove 2 cups (430 grams) of vanilla cake batter and transfer to a clean mixing bowl. Add the cocoa powder mixture and gently mix until well combined.
- Pour some of the vanilla cake batter into each pan (about 1 cup per pan) and spread around into one even layer. Alternate spoonfuls of the chocolate cake batter and remaining vanilla cake batter, making sure to evenly distribute both between the two pans.
- Use a knife to swirl the batter to create a marble effect (make sure not to swirl too much). Gently shake or tap the pans on the counter to level out the batter.
- Bake for 28 to 33 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Slide a knife around the outside of the cakes, then carefully remove the cakes from the pans, 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 a handheld mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth.
- Mix in the powdered sugar on low speed, one cup at a time, making sure to mix well after each addition.
- Add the cocoa powder, 4 tablespoons of milk, vanilla extract, and salt and mix on low-medium speed until fully combined, making sure to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl. If needed, add another 1 to 2 tablespoons of milk.
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. Place the second layer on top, then use the remaining frosting to frost the top and sides of the cake.