Marble Cake Recipe with Step-by-Step Photos
It’s been a long time coming, but I finally have a marble cake recipe to share with you! This recipe is years in the making– in fact, I wanted to publish a marble cake in my first cookbook but couldn’t perfect a recipe in time. (Though there is a marble pound cake recipe in that book!) Three years, 2 cookbooks, and 23 mediocre marble cakes later, here we are.
To say I’m excited is an understatement. Like we’re talking tooth fairy excited, santa claus excited, snow day excited, omg I get to lick the brownie batter bowl excited, bottomless chips and salsa at Chili’s excited, Jude whenever I walk in the door excited, Kevin eating chicken wings excited, uhh… you get the point.
Things are about to get awesome.
Here’s the gist of today’s recipe:
This Marble Cake Is
- Simple and straightforward
- Tender and moist
- Soft and cakey
- Infinitely buttery
- Classic birthday cake status!
- Better than a box
- Slathered with milk chocolate frosting
This Marble Cake Is Not
- Difficult to make
- Dry and bland
- From a box
- Lacking chocolate flavor like most marble cakes do
Let’s walk through the steps real quick so you know exactly what you’re doing in the kitchen. An overload of step photos in your scrolling future.
The first thing we’re going to do is prepare a basic yellow cake batter (photo above, right). You only need 1 batter for this marble cake recipe. The chocolate batter is made from the yellow batter. So, it all starts out the same! The yellow cake batter can also be left plain to make a traditional yellow layer cake. But since I’m on a chocolate binge with my recipes lately (sorry?), we’re adding chocolate to the batter to make it a marble cake. Like, real chocolate. More on that in a sec.
The basic yellow cake batter is super straightforward. Let’s discuss the ingredients. You need cake flour, not all-purpose flour. This recipe must be made with cake flour. No ifs ands or buts. Cake flour has a lower protein content than all-purpose, which correlates to a lighter crumbed cake. Like the light, airy cakes from box mixes. All-purpose flour will make your cake heavy, dense, and bread-like. You can make your own cake flour substitute using cornstarch and all-purpose flour, as noted in the recipe below, but I strongly suggest just buying cake flour. Baking powder gives the cake its lift. Do not use baking soda. Even though we will be using buttermilk as the liquid in the batter, we are using baking powder. Buttermilk (an acid) is usually paired with baking soda, but the purpose of buttermilk in this marble cake recipe isn’t for its acidity. Rather, it’s for flavor and moisture. Buttermilk is the secret to the super moist texture. Whole milk would be the only substitution.
Like most traditional cakes, creamed butter and sugar is the base of the entire marble cake. (Photo above, left.) And, like usual, I use a mix of granulated sugar and brown sugar in today’s recipe. You know I can’t live without my beloved brown sugar. Moisture! Flavor! You’d be silly not to use it in a giant cake like this.
Eggs. Everything! Specifically, egg yolks. Have I drilled it into your head yet? Egg yolks (fat) give baked goods their moisture, tenderness, richness, and flavor. Not to mention its color. Yellow egg yolks = yellow cake. You’ll need 2 whole eggs, plus an additional 4 egg yolks. You’ll have 4 egg whites leftover, so make yourself a super healthy egg white omelet to balance out all the slices of marble cake you’ll be eating. Is that genius or what?
Once the yellow cake batter is prepared, set 1 cup of it aside. Mix in 4 ounces of pure, high quality chocolate. We’re talking the real chocolate, not chocolate chips or even cocoa powder. Pure chocolate bars– the kind you find in the baking aisle, like Lindt or Ghirardelli. You can also use Trader Joe’s pound plus bar. In my recipe testing, I tried several marble cakes using cocoa powder and the results just do NOT compare to marble cake made with pure chocolate.
Pure chocolate makes the chocolate swirls taste like decadent chocolate cake.
All you’ll do is melt the chocolate and stir it into 1 cup of the yellow batter. Photo above: poured in. Photo below: stirred together. The chocolate batter will be quite thick.
Now let’s create that marbled beauty! It’s so easy. Pour a base of yellow batter into each cake pan. Spoon chocolate batter on top. Spoon remaining yellow batter on top of that. Grab a knife and swirl it all around. Like so:
It doesn’t have to be neat or perfect. The haphazardness of the batters swirled together makes the cake extra charming.
Now it’s time to bake. The cake layers take anywhere from 22-27 minutes, give or take. All ovens are different, so I suggest using an oven thermometer to ensure your oven is at the correct temperature (my oven runs hot; thermometer saves the day!) and use a toothpick to test the cake’s doneness.
Once the cakes are baked and cooled, it’s time to assemble and frost. Speaking of, I’m sure you’ve tried my legendary milk chocolate frosting by now. It’s made several appearances in both cookbooks and on my blog as well. I’m completely obsessed. It’s like the old-fashioned chocolate buttercream my grandmother used to make. Smooth and creamy, rich and thick. Smothered between and all around homemade marble cake, it’s nothing short of extraordinary.
Welcome to my happy place.
As always, straying from the written recipe and instructions will yield different results. There’s a reason this cake took me so long to perfect… it’s all in the precision and ratio of specific ingredients and mixing techniques. I advise you to follow the recipe as directed first then make any adjustments you see fit next time.
Plenty of recipe notes for you in case you have questions. Enjoy this classic beauty!
- 2 cups (230g) cake flour (spoon & leveled)1
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (230g; 2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (100g) tightly packed light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 4 large egg yolks, at room temperature
- 1 Tablespoon (15ml) pure vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup (160ml) buttermilk, at room temperature2
- 4 ounces (113g) bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped3
- 1 and 1/4 cups (284g; 2.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 3 and 1/2 cups (420g) confectioners' sugar
- 3/4 cup (65g) natural unsweetened or dutch-process cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup (60ml) heavy cream, half-and-half, or whole milk
- optional: chocolate or rainbow sprinkles for decorating
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Spray or lightly butter two 9-inch cake pans. Set aside.
- Make the cake: Sift the cake flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.
- With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed in a large bowl until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the granulated and brown sugars and beat on high speed for 3-4 minutes until creamed. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. With the mixer running on low speed, add the eggs then the egg yolks one at a time, then add the vanilla extract. Beat on medium-high speed until combined. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. With the mixer running on low speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk and mixing each addition just until incorporated. Do not overmix. Use a whisk to rid any large lumps, if needed. The batter will be slightly thick.
- Remove 1 cup of yellow batter and pour into a medium bowl. Melt 4 ounces of chocolate in the microwave, stopping and stirring every 20 seconds until completely smooth. Pour chocolate into the 1 cup of yellow batter you set aside and stir until combined.
- Pour an even layer of the yellow batter into each cake pan. Spoon chocolate batter on top, as shown in the photo above. Pour remaining yellow batter on top of the chocolate. Using a knife, swirl the two batters together. Don't worry if it's not perfect.
- Bake the layers for 22-27 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one cake comes out clean. Mine usually take 24 minutes. During bake time, loosely cover the cakes with aluminum foil if you find the tops are browning too quickly. Remove cakes from the oven and allow to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack.
- Make the frosting: With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the butter on high speed in a large bowl until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add confectioners' sugar, cocoa powder, salt, vanilla, and cream with the mixer running on low. Once added, increase to high speed and beat for 3 full minutes. Add 1-2 more Tablespoons confectioners' sugar if frosting is too thin or 1-2 more Tablespoons of cream if frosting is too thick. Taste the frosting and add a pinch more salt if it's too sweet.
- Frost and assemble cake: If needed, level cakes to create a flat surface (I usually use a knife, be careful doing this!). Place 1 cake layer on a cake stand or large serving plate. Evenly spread about 3/4 cup frosting on top. Top with 2nd cake and spread the remaining frosting all over the sides and top. Decorate with sprinkles if desired. Slice and serve.
- Cover any leftover cake and store at room temperature for 2-3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Make ahead tip: To prepare 1 day in advance, keep baked cakes covered at room temperature and refrigerate prepared frosting in an airtight container. Bring frosting to room temperature before spreading. Frosted cake can be frozen up to 2 months; thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.
Cupcakes: This recipe can be made into about 30 cupcakes. Simply layer a spoonful of each batter into the cupcake wrappers, filling each only halfway. Swirl with a toothpick. Bake the cupcakes for 20 minutes.
9x13 cake: This cake can be baked into one 9x13 pan for about 35 minutes, give or take. Layer the batters, use a knife to swirl.
Vanilla frosting: Instead of chocolate, you can use this vanilla frosting if vanilla is your preference. It is the perfect amount for thick layers of frosting.
Room temperature ingredients: Here is why the ingredients must be at room temperature.
- You need cake flour for this cake. No substitutions. You can make 2 cups of DIY cake flour by sifting together 1 and 3/4 cups (219g) all-purpose flour with 1/4 cup (27g) cornstarch. Once sifted (imperative to sift), you can use in the recipe.
- I highly advise you use buttermilk in this marble cake recipe, low fat buttermilk or full fat buttermilk works. The only substitution would be whole milk, no other milks. Trust me on this one.
- I recommend Lindt or Ghirardelli chocolates, or Trader Joe's pound plus bar. Do not use low quality chocolate or chocolate chips.
Adapted from The Great Milky Way Cake in Sally's Candy Addiction
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