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Pictured with 3 8-inch layers, this espresso chocolate chip cake combines a soft and moist cake flavored with espresso powder, strong coffee, plenty of chocolate chips, and ultra creamy espresso coffee buttercream. You can drink your coffee and eat it too with a towering slice of this homemade beauty!

espresso chocolate chip layer cake on blue plate

Giving a different meaning to coffee cake! It’s been a while since I developed a truly fabulous layer cake, but a dear friend’s birthday called for something special… and FLAVOR most certainly had to be on the menu! Simply put, this coffee-infused layer cake is nothing short of exquisite and there’s a few other ways to make it including as a sheet cake, 2 layer cake, cupcakes, and more. However you bake it, coffee lovers everywhere will rejoice.

Espresso Chocolate Chip Cake Details:

Like many of my cake recipes, I adapted this cake batter from my basic white cake batter. The white cake is a very popular cake recipe, both a personal and reader favorite. Between its pristine crumb, fluffy texture, and stick-to-your-fork moisture, it’s impossible not to love. It’s my gold standard when it comes to soft cakes, so I’ve used it to produce many other flavors including pineapple coconut cakepistachio cakecookies & cream cakeburnt sugar caramel cakecoconut cakestrawberry cake, and today’s espresso variation. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Texture: Thanks to a careful ratio of cake flour, leaveners, egg whites (no yolks), and sour cream, liquid, we have a balance of soft, springy, and moist in each bite. You’ll only achieve this texture perfection if you follow the recipe closely, which is my #1 piece of advice for baking cakes. Note that I slightly increased the flour and reduced the egg whites from the original batter because introducing a thinner liquid (coffee) threw things off.
  • Flavor: Do you like chocolate and coffee together? For many coffee drinkers, it’s a match made in heaven! In fact, I was going to call this a mocha cake, but coffee is truly the main flavor and the chocolate chips are little extras.
  • Ease: If you’ve baked layer cakes before, this shouldn’t be difficult. But if you’re new to layer cakes, don’t be nervous because stacking and frosting the cooled cakes isn’t anything fancy. I like to keep decoration simple.
  • Time: Set aside at least 4 hours to complete this recipe which includes making the cake, cooling completely, and frosting/assembling. Don’t forget to bring your cold ingredients and hot coffee to room temperature before starting.
espresso chocolate chip layer cake

Espresso Powder & Strong Coffee

Most layer cake recipes require liquid and today’s uses 1/3 cup (80ml) strong black brewed coffee and 2/3 cup (160ml) milk. Brewed coffee alone did not provide enough flavor in this cake, so we’ll also use 5 teaspoons of espresso powder. (Yes 5! This is a lot of cake batter.) You could dissolve espresso powder IN the coffee, but I found its flavor came through better when creamed with the butter.

  • Do I have to use both coffee and espresso powder? Yes, for the best results, I strongly recommend using both. The cake did not have nearly enough flavor otherwise.
  • Can I just use brewed espresso instead of coffee and espresso powder? I don’t recommend it. To ensure there’s enough coffee flavor in the cake, you would need more than 1/3 cup (80ml) espresso and replacing more milk with fat free liquid creates a wet, spongey cake.
  • Where to find espresso powder? Most major grocery stores carry it in the coffee aisle.
  • Can I use instant coffee instead of espresso powder? You can, but you’ll need more instant coffee because it’s not nearly as concentrated. Instant coffee is dehydrated ground coffee, while espresso powder is brewed dark roast coffee that’s dried and ground very finely. Espresso powder is often used in baking and if you pick up a jar, you can use it in any of these recipes that call for espresso powder.

You will also use espresso powder in today’s frosting. For the most flavor AND to preserve a creamy consistency, use espresso powder in the coffee buttercream rather than brewed coffee. The buttercream is certainly sweet, but the espresso powder’s strong and bitter flavor helps offset the sweetness. Though you’ll see the espresso powder flecks and certainly taste the flavor, the powder’s granules are sufficiently broken down. So don’t worry… the frosting isn’t granular.

When you’re making the cake batter, you’ll notice the creamed butter, sugar, and espresso powder mixture (pictured on the right below) isn’t very fluffy. That’s expected because compared to other cake recipes this size, there isn’t a ton of butter. (Sour cream makes up some of the fat!)

espresso powder and creamed butter sugar mixture
espresso chocolate chip cake batter
espresso chocolate chip cake layers before and after baking

Success Tips: Espresso Chocolate Chip Cake

The full printable recipe is below.

  • Use Room Temperature Ingredients: All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the cake batter mixes together evenly. Simply put, cold ingredients won’t properly combine to produce a smooth, light cake crumb. Likewise, bring your brewed coffee to room temperature as well. In the cake batter pictured above, my coffee was actually *slightly* warm and you can see that there was some slight fat (butter) separation. The finished cake was just fine, but for best results, I recommend ensuring everything is room temperature.
  • Follow the recipe closely: Following a recipe as written sounds obvious, but it’s often ignored. We change recipes like reducing sugar, using all-purpose instead of cake flour, baking soda for powder, whole eggs instead of just whites, etc. Don’t sabotage your time, effort, and money by straying from the original recipe unless you’re after a different flavor and texture.
  • Mini Chocolate Chips: Just as I recommend for chocolate chip loaf cake and chocolate chip scones, use mini chocolate chips. Why? So you can enjoy tiny pockets of chocolate in every single bite! Mini = more.
  • Prep Cake Pans: From one baker to another– I love the quality and performance of Fat Daddio’s cake pans. (I’m not working with this brand, just a fan!) And when it comes to prepping round cake pans, I use parchment paper rounds. Trace the bottom of the cake pans on a large piece of parchment paper and then cut out the circles. Then, very lightly grease the cake pans with butter or nonstick spray, place the parchment round inside, and then grease the parchment round too. This promises an ultra non-stick environment for your cake.
More Cake Success Tips

For more success tips I’ve learned through recipe testing, see my 10 Baking Tips for Perfect Cakes. Or, if you’re a cake beginner, subscribe to my free Cake Baking Email Course.

espresso coffee buttercream
3 layered espresso chocolate chip cake on cake stand and pictured from the top with piped buttercream

Starbucks on a Cake Stand!

There’s no denying that the espresso chocolate chip cake is flavorful on its own, but pairing it with coffee buttercream transforms it into Starbucks on a Cake Stand. (LOL I couldn’t resist.) For a more subdued coffee flavor, you could certainly pair the cake with plain Swiss meringue buttercream and I suggest that over American-style vanilla buttercream because its mild sweetness will not overpower the coffee flavor.

If you love this frosting, you’ll probably enjoy it with coconut cake, chocolate cake, and vanilla cake too. And if you’re looking for more coffee-inspired desserts, try these Baileys & Coffee Cupcakes.

Filling & Frosting Espresso Chip Cake

The coffee buttercream yields just enough for filling the cake, lightly frosting the exterior, and simple piping around the top. Chocolate covered coffee beans are fun garnish, but feel free to skip them. You could even dress up the cake with chocolate curls, chocolate chips, or chocolate sprinkles instead.

3 layer espresso chocolate chip cake slice

PS: Custom printed forks are always so much fun. 🙂 Message that Etsy seller for custom sayings! She was super responsive and the Baking is Life fork turned out wonderfully!

Print
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espresso chocolate chip layer cake on blue plate

Espresso Chocolate Chip Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 40 minutes
  • Cook Time: 26 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours (includes cooling)
  • Yield: serves 1012 1x
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Coffee lovers will enjoy every slice of this soft, moist, and flavorful espresso chocolate chip layer cake. Review the recipe notes before beginning and make sure all ingredients (hot & cold) are brought to room temperature before starting.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 and 2/3 cups (315gcake flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1.5 sticks; 170gunsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 5 teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1 and 3/4 cups (350ggranulated sugar
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (120gsour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup (160ml) whole milk, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) brewed strong black coffee, at room temperature
  • 1 and 1/4 cups (225g) mini chocolate chips (see note)

Coffee Buttercream

  • 1 and 1/4 cups (2.5 sticks; 287gunsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder, plus more to taste
  • 5 cups (560g) sifted confectioners’ sugar (sift before measuring)
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) heavy cream or whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • optional: chocolate covered espresso beans for garnish

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 8-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, and grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans.
  2. Make the cake: Whisk the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside.
  3. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter, espresso powder, and sugar together on medium-high speed until combined and creamy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Beat in the egg whites until combined, and then add the sour cream and vanilla extract. Beat until combined. Mixture may look curdled as a result of the varying textures and solid butter combining. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. Pour in the dry ingredients, turn the mixer on low speed and with the mixer running, slowly pour in the milk and coffee. Beat on low speed until combined, and then beat in the chocolate chips just until combined. Whisk it all by hand to make sure there are no butter lumps at the bottom of the bowl. The batter will be slightly thick. Do not overmix.
  4. Pour batter evenly into cake pans. Bake for around 25-28 minutes or until the cakes are baked through. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. Allow cakes to cool in the pans set on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edges and then remove from pans. Allow cakes to cool completely set on a wire rack. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling.
  5. Make the frosting: In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, beat the butter and espresso powder together on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, cream/milk, vanilla extract, and salt. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds and then switch to high speed and beat for 2 minutes. Taste and beat in more espresso powder to taste if desired. I usually add another 1/4 teaspoon for more flavor. Yields about 4 cups frosting.
  6. Assemble and decorate: If your cakes are domed on top, very carefully use a large serrated knife to slice a thin layer off the tops to create a flat surface. Discard (or crumble over ice cream!). Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand, cake turntable, or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with about 3/4 cup frosting. I use and recommend an icing spatula to apply the frosting. Top with 2nd cake layer and spread about 3/4 cup frosting on top. Place 3rd layer on top and frost the sides and top with remaining frosting. A bench scraper is helpful to smooth the sides and feel free to pipe any frosting on top– I used Ateco 849 piping tip to pipe a border around the pictured cake.
  7. Refrigerate cake for 10-20 minutes before slicing. This helps the cake hold its shape when cutting.
  8. Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: The cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Likewise, the frosting can be prepared then covered and refrigerated overnight. When ready to decorate, let the frosting sit at room temperature to slightly soften for 15 minutes, then give it one more mix with the mixer on medium speed for about 1 minute before frosting cake. (Add a splash of milk to thin out frosting if needed.) Frosted cake or unfrosted cake layers can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before decorating/serving.
  2. Cake Flour: For the best results, I strongly recommend cake flour. You can find cake flour in the baking aisle and I have many more recipes using it. If you’re in a pinch, you can use a DIY cake flour substitute but the cake won’t taste as light and soft.
  3. Espresso Powder: Use espresso powder in both the cake batter and frosting and see headnotes above for more information on the espresso powder. Most major grocery stores carry espresso powder in the coffee aisle. For the best results, I strongly recommend using both espresso powder and strong black coffee in the cake batter. I don’t recommend using brewed espresso instead of the combo of brewed coffee and espresso powder (see notes above). You can use instant coffee instead of espresso powder, but you’ll need more instant coffee because it’s not nearly as concentrated. I recommend at least 3 Tbsp of instant coffee.
  4. Egg Whites: Egg whites (no yolks) are KEY to the cake’s fluffy texture.
  5. Chocolate Chips: I recommend mini chocolate chips. Some readers have reported that the mini chocolate chips sink. You can coat in 2 teaspoons of all-purpose flour before adding to the batter. If you can’t get your hands on mini chocolate chips, replace with the same amount of regular size chocolate chips. If using regular size, coat them in 2 teaspoons of flour first or else they may sink as the layers bake. Or feel free to omit chocolate chips altogether.
  6. Decaf: Feel free to substitute decaf coffee and decaffeinated espresso powder/instant coffee.
  7. Room Temperature: All refrigerated ingredients and hot coffee should be at room temperature so the cake batter mixes together easily and evenly. If you’d like to learn more, here’s information about why room temperature ingredients are important in baking.
  8. Amount of Cake Batter & Other Size Cakes: This recipe yields 6 cups of batter, which is helpful if you need it for different Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions. Because of its light yet moist texture, this cake is best as a layer cake. However, if you want to try it as a 9×13 inch cake, simply pour the batter into a greased and lightly floured 9×13 inch pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Feel free to halve the frosting. For a 2 layer cake, prepare two 9-inch cake pans in step 1. Divide batter between pans and bake for 30 minutes or until cooked through. I wouldn’t reduce the frosting amount. For a bundt cake, generously grease and lightly flour a 10-cup or larger bundt pan. I’m unsure of the exact bake time (likely around an hour), but use a toothpick to test for doneness. Same oven temperature. For 2-3 dozen cupcakes, fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake at 350°F (177°C) for 19-21 minutes. For a 3 layer 6 inch cake, use my 6 inch vanilla cake recipe and add 3 teaspoons espresso powder when creaming the butter and sugar. Replace 1/4 cup (60ml) milk with strong black coffee and add 1 cup (180g) mini chocolate chips. Add 2-3 teaspoons espresso powder to the frosting or to taste.

Keywords: espresso chocolate chip cake

Reader Questions and Reviews

    1. Hi Julia, if you bring the cold brewed coffee to room temperature, that should work. Let us know how it goes!

  1. I had high hopes for this recipe, since the flavor combination sounded so delicious. Unfortunately, the cake turned out extremely crumbly. I actually had trouble removing the parchment paper from the layers, which never, ever happens! :(. Not sure what I did wrong! ? I used Bobs red mill unbleached fine cake flour (which I weighed), used room temperature ingredients and followed the recipe. I expect a cake flour to produce a more tender crumb, but this was too much and it practically fell apart as I was frosting it!

    The coffee flavor was delicious, however and my mini chocolate chips were dispersed evenly, which was also good. The whipped frosting was light and airy and also yummy.

    I usually have great success with your recipes, so not sure what happened with this one! Thanks for any advice, Sally. 🙂

  2. I have made this twice now. I rarely toot my own horn, but I LOVE how this cake turns out. if you’re a fan of coffee, don’t hesitate to make this. I also dusted the top of the finished cake with instant espresso powder …sooo good. this recipe is certainly being added to my personal list of keepers!

  3. I have made this twice now. I rarely toot my own horn, but I LOVE how this cake turns out. if you’re a fan of coffee, don’t hesitate to make this. I also dusted the top of the finished cake with instant espresso powder …sooo good. this recipe is certainly being added to my personal list of keepers!

  4. Hey sally, would baking s 9inch, 8inch, and 6 inch cake work for this batter? I only have 1 of each of these size pans so in order to be able to make this, I was trying to get creative. I would just cut off the edges of the 9 and 8 inch cakes to match the 6inch, making it a 3 layer 6 inch cake in the end

    1. Hi Allison, we’re unsure of the amount of batter that would be needed for those size cake pans. You can use one pan, baking the layers one a a time and leaving the batter covered at room temperature in the mean time. Let us know what you try!

  5. Made this for a birthday celebration. It is INCREDIBLE! Thanks to your very clear instructions and measurements by weight my cake looks exactly like your pictures. It is incredibly moist, light and tender! And so packed full of flavor! The frosting is just as fantastic! The only substitution I made was for the chocolate chips: I didn’t have any mini chips so I used Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bars, chopped into small bits instead. This worked beautifully: they dispersed evenly through the batter and they held their shape during baking. This one’s going in the repeat pile! Thank you!

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