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!
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 cake, pistachio cake, cookies & cream cake, burnt sugar caramel cake, coconut cake, strawberry 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 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!)
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, chocolate chip scones, and even chocolate raspberry cake and this raspberry chocolate chip layer cake, 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. If it’s helpful, see this parchment paper rounds for cakes video & post.
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.
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.
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
Espresso Chocolate Chip Cake
- Prep Time: 40 minutes
- Cook Time: 26 minutes
- Total Time: 4 hours (includes cooling)
- Yield: serves 10-12
- Category: Dessert
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: American
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.
- 2 and 2/3 cups (315g) cake flour (spoon & leveled)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup (1.5 sticks; 170g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 5 teaspoons espresso powder
- 1 and 3/4 cups (350g) granulated sugar
- 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (120g) sour 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)
- 1 and 1/4 cups (2.5 sticks; 287g) unsalted 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
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 8-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper rounds, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans. (If it’s helpful, see this parchment paper rounds for cakes video & post.)
- Make the cake: Whisk the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Refrigerate cake for 10-20 minutes before slicing. This helps the cake hold its shape when cutting.
- Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- 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.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): Electric Mixer (Handheld or Stand) | 8-Inch Round Cake Pans | Cake Turntable | Icing Spatula | Ateco 849 Piping Tip | Disposable or Reusable Piping Bag | Espresso Powder
- 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.
- 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.
- Egg Whites: Egg whites (no yolks) are KEY to the cake’s fluffy texture.
- 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.
- Decaf: Feel free to substitute decaf coffee and decaffeinated espresso powder/instant coffee.
- 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.
- 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 vanilla 6 inch 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 Comments & Reviews
Tats yes good but wayyyyy too sweet! I’d go less than half the sugar portion that’s in the recipe.
Great recipe. Tons of flavor. I made modifications based on what I had on-hand. I swapped the espresso powder in the cake for the suggested amounts of instant coffee granules. I did add the espresso powder to the frosting. I used buttermilk because I didn’t have whole milk. I used three large, whole, eggs because I hated having leftover yolks/whites. I also subbed 80 grams of granulated sugar for brown sugar. I increased the volume of mini chocolate chips to 255 grams (just use all of what I had.) I also added a quarter teaspoon nutmeg to the dry mix.
For the frosting, I swapped the heavy cream/milk for four ounces of room-temp cream cheese. I decreased the confectioners sugar to 3 cups. Frosting was perfect. Cake definitely had the flavor of mocha and I highly approved! Per usual, this site provided a stupendous baked good recipe, only modified because I’m an experienced home baker. This cake was simple enough to put together, making it a great casual “weekday” cake. I baked in two 9-inch cake pans but I would bake in three layers if it were a gift or for a gathering. The batter yielded 6 cups of batter total so it was simple to divide evenly in cake pans.
Help! I made the buttercream and added extra expresso powder, now I think it’s too strong. Can I fix it? Thank you!
Hi Debbie, you could make another half batch of frosting (without espresso powder) and combine it. You’ll have extra frosting, so you can just spread more between the layers.
My 12 year old granddaughter wanted to make a cake for her mom for mother’s day, we chose this cake. All I can say is, OMG!! It was amazing!! We made a chocolate raspberry frosting and baked it in a bundt pan. This recipe is now at the top of the list for family favorites. Thanks Sally
where can I save your recipes without having to print the ones I love?
Hi Lynn, many readers will save the recipes as a favorite on their web browser. Hope this helps and thank you for making and trusting our recipes!
Do I have to use whole milk for the cake batter? Can use 1% or an alternate like almond milk? Looking forward to making this for my mother’s birthday!
Hi Sophy, a lower fat or non-dairy milk will work in a pinch, but the cake may not be as soft and tender. Hope it’s a hit!
Do I use the same quantities for a 9inch pan
Hi Dialah! See recipe notes: 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.
Thank you for the reply! With just two 9inch pans, would it still be high and look as nice as a 3 tiered 8inches?
Hi Dialah, it won’t be AS high as three layers, but should still look great!
I always have espresso powder in my house, but seldom have coffee. Can I replace the strong coffee with espresso powder and hot water, and if so how much espresso powder would you recommend? I love coffee flavor but not coffee, so I don’t know what strong coffee would taste like.
Hi Nancy, 1 teaspoon of espresso powder to one cup of hot water is usually the ratio for making a cup of espresso. You don’t need it quite as strong, so you can reduce the espresso powder to 3/4 teaspoon if desired.
Definitely a delicious cake – five stars from me and my entire family. My notes after tasting “very moist and light and packed with espresso flavor.” I didn’t have any mini chips so I chopped up an equal amount of Hershey’s chocolate bars and these worked great. The frosting is also delicious; it makes the perfect amount to frost a three-layer cake with enough left over to add some swirls to the top and a small border along the base. Thanks for another wonderful recipe!
I am a little confused about the expresso powder. Looking at the pictures it looks like you used Ferrara Instant Expresso coffee? I thought expresso power and instant expresso coffee were not the same? I have been to the supermarket and have not seen expresso powder.
Hi Debbie, they are the same thing. Some companies put “instant” in front, and others do not. Instant coffee is different; you’ll want to be sure you’re using instant espresso, or espresso powder.
I made this cake and it was so moist , however both cakes when in the oven dipped in the middle . I had not opened the door and it was midway into its bake. My friends loved the taste however, could not taste the espresso that much. I could not taste it at all!!!. Any advice would be grateful. I must say that I use a lot of your recipes for my small cake making business in France and they are all just gorgeous. The french however do not like cakes too sweet so I have to be careful !!!!!
Hi Lynn! You can definitely add more espresso powder to your taste. Did you bake the cakes in three 8 inch cake pans (or two 9 inch cake pans)? Using too much batter in a pan can cause it to sink. Also make sure to check that your baking powder and soda are fresh. We find they can lose strength after just 3-4 months.
I’ve been wanting to bake this recipe for a while and it did not disappoint. I’m not the biggest fan of icing but I loved it in this; almost more than the cake itself. The end result was delicious. Would definitely recommend.
I would love to try this cake. Is there a substitute for sour cream ? Yoghurt may be ?
Hi Tanu, you can use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.
Currently making this for the second time, for my husband’s birthday again. Everybody loved it last year and I consistently get requests from my family to make it again! They just call it “that coffee cake” so delicious!!
What a delicious cake! I made the cake in 4 6″ rounds because I needed to make 2 small layer cakes. One with the chocolate chips and one with toasted slivered almonds instead of the chocolate chips. It was a request as a birthday cake from a coffee lover but she doesn’t care for chocolate. I made the other to try and it was so good! Lovely texture and an amazing coffee flavor. The chocolate chips are a must as they really seem to enhance the flavor of the cake. The buttercream frosting was good alone but took the cake to another level. Thanks so much for another wonderful recipe.
I made this delicious cake yesterday in 2 – 9″ cake pans. Baked both together but one sank in the middle a wee bit after 10 mins or so of taking it out of the oven. The other cake was totally fine. However, when I went to layer the cakes, the one that had sunk a wee bit in the middle was 3/4 cm smaller in diameter than the other cake!!! I kid you not!. How could this be possible? I started baking in 2017 and have never had either of these 2 issues. Baked both cakes at the same time too. Do you know what could have gone wrong?
Hi Brenda, I can only guess that perhaps the one cake had too much batter in it? And therefore wasn’t done in the center, and sank which helped pull it from the sides of the pan (and be smaller). Do you think you put too much batter in 1?
Can I use whole plain yogurt instead of sour cream? (Trying not to make a special trip to the grocery store)
Hi Jena, you can use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.
I made this cake this morning. Came out perfect, just like the picture.
Can I freeze the batter?
Hi Grace, we don’t recommend it. See recipe notes for our recommended make-ahead instructions.
Fabulous! This is the second time making this cake and it came out even better than the first. The only possible difference was all the ingredients were definitely room temperature this time! No shortcuts! I used extra espresso powder and large dark chocolate chips (tossed in cake flour) and they evenly dispersed through the cake. But I think the cake would’ve been fabulous without them! This is really a great cake – those of you who had trouble with it maybe you should try it again? It is definitely a winner and made a beautiful Valentine’s gift! Wish I could attach the pics! It was absolutely beautiful!
Delicious! I made this today for a Superbowl party and it was a huge hit! I’m glad I had 2 pieces left to bring home.
Can you use 3 9in pans?
Yes, absolutely. See recipe notes for baking instructions (in the Amount of Cake Batter & Other Size Cakes note)!
The frosting was good…added extra espresso powder…the cake was pretty blamd…very little coffee flavor…and coated chocolate chips with flour and they still sunk…I l9ve most of Sally’s recipes I tried…especially the chocolate sugar cookie
.. bUT This is a no for me
I have just baked this recipe eggless with great trepidation. It rose beautifully with a few tricks that I have learned over the last 1 1/2 yrs. My kitchen smells amazing and I can’t wait to taste it tonight.
Kathy Anne, would you mind sharing how you made this eggless? I have friends you eat eggless cakes and I’d like to make it for them.
This one didn’t turn out that well for me. My cake was way too dense – I used a scale to measure ingredients. I don’t feeI I over mixed. I also felt the icing was a bit too sweet. Definitely tasted better served at room temp them straight out of fridge.
I made this for my birthday because I love coffee. This cake tasted delicious like coffee!! I coated mini chocolate chips in flour before putting it in and they did not sink to the bottom.
I also only had instant expresso so I added 2 teaspoons more to the batter because the recipe notes said that instant expresso is not as strong in flavor as expresso.
I’d like to add that my husband said that this cake was phenomenal!!!
Good afternoon! Should I use a 9×13 glass or metal pan?
Hi Mark, you can use either here. Enjoy the cake!
would the frosting work if I replaced the butter with cream cheese? I just don’t care for butter in frosting. Thank You
Hi RG, we’d recommend using our whipped frosting (uses cream cheese instead of butter). We would start by adding 1 teaspoon of espresso powder when you add the confectioners’ sugar. Let us know if you give it a try!
Hi Sally! Would you be able to bake this in three 6-inch cake pans instead?
Hi Beverly! See recipe Note titled “Amount of Cake Batter & Other Size Cakes” for tips on a 6 inch version. Enjoy!
Where are the Notes on Amount of Cake Batter and Other Size Cakes? I cannot locate.
Hi Patty! See recipe Notes section above this comment area, just under the recipe and video tutorial in the gray recipe card. It includes lots of helpful details!
First of all I love Sally’s recipes. This cake turned out very nice but was wondering how more of a chocolate or some chocolate in the frosting would be???? My daughter and I bought thought the same thing about the choc.
Hi Abby! For a more chocolate-y or mocha buttercream, you could use this chocolate frosting recipe and add 2 1/2 tsp espresso powder to that recipe. Sounds delicious!