Marble Cake Recipe

The best marble cake I’ve ever had. And here’s how you can make it.

slice of marble layer cake on a white plate

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.

marble layer cake with milk chocolate frosting on a yellow cake stand

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
  • Boring!

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.

2 images of creamed butter and sugar for yellow cake in a metal bowl with a paddle attachment and yellow cake batter in a metal bowl with a whisk

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. 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. In a pinch, you can make your own cake flour substitute. Baking powder gives the cake its lift. 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 makes a wonderful 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?

swirling melted chocolate into yellow cake batter in a glass bowl with a spoon

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.

chocolate cake batter in a glass bowl with a spoon

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:

2 images of yellow and chocolate cake batter in a cake pan before and after marbling the two batters together

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.

milk chocolate frosting in a glass bowl with a spatula

Welcome to my happy place.

slice of marble layer cake on a white plate with a fork

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!

Print
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slice of marble layer cake on a white plate

Marble Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 1 hour
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours, 30 minutes
  • Yield: serves 10
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

The best marble cake I’ve ever had. And here’s how you can make it.


Ingredients

  • 2 cups (236g) cake flour (spoon & leveled)*
  • 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 temperature*
  • 4 ounces (113g) bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped*

Milk Chocolate Frosting

  • 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

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Spray or lightly butter two 9-inch cake pans. Set aside.
  2. Make the cake: Sift the cake flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Cover any leftover cake and store at room temperature for 2-3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 9×13 Cake: This cake can be baked into one 9×13 pan for about 35 minutes, give or take. Layer the batters, use a knife to swirl.
  4. Vanilla Frosting: Instead of chocolate, you can use this vanilla frosting if desired. It is the perfect amount for thick layers of frosting.
  5. Room Temperature Ingredients: Here is why the ingredients must be at room temperature.
  6. Cake Flour: If you can’t get your hands on cake flour, use this cake flour substitute.
  7. Buttermilk: You can substitute whole milk for buttermilk if desired. (Acidic buttermilk isn’t needed in order for the cake to rise since we’re using baking powder.) You can use lower fat or nondairy milk in a pinch, but the cake won’t taste as rich and moist.
  8. Chocolate: I recommend Lindt or Ghirardelli chocolates, or Trader Joe’s pound plus bar. Do not use low quality chocolate or chocolate chips.
  9. Adapted from The Great Milky Way Cake in Sally’s Candy Addiction.

Keywords: marble cake, cake

260 Comments

Comments are closed.

  1. Dear Sally,

    To say this cake is a masterpiece is an understatement. I love it. You have outdone yourself here. Thank you!

    Sally, believe me it’s so hard to write this. I have been following you over 3 years. Nothing would have made me happier to have seen you in Orange County. I HONESTLY wanted to come. But my baby is really young and my hubby will be too busy with work to take care of her. Its just too much hassle/driving for me if I bring the baby to the signing I unfortunately can’t make it.
    I know I will meet you next time when you come again to California with your next book. 😉 (no pressure, haha) You are so amazing and I love you!! 🙂 Hugs P.S. sorry its so darn hot here!

    1. Laura ~ Raise Your Garden says:

      WIth 2 feet of snow where I live, I’m not sure anyone would complain about heat! 

      Anyhow, loved your bottomless chips & salsa Chili’s analogy here Sally ~ just made me laugh! When it comes to cakes (and I’m sure other’s feel this way too!) I always ask myself ….is this going to be worth it or should I just make a boxed cake? This looks worth it. 

      1. I KNEW you’d appreciate the Chili’s line 😉

    2. I remember you specifically asking for the LA signing, Iram! So I’m sad to miss you but no worries at all. Baby comes first! 🙂 I will certainly be back!

  2. Heather (Delicious Not Gorgeous) says:

    love all the chocolate in the recipe! it’s great when the parts that look chocolatey actually taste like it too (:

  3. Averie @ Averie Cooks says:

    What a beauty! This way I don’t have to choose between chocolate and yellow cake. Actually, when yellow cake is done right, I prefer it to chocolate. And this looks moist and scrumptious and then with the frosting…mmm!

  4. Andrea | Cooking with a Wallflower says:

    This marble cake is sooo gorgeous! And that milk chocolate frosting sounds so dreamy. I’ve actually never made cake before, but now I’m so tempted to make it as soon as possible!

  5. Amber Harding says:

    I’d also add – marvelous cake!

  6. Bernice @ Doughverload says:

    how exquisite! the best of both worlds!

  7. Taylor @ Food Faith Fitness says:

    This cake is pure perfection in my eyes! I can’t even stop starring… or drooling over it! LOVE LOVE LOVE!

  8. Lynn @ Fresh April Flours says:

    Before I ever made a marble cake from scratch myself, I could never figure out how the swirls got there. I felt like an idiot once I learned, hahaha. Beautiful as always, Sally! 🙂

  9. You’re so right about most marble cakes and the chocolate flavor. Why do they even bother? It’s barely discernible. This is the first marble cake recipe I’m actually going to try because you’ve renewed my faith that there can be CHOCOLATE in the marble!

  10. Marina @ A Dancer's Live-It says:

    All I can say is WOW! This might be the best cake I’ve ever seen. As always, thank you for your thorough steps and breakdowns to make this recipe accessible to anyone. You’re fabulous!! <3 

  11. Del's cooking twist says:

    Wow, this marble cake is absolutely fantastic! I would like to have my birthday everyday just to have a good excuse to bake it. But in the meantime, I will for sure bake it for my friend’s birthday(s). I’ve got to check who is next on the list, can’t wait!! 🙂

  12. Ellen @ My Uncommon Everyday says:

    So pretty! I love how marble cake is the best of both chocolate and vanilla worlds – why choose when you can just put them together?! As always, thanks for all the time and effort you put into developing the perfect variation! 🙂

    1. You’re welcome! I truly appreciate the thanks!

  13. demeter | beaming baker says:

    Sally, I so know what you have been through with marble cake!! This cake is a beast! I went 5 straight years making a marble cake for Erik’s birthday every year. And then, I just gave up. That thing is hard! So now I know that part of the reason why it didn’t pan out (pun intended) is b/c I wasn’t using pure chocolate. Plus, I didn’t have this recipe! 😉 Now I’m getting that baker fever in my veins (insane excitement+adventurous thrill) to make this! I’m like Jude when you get home now. LOL. P.S. I take it this recipe will be in your next cookbook??? 🙂

    1. This purely a blog recipe for all my readers to enjoy for free 🙂 You must try it!

  14. Linda @ Today She Loves says:

    This morning I decided to stay away from sweets as much as I can. After seeing this recipe, I’ll just start on Monday. 

    Also, what do you think or an orange, lemon AND lime all combined cake? 

    1. Would be divine!

  15. Sally, a million thanks and more for all your hard work over the yearS to get to this exquisite moment of a triumphant recipe, “serve it on a platter” and “spoon feed” it to us!!! I am a huge grateful fan of your work! will try this one out tomorrow itself.

    Would appreciate if you could share the exact measurements (in gms) of plain flour and  cornstarch to make cake flour since exact measurements seem to be critical here……websites indicate different cup measure to gms conversions of the two. Unfortunately, we don’t find cake flour sold separately out here. Thks a bunch.

    1. Updated! Enjoy, Nona.

  16. Cheese and Chinese says:

    Hmmm delicious, one of my faves! 

  17. Oh, Sally! This cake is stunning, and that frosting though! So drooling over this! Not sure when I’ll get time to bake a cake again. My newborn is taking up all of my time.

  18. Marble cake is my favorite and I’ve tried numerous times to make it work but it’s never as good as I want it to be.  I think I’m going to give this a shot this weekend!  It looks perfect.  Thanks!

  19. Sally,

    This cake looks fabulous! I actually made a marble cake like this off of your marble cupcake recipe and that came out really good but now I must try it this way with cake flour and pure chocolate! 

    1. This layer cake is much moister than the marble cupcakes turned into a cake. You’ll love this!

  20. Wow Sally this cake is stunning! It’s also perfect for someone like me who always gets stuck deciding exactly what kind of birthday cake they want. I’ve tried your marbled cupcakes before (and they are exquisite) but nothing is better than placing a giant layer cake in front of all your dinner guests and cutting into it 🙂 

    1. LOVE the marble cupcakes! But they don’t make the best possible marble layer cake… certainly not as moist as this one!

  21. OMG! You just ruined my healthy eating plans for the remainder of this week lol. This cake sounds so good. Love how you mentioned that using good quality chocolate makes a huge difference. I will definitely be making this soon!

  22. lisa @ garlicandzest.com says:

    Sally,  My niece insists on marble cake for her birthday every year – and yours is — well, perfect!  Thanks!

  23. Too thick. You need liquid.

  24. Ooh, this looks amazing. I’ve made your triple chocolate cake before (twice). But I LOVE marble cake (and marble-frosted donuts), so I’ll have to give this a try! Ooh! Maybe I’ll make some vanilla frosting and drizzle it on top of the chocolate frosting, just like the donuts!

  25. Sally– once again– THANK YOU for doing all the work for us and perfecting this recipe. My husband’s birthday is next week, and though he prefers a bakery cake w/ lots of roses made from frosting (yes, he prefers it over homemade and it took me years to get over my feelings being hurt that he would rather have me BUY him a cake than make one!! ha ha) I may just try this one anyway, just for an excuse to make it! I’ve also always thought a marble cake basically just tasted like a yellow cake mixed w/ brown colored cake. But this will be wonderful I’m sure! You can just see how moist it is from your beautiful pictures.

    BTW, that shot of San Fran was amazing!!! Great Cook, Great photographer– good job Sally!

    1. Thanks so much for the compliment on the photo, Lisa! And I hope that you both love this marble cake. I’m so glad to finally have a marble cake recipe that works wonders!

  26. Hi Sally- I just made your wonderful funfetti cupcakes for my family again last night (and a few mini ones to boot!) and now have added this recipe to my to do list. One of the few things that keeps me sane is trying out new recipes. Maybe I can week in order to justify eating more cake :0). I love your blog and your two cookbooks!

    Thanks Sally.

    1. Happy my website helps keep your head on straight 😉 Baking keeps me sane too!

  27. You are spoiling me!  This cake is in the oven as we speak.   thx – keep em coming!

  28. Hi Sally! Another masterpiece from you! I can’t wait to make it!! But.. I was just told I won an award today. It includes a trip to Hawaii! I CAN’T STOP baking since I found you!! How am I going to make this and not eat it!!! Lol oh well! I guess I need to kick up my excersise into high gear! Or just keep bringing it all in to work! Thank you!

  29. What is the baking time if I wanted to make this cake in a tube pan?

    1. I’m unsure.

  30. Dina Ricciardi says:

    I. cannot. wait. to. make. this.  Pure perfection! 

    1. Dina Ricciardi says:

      P.S. THANK YOU for all of your time and effort to make it perfect! 

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