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!

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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 (62g) 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

54 Comments

Comments are closed.

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

  2. Hi Sally

    I just made this cake today but have not tried it yet.  It’s for after dinner.  I have a question for you…what brand of cocoa did you use?  I used Ghiradelli and the color came out like mocha versus what you have.  The frosting tastes great but I like the deeper chocolate color.

    1. I used Hershey’s– you can try using Hershey’s special dark next time for a deeper color. Hope you enjoy.

  3. Oh my gosh! I just made this recipe in cupcakes and they are delicious! Thank you so much for this recipe, I think it’s my new favorite. 

  4. Coming back after the fact to say it was delicious! I still prefer the yellow bits to the chocolate bits, but that has nothing to do with the recipe and everything to do with me being weird. Definitely a keeper for when I need something pretty and yummy!

  5. For the chocolate batter, can I use Hershey’s Semi Sweet Baking Bar? Or something of higher quality?

    1. Mary, that works perfectly!

  6. Thank you for this great recipe! It is absolutely delicious! The chocolate parts almost taste like brownies. My only issue with this recipe was that it came out almost a little too soft and fell apart somewhat when I cut it into slices.

    I decorated the cake with chocolate ganache, which really took the cake to a new level! I also covered this cake in fondant as I was practicing my fondant skills. The fondant paired well with the flavors of the cake and everything turned out great! Thank you!

  7. Hi Sally, I made this cake for my daughter for her birthday and it came out very dense and dry 🙁 What did I do wrong? I really feel like I followed your recipe exactly, except I used regular eggs instead of egglands best. Help!

    1. Melissa, were you sure to sift the cake flour? It makes ALL the difference. Is your baking powder fresh? I replace mine every 3 months because I find it loses potency not much longer after that. Without proper lift, the cake will taste dense. Also, do you think you overmixed the batter? This is my highly tested marble cake so I am concerned that yours was dense.

  8. Hi Sally,

    I absolutely love your blog (and both of your cookbooks)–I’ve been following for about a year, and have used one of your recipes at least once every other week. Before I started using your recipes I really thought I was cursed in the kitchen, but every one of your recipes has turned out perfectly. So thank you!

    So far I have followed all of your instructions exactly, and I don’t want to mess anything up by diverging from what the recipe says. BUT I was wondering if you think this marble cake could work as a piñata cake. I’ve been dying to make this cake but I just found out my friend is having a baby, so I’d love to make it especially festive. Do you think that would work?

    Thanks again!

    1. Hey Alex! I’m glad my recipes help give you the confidence in the kitchen. 🙂 You can try this as a piñata cake– I’ve never attempted it but I can’t see why it wouldn’t work!

  9. Hi Sally,
    I made the marble cake and I’m not sure what happened but here’s my experience. Everything out and room temp, fresh cake flour and well baking powder was good but maybe not the freshest. Following directions and decided to make it in a 9×13 pan. I did forget to layer the yellow then chocolate and so on in that respect. But at that point I thought ok how much could that matter and there was nothing I could do at that point. Proceeded to bake and set the timer for 30 minutes thinking 40/45 seemed way to long and as it turned out for me the 30 minutes was too! The cake batter did seem very flat and the cake ended up not being very high. Also the icing I had to add a lot more heavy cream. So Sally can you help me out on things that I can improve on in making this the next time? Thank you and love your bakingaddiction!

    1. Sherry, there is so much batter and I wonder why the cake wasn’t very high? Thank you for sharing your experience; this helps! How about using a smaller baking pan– an 11×7 might be best. Or making it into a layer cake like I did.

  10. Love, love, love it! My kids said it was the best marble cake I baked so far. This one’s definitely a keeper. 

  11. Can the milk chocolate frosting be made a day ahead and then frost the cake the next day?

    1. Sure can!

  12. It did taste good but came out rubbery-like. It wasn’t fluffy and was just reading about the room temp ingredients. I used room temp butter and milk but not eggs, ugh! I think that is my problem. Also, I don’t have a stand mixer or paddle attachment for my hand mixer, could this be why it was rubbery?

  13. This recipe is just…amazing!!! People love it! Thanks for yet another great one!

  14. Corinne Coniglio says:

    Hi Sally, I made the 9″ cakes following directions exactly room temp ingredients and all and my layers are very flat. Any suggestions as to what went wrong? I have not frosted it yet because I may try it again tomorrow to see if it is any better.

  15. Hi Sally! Made this fabulous cake in a bundt pan and was one of the best cakes ever! Everyone loved it and not a crumb left. Your instructions for diy cake flour were perfect. Thanks again for all of your hard work perfecting your recipes and sharing the fruits of your labor! I don’t bother looking to anyone else for recipes- seriously. Never had a fail with any of your recipes.

  16. Hi Sally,
    I baked this yesterday. the taste was very good..but the cake turned out quite heavy. Should I beat it more to try to get a fluffy consistency?
    With kind regards,
    Rochelle

  17. Oh yeah baby….it’s as awesome as advertised. I was searching for a 2 layer marble cake recipe and stumbled upon yours. I was a little nervous about all those egg yolks but know that if I’m gonna make the effort to bake a cake from scratch I’m not gonna scrimp to try to be healthy! The eggs + yolks indeed made a super rich, moist, buttery yellow cake. This is incredible! 

  18. I made this. I’ve made a few recipes from this website (and I’ve made your soft pretzel bites about 1000 times. They have made very many American expats in Africa happy :D).

    This is the first I wouldn’t make again. I thought the flavors were a little boring, and the texture was too crumbly, I also didn’t find that it rose enough during baking. Could have been too moist flour is my guess? Either way, I had a bigger problem with the icing, which was just too sweet.

  19. I made this in a sheet cake yesterday. (33 minutes baking time for my 13×9) I followed the instructions  to a T. Absolute PERFECTION. This recipe is a keeper and I look forward to making it for years to come. 

  20. Holly Burrows says:

    Hi sally!
    Which type of cocoa powder do you find is better in your chocolate buttercream – dutch or unsweetened? I know you can use both, but just wondered your preference?

    1. Hi Holly! I personally love dutched cocoa in frosting.

  21. Does this really take 4 hrs or is that a typo because it doesn’t seem like it would take that long.

    1. Yep! Includes cooling.

  22. Rosa Argiero says:

    I have made this several times following the directions exactly and it is one of my favorite cake recipes! The chocolate swirls really do taste similar to a brownie. This is a keeper!!

  23. Hi Sally,

    Can I make this in a loaf pan? Would there be any changes in the recipe? Should I reduce the recipe measurements in half? An informative response would be nice. Thank you!

    1. Hi Lis! Halving the ingredients would be best. I’m unsure of the bake time. I have a recipe for marble pound cake in my first cookbook if you own a copy! 🙂

  24. What kind of cocoa do you use in your Milk Chocolate Frosting? Thank you!

    P.S. Is this your favorite chocolate frosting?

    1. Hi Lynn, for a pure chocolate frosting this one is my favorite! I usually use Hershey’s cocoa powder but also have used ghirardelli cocoa powder and a few others with equal success!

  25. Can I make 1 layer instead of 2 layers? I have a specific form shape that I want to try this marble cake with but only want 1 layer. Do I need to modify any of the quantities of the ingredients? I plan on making this on Friday for son’s birthday!

    Thanks in advance!!

    1. Hi Iva! I’ve only made this cake as pictured and instructed. The amount of batter you need depends on how much batter your pan holds. Let me know what you end up trying!

  26. Catherine Farchione says:

    Could I divide this mixtures into thirds and add pink colouring for a triple marble hit ??

    1. Hi Catherine! I haven’t tried it, but let me know how it goes if you do!

  27. Charlene Brown says:

    Hi Sally, I made this milk chocolate frosting for a different cake in July and it was the best I’ve ever had! So many compliments! I am baking cupcakes for a child’s birthday party tomorrow, will this be enough frosting for 24 cupcakes? Many thanks!!

    1. Hi Charlene! It should be, yes 🙂

  28. I made this cake yesterday in a bundt pan and it was just amazing! Everyone loved it and said it was one of the best cakes they had ever had, even better than bakery-made. I skipped the frosting and served it as-is. Oh, and I made the cake flour substitute and sifted it 3 times before using in the recipe, just to be sure, LOL. The result was wonderful. Thank you!!

  29. Hi: It was easy to make and delicious. Just like you said. Thank you!

  30. I just made finished baking this. I buttered the pans like you said, and now they are stuck to the pans. I should have floured the pans like I usually do. I am so disappointed!

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