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

260 Comments

Comments are closed.

  1. Hi Sally , I have SR cake flour , can this be used instead of the plain cake flour and then would I need to omit the baking powder? Or not a good idea? 
    Thanks Donna 

    1. Not a good idea here– I suggest following the recipe using regular cake flour.

  2. Hi Sally,

    I was so excited when I found this recipe! I’m sure you know how difficult it is to find a good marble cake recipe that is birthday cake style and not pound cake. 

    I offered to make my mother in law a birthday cake in January, and she requested a marble cake. I had never made it from scratch before, but I was excited to find a recipe and get started. After exhausting my cookbooks and the Internet, I could not find a simple marble cake recipe!! I only found marble pound cake.

    Anyway, I ended up making marble pound cake as a birthday cake and it came out very dense. 🙁 I didn’t get any complaints, but I was very disappointed with myself!

    I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to create this recipe because I know it will be great when I have the chance to make it.

    1. Did you end up making this cake too? If not, I can’t wait for you to try it!

      1. Sally,

        I have not made this cake yet. Unfortunately, you hadn’t posted this yet when I was looking around for recipes in January. But I will definitely use this recipe soon and I’ll let you know how it comes out!

  3. Hi Sally! I made this cake before but for my birthday I’m DYING to double this recipe and make a piñata cake. Last time I made it, it was delicious but didn’t have a lot of chocolate flavour. I used Baker’s semi-sweet chocolate. Would 6-7 Lindt balls be better?

    1. It’s certainly worth a try, Melissa. For doubling– I recommend making TWO batters separately and combining them. If you double and are mixing too much batter at a time, you’re likely to overmix. Which just yields a super dense cake.

  4. Hello! I’m planning on making this as a layered cake for a retirement party. I plan on using a 18x 12 sheet pan, do you think I should double the recipe for each layer? This is my first time making a big sheet cake. Thanks! It looks so yummy!

    1. Carla, I’m unsure how many batches of this batter you’d need for the double layer sheet cake. Though something tells me you’ll be fine with 1.5x for each layer. I would make three batches of batter to start. That should be enough to fill both pans.

      1. Thanks for your quick reply! I went ahead and used 2 batches for each pan and it worked perfectly! 

  5. The cake may be a little dense. I suggest 2/3 cup of whole milk.

  6. Greetings Sally! So I need help in trying to change the measurements of this delicious looking cake. I’m baking 3 small 6inch sized pans (the cake is for someone who just simply wants cake for themselves) I’d like to only make enough for this small cake & not have a huge amount left over.

    Should I just split the recipe and frosting in half? Please let me know so I could plan my ingredients ahead of time. Thank you!!

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

  8. Hi Sally,
    Can I use skim milk in this cake?

  9. Hey Sally, I’m baking this cake today and I’d like to know if i could cut all the ingredients in half.. I’m only making a small 6 inch round cake, so I’d only like to make enough for that size. Would it alter the cake if I simply divide all the ingredients in half? Please let me know. Thank you!

  10. Sally,

    I’ve written you twice with the same question and I haven’t received a response with either. I see that you’ve skipped me and answered other questions. A simple “I’m not sure” would be appreciated if you don’t know the answer. I’ve stalled on making this cake for days now, waiting for your reply.

    Thanks for helping.

    1. Hi Stephany. I receive over 150 comments and questions every single day, so they are easy for me to miss as I go through the 1000+ each week. Thank you for your patience. I am unsure how much batter would be perfect for your size cake, but cutting the ingredients in half would be a good place to start.

  11. Elaine @ FoodParsed says:

    I just made this recipe into cupcakes today, and they’re so soft and fluffy! I didn’t have any chocolate, so I substituted about 2 ounces of butterscotch chips. Also, this recipe made exactly 20 cupcakes for me. Thanks again, Sally, for the super reliable, super delicious recipes. Your blog is my go-to when I’m looking for decadent baked goods. 😀

    1. With butterscotch chips! I have to try it.

  12. Hi Sally-I made this today for my son’s birthday cake. He requested no frosting so I baked it in a Bundt pan. I baked it for 35 minutes and then checked on it and baked for maybe 10 more.
    It looks great but perhaps a bit brown on the sides. Any thoughts of other pans I could have made it in? I know I could have done a 9 x 13 but thought Bundt would look more festive. I think it will taste great regardless so thank you for the recipe. It is actually hard to find a marble cake recipe. 

    1. Let, I wonder if reducing the oven temperature would help with the browning issue in your Bundt cake. You could make a couple loaves, but I’m unsure how “birthday cake” that would be! I know there are some fun cupcake shaped or even donut shaped pans out there too!

  13. Hi sally 
    What can I use instead of butter? 
    I prefer oil…,but how much ?
    Love your blog !!!
    Thanks

  14. Hi Sally! 

    Please let me know if I can half the ingredients and make a single cake instead of two layers. That will be great help thanks! 

    1. Isha, I can’t see why not! 🙂

      1. Thank you so much for replying. It means so much. I truely admire you and hope that someday I can bake with as much perfection as you do. Sending you lots of love
        Isha 🙂 

  15. Hi Sally, I have made a number of your recipes and they always turn out great. However, when I did a trial run of this as a yellow cake (need it for a party at work this week), it turned out kind of dry. I only baked it for 22 minutes and it was a light golden brown. I also used your suggestion of mixing corn starch with all-purpose flour since my store didn’t have cake flour.. Any suggestions?

  16. Oh my heavens.  I saw this a few days ago and couldn’t resist the temptation to make it any longer.  I just scarfed down my first bite and I am in love!  The consistency and texture of the cake is incredible.  So light and soft!  Thank you so much for sharing this!  My husband isn’t much of a chocolate fan, but I know he’s going to love the cake!!!  Too bad he’s out of town and I get to eat it all though… 

  17. Is there anyway to make this a 3 layer cake? Perhaps doubling the recipe and using the extra for cupcakes? Marble cake is my absolute fave!!! Can’t wait to try this out, your recipes never fail me. 

  18. Hi Sally! I’m in charge of making a cake for my uncles surprise birthday party next week. I knew when I was assigned cake duty, I had to use one of your recipes! I’m making a single layer 12×18 sheet cake. Should I just double the recipe? I don’t mind having extra batter, because I’ll make cupcakes with it.
    Also, he hates sugary sweet frosting. Could you recommend any whipped cream frosting recipes or tips to make a frosting that will be okay out at room temp for a few hours?
    Thanks so much! Can’t wait to make this cake.

    1. Hi Destiny. I would make two batches of this cake batter, instead of doubling. You risk overmixing with so much batter, which could ruin the texture of the cake. Here’s a whipped cream frosting recipe I use from time to time. It’s delicious.

      1. Ahh yes, that was my plan, to make two batches! I find it to be easier that way so I don’t forget to double one ingredient and mess it all up… it’s happened before haha.
        I started to research some stable whipped cream frostings, and that is one that I stumbled upon. It’s for a big party so I hate to use a recipe that I’m not sure about, but I will take your word for it. Thank you so much, and thank you for the speedy response! Enjoy the rest of your night.

      2. Hi Destiny, how did that whipped cream frosting recipe work out for you?

  19. Hi! This looks delish! I would like to make this in a 11×15 pan so will be doubling the recipe. How would I go about layering the batter as I am doing 2 batches. White , chocolate (first batch) and then white, chocolate (second batch) on top and then swirl? Or both white batters and then both chocolates and then swirl? Also how long would I bake this for? Thanks!!

    1. Hi Theresa! I would do white, chocolate, then white, chocolate. So your first option. I’m unsure of the bake time in that size pan. Shouldn’t take long at all.

  20. Stephany Eddy says:

    Hi,

    Do you have a print feature for your recipes that I don’t see. Also, are you aware that on your website there is an automatic popup ad that appears at the bottom of every page you open? I investigated and it is specific to your website…… ????

    I am looking forward to making this recipe. Thanks for sharing it!!!

    1. I do! It’s right below the thumbnail photo in the written out recipe. The ads you see today are not permanent, we’re working on a redesign this month. My apologies!

  21. Hello there! I need to make a 12″ double stack marble cake for a friend at the end of the month. Your recipe looks amazing! Just wondering if I can use a 12in round cake pan for this recipe? Does the cake rise pretty nicely? I will be covering this cake in fondant. Will it be sturdy enough to stand up to the weight of the fondant? Thank you so much! Can’t wait to try your recipe! 

    1. Hi Janice! The cake layers will be quite thin in a 12-inch pan. But, yes you could do it. I’m unsure of the bake time, but the cakes will be sturdy and should rise beautifully. (Though, thin.)

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

    1. Sure can!

  23. 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?

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

  25. Hi Sally, 

    Regarding the oven temperature/mode, are you referring to top and bottom heating or fan mode?

    1. top & bottom heating

  26. Hi, can I bake just one cake in a square 9×9 pan? Or will the batter be too much? Shall I put most of the batter in a 9×9 square pan and use any left overs in a loaf tin? How much should I fill a 9×9 square tin? Also, does it taate good without any frosting? Can I not frost it at all?

    1. You can leave off the frosting. This cake will not fit into a 9×9 square baking pan. You can fit it halfway and the loaf pan 2/3 full. Unsure of the bake time for each though.

  27. Sally, I am a hobby baker and just came across your website! OMG! Can’t wait to read all your recipes…. Can I use this cake to make a carved cake? Have a friend who wants me to make a 1940 Ford Coupe with marble cake and I would love to use your recipe as it sounds yummy but I have no time to “test” to see if it will hold. I need to start baking tomorrow so hopefully you will see this and respond…. Thank you so much in advance!

    1. This cake would absolutely work for it! Thanks Noemi, what a fun cake.

  28. Hi Sally
    Your recipe looks delicious, I just have one question.  I only have 8″ cake tins so do you think I could make up the batter and make small cupcakes with the excess?  Really want to cover the cake with Swiss meringue buttercream and then the famous mirror glaze, have certainly got my work cut out LOL!
    Thanks

  29. tried your carrot cake.. it came out awesome.. thnx.. in marble cake, can i substitute oil for butter?

    1. Butter is key for flavor, I wouldn’t. Thanks for letting me know about the carrot cake!

  30. Hi Sally, I plan to double the recipe to make a 3-layer cake but I only have two 9″ cake pans. Is it ok if half the cake batter sits out while the other half bakes? Should it be refrigerated during the wait? 

    1. Hi Elle, I would make two batches of this cake batter, instead of doubling. You’ll have a little more batter than you need for a 3 layer cake, so use any extra to make cupcakes. (About 20 minutes for cupcakes.) You can leave the cake batter, covered, at room temperature while you wait. 🙂

      1. I baked the two batches and unfortunately they completely flattened and hardened the next day 🙁 Perhaps I over mixed? Despite that, the flavor is there so I may throw it in a trifle with liqueur to moisten it!

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