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This is my favorite homemade chocolate cake recipe. With a super moist crumb and fudgy, yet light texture, this chocolate cake recipe will soon be your favorite too. Top with chocolate buttercream and chocolate chips for 3x the chocolate flavor. You can also prepare this chocolate layer cake as a sheet cake, too. See recipe note.

slice of chocolate cake on a plate

Originally published in 2013 and now with more in-depth descriptions, a helpful video tutorial, clearer instructions, and different ways to use this classic chocolate cake recipe. I hope you enjoy all the new features in this recipe post!

Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake… But Better

This pictured cake is a combination of chocolate buttercream and mock-devil’s food cake. You know the Devil’s Food chocolate cake you get at a restaurant or even from a box mix? This is that exact cake, only completely homemade. Notice the reddish tint? That’s where the name Devil’s Food comes from. The baking soda in this recipe reacts with the natural cocoa powder, which results in the reddish color.

This is, without a doubt, the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had. And judging by your feedback in the reviews, I’m confident you’d say the same thing!


This Chocolate Cake Is:

  • Extra moist
  • 2 layers, but can be made as 3 layers or as a sheet cake
  • Soft with a velvety crumb
  • Deeply flavorful
  • Unapologetically rich, just like my flourless chocolate cake
  • Covered with creamy chocolate buttercream
chocolate cake on white cake stand

triple chocolate cake

Chocolate Cake Video Tutorial


Chocolate Cake Ingredients

Each ingredient serves an important role. For best results, do not make substitutions.

  1. All-Purpose Flour: The structure of the cake. Do not use cake flour– when combined with ultra-light cocoa powder, cake flour is too fine.
  2. Unsweetened Natural Cocoa Powder: Do not use dutch-process cocoa powder. If you’re interested, see dutch-process vs natural cocoa powder for an in-depth explanation.
  3. Baking Soda & Baking Powder: Use both baking soda and baking powder for lift.
  4. Salt: Salt balances the flavor.
  5. Espresso Powder: Espresso powder is optional, but I recommend its addition because it enhances the chocolate flavor. The chocolate cake will not taste like coffee, I promise. I use espresso powder in my chocolate zucchini cake and marble loaf cake too!
  6. Oil: Don’t use butter in this cake batter. Cocoa powder is a particularly drying ingredient, so this cake needs oil for suitable moisture.
  7. Eggs: Use 2 room temperature eggs. To speed up the gently warming, place refrigerated eggs in a cup of warm water for 10 minutes. Did you know what the temperature of your ingredients has a direct correlation to the success of your recipes? Unless otherwise noted, use room temperature ingredients.
  8. Buttermilk: This chocolate cake requires the moisture and acidity from buttermilk. Lately I’ve been using a mix of sour cream and buttermilk, as well as reducing the hot liquid. You can read more about this next and see my dark chocolate mousse cake, tuxedo cake, black forest cake, and German chocolate cake recipes.
  9. Vanilla Extract: Vanilla extract adds flavor.
  10. Hot Coffee or Hot Water: Hot liquid enhances the cocoa powder’s flavor. It also encourages it to bloom and dissolve appropriately. You’ll notice I don’t use hot liquid in my chocolate cupcakes recipe. That’s because there isn’t the same volume of dry ingredients. With this amount of cake batter, we need a hot liquid to break up the cocoa powder lumps resting in all that flour. If you don’t drink coffee, you can use hot water. For deeper and darker flavor, though, use coffee. (Decaf coffee works!)
chocolate cake batter

How to Make Chocolate Cake

What an easy chocolate cake! No mixer required for the batter, simply whisk the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients (or vice versa, it doesn’t make any difference), add the hot coffee, then whisk everything together. The cake batter is thin. Divide between 2 9-inch cake pans. You can easily stretch it to 3 or 4 8-inch or 9-inch cakes if needed. Or make a quarter sheet cake using a 9×13 inch cake pan. See my recipe notes for details.

Need cupcakes instead? Use my super moist chocolate cupcakes recipe.


Lately I’ve Been Using Sour Cream

As mentioned above and in the video tutorial, there are two ways to prepare this cake batter and the slight difference involves the wet ingredients. You can follow the recipe as written using buttermilk and hot coffee/water. Or you can add sour cream. Whichever way you make it, the process is the same. (Just reduce the liquids and add sour cream!)

  1. Original Version (pictured and written below): The original recipe produces a very thin batter. The cake is extra soft with a deliciously spongey texture.
  2. Sour Cream Version (written in recipe notes and shown in video tutorial): By replacing some of the buttermilk and hot coffee with sour cream, the cake batter is slightly thicker and produces a slightly denser cake with more structure. I love using sour cream in my vanilla cake, too!

Both cakes are equally moist and chocolatey with the same flavor and ease of preparation. It just depends if you want a spongier cake or not. 🙂

slice of chocolate cake on a plate

Chocolate Buttercream

Like my yellow cake, I use my favorite chocolate buttercream. I slightly increase the amount of each ingredient to produce extra frosting. If you prefer a thinner layer of frosting, use the chocolate buttercream recipe. But if you crave extra buttercream, follow the frosting measurements below. You need 6 ingredients total:

  1. Unsalted Butter
  2. Confectioners’ Sugar
  3. Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  4. Heavy Cream or Milk
  5. Vanilla Extract
  6. Salt

Because there is no leavening occurring, you can use either dutch-process or natural cocoa powder in the buttercream. Heavy cream provides an extra creamy frosting, but milk can be substituted if needed.

Chocolate frosting in glass bowl
slice of chocolate layer cake on a plate

So, why do I call it triple chocolate layer cake when it only has 2 layers? Well, chocolate is used three times: chocolate cake, chocolate frosting, chocolate chip garnish. Let’s eat!

Print
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slice of chocolate cake on a plate

Triple Chocolate Layer Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours
  • Yield: serves 12 1x
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This is my favorite homemade chocolate cake recipe. With a super moist crumb and fudgy, yet light texture, this chocolate cake recipe will be your favorite too. Top with chocolate buttercream and chocolate chips for 3x the chocolate flavor. You can also prepare this chocolate layer cake as a sheet cake too. See recipe note.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 and 3/4 cups (219g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 3/4 cup (62g) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 1 and 3/4 cups (350g) granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons espresso powder (optional)
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) vegetable oil (or canola oil or melted coconut oil)
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (240ml) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (240ml) freshly brewed strong hot coffee (regular or decaf)

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 1.25 cups (2.5 sticks or 290g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3 and 1/2 cups (420g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 3/4 cup (65g) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or dutch process)
  • 35 Tablespoons (45-75ml) heavy cream (or half-and-half or milk), at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • optional for decoration: semi-sweet chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease two 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans.
  2. Make the cake: Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and espresso powder (if using) together in a large bowl. Set aside. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or you can use a whisk) mix the oil, eggs, and vanilla together on medium-high speed until combined. Add the buttermilk and mix until combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, add the hot water/coffee, and whisk or beat on low speed until the batter is completely combined. Batter is thin.
  3. Divide batter evenly between pans. Bake for 23-26 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Baking times vary, so keep an eye on yours. The cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (Note: Even if they’re completely done, the cooled cakes may *slightly* sink in the center. Cocoa powder is simply not as structurally strong as all-purpose flour and can’t hold up to all the moisture necessary to make a moist tasting chocolate cake. It’s normal!)
  4. Remove the cakes from the oven and set on a wire rack. Allow to cool completely in the pan.
  5. Make the buttercream: With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy – about 2 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, 3 Tablespoons heavy cream, salt, and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high speed and beat for 1 full minute. Do not over-whip. Add 1/4 cup more confectioners’ sugar or cocoa powder if frosting is too thin or 1-2 more Tablespoons of cream if frosting is too thick. (I usually add 1 more.) Taste. Add another pinch of salt if desired.
  6. Assemble and frost: If cooled cakes are domed on top, use a large serrated knife to slice a thin layer off the tops to create a flat surface. This is called “leveling” the cakes. Discard or crumble over finished cake. Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with frosting. Top with 2nd layer and spread remaining frosting all over the top and sides. I always use an icing spatula and bench scraper for the frosting. Garnish with chocolate chips, if desired.
  7. Refrigerate cake for at least 30-60 minutes before slicing. This helps the cake hold its shape when cutting.
  8. Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: Prepare cake through step 4. Wrap the individual baked and cooled cake layers tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze up to 3 months. Bring to room temperature then continue with step 5. You can prepare the chocolate buttercream 2-3 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate, then bring to room temperature before spreading onto/assembling the cake. Frosted cake freezes well, up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature or serve cold.
  2. 3 Layer Cake: You can also prepare this cake as a 3 layer cake. Divide batter between three 8-inch or 9-inch cake pans and bake for 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. This frosting will be enough for 3 layers. If desired, use the frosting recipe from my Piñata Cake if you want extra frosting.
  3. Cocoa Powder: Use natural cocoa powder in the cake, not dutch-process. (See dutch-process vs natural cocoa powder for more information.) Since there is no leavening occurring in frosting, you can use either natural or dutch-process in the chocolate buttercream.
  4. Buttermilk: Buttermilk is required for this recipe. You can make your own DIY version of buttermilk if needed. Add 2 teaspoons of white vinegar or lemon juice to a liquid measuring cup. Then add enough room temperature whole milk to the same measuring cup until it reaches 1 cup. (In a pinch, lower fat or nondairy milks work for this soured milk, but the cake won’t taste as moist or rich.) Stir it around and let sit for 5 minutes. The homemade “buttermilk” will be somewhat curdled and ready to use in the recipe.
  5. Sour Cream Version: Lately I’ve been using a mix of sour cream and buttermilk, as well as reducing the hot coffee. Reduce the buttermilk and hot coffee to 1/2 cup (120ml) each. Add 3/4 cup (180g) of room temperature full-fat sour cream with the wet ingredients. You can see this described above, in the video tutorial, and in my dark chocolate mousse cake. That cake and this cake are both fantastically moist, but the sour cream version has a slightly sturdier crumb.
  6. FAQ: The sour cream version (note above) makes a sturdy enough cake that will hold under fondant.
  7. Amount of Cake Batter: This recipe (and the sour cream version) yields about 6 cups of batter, which is helpful if you need it for different Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions.
  8. Room Temperature Ingredients: All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. Read here for more information.
  9. Espresso Powder/Coffee: Espresso powder and coffee will not make the cake taste like coffee. Instead, they deepen the chocolate flavor. I highly recommend them both. You can use the same amount of instant coffee (the powder) instead of espresso powder if desired. If coffee isn’t your thing, you can leave out the espresso powder and use extra hot water or hot chai tea.
  10. Bundt Pan: I recommend my chocolate cream cheese bundt cake but without the cream cheese filling. Reduce buttermilk in that recipe to 1/4 cup and increase sour cream to 1 cup.
  11. 9×13 Inch Pan: You can bake this cake in a 9×13 inch baking pan. Same oven temperature, about 35-40 minutes bake time.
  12. Chocolate Cupcakes: Here is my favorite chocolate cupcakes recipe. Same unbelievable texture as this cake! (You’ll notice I don’t use hot liquid in that recipe. That’s because there isn’t the same volume of dry ingredients to break up. If you need more than 1 dozen chocolate cupcakes, use this chocolate cake recipe for 2-3 dozen. Same baking instructions as my chocolate cupcakes.

Recipe adapted from Ina Garten and originally from Hershey’s

Keywords: cake, chocolate cake

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Wondering if your chocolate cream cheese frosting would work well with this cake? Thanks!

  2. Made this cake for my mothers birthday, my whole family said it was the best cake they had ever had! I’ve made a few of your cakes for peoples birthdays and they are always amazing. My husbands birthday is soon and he loves white chocolate, do you have any tips for adjusting one of your recipes to make it white chocolate? I have found some recipes but wanted to ask you first as you are the queen!

    1. Hi Madonna, we’re so glad this cake was a hit! We haven’t tried a white chocolate version, but you could top it with a white chocolate ganache — see recipe notes there for making a white chocolate version. Let us know if you give it a try!

  3. I am not a chocolate fan but I tried this cake and it was the best cake I have ever made. Followed your recipe to the letter and WOW! It is now my go to cake. Thanks so much for exposing me to such a great cake.

  4. Just made this cake!! It is super moist & very delicious!! I followed the recipe exactly & I absolutely love it!
    It will be my new go to chocolate cake.
    I use Sally’s recipes a lot & have never been disappointed.

  5. I made this cake for REsurrection Day, after being asked to bring a chocolate dessert. I made Sally’s German Chocolate with this recipe. This by far, is the absolute best chocolate cake I have ever made. It was extremely smooth, rich, melt in your mouth, delicous. I will keep making this recipe anytime I need a chocolate cake.

    1. Hi IJ, We don’t recommend this cake for the bottom or middle of a tiered cake (it’s not sturdy enough). We do list some tiered layer flavor suggestions in this post. Perhaps you could do another flavor on the bottom and a chocolate tier on top? We’d love to know what you try!

  6. Made this for Hubby’s birthday, baked half batter in a springform cake tin, electricity went out around 15 minutes so I decided to leave it in the oven (didn’t open it) until around 30 minutes in total. It came out decadent and fudgy, almost like a brownie. Hubby came home before I had time to make the icing and ate 2 big slices. It was so moist and perfectly sweet, we didn’t need the icing. I covered the remaining half of the batter with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. The next day I made it into cupcakes (filled almost to the top of liners) for the kids and made icing as well. Thanks from South Africa, Sally!

  7. I’ve now made this recipe twice this month. It was delicious and moist both times. I had some extra frosting and the cake I cut off the layers to make them even. So I made cake balls, and used them to decorate the top as well. I also added some raspberry extract to the cake balls and it was a sure hit. Love all your recipes! They haven’t failed me yet!

  8. Hi Sally,
    how much sour cream should I put in to replace buttermilk? should I add sour cream and milk?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Laine, see recipe notes for everything you need to know about the sour cream version!

  9. I just realized I accidentally put 1/2 of sour cream and 1/2 of buttermilk and 8 oz of coffee. I read it wrong!!! They are in the oven, so you think they will still work?

    1. Hi Alyssa! It’s hard to say exactly what will happen but let us know how they turn out 🙂

  10. I made a construction truck themed cake for my nephew’s second birthday (he is into all things vehicle-themed). I wanted a chocolate cake base, so I used this recipe (sour cream version) to create two 9 inch cakes as the base, then halved it to make two 6 inch cakes for a second tier. I only used one of the smaller cakes because I realized it would be too tall for my cake carrier, but the second came in handy for crumbling up as “dirt” on the construction site. The cake was really moist but held up beautifully (I did use some skewers as dowels for extra support just in case). Not only did it look great but tons of compliments on how delicious and moist the cake was. I used the frosting recipe from the piñata cake on this site, just to make sure I had enough. Great recipe, easy to make. Was a huge hit!

    1. So happy to hear it turned out for you, Zoe! Thank you for sharing your experience and making our recipe for your nephew’s birthday 🙂

  11. Hi there, I am trying baking for the first time so i don’t want to buy too many cake pans already. if I have a 8inch pan right now and want to make just one layer cake – what should be the baking times? How is this usually calculated as per the baking pans? Can you pls help me with this information. Thanks

    1. Hi Su, this will be too much batter for one 8 inch pan. You could try cutting this recipe in half for a one layer 8 inch cake. It will be slightly thicker and may take an extra minute in the oven, so keep an eye on it. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Here’s more tips for baking cakes!

  12. What are the * for in the ingredient list? I can’t find what these are referring to.

  13. If I bake this in the 9 x 13“ pan will it be thick enough to cut in half so I could put some of the frosting in the center and make it a two layer cake?
    This recipe looks absolutely delicious and I need to make a Harley Davidson cake this weekend chocolate chocolate
    Thank you

    1. Hi Donna, we haven’t tried doing that ourselves but it would likely result in pretty thin layers, and it may be difficult to slice with it being a softer cake. It may be best to make two batches and layer the completed cakes. Let us know what you try!

  14. I made this for you daughter’s birthday party with vanilla buttercream, and never has one of my cakes disappeared so fast. It was moist and flavorful and everything a cake should be. Thanks for the great recipe!

  15. I want to use this recipe (this is the BEST chocolate cake recipe ever) in a sheet pan (12” x 18”). The recipe says to check the recipe notes and the pan conversion link, but I can’t find the actual information anywhere. Do you think I can double the recipe for a 12×18, or should I two-and-a-half it? Anyone? I’ve been baking for 50 years, and I love your recipes, Sally, but I have never made a sheet cake (I have been asked to make 2 sheet cakes for a friend’s 80th birthday) I’m so stressed over the conversion (feel free to mention bake times as well!) Please & Thank you for an answer!

    1. Hi Erica! We’re happy to help. This recipe (and the sour cream version) yields about 6 cups of batter, which is helpful if you need it for different Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions. For best results, we’d recommend making two separate batches of batter rather than doubling (doubling runs the risk of overmixing or undermixing the batter). We’re unsure of the exact bake time, but keep a close eye on it and use a toothpick to test for doneness. Hope the cake is a hit for your friend’s birthday!

    1. Hi Arwaah, We’d love to help but we are not trained in baking with sugar substitutes. For best taste and texture (and so you don’t waste your time trying to adapt this recipe since it may not work properly), it may be more useful to find a recipe that is specifically formulated for sugar substitutes.

  16. If the liquid breaks up the cocoa, does it still need to be added to sifted cocoa? And if a mini, about 1/5 size of this cake is made, where proportionally only 23mL liquid is needed instead of 1 cup, should I still add it, add a smaller amount, or how goes? I would use the chocolate cupcake recipe but the chocolate cake recipe here seems to be much better

    1. Hi Min, we recommend adding the ingredients as described in the recipe above!

  17. Can’t wait to try this recipe! I only have 10” x 3” cake tins – would these be okay to use?! If it’s too deep would I just be able to fill the tin up 2/3 of the way instead? Thanks!

  18. Thank you so much for this wonderful recipe, I recently made it for my guests and it turned out extremely moist, soft, luxurious and fantastic! People couldn’t stop eating it! Love love love this one, will definitely make it again and again with different fillings.

    1. Hi Amani, you use extra hot water or hot chai tea in place of the coffee — same amount.

  19. This is an amazing recipe 10/10 I use it all the time and it always works.

  20. Question – I would like to make the cake layers to make an ice cream cake for my son-in-law’s birthday. It would have 2 layers of cake with ice cream in the middle and then fudge and whipped cream on top. Which would be a better version for the layers, since there will be a thick middle layer of ice cream and then will be frozen? Should I do it as written or using a mix of sour cream and buttermilk, as well as reducing the hot liquid. ? Thanks!

    1. Hi Jackie, we recommend the sour cream version detailed in the recipe notes. Enjoy!

  21. I’ve made this cake a few times into a 3 layer wonder, my friends all love it. I’m now doing it again next weekend for a friends birthday, I’ve been making it into 3x8inch round pans, I’m wondering if I could do 4 layers, or if you think it won’t hold?
    I need to feed 20 people and I’m worried the 3 layers will be cutting it a bit fine.

    1. Hi Ellen, the batter would be quite thin spread between 4 layers. For a thicker cake, we recommend making this batter twice (do not double) for a total of 4 layers. This will prevent over or under mixing a large quantity of batter. Using the sour cream version of the recipe (see recipe notes) will yield a slightly sturdier crumb that will be better for a 4 layer cake. Let us know what you try!

  22. I LOVE this recipe! However, after baking several times, I am struggling with the cake crumbling. It seems no matter what, the layers crumble a bit as I frost. This doesn’t bother my family when I bake for our celebrations but I would like to solve the problem for when I bake for others! It’s SO delicious and I want it to look picture perfect too! Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Kate! The sour cream version detailed in the recipe yields a slightly sturdier crumb. We recommend giving that a try – so glad you love this cake 🙂

  23. What version do you recommend as far as the flavor, the original or sour cream version? I plan on making it on Saturday for game night with friends.

  24. Could I use gluten free flour and the cake still work as well as it usual?

    1. Hi Elly, we haven’t tested this cake with gluten free flour and are unsure of the results. Let us know if you give it a try!

  25. I am considering to incorporate some raspberry jam. Could I spread a layer of jam in between the layers and only use frosting to go around and the top of the cake? Or how would you incorporate some raspberry to it?

    1. Hi Coni, you can absolutely add a thin layer of raspberry jam between the layers. We’d recommend a very thin layer of chocolate buttercream underneath it, with a ring of buttercream around the edges, to prevent the jam from coming out the sides. Let us know what you try!

  26. I have made this cake multiple times and it’s always so rich, moist and delicious!!! I always use non dairy milk (with lemon and let it sit) and make it in a Bundt pan with a coffee icing. Definitely recommend!!! Thank you sally!

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