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.
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. More on the science behind using dutch-process vs. natural cocoa powder here, if you’re interested.
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
Key Chocolate Cake Ingredients & Why
Each ingredient serves an important role. For best results, do not make substitutions.
- All-Purpose Flour: The structure of the cake. Unlike confetti cake where you can use either, do not use cake flour here—when combined with ultra-light cocoa powder, cake flour is too fine for this cake.
- 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.
- Baking Soda & Baking Powder: Remember the differences in baking soda vs baking powder? We use both here for lift.
- Salt: Salt balances the flavor.
- 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, Guinness cake, chocolate raspberry cake, and marble loaf cake too!
- Oil: Don’t use butter in this cake batter. Cocoa powder is a particularly drying ingredient, so this cake needs oil for suitable moisture.
- 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.
- 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, German chocolate cake, and chocolate peanut butter cake recipes.
- Vanilla Extract: Vanilla extract adds flavor.
- 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!)
What an Easy 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 a 1 layer cake? Use this mint chocolate cake recipe for 1 9-inch round cake.
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!)
- Original Version (pictured and written below): The original recipe produces a very thin batter. The cake is extra soft with a deliciously spongey texture.
- 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. 🙂
Silky 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:
- Unsalted Butter
- Confectioners’ Sugar
- Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
- Heavy Cream or Milk
- Vanilla Extract
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.
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 chips. Press a handful on top like we do with warm chocolate chip cookies, or go with “the more the better” motto like we did. Let’s eat!Print
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. See recipe Note.
- 1 and 3/4 cups (219g) all-purpose flour (spooned & 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)
- 1 and 1/4 cups (282g) 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)
- 3–5 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
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease two 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper rounds, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans. (If it’s helpful, see this parchment paper rounds for cakes video & post.)
- Make the cake: Whisk the 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.
- 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!)
- Remove the cakes from the oven and set on a wire rack. Allow to cool completely in the pan.
- 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.
- 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.
- Refrigerate uncovered cake for at least 30-60 minutes before slicing to help set the shape. After that, you can serve the cake or continue refrigerating for up to 4–6 hours before serving. Cake can be served at room temperature or chilled.
- Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for 5 days. I like using a cake carrier for storing and transporting.
- 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.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): 9-inch Round Cake Pans | Electric Mixer (Handheld or Stand Mixer) | Glass Mixing Bowls | Whisk | Cooling Rack | Cake Stand, Serving Plate, or Cake Turntable | Icing Spatula | Bench Scraper | Cake Carrier (for storing)
- 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 in step 1 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- FAQ: The sour cream version (note above) makes a sturdy enough cake that will hold under fondant.
- 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.
- Room Temperature Ingredients: All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. Read more about why room temperature ingredients are important.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Keywords: cake, chocolate cake