Chocolate Layer Cake

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5 from 8 votes

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Soft, moist, and smooth chocolate layer cake with the richest chocolate flavor you’ll ever taste. Super easy and only one bowl needed! Pair with my favorite chocolate buttercream, go-to vanilla buttercream, or something fancier to fit your liking.

chocolate layer cake with chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles with a slice taken out of it

You need a go-to chocolate cake in your life.

That no fail, one bowl, throw it together, doesn’t-need-to-have-room-temperature-ingredients recipe that you can rely on when you’re feeling down about your cake baking skills and need a reminder that not all cakes are created equal and out to make your cake baking life miserable.

Oh, just me?

Well then.

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slice of chocolate layer cake with rainbow sprinkles on a white plate with a fork

I’ve had a lot of cake fails in my life. Owning my own cake baking/decorating business for three years taught me a ton about cake baking.

My biggest lesson? Cakes are crazy finicky.

Work your batter too hard? Tough and dry crumb.

Not the exactly right amount of leavener? Your cake will crash into a flat mess.

Too much leavener? Your cake will spill out over the top of your cake pan and get all over the inside of your oven and smell horrible and be terribly difficult to clean up and you will probably cry.

Not that that’s ever happened to me… I heard that from a friend once…

Tonight is one of those nights I’m feeling like a cake failure, as I spent the afternoon experimenting with some cakes I haven’t made in a long time that I would love to share with my readers. My wonderful tried-and-true recipes that I should just NOT mess with.

chocolate layer cake with chocolate buttercream on a platter with rainbow sprinkles and candles scattered around it

I’ll never learn…

There is a happy ending to this evening, and it’s in the form of chocolate cake.

Rich, decadent, ridiculously moist, velvety chocolate cake.

With plenty of rainbow sprinkles. That’s the best kind of chocolate cake, am I right?

WHY YOU’LL LOVE THIS LAYERED CHOCOLATE CAKE

This is by far the best chocolate cake I have ever had. It’s moist, soft, not the slightest bit crumbly, and almost melts in your mouth. And there is so(ooooooo) much flavor. No shortage of chocolate in this recipe, that’s for sure!

And another bonus? This is an easy chocolate cake recipe for kids. While they need a bit of supervision for the coffee component, there’s no mixer involved, only one bowl needed, and as I’ve mentioned, the batter is quite forgiving and can handle a bit of a heavy-stirring hand (which I know my toddlers are pros at).

Before I get any further with this recipe, I must plug a recipe of mine that has also made my cake baking a total breeze. And that is homemade cake release.

I’ve never had a lot of luck with greasing and flouring, and this stuff makes the cake slide right out of the pan.

homemade cake release in a jar with a yellow lid

So even when I’m feeling blue about a cake working imperfectly, there’s a 99% it at least slides out of the pan and I can throw it in the trash more easily (SAD FACE).

Ok, back to perfect cakes…

My Go-To Layered Chocolate Cake

I got really lucky one day many manyyyy years ago when I stumbled upon the Hershey’s chocolate cake recipe and it was love at first bite.

It was the only chocolate cake I needed to try before I adopted it as my go-to. And since then, it’s only gotten better and better.

This cake is so easy. You don’t even need a mixer, and you really can throw everything into one bowl together.

The only thing I will say is strongly suggested is sift the cocoa powder into your flour.

CHOCOLATE LAYER CAKE RECIPE INGREDIENTS

  • granulated sugar
  • all-purpose flour
  • baking soda
  • baking powder
  • salt
  • unsweetened cocoa powder
  • eggs
  • buttermilk
  • vegetable oil
  • vanilla extract
  • brewed coffee
chocolate layer cake with vanilla buttercream and rainbow sprinkles on a white plate

HOW TO MAKE THE BEST CHOCOLATE LAYER CAKE

  1. In a large bowl, stir together granulated sugar, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Sift in cocoa powder and stir combine.
  2. Add the eggs, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla and stir well until batter is smooth.
  3. Brew a cup of coffee and microwave until boiling.
  4. Slowly add coffee to batter and stir until blended well. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to make sure everything gets mixed together. Batter will be very thin.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake. Remove from oven and allow cakes to cool in the pans completely on a wire rack before removing and assembling.

THE SECRETS TO THE BEST CHOCOLATE LAYER CAKE

You’ll see this recipe has absolutely no butter in it. Vegetable oil is the fat you’ll use, because the moistness it brings to this cake is out of this world. The oil and the buttermilk.

Always the buttermilk.

aerial photo of chocolate layer cake with chocolate buttercream and rainbow sprinkles with a slice taken out of it

I have used anywhere from skim to whole milk instead of buttermilk for this recipe, and the buttermilk reigns supreme. Trust me… I’ve made this more times than you would believe. The milk is at your discretion, but you’ve been warned!

If you don’t have buttermilk, make your own!

See my tutorial on homemade buttermilk here or linked below in the recipe.

SIFT YOUR COCOA POWDER FOR THE SMOOTHEST CAKE TEXTURE

Cocoa powder gets quite cakey and crumbly in the canister, and leaving those big chunks in there can sometimes mean big chunks of cocoa in your cake.

No bueno. Sift it in just to be safe.

COFFEE BRINGS OUT THE CHOCOLATE FLAVOR– AND MAKE SURE IT’S BOILING

You’re also going to be using coffee for this recipe. Whatever brew you prefer, but the stronger the better. I promise your cake will not taste like coffee.

The bitterness of the coffee just brings out the cocoa taste and takes the flavor of this cake to a whole new level. The only thing you must make sure you do is bring the coffee to a boil in the microwave before you add it to the rest of the batter.

The boiling liquid helps the cocoa “bloom” into the rest of the batter and helps to activate the leavening agents.

I’ve tried this recipe with simply hot coffee and even cold water… Just… Don’t do it. Warning #2.

aerial photo of chocolate layer cake with vanilla buttercream and rainbow sprinkles with a slice taken out of it

The beautiful thing about this classic chocolate cake recipe is that it goes so nicely with a whole slew of frostings. In the below recipe, you’ll find instructions for my go-to chocolate buttercream frosting as well as my vanilla buttercream frosting.

Both of these recipes are my basic go-to buttercream recipes. I’ve made this homemade chocolate cake recipe more times than I can count, and I’ve always paired it with one of these frostings.

CHOCOLATE LAYER CAKE RECIPE VARIATIONS

If you’re looking for a slightly more sophisticated, old fashioned chocolate layer cake, you’ll find that in my dark chocolate layer cake recipe. That one goes so nicely with my peanut butter frosting (recipe for that in the same post).

I like the flavor of that cake for a little more of a richer chocolate flavor. It’s slightly denser than this chocolate layer cake recipe, so it holds up better to a thicker frosting like a peanut butter one.

chocolate layer cake with chocolate buttercream and rainbow sprinkles on a platter

Both my the chocolate and vanilla buttercream recipes that I’ve included here are very forgiving, in that if they’re too thin for you, add more powdered sugar or too stiff, add more liquid.

Offset the sweetness with a tiny bit more salt, and you’ve got yourself the buttercream frosting of your dreams: one with perfectly spreading consistency and a great flavor to boot.

slice of chocolate layer cake with vanilla buttercream and rainbow sprinkles on a white plate with a fork

DECORATING TIPS

As far as decorating this cake goes… Have fun with it. One of my favorite things to decorate is a plain white cake. It’s a completely blank canvas, and I can do whatever I want with it.

chocolate layer cake with vanilla buttercream and rainbow sprinkles on a plate with a slice taken out of it

Consider using your favorite candy all chopped up. Or putting chocolate chips all over the outside!

You can also add anything to the inside layer of frosting to jazz up the middle. Ohh, the possibilities! You could make so many combinations with toppings and add-ins. Go ahead… I won’t judge you if you make 10 cakes this weekend. I really won’t…

…just invite me over to help you eat them. I’ll bring the wine milk.

Looking for more chocolate cake recipes? Simple chocolate cupcakes, mocha cake, chocolate bundt cake, or dark chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting should do the trick!

Chocolate Layer Cake: Soft, moist, and smooth chocolate layer cake with the richest chocolate flavor you’ll ever taste. Super easy and only one bowl needed! Pair with my favorite chocolate buttercream, go-to vanilla buttercream, or something fancier to fit your liking.
5 from 8 votes
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Chocolate Layer Cake Recipe

Soft, moist, and smooth chocolate layer cake with the richest chocolate flavor you’ll ever taste. Super easy and only one bowl needed! Pair with my favorite chocolate buttercream, go-to vanilla buttercream, or something fancier to fit your liking.
Prep Time15 minutes
Bake Time30 minutes
Total Time45 minutes
Recipe Author Lynn April
Servings: 12 servings

Ingredients

CHOCOLATE CAKE

  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
  • 1 and ¾ cups (210g) all-purpose flour be sure to measure properly
  • 1 and ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 and ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup (72g) unsweetened cocoa powder sifted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup (240mL) buttermilk*
  • ½ cup (120mL) vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (240mL) brewed coffee

VANILLA BUTTERCREAM

  • 1 cup (227g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
  • 4 to 5 cups (480-600g) powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ to ⅓ cup (60-80mL) milk or cream
  • pinch of salt

CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM

  • 1 cup (227g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
  • 4 cups (480g) powdered sugar
  • ¾ cup (72g) Dutch processed cocoa powder
  • 2 and ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ⅓ to ½ cup (80-120mL) milk or cream
  • pinch of salt

Instructions

CHOCOLATE CAKE

  • Heat oven to 350°F (177ºC). Grease and flour (or use homemade cake release) two-8" round cake pans. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, stir together granulated sugar, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Sift in cocoa powder and stir combine.
  • Add the eggs, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla and stir well until batter is smooth.
  • Brew a cup of coffee and microwave until boiling.
  • Slowly add coffee to batter and stir until blended well. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to make sure everything gets mixed together. Batter will be very thin.
  • Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 28 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow cakes to cool in the pans completely on a wire rack before removing and assembling.

VANILLA BUTTERCREAM

  • In a large bowl with a handheld mixer, or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes.
  • With the mixer on low, add in the powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk or cream. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat until completely smooth, about 3 minutes. If frosting is too stiff, add more milk. If it is too thin, add more powdered sugar. Add salt to taste.

CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM

  • In a medium size bowl with a handheld mixer or in the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until smooth (about 3 minutes).
  • Decrease mixer speed to low. Add powdered sugar, cocoa, vanilla extract, and milk/cream. Increase mixer speed to to high and beat until completely combined (approximately 2-3 minutes).
  • For more buttercream troubleshooting tips, see my book, The Home Baker's Guide to Basic Buttercream.

TO ASSEMBLE CAKE

  • Place one layer, bottom side up, on a plate or cake stand. Using a spatula or knife, spread an even layer of frosting over the entire surface. 
  • Place the second layer on top, bottom side down, and press down on the top lightly. Spread the rest of the frosting on the cake, beginning with the top and working your way down the sides. Decorate as desired. Cake stays fresh covered at room temperature for up to 4 days. Cake may be covered and refrigerated for up to 7 days.

Notes

*If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, you can make your own: see my post about homemade buttermilk.
Adapted from Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake
If you are looking for chocolate cupcakes, please see my simple chocolate cupcakes recipe.
Did you make this recipe?Mention @freshaprilflours on Instagram or tag #freshaprilflours!

Nutrition Disclosure

All nutritional values are approximate and provided to the reader as a courtesy. Changing ingredients and/or quantities will alter the estimated nutritional calculations.

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33 Comments

  1. The perfect one bowl chocolate cake is like that little black dress that you keep in your wardrobe because you know it is perfect for any and every occasion.
    I love the sprinkle madness going on here! Can’t stop/won’t stop loving it!
    Your decorating skills are fantastic, well, of course!
    And, er, I’ve heard the oven clean up story too….from a friend of course 😉

    1. Ah yes, that’s the perfect analogy, Amy! Thank you for the decorating compliment… I can still break it out when I have to 🙂 You heard that from a friend too? Must have been the same friend… Surely there can’t be THAT many people in the world who have made such a silly mistake… 😛

    1. Hi, Michelle! It actually looks much harder than it really is… I put my cake on a stand, place the stand on a cookie sheet, and then drag handfuls of sprinkles up the sides of the cake. The excess drops into the cookie sheet, and I either scoop them back up or just dump them all back into the sprinkle shaker when I’m done. If you don’t have a tall cake stand, it works the same way with a plate… Just make sure you put your plate in something wide enough! Does that make sense?

  2. 5 stars
    Hi, I made this today in 2x 9 inch pans and turned out really good (moist, little to no collapse when removed from oven, and tastes really good). Cakes are a hit or miss thing with me, my oven in fickle and I have been known to overbeat batter. Ugh. Any way, I was wondering, is it suppoed to come out sort of “sticky-moist”? Almost an oily looking top? Also, have you tested the recipe in a 10 inch square or 9×13? I need a to make a birthday cake in 3 weeks and the birthday girl (my daughter) wants chocolate (good girl) 😉
    Thanks,

    1. Hi, Melisa! Yes, it’s a “sticky-moist,” and if you noticed as well, sort of a delicate crumb. It’s not great for add-ins like chocolate chips or nuts. That’s a recipe I need to get to. I have done it in so many sizes of pans, yes. For a 10″ square, I would put the entire amount of batter into the pan. If you want a double layer 10″ cake, double the recipe, half of the batter in each square pan. For a 9″ x 13″, 1 and 1/2 times the recipe should do it. You might have a bit of batter leftover, so make a few cupcakes. Does that all make sense? Let me know if you have any more questions. Thanks for the feedback!

    2. Thank you for the response. Yes, the pan adjustment stuff makes sense. I’ll make this one for the birthday, but do you also have a recipe for a more dry (snack cake, powder sugar dusting) kind of chocolate cake?
      Thanks,

  3. Hi, me again. In the picture of the two cupcakes, what is that frosting on the front cupcake? It looks like it has peanut butter cups on it? Thanks,

    1. It is peanut butter buttercream! I don’t have that recipe on my blog, but I’ll tell you it’s 1/2 cup of butter, 1 cup of peanut butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 2 cups powdered sugar, and about 1/4 cup of milk or water. Enjoy!

  4. 5 stars
    I LOVE THIS CAKE. I made it just like the photos, and it was such a hit, that I made it again 3 days later. Both the cake and frosting were wonderful. We had the first one for a small birthday celebration, and it was all eaten up. Everyone raved about it! I only had a small bite at the time, and it was so yummy, that I made it again so that my husband and I could enjoy it. This is a recipe I have filed in my ‘go-to’ folder. I will make this over and over. Thank you so much. This is exactly the recipe I have been looking for. I am very happy 🙂

    1. No– you will have too much liquid and the cake won’t turn out right at all. This requires granulated sugar to work properly.

  5. 5 stars
    This is the only chocolate layer cake recipe you’ll need. It is delicious! I’ve made it a handful of times by now and it always turns out great. I even used gluten free flour with it twice and my family was none the wiser.

  6. Hi! Is this similar to your chocolate cupcakes recipe? I LOVE that one and would like to make it as a cake. Can I divide this recipe in half for 2 4 inch layers? Thank you for sharing this recipe!

    1. Hey, Natalia– this is not the same as my chocolate cupcakes, and I don’t recommend this recipe for cupcakes. Those cupcakes are the same recipe as my dark chocolate layer cake, and if you halve the recipe, you’ll have enough for two 4 inch cake layers + a few cupcakes. Let me know if you have any other questions!

  7. 5 stars
    As Lynn will confirm, I texted her in a panic because I was about 1/2 cup short of white sugar. She told me to go ahead and use brown sugar and just make sure I had 400 grams total of sugar. Maybe I’m imagining it, but the brown sugar makes the cake so much more (sorry for the use of this word) moist! This recipe is so easy and makes box mix taste like floral foam in comparison.

  8. 5 stars
    Easiest Cake Ever Made!
    I’m a reluctant baker. I tend to skip steps to save time (I.e. sifting cocoa powder) but Lynn’s recipes tell you the why and how for every step so i follow them! This was the easiest cake I’ve ever made and I make all cakes for birthdays in our family. I’ve become a much better baker since using FAF recipes!

  9. Your Chocolate Layer Cake is my very favorite chocolate cake. I’m thinking of making a Yule Log for Christmas, do you think this recipe will work baked in jelly roll pan and then rolled into log? Thank you.

  10. 5 stars
    PERFECT cake! Thank you for your easy to follow and encouraging notes and directions! This was a hit for my husbands birthday, which is also Christmas Eve. I have had great success following every single one of your recipes so far, and look forward to more. Thank you!! Merry Christmas!

  11. 5 stars
    This chocolate cake was SO moist! I made it into two eight inch rounds and it was the perfect size for a nice layer cake for my brother in laws birthday. The buttercream was smooth and perfect!! It’s my new go to chocolate cake!

    1. Thanks so much, Lynn! This cake is SO GOOD and has never steered me wrong. I’m so glad you enjoyed it as much as I do 🙂