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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.
This chocolate layer cake recipe was updated (along with the photos) in May 2020 to reflect dual buttercream frosting pairings as well as clearer instructions.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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…
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.
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.
VEGETABLE OIL AND BUTTERMILK BRING ALL THE MOISTURE
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.
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.
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.
COFFEE BRINGS OUT THE CHOCOLATE FLAVOR– AND MAKE SURE IT’S BOILING
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
PSSSST… This recipe can also be made into chocolate cupcakes! You’ll get about 30, so cut the recipe in half if you’re only looking for about a dozen. Bake time is about 14 minutes.
Chocolate Layer Cake
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 and 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa sifted
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk*
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup brewed coffee
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- 4 to 5 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup milk or cream
- salt to taste
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 3/4 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder
- 2 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup milk or cream
- pinch of salt
- Heat oven to 350°F. 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. Cool on wire racks completely before assembling and frosting.
- 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.
- 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).
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.
QUESTION: What’s your favorite cake?
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