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Best Chocolate Cake Recipe

This is the best chocolate cake recipe for special occasions and chocolate dessert cravings! It’s a rich, moist chocolate cake layered with chocolate buttercream frosting all made from scratch using one bowl and pure and simple ingredients!

Slice of chocolate cake on white plate.
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Easy Chocolate Cake Recipe

If you have been around a while, you’ll know that I am a firm believer that homemade chocolate cake is an essential part of life. Or at least an essential part of mine ;)

If you’re like me, a lover of all things chocolate, but were under the impression that making the best chocolate cake recipe from scratch was reserved for special occasions, then this recipe is what you’ve been waiting for!

The result is a moist, chocolaty cake with a soft light crumb layered with a velvety smooth chocolate buttercream frosting. It comes together in one bowl and we’re using unsweetened cocoa powder for that incredible chocolate flavor, sugar for sweetness, oil, and buttermilk for texture. 

While it’s true, that the best chocolate cake recipe is perfect for birthdays, Valentine’s Day, and all the special occasions, it’s equally as deserving to be enjoyed on any day of the week. Something this indulgent shouldn’t be so easy, but it is!

Why We Love This Chocolate Cake 

  • Texture. It’s an incredible feat to be able to produce something light and fudgy all at once, and this recipe does it!
  • Taste. It’s chocolaty chocolate with chocolate frosting. Need I say more? Give me a cold glass of milk and a big fat slice and I’m good!
  • Simplicity. It’s a matter of combining dry ingredients and wet ingredients in a bowl and baking! Waiting to frost the cake to dig in may just be what brings you to your knees.
  • Homemade. Making the best chocolate cake recipe from scratch and not from a box is something to be proud of!

Ingredients Needed

Chocolate cake ingredients on counter.

Dry Ingredients

  • All-purpose flour: A great flour to use for the structure. It’s light but sturdy enough to hold up to the remaining ingredients.
  • Granulated sugar: For the sweetness need to take bitter cocoa to sweet chocolate.
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder: Use natural (not Dutch Processed) that way it will react the way it needs to with the baking soda giving it a light and airy texture. Using Dutch-processed will lead to a denser crumb.
  • Baking soda: Reacts to not only the cocoa powder but the acidity in the buttermilk. This is the secret to amazingly soft textures!
  • Sea salt: Brings out the flavor of the other ingredients. 

Wet Ingredients

  • Hot water: Dissolves the cocoa powder and sugars nicely leaving behind no granules. It also brings out the flavor of the cocoa powder.
  • Buttermilk: A tangy milk that’s got the necessary acidity that regular milk doesn’t have. If you don’t have any it’s super simple to learn how to make buttermilk using regular milk and vinegar or lemon juice!
  • Vegetable oil: Great for added moisture. It’s a fat that doesn’t dry out or become solid at room temperature.
  • Large eggs: Bring these out ahead of time. You want all your ingredients to start at room temperature for even baking.
  • Vanilla extract: Awesome flavor enhancer.

Chocolate Buttercream

For the frosting, I use a chocolate buttercream frosting made with butter, powdered sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder, half and half, vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. But the best chocolate cake recipe pairs well with so many more. See below for more ideas!

How to Make Chocolate Cake

Step by step collage making a chocolate cake.
  1. Sift dry ingredients. In a large bowl, sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. This will help to remove any lumps, make it easier to blend with the other ingredients, and result in a light textured crumb.
  2. Add wet ingredients. Use a hand mixer or whisk to mix or stir in the hot water, buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla until well combined. Pour batter into 2 9-inch cake pans that have been lined with parchment paper.
  3. Bake. Place cake pans in a preheated 350-degree oven on the middle rack. Bake for 28-35 minutes or until the center comes out clean. This is one time where you may notice that the toothpick comes out with moist crumbs, and that’s ok too! 
  4. Decorate. Once the cakes have completely cooled place one of the cakes on a serving platter or cake stand. Spread the frosting over top in an even layer. Top that with the second cake and spread the frosting all over the top and sides. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes before diving in. Enjoy!

Recipe Tips

  • Coffee and chocolate. Espresso powder helps to intensify the chocolate flavor. I’m not a coffee drinker, but if you are you can add 1-2 teaspoons of espresso powder or replace the hot water with 1 cup of freshly brewed coffee. 
  • We’re baking a cake! So that means taking extra precautions to measure everything exactly right. For tips and tricks on how to measure flour, I encourage you to take a moment to check out my post as it is the info you’ll need for all your baking recipes.
  • Single-layer cake. You can switch to a 9×13″ pan and make a sheet cake rather than a layered cake. If you’re using an aluminum pan, keep the same baking time. If it’s glass, reduce it to 325 degrees. Don’t stray too far, you’ll want to keep an eye on it! 
  • Stand mixer. Yes, you can use one if you have one and would prefer it to an electric mixer.
  • The oil. Stick with a neutral oil that doesn’t have an overpowering flavor. Canola oil or vegetable oil work great, as does sunflower oil. After all, it’s the chocolate we want to taste.

More Frosting Options

Chocolate buttercream is just the beginning! The best chocolate cake recipe pairs with so many other flavors all of which I’ve got super simple recipes for you to follow.

Chocolate cake on white cake stand.

Recipe FAQs

Can I turn this moist chocolate cake recipe into chocolate cupcakes?

Yes you can absolutely use this recipe to make chocolate cupcakes from scratch!

I also have another great recipe for you! The best chocolate cupcakes recipe is slightly different, takes a few shortcuts, and is just as spectacular.

What can I substitute for buttermilk?

Find my tips for how to make buttermilk (all you need is milk and vinegar). If you don’t have any buttermilk or vinegar or lemon juice to make a substitute, you can use a bit of sour cream or full-fat Greek yogurt!

If you don’t have either of those then you can use whole milk, or any non-dairy milk instead. The texture will be different but it will still taste amazing.

What makes a cake moist and soft?

Some people might say it’s fat. It’s not really. Fat is definitely needed to give the batter added moisture and great consistency, but it’s really the amount of liquid used that contributes to the level of moisture in the cake.

A proper liquid-to-dry ratio is needed which is why it is important to measure your flour properly as well as the liquid ingredients you’re using.

Make Ahead & Freezing

Once both baked cake layers have cooled, wrap them individually in plastic wrap and keep them in the fridge for up to 2 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. 

Make the chocolate buttercream up to 3 days in advance and keep it in the fridge too. Bring both the cakes and the frosting to room temperature before assembling. 

Storing & Freezing

This cake will go fast, believe me! If you happen to have more self-restraint than I do when it comes to a chocolate dessert, then keep any leftover pieces of cake covered in an airtight container. This cake stays fresh for up to 5 days in the fridge.

This cake will keep in the freezer also for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge and bring it to room temperature before slicing and serving. I prefer to wrap each slice in plastic wrap before freezing to prevent freezer burn.

Slice of chocolate cake with a bite taken.

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Slice of chocolate cake with a bite taken.

Best Chocolate Cake Recipe

5 from 6 votes
↑ Click stars to rate now!
Author: Jamielyn Nye
It's a rich, moist chocolate cake layered with chocolate buttercream frosting all made from scratch using one bowl and pure and simple ingredients!
Prep Time: 30 mins
Cook Time: 28 mins
Cool Time: 1 hr 32 mins
Total Time: 2 hrs 30 mins
Servings: 12

Ingredients 

  • 2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (410 grams) granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup (65 grams) natural, unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup (225 grams) hot water
  • 1 cup (245 grams) buttermilk , at room temperature
  • ½ cup (100 grams) vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 large eggs , at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Chocolate buttercream frosting , to frost

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Center an oven rack in the middle position. Line the bottom of 2 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  • In a large bowl, sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.
  • Using a handheld mixer or whisk, mix in the water, buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla until well combined. Spread the batter evenly between the pans.
  • Bake 28 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with moist crumbs. Let cool 2 to 3 minutes before running a knife around the edges and turning out onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely.
  • On a cake stand or serving platter, place 1 cake layer. Spread the frosting evenly over the top. Place second layer on top and spread remaining frosting all over the top and sides. Refrigerate at least 30 to 60 minutes before slicing. Enjoy with a cold glass of milk!

Video


Notes

Storing: Leftover cake can be stored tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Make Ahead & Freezing: Cover each baked and cooled cake layer individually in plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 2 days or freeze up to 3 months. The chocolate buttercream can be made 2 to 3 days in advance (cover and keep in the fridge). Bring cake layers and frosting to room temperature before assembling. Frosted cake can be frozen up to 3 months, simply thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature to serve.
Pan Alternative: This cake bakes well in a 9×13-inch pan. Bake times are similar to the time listed above for an aluminum pan. If using a glass pan, reduce the oven temperature to 325°F and keep a close eye on time.
Espresso Powder/Coffee: For a more intense chocolate flavor, feel free to add 1 to 2 teaspoons espresso powder. Hershey’s original recipe uses 1 cup freshly brewed coffee in place of the hot water. 
Cocoa Powder: Natural cocoa powder in the cake will give you the rise and texture that makes this cake so good. Dutch-process cocoa will give you a much denser cake. 
Recipe credit: Recipe adapted from Hershey’s.

Nutrition

Calories: 241kcal | Carbohydrates: 53g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 29mg | Sodium: 411mg | Potassium: 143mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 35g | Vitamin A: 73IU | Calcium: 38mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition provided is an estimate. It will vary based on specific ingredients used.

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American

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