So, here it is! My absolute favorite chocolate cake in one of the simplest, easiest ways to prepare it – a three-layer cake slathered in my favorite chocolate frosting. It gets rave reviews anytime I serve it, with most people exclaiming that it is the best chocolate cake they’ve ever eaten, and wondering how it could be so moist.
I’m sharing all of my chocolate cake tips below, so let’s dig in!
How To Make Homemade Chocolate Cake
I love baking cakes because even those with the most simplistic decorations elicit ooohs and aaahs and can be total showstoppers. Nearly everyone loves cake, and it’s the defacto celebration dessert. Birthday? Graduation? Baptism? Retirement? Anniversary? The answer is almost always CAKE.
So let’s talk about the ingredients needed to make a seriously awesome chocolate cake…
Dutch cocoa powder – I know, it’s not easily found at most grocery stores, but I beg of you – place an order (you can get it on Amazon or from King Arthur Flour) and keep it in your pantry. It produces such an intense, rich chocolate flavor and a deeper, darker color than unsweetened cocoa powder. I consider it a pantry staple.
Vegetable oil – No butter here! When it comes to cake, oil really does reign supreme. Why? Vegetable oil is 100% fat, while butter clocks in around 80%. More fat means more coating around the flour proteins, preventing the flour from absorbing the moisture in the cake to make gluten. When this happens, unsurprisingly, cakes are drier. So for a supremely moist cake, we use vegetable oil.
Coffee – You may have seen many chocolate cake recipes that call for coffee or brownie recipes that call for espresso powder, and there is a good reason for that. Coffee helps to ratchet up the chocolate flavor significantly, kind of a turbo boost for the cocoa powder.
Buttermilk – Buttermilk plays two roles in the cake; first and foremost, it reacts with the baking soda to create a beautiful rise for tall cake layers. Secondly, its lactic acid creates a slightly acidic batter, which keeps the cake moist and tender by breaking down gluten.
But Seriously, Do I HAVE To Use Coffee?
Perhaps you’re afraid that your chocolate cake is going to taste like coffee, and you don’t even LIKE coffee. I hear you, trust me. I am not a coffee drinker and don’t particularly care for the flavor, but I will always, always, add coffee or espresso powder to my chocolate baked goods because of the boost it gives to the chocolate flavor. And please trust me, you will not be able to taste the coffee at all.
If your concern is the caffeine content, you can absolutely substitute decaf coffee for regular. I did this all of the time when I was pregnant, and I do it if I know kids are going to be eating the cake.
If you cannot consume coffee due to medical, religious, or personal reasons, then you can substitute hot water. You’ll just loose that turbo boost effect, but the cake will still be delicious!
What If I Don’t Have Buttermilk?
It’s truly worth picking up for this recipe, but if you are in an absolute pinch or do not have it readily available where you live, you can make the following substitution:
Add 1½ tablespoons of lemon juice or white vinegar to a 2-cup measuring cup, then add enough milk to make 1½ cups. Stir together, then use as directed in the recipe.
So, there you have it! The absolute best homemade chocolate cake you could ever hope to come out of your kitchen. It’s simple, dare I say easy, supremely moist, and can be dressed up or dressed down with a limitless amount of different fillings and frostings (as evidenced by the examples above!).
If you keep one chocolate cake recipe in your recipe box, it absolutely needs to be this one!
Make the Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper, grease the parchment, then flour the insides of the pans, tapping out excess; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer (or large mixing bowl if you’re using a hand mixer), sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil and vanilla.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix for 2 minutes on medium speed. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix for an additional 20 seconds (the batter will be very thin).
Divide the batter evenly among prepared pans. Bake for 20 minutes and rotate the pans in the oven. Continue to bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cakes comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs), about 12 more minutes. Cool the cakes (in the pans) on wire racks for 20 minutes, then carefully turn them out onto cooling racks to cool completely. [Make-Ahead Tip! At this point you can wrap the layers in plastic wrap and keep at room temperature for up to 1 day, or refrigerate for up to 3 days before frosting and serving. You can also wrap in aluminum foil and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before frosting and serving.]
Make the Chocolate Frosting: Place the chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second increments on 50% power, stirring after each, until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, using the whisk attachment of your stand mixer, whip the butter on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, stopping to scrape the bowl once or twice.
Reduce the speed to medium-low and gradually add the powdered sugar. Once all of the powdered sugar is incorporated, add the vanilla, mixing until incorporated. Add the melted chocolate and whip at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed to incorporate all of the chocolate.
Assemble the Cake: Place one of the cake layers on a serving platter or cake stand and spread 1 cup of the frosting over the top in an even layer. Place another cake layer on top of the frosting and spread with another 1 cup of the frosting. Place the last cake layer on top of the frosting upside-down, then frost the top and sides of the cake and decorate as desired. The cake can be kept, covered, at room temperature for up to 4 days. You can also freeze the cake, well-wrapped in plastic wrap and aluminum foil, for up to 1 month.
You can substitute 9-inch cake pans, but will need to reduce the baking time. Rotate the pans after 15 minutes, then start checking for doneness after 10 additional minutes.
If you are concerned about the caffeine in the coffee, you can substitute decaf coffee.
If you cannot consume coffee, substitute hot water.
You can make this cake (and the frosting!) using a hand mixer or stand mixer.
I have not been successful at converting this recipe to cupcakes, despite multiple attempts. I recommend my Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes if you need a chocolate cupcake recipe.