For the Best Chocolate Cake of Your Life, Never Skip This One Easy Step

For the Best Chocolate Cake of Your Life, Never Skip This One Easy Step

What could be better than a well-made slice of classic chocolate cake? In my opinion, absolute nothing! This rich and tender cake layered with fluffy chocolate buttercream is the perfect ending to any special occasion.

My little trick: Adding a small amount of instant espresso powder to the batter. Don’t worry — it doesn’t end up tasting very coffee-forward. The coffee amplifies the chocolate flavor for an even richer cake. You can finish the cake with some sprinkles if you like, but I think it’s beautiful on its own with just the swoopy, fluffy frosting.

Key Ingredients in Chocolate Cake

  • Dairy. A combination of sour cream and buttermilk ensures a tender cake that’s strong enough to withstand any layering.
  • Oil. Canola or vegetable oil keeps the cake moist.
  • Flour. Use all-purpose flour for the perfect tender structure.
  • Sugar. Regular granulated sugar sweetens the cake and lends a lighter texture.
  • Cocoa powder. The rich, chocolaty flavor comes from unsweetened natural cocoa.
  • Espresso. Instant espresso powder enhances the chocolate flavor.
  • Leaveners. A combination of baking powder and baking soda yields a fluffy cake.
head on shot of a whole chocolate cake with on slice being lifted out by a silver cake cutter.

Credit: Photo: Ryan Liebe ; Food Stylist: Brett Regot Credit: Photo: Ryan Liebe ; Food Stylist: Brett Regot

How to Make Chocolate Cake

  1. Prepare the wet and dry ingredients. Let sour cream, buttermilk, and eggs come to room temperature in a bowl, then combine with oil, salt, and vanilla. Whisk together all-purpose flour, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking powder, and baking soda. Then stir in the wet ingredients.
  2. Bloom the cocoa. Stir in boiling water until just combined to draw out the cocoa flavor.
  3. Bake the cakes. Divide the batter between two parchment-lined cake pans, then bake until the cakes are firm and cooked through (a toothpick inserted in the center will still have a few crumbs). Set the cakes aside to cool completely.
  4. Make the frosting. Beat room-temperature unsalted butter until light and fluffy, then add powdered sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, salt, and heavy cream or whole milk. Beat until smooth and fluffy.
  5. Assemble the cake. Swipe a small dollop of frosting onto a serving plate or cake stand, then top with one of the cakes. Spread a generous layer of frosting, then top with the remaining cake. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Chill the cake before cutting to get clean slices.
head on shot of a whole chocolate cake with icing, and a large slice taken out from it on the left.

Credit: Photo: Ryan Liebe ; Food Stylist: Brett Regot Credit: Photo: Ryan Liebe ; Food Stylist: Brett Regot

What Is the Best Frosting for Chocolate Cake?

I like classic chocolate buttercream for its ease, structure, and creamy texture. However, you can use any frosting you like in its place. Cream cheese frosting or marshmallow frosting would be delicious. Or, try a different buttercream flavor like vanilla or strawberry.

Chocolate Cake Recipe

Make a rich chocolate cake with layers of fluffy chocolate buttercream frosting.

Prep time 40 minutes to 50 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes to 30 minutes

Makes Makes 1 (9-inch) cake

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • Cooking spray or butter, for coating the pans
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup natural cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup boiling water

For the frosting:

  • 3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup natural cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream or whole milk, plus more as needed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

Make the cake:

  1. Place 3/4 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup buttermilk, and 2 large eggs in a medium bowl and let sit until room temperature. Meanwhile, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF. Coat 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray or butter, then line the bottom of each with a parchment paper round.
  2. Add 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt to the sour cream mixture and whisk until smooth.
  3. Place 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, 3/4 cup natural cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder, 2 teaspoons baking soda, and 2 teaspoons baking powder in the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl if using an electric hand mixer). Beat with the whisk attachment on low speed until combined. With the mixer on low, add the sour cream mixture and beat until combined, about 1 minute 15 seconds. With the mixer still running, slowly pour in 1/2 cup boiling water and beat until just smooth, about 40 seconds.
  4. Divide the batter evenly between the pans (3 cups or about 21 ounces per pan). Bake until firm but a finger leaves an impression in the crust (a toothpick inserted into the center should still have a few crumbs), 25 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, wash and dry the mixer bowl. Place 3 sticks unsalted butter in the bowl and let sit at room temperature until softened.
  5. When the cakes are ready, place on a wire rack and let cool completely in the pans, about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, make the frosting when the butter is ready.

Make the frosting:

  1. Beat the butter with the paddle attachment on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1 cup natural cocoa powder, 1/4 cup heavy cream or whole milk, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high speed and beat for 1 minute. Do not over-whip. Beat in more cream or milk a tablespoon at a time as needed if the frosting is too thick.
  2. Run a knife around the edge of the cakes to loosen, remove the cakes from the pans, and discard the parchment. Place a dollop of frosting on the middle of a cake stand or platter and top with one of the cake layers. Dollop 1/3 of the frosting (about 1 1/2 cups) onto the cake and spread into an even layer, going all the way to the edges. Top with the second cake layer bottom facing up. Press down gently to adhere. Spread the remaining frosting onto the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before slicing to help set the shape.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The cakes and frosting can be made up to 1 day ahead. Store the cakes tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature, and the frosting in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Let the frosting come to room temperature before assembling the cake.

Alternatively, the cake can be assembled and decorated up to 1 day before serving. Refrigerate uncovered and let the cake come to room temperature before serving.

Storage: Leftover cake can be covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days. Let come to room temperature before serving.