Best Chocolate Cake | Chocolate Cake Recipe - Handle the Heat

Best Chocolate Cake

By Tessa Arias
  |  
September 5th, 2018
4.81 from 96 votes
4.81 from 96 votes

This Best Chocolate Cake recipe makes for the most flavorful, moist, and tender chocolate cake you've ever tasted! Everyone LOVES it and you don't even need a mixer to make the batter.  Download my free Buttercream guide here!

Yield: 12 servings

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook: 40 minutes

Tessa's Recipe Rundown...

Taste: Loaded with chocolate flavor and just the perfect balance of sweetness. Texture: Crazy moist, tender, and fudgy with the silkiest and creamiest chocolate frosting ever! Ease: The cake batter is crazy quick & easy. The frosting is a little more involved, but totally doable. Pros: Best ever chocolate cake... need I say more?! Cons: Nope, none. Would I make this again? Of course, this is already my go-to chocolate cake recipe.

I have a confession to make. I’m not a big cake fan. As a professional baking blogger I know this is basically heresy.

But I just find the majority of cakes out there to be either dry and bland, sickly sweet and artificial tasting, or so light in texture that I would rather have a brownie.

Best Chocolate Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream on a cake stand

But not this chocolate cake.

Oh no, I could eat this cake and the chocolate frosting weekly… for eternity!

When this best chocolate cake comes out of the oven, the tops of the layers are actually shiny and slightly crackled almost like a brownie. That’s how fudgy it is.

Rich slice of the best chocolate cake recipe with a fork taking a bite

The cake batter itself is so crazy easy to whip up. You don’t even need a mixer for the batter. That allows you to focus your energies on the Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream, which truly takes this cake to another level.

You could totally have fun and get creative with flavors and fillings here as well. Maybe add some orange zest to the cake & frosting, some raspberries or jam to the filling, or some salted caramel for good measure?

But sometimes there’s nothing better than pure chocolate indulgence. You’ll want to go totally Matilda on this cake!

Learn how to make the BEST Chocolate Cake:

I hope you make this chocolate cake from scratch for someone special soon!

By the way, if you’re looking for a special BIRTHDAY CAKE recipe this one is my fave.

Silky smooth chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream for the Best ever chocolate cake!

How to Make the BEST Chocolate Cake – Recipe Tips

What kind of chocolate is best in chocolate cake?

We can’t make the best chocolate cake without paying attention to the chocolate ingredients! The cake contains both bittersweet chocolate AND Dutch-process cocoa powder for as much chocolate flavor as possible.

The chocolate frosting uses melted chocolate for the most intense and pure chocolate flavor possible. I like to use semisweet, but feel free to use milk or bittersweet chocolate. Just make sure you’re using the highest quality chocolate you can.

Do I have to use Dutch-process cocoa powder?

I do recommend you stick with the Dutch-process cocoa as it actually works differently on a chemical level compared to regular natural cocoa. You can learn more about the differences between cocoa powders here.

So why am I using Dutch-process cocoa with baking soda for this recipe? Shouldn’t it be baking powder? The Dutch-process cocoa has more fat than most grocery store natural cocoa powder products, so it’s actually used for flavor and moisture in this specific recipe. The vinegar in this recipe activates the baking soda. Do not substitute.

You can find Dutch-process cocoa at many gourmet food stores, like Target, Whole Foods, Sur la Table, and Williams-Sonoma. I actually order a big container on Amazon because it’s such a great value!

If you can’t find it, you can use regular unsweetened cocoa powder, just remove the vinegar in the recipe completely.

Why is there espresso powder in chocolate cake? Can I omit it?

You may have seen a few chocolate cake recipes that utilize hot water or even hot coffee. When the hot liquid is combined with the cocoa powder, it helps to dissolve and ‘bloom’ the cocoa  to bring out as much flavor with as few cocoa lumps as possible.

In this recipe, I use a combination of hot water and instant espresso powder. The espresso simply enhances the chocolate flavor without actually tasting like coffee.

Alternatively, you could use strong hot coffee for the same effect. I never have coffee on hand so for me, espresso powder + hot water is easier and cleaner. If you don’t like coffee or espresso, just use hot water and omit the espresso powder completely.

How to Make MOIST Chocolate Cake:

The ingredients below all help to create a moist, tender, and fudgy cake.

Oil vs. Butter in Chocolate Cake

This recipe calls for vegetable oil instead of melted butter. Oil creates an ultra moist texture and open slightly spongy crumb. Cakes made with oil feel more “moist” because the fat is a liquid at room temperature so it coats the tongue. Be sure to use fresh vegetable oil. Give it a sniff before using to make sure it doesn’t have any off flavors.

Feel free to use melted coconut oil instead of vegetable oil!

Sugar

This recipe uses a combination of granulated and brown sugars, which creates a cake that’s flavorful, moist, and fudgy. Brown sugar is my hygroscopic, which basically means it draws and attracts moisture more than granulated white sugar. I also like the slightly complex butterscotch flavor it adds.

Eggs

The more whole eggs a cake recipe has, the richer it’ll be. Since the yolk contains most of the fat in an egg, it also lends richness to cakes. Adding an egg yolk to this recipe also helps increase the fudge factor. Be sure your eggs are at room temperature so they blend into the batter smoothly.

Can I bake a chocolate cake without eggs?

Eggs are a critical part of this particular recipe. If you replace them with a substitute. you’ll likely end up with a texture that’s much less rich and fudgy. However, if you can’t have eggs then my friend Gemma has a great tutorial on replacing eggs in baking recipes.

Why use sour cream in chocolate cake?

This also adds such a lovely richness and balance of flavor to cake. It helps make the cake more tender and fudgy. Be sure to use full fat sour cream that’s at room temperature.

Can I substitute the sour cream?

Full fat plain Greek yogurt also makes a fine substitute if you don’t have sour cream. I haven’t tried any dairy substitutes.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

This recipe uses my all time favorite frosting: Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream. It is a little more advanced, but the result is a frosting so silky, smooth, creamy, and not-too-sweet that it’s 100000% worth the effort. The ingredients & directions are included in the cake recipe below, but I also have an entire step-by-step tutorial on how to make chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream here.

I think the best part about this buttercream frosting is how easy it is to work with. It literally just glides right onto the cake effortlessly. Since it is so silky, though, it’s not the best frosting to use for any super intricate cake decorating.

If you don’t want to make Swiss Meringue Buttercream, you could use make a double batch of this dark chocolate buttercream instead.

How to Make Chocolate Cake Ahead of Time

Cake layers:

You can wrap unfrosted un-cut cooled cake layers completely in several layers of plastic wrap. Place inside a freezer bag. Store at room temperature for up to 5 days, or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge.

Frosting:

Frosting can be made 1 day ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Warm frosting in the microwave for 5 to 10 seconds and stir until creamy again before frosting cake.

Frosting can also be transferred to a ziptop bag and frozen for up to 1 month. Defrost in the fridge overnight then rewhip in the stand mixer until light and smooth.

Do I have to keep chocolate cake refrigerated?

Since frosting acts as a protective seal that keeps the cake moist and fresh, frosted cakes can be stored at a cool and dry room temperature for up to 2 days. Cover with a cake keeper to keep the chocolate buttercream frosting intact. Don’t use plastic wrap, which will not only ruin your frosting but also create condensation that can cause the frosting to separate.

I personally don’t worry about keeping frosting at room temperature since the sugar acts as a preservative, but if this concerns you then just keep the cake in the fridge.

How Can I Turn This Into Chocolate Cupcakes?

Lucky for you, I already have a best ever chocolate cupcakes recipe here! It’s the same base as this recipe.

Bite taken out of the best fudgy chocolate cake

More Cake Recipes:

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4.81 from 96 votes

How to make
Best Chocolate Cake

Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
This Best Chocolate Cake recipe makes for the most flavorful, moist, and tender chocolate cake you've ever tasted! Everyone LOVES it and you don't even need a mixer to make the batter.  Download my free Buttercream guide here!

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 8 ounces (227 grams) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup (57 grams) Dutch-process cocoa, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder*
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 3/4 (222 grams) cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup (227 grams) sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil*
  • 4 large eggs plus one egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the frosting:

  • 2/3 cup (133 grams) granulated sugar
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 sticks (340 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and at room temperature
  • 12 ounces (340 grams) semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Make the cake:

  1. In a medium heatproof bowl add the chocolate, cocoa powder, and espresso powder. Pour hot water over mixture. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk mixture gently until smooth then set aside to cool.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 8-inch round cake pans.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars, salt, and baking soda.
  4. Whisk sour cream, oil, eggs, egg yolk, vinegar, and vanilla into the cooled chocolate mixture until smooth. Stir in the flour mixture until smooth, being careful not to overmix. Batter will be thin.

  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then carefully turn them out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Make the frosting:

  1. Combine the sugar, egg whites, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Set bowl over a saucepan filled with 1-inch of gently simmering water. Whisking gently and constantly, heat mixture until sugar is dissolved and mixture is slightly thickened and foamy and registers 150°F on a candy thermometer or a digital thermometer, about 3 minutes.
  2. Fit stand mixer with whisk attachment (not the paddle attachment) and beat the egg white mixture on medium speed until slightly cooled and thickened, about 2 minutes. Add the butter, 1 piece at a time, until smooth and creamy. If the mixture looks curdled, that’s okay. Just keep beating until it becomes smooth. If the butter becomes too warm and greasy, refrigerate the bowl for 10 to 15 minutes then continue to beat until smooth.

  3. Add chocolate and vanilla and mix until combined. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light, fluffy, and well combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Assemble:

  1. Place one cake layer on a cake turntable or cake stand. Spread an even layer of frosting all of the cake layer, pushing it out over the edge just slightly. Place the other cake layer upside-down on top of the frosting so that the top of the cake is nice and flat. With an offset spatula, spread the remaining frosting evenly all over the cake, smoothing the edges. Serve or cover and store in the fridge for up to 2 days. Let come to room temperature for an hour before serving.

Recipe Notes

If you don’t have espresso powder, you can use 1 cup hot coffee in place of the powder + boiling water. This recipe uses vegetable oil, make sure it’s fresh and doesn’t have an off smell before using.
Course : Dessert
Cuisine : American
Keyword : chocolate cake

Photos by Ashley McLaughlin.

Tessa Arias
Author: Tessa Arias

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

Tessa Arias

About Tessa...

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

Find Tessa on  

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Recipe Rating




  1. #
    Oksana — November 15, 2022 at 9:59 pm

    This recipe was to die for!!!! my whole family loved it and made me feel like a professional baker. My daughter wants a vanilla layer cake as moist as this with this chocolate icing for her birthday. Do you have a vanilla cake recipe?

  2. #
    Julia — October 18, 2022 at 11:50 am

    I’ve tried other recipes, but none as good as this one. If you follow the simple tricks Tessa gives in the video or are in the written recipe, for the batter and for the frosting you’ll keep doing it, as myself, over and over again.

  3. #
    Laura — October 15, 2022 at 9:50 am

    Our whole house has the wonderful aroma of chocolate as the cake takes just a few more minutes to finish baking! This special chocolate cake is for our soon-to-be (tomorrow) five year old granddaughter. She is a chocolate princess and I think she will be delighted!

  4. #
    Sabrina — September 17, 2022 at 6:44 pm

    This is defintely the best chocolate cake best recipe I’ve used. I’ve always had an issue with chocolate cakes coming out either too dry or the chocolate flavor not really coming through as much. I made this for my dads birthday and it was a sensation. I used a full cup of coffee since I didn’t have instant espresso powder and it was a game changer. Also paired the cake with your buttercream recipe and it was just amazing.

  5. #
    Carrie — September 14, 2022 at 7:46 am

    If using regular cocoa, you say to eliminate the vinegar, so we also eliminate the baking soda and use baking powder?

  6. #
    Rebecca Phillips — September 4, 2022 at 11:07 am

    This cake turned out AMAZING! The whole family loved it. Will definitely make again.

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — September 6, 2022 at 9:49 am

      Yay! So thrilled to hear that, Rebecca!!

  7. #
    Amy — July 18, 2022 at 6:30 pm

    I made the best chocolate cupcakes and decided to give this one a go for my birthday. Hands down the best chocolate cake I have ever made. I haven’t tried out the icing. I decided to go with a Norwegian coffee/chocolate icing that I always had growing up. Amazing! I topped it with shredded coconut.

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — July 20, 2022 at 8:45 am

      Hi Amy! We are so excited to hear that you love this cake and the corresponding cupcakes so much! Happy belated birthday 🙂

  8. #
    Amy — July 17, 2022 at 5:34 pm

    I’ve made the best chocolate cupcakes and they were absolutely amazing. Best recipe I’ve ever made and I can’t wait to try this one out for my birthday. Is it possible to use a 9×13 sheet pan instead of the round?

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — July 19, 2022 at 9:40 am

      Hi Amy! I’m so excited to hear that you love the cupcakes so much! We have not tried making this make into a 9×13 pan, but that should work okay – you will just have to watch the bake time carefully, and be sure to remove it from the oven as soon as a toothpick inserted comes out clean (you don’t want to underbake, but you definitely don’t want to overbake!). As we have not tried baking this cake as a sheet cake, I cannot guide you on how long to bake for, sorry! Alternatively, this Chocolate Sheet cake is similar and also delicious, if you prefer not to experiment a little! Happy baking! 🙂

  9. #
    Katie — June 20, 2022 at 1:20 pm

    I made this for Father’s Day because my dad loves chocolate cake. My mom said it was the best chocolate cake she has ever had! Absolutely delicious and moist. The icing is AMAZING! The only chocolate cake I will ever make again.

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — June 21, 2022 at 6:59 am

      Wow, what a compliment!! So thrilled to hear you all loved this cake so much! 🙂

  10. #
    Laurie — May 17, 2022 at 2:48 pm

    Hi Kiersten,
    Thank you for your quick response! I will try your suggestions for using orange extract and zest in the chocolate cake.
    Thanks again,
    Laurie

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — May 18, 2022 at 6:32 am

      I can’t wait to hear how it turns out, Laurie! 🙂

      • #
        Laurie — June 10, 2022 at 12:02 pm

        Hi Kiersten,
        I finally made the Best Chocolate Cake recipe and added the zest of two oranges and one teaspoon of orange extract. It was delicious! So many compliments on not only the flavor but also the texture and how moist the cake was.
        I also love the fact that I didn’t need to use my mixer!! Thank you for your input

        • #
          Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — June 10, 2022 at 2:20 pm

          Hooray!! I’m so excited to hear that, Laurie!! I’ll have to make that version for myself sometime – I LOVE orange chocolate 🙂 Thanks for letting us know how it went!!

  11. #
    Morgan — May 16, 2022 at 5:00 pm

    I am not someone who would usually go for chocolate cake over vanilla. I made this recipe for my mom for her birthday since she loves chocolate cake, and I’ve made it at least three times since then. This cake is so delicious, moist, and flavorful. I’m a chocolate cake convert!

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — May 17, 2022 at 7:38 am

      Hi Morgan! Wow, that’s such a huge compliment, coming from a vanilla cake lover! So happy you love this recipe 🙂

      • #
        Morgan — October 22, 2022 at 3:33 pm

        And I’m still coming back to it!

  12. #
    Laurie — May 16, 2022 at 6:56 am

    I’m looking for a chocolate orange cake recipe. I see it’s suggested to add orange zest. How much would it take in order for the orange flavor to come through?
    Thank you!

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — May 17, 2022 at 10:27 am

      Hi Laurie! We haven’t tested an orange chocolate version yet, but a tablespoon should be a good starting point. However, if you are looking for a really bold orange flavor, replace the vanilla extract with orange extract in the cake. You can also experiment with adding orange extract or orange zest to the frosting; just be warned that the orange extract is really strong, so a little goes a long way (and you can always add more to the frosting once you taste it). I recommend experimenting with these combinations and seeing what your taste preference is once baked and frosted. Please let us know how you go with these experiments! Happy baking 🙂

    • #
      Carol Scheck — October 30, 2022 at 1:27 pm

      I would like to expand this recipe to use 3 8 inch cake pans, do you have a recommendation on how to do so?

      • #
        Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — November 1, 2022 at 9:21 am

        Hi Carol! We haven’t tested this recipe using three 8-inch pans, as the recipe was written to use just two 8-inch pans. You could make this into more layers in a couple different ways! Firstly, you could make the recipe as written, and once the cake layers have cooled completely, you could slice them both in half horizontally. This will give you four cake layers. Alternatively, if you wish to bake three individual cake layers, you can make the recipe as written, but greatly reduce the bake time and stick closely to the sensory indicators outlined in the recipe (bake until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean). I cannot tell you exactly how long the cake layers will need, because the pans will contain much less batter than when we tested this recipe, but I would start around 20 minutes and increase by a few minutes at a time from there, until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. I hope that helps! Happy baking 🙂

  13. #
    Baishakhi — May 12, 2022 at 12:31 am

    I love chocolate cake. Thank you for sharing this recipe.

  14. #
    Kervin — April 22, 2022 at 10:41 pm

    Wonderful blog!! The recipe for Chocolate Cake is stunning. Writing skills are too good. Love your recipe. Thanks a lot.

  15. #
    Dorothy — April 9, 2022 at 10:20 am

    If I use two 7inch pans how should I adjust the bake time? Also if I want to skip the coffee what’s the alternative? Milk? Thanks!

    • #
      Emily — April 12, 2022 at 8:12 am

      Hi Dorothy! We haven’t tried using 7-inch pans, so I can’t say for sure! We recommend using Wilton’s handy cake serving guide. Please check out the pink box above the recipe for more details regarding the espresso powder. Can’t wait to hear what you think of this recipe 🙂

    • #
      Ava — October 23, 2022 at 12:43 pm

      Would you please share the height of the 8 inch cake pans?
      Wanted to use this information for conversion purpose

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