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.
That is, until I met this cake! This is the BEST chocolate cake recipe I’ve EVER tried!
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.
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!
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 the taste of 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!
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.
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, or even use my decadent chocolate ganache recipe!
How to Make The Best Chocolate Cake
- Combine the chocolate, cocoa powder and espresso powder. Place these ingredients in a medium to large mixing bowl. Pour the hot water over the mixture. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk mixture gently until smooth then set aside to cool.
- Combine the dry ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the chocolate mixture. Whisk sour cream, oil, eggs, egg yolk, vinegar, and vanilla into the cooled chocolate mixture until smooth.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture until smooth. Be sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, being careful not to overmix. Batter will be thin.
- Bake. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake at 350°F 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 wire rack to cool completely.
How to Make Chocolate Cake Ahead of Time
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. Thaw overnight in the fridge.
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 the 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.
What brand of instant espress powder do you use?
Hi Sheri! Tessa loves King Arthur espresso powder (linked in the pink tip box above the recipe too), but at the time of writing this, that is out of stock online, so this one is a good backup espresso powder. Let us know what you think once you have given this cake a try 🙂 Happy baking!
I have made this recipe several times (including the cupcakes) and it’s my absolute favorite! So much, that even going to bakeries searching for my wedding cake flavor, nothing compares!
I’m seriously contemplating baking my own small cake for my cake cutting ceremony/ to be put on display and then baking a large sheet cake (or this recipe) myself.
Do you have any recommendations on how to quadruple this recipe to make a large sheet cake, or do you recommend just baking 4 individual cakes and placing them together?
Can’t decide if I should x4 all the ingredients or just bake 4 separate cakes and icing together. Any input is appreciated! Thanks!
Hi Bonnie! Wow, what an amazing compliment! We’re honored to be considered to feature at your wedding 🙂
Any time you make a double/triple/quadruple batch of a recipe, you run the risk of accidentally missing larger quantities of ingredients (eg adding 1 teaspoon of baking powder instead of 2 teaspoons, for example). Also, most mixer bowls won’t hold such a big batch of batter, and your ingredients may not be properly combined as a result. So, we typically recommend simply making the recipe as-written four times. That being said, if you want to proceed and are confident you’ll add the correct quantities of each ingredient, go for it – just be careful to mix everything thoroughly and scrape the bowl down extra, to account for the large batch. I hope that helps! Good luck and enjoy your wedding!!! 🙂
Yes, that makes total sense. I didn’t think about how large the batter would be. Thank you for your input, and I’ll post a follow up in a few months if I decide to make it! ❤️
Sounds great, Bonnie! All the best!! 🙂
So lovely cake . I am so excited for making this chocolate cake
Hi, My mother love chocolate cakes .I made it .This is my first time baking cake. Everyone appreciate me. This is a lovely recipe.
Absolutely delicious, My mother love chocolate cakes. I have made the chocolate cake. My whole family loved it. This cake is so delicious, moist and flavorful.
Wonderful!! I frosted it with your Best Ever Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, as that was requested by my family. Absolutely yummy!
This recipe popped up on my Instagram and it was so beautiful it made my chest ache. I made this for Christmas and it’s the best chocolate cake I have eaten or made out of multiple recipes I have made or had at bakeries/restaurants. The cake itself is simple but yields a chocolatey cake with a dense but soft crumb. I ate some scraps by themselves and it was good. This is my first time making a Swiss meringue buttercream. It almost went to ruin since it curdled and became soupy. I did keep beating it for a while and also refrigerated at one point and that didn’t help. I watched a YouTube video which said to put it back on the boiler to help the curdles melt partially and then add the remaining butter back in and that made it come together gorgeously. I would recommend whipping the eggs to stiff peaks and then add the butter in smaller increments. Great recipe.
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?
Hi Oksana! So glad to hear this was such a hit! Here is Tessa’s Best Yellow (vanilla) cake recipe 🙂 Happy baking!
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.
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!
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.
I am looking for a cake recipe for my daughter’s birthday and this was seems perfect! couple or question…what measuring modifications would I need to make for 6 inch cake pan and can substitute the oil for butter?
Hi Natasha! This cake was designed for two 8-inch pans, and we haven’t tested it in 6-inch pans, so I can’t say for sure how long that will bake for. Check out Wilton’s guide for this to help you determine this, if 6-inch is all you have. Also, for this cake, we recommend using oil – check out Tessa’s article about Oil vs Butter in baking for more info! Happy baking!
If using regular cocoa, you say to eliminate the vinegar, so we also eliminate the baking soda and use baking powder?
Hi Carrie! No, natural cocoa powder is highly acidic, so it will activate the baking soda on its own! Learn more about Cocoa Powder here, and learn more about Baking Powder vs Baking Soda here! Happy baking!!
This cake turned out AMAZING! The whole family loved it. Will definitely make again.
Yay! So thrilled to hear that, Rebecca!!
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.
Hi Amy! We are so excited to hear that you love this cake and the corresponding cupcakes so much! Happy belated birthday 🙂
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?
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! 🙂
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.
Wow, what a compliment!! So thrilled to hear you all loved this cake so much! 🙂
Thank you for your quick response! I will try your suggestions for using orange extract and zest in the chocolate cake.
I can’t wait to hear how it turns out, Laurie! 🙂
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
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!!
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!
Hi Morgan! Wow, that’s such a huge compliment, coming from a vanilla cake lover! So happy you love this recipe 🙂
And I’m still coming back to it!
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?
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 🙂
I would like to expand this recipe to use 3 8 inch cake pans, do you have a recommendation on how to do so?
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 🙂
I love chocolate cake. Thank you for sharing this recipe.
Wonderful blog!! The recipe for Chocolate Cake is stunning. Writing skills are too good. Love your recipe. Thanks a lot.
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!
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 🙂
Would you please share the height of the 8 inch cake pans?
Wanted to use this information for conversion purpose