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This Best Chocolate Cake recipe is your new go-to cake recipe! Birthdays, Christmas, dinner parties, you name it – this cake is the perfect crowd-pleasing dessert.
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.
That is, until I met this cake! This is the BEST chocolate cake recipe I’ve EVER tried!
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.
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!
I hope you make this chocolate cake from scratch for someone special soon!
How to Make the BEST Chocolate Cake Recipe
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 chocolate 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. So why am I using Dutch-process cocoa with baking soda for this recipe? Shouldn’t it be baking powder? Here’s why:
- 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 or skip this.
- You can find Dutch-process cocoa at many gourmet food stores, like Target, Whole Foods, Sur la Table, and Williams-Sonoma.
- You can also buy it easily online from Amazon.
- If you can’t find it, you can use regular unsweetened cocoa powder, just remove the vinegar in the recipe completely.
- You can learn more about the differences between cocoa powders here.
Why is There Espresso Powder in Chocolate Cake? Can I Omit it?
- You may have noticed that some chocolate cake recipes utilize hot water or even hot coffee.
- When 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.
What’s the Best Pan for Baking Chocolate Cake?
This recipe uses two 8-inch round cake pans. I love these Fat Daddios pans because they bake evenly and come out cleanly.
How to Make MOIST Chocolate Cake
The ingredients below all help to create a moist, tender, and fudgy cake, for the BEST chocolate cake ever.
Oil vs. Butter in Chocolate Cake
- This chocolate cake 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 best chocolate cake recipe uses a combination of granulated and brown sugars, which:
- Creates a cake that’s flavorful, moist, and fudgy.
- Brown sugar is more hygroscopic, which basically means it draws and attracts moisture more than granulated white sugar.
- I also like the slightly complex butterscotch flavor it adds.
- Don’t reduce the amount of sugar in this chocolate cake recipe – learn why here.
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 this Best Chocolate 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. 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, 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 make a double batch of this dark chocolate buttercream instead, or even use my decadent chocolate ganache recipe!
Do I Have to Keep Best 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. Here are my best tips:
- 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.
More Cake Recipes:
- Best Ever Chocolate Cupcakes (just the cupcake version of this recipe!)
- Chocolate Bundt Cake
- Easy Chocolate Sheet Cake
- Chocolate Zucchini Cake
- Chocolate Lava Cakes
- Flourless Chocolate Cake
My Favorite Cake Tools:
- Guittard Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
- Offset Spatulas
- Fat Daddio’s 8-inch Round Cake Pan
- Cake Turntable
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
Make the cake:
- 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.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 8-inch round cake pans.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars, salt, and baking soda.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Cake Layers: Wrap unfrosted, un-cut, cooled cake layers in several layers of plastic wrap and 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: Frosting can be made 1 day ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the fridge. Let come to room temperature and beat on low with a paddle attachment until creamy. If frosting appears runny or curdled, microwave about 1/4 cup for 5-10 seconds, then mix back into bowl and beat on medium-high until smooth.
Alternatively, freeze the frosting in a ziptop bag or airtight container for up to 1 month. Defrost in the fridge overnight, then let come to room temperature before whipping in the stand mixer on low until light and smooth.
This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated with additional baking tips and recipe improvements. Photos by Ashley McLaughlin.