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.
But not this cake.
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 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 powder 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 a Chocolate Cake Moist:
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 egg yolk contains most of the fat in an egg, it also lends richness to cakes. Adding an egg yolk to this recipe also helped 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.
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 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. Defrost 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 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 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 Cupcakes?
Lucky for you, I already have a best ever chocolate cupcake recipe here! It’s the same base as this recipe.