Peppermint Chocolate Cake | Handle the Heat
Filed Under: Cake | Chocolate | Christmas

Peppermint Chocolate Cake

December 7th, 2021
5 from 6 votes
5 from 6 votes

Peppermint Chocolate Cake is the absolute PERFECT holiday cake! It’s as easy as it is beautiful, ultra moist, and is loaded with chocolate and refreshing peppermint flavors.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook: 40 minutes

Tessa's Recipe Rundown...

Taste: Super chocolaty from the cake and drip effect but perfectly balanced with a ridiculously light and fluffy peppermint buttercream.
Texture: Incredibly moist and tender with the silkiest peppermint buttercream you’ll ever taste. You won’t be able to stop eating the buttercream! The peppermint candies on top give this cake a delicious added crunch.
Ease: The cakes are very simple to whip up, as is the frosting. Creating a layer cake is a little more involved, but completely doable.
Appearance: You will thoroughly delight your guests with this show stopper. Imagine this on your holiday dessert table! It’ll be gone in no time.
Pros: This cake is everything you wish for in a holiday cake and more!
Cons: A little time consuming but very simple to break up the process over two days!

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I am so excited to share this Peppermint Chocolate Cake recipe! If you’re not in the holiday spirit yet, you will be after making this incredible cake!

This recipe involves two of my all-time favorite flavors of Christmas: chocolate and peppermint. I’m not dreaming of a White Christmas, I’m dreaming of making this cake again.

Have you ever attempted a layer cake before? I promise they’re easier than they look! Part of the Handle the Heat Baking School includes early access to HTH recipes. Within 3 days of sharing this recipe to the Exclusive Members Facebook Group, HTH Member Erica, who has never made a naked cake before, produced this spot-on replica! 

How to Make Peppermint Chocolate Cake

How to Make a MOIST Chocolate Cake:

There are two keys to a moist chocolate cake. First, be sure to follow the recipe as written. There are ingredients such as sour cream, vegetable oil, eggs, and brown sugar that contribute to a moist and tender texture.

Second, be sure to measure your flour and cocoa powder correctly. The best way is to weigh it, the second best way is the spoon and level method. It’s super easy to accidentally add way too much flour and cocoa powder which will create a dry and/or dense cake. Check out my article on How to Measure Flour here.

Lastly, don’t overbake the cake. Start checking for doneness with a toothpick at 30 minutes, especially if your oven tends to run hot.

Avoid using dark-colored cake pans which will dry out the edges of the cake and cook faster. If that’s all you have, shave a few minutes off the baking time.

Do I Have to Use the Espresso Powder in this Chocolate Cake Recipe?

No! Feel free to omit it. The espresso powder simply enhances the chocolate flavor and you can’t actually taste it. You can also use 1 cup of strongly brewed coffee in place of the espresso + hot water. Whichever is easier in your kitchen!

Natural vs. Dutch Process Cocoa Powder:

I prefer Dutch Process Cocoa Powder in this recipe. It gives this cake a perfect cocoa flavor and deep, bold color. I’ve even seen Dutch Process Cocoa Powder at Target and Walmart recently! If you can’t find it, you can also use regular natural unsweetened cocoa powder instead. This recipe can work with both since it uses baking soda + acidic ingredients (brown sugar, coffee, and sour cream). You can learn more about the differences between cocoa powder here.

comparison of dutch process vs natural cocoa powder

The BEST Cake Pan:

As I mentioned above, never use dark-colored cake pans if you can avoid them. They tend to overcook the edges, making them too brown and dry.

My favorite cake pans are definitely my Fat Daddio’s pans. They bake evenly and clean up easily!

Can I Use a 9-inch Pan Instead?

This recipe calls for 8-inch baking pans, which is what will work best. You can also use 9-inch if that’s what you have. Your cake layers will be thinner. Just shave about 5 minutes off the baking time.

Favorite Tools for Layer Cakes:

Can This Recipe Be Made Into Cupcakes?

Almost any cake recipe can be made into cupcakes. Check out my full guide on how to convert cake to cupcakes (and vice versa!).

How to Make Cake Ahead of Time:

To make this layer cake process easier, plan on baking your cakes in advance and then frosting them 1 day prior to serving (crushed candy canes placed day of serving). Wrap unfrosted un-cut cooled cake layers in several layers of plastic wrap. Place inside a freezer bag (if freezing). Store at room temperature for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge (do not defrost at room temperature or you’ll end up with mushy cake).

How to Store Cake:

The frosted cake can be stored, covered, at room temperature for up to 1 day or in the fridge for up to 3 days. Note that candy canes will bleed into the chocolate drip and frosting, so this cake is best served the day it’s decorated.

Want an Even More Decadent Topping?

Try topping this cake with my Peppermint Oreo Truffles! You’ll be in chocoholic heaven.

More Peppermint Chocolate Recipes:

More Christmas Desserts:

P.S. Check out ALL my Christmas desserts HERE!

5 from 6 votes

How to make
Peppermint Chocolate Cake

Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes


For the cake:

  • 10 ounces (283 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
  • 3/4 cup (150 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, at room temperature
  • 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the buttercream:

  • 4 sticks (452 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 5 cups (625 grams) powdered sugar (preferably organic with tapioca starch instead of cornstarch)
  • 1/4 cup milk or heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

For the chocolate drip:

  • 2 1/2 ounces (75 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 ounces (75 grams) heavy cream

For decorating:

  • Crushed candy canes*


Make the cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 8-inch round cake pans.
  2. In a large heatproof bowl, add the chocolate, cocoa powder, and espresso powder. Pour boiling water over mixture. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk mixture gently until smooth then set aside to cool completely.

  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars, salt, and baking soda.
  4. Whisk sour cream, oil, eggs, yolks, vinegar, and vanilla into the cooled chocolate mixture until smooth. Stir in the flour mixture until smooth, being careful not to overmix.
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then carefully turn them out onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Refrigerate to chill before assembling and frosting.

Make the buttercream:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the sugar and butter. Continue beating on medium speed until well blended and then increase the speed to medium high and beat for another 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl before adding the milk or cream, vanilla, salt, and peppermint and beat on medium high for 1 minute, adding more cream or more powdered sugar if needed to achieve desired consistency.


  1. Place one cake layer on a cake stand or serving plate. Frost the top of the cake generously, as this will become the filling. Top with the other cake layer, flat side up.

  2. With an offset spatula, spread a very thin layer of frosting all over the cake. This layer is a crumb coat and should act like spackle. For the smoothest frosting, return the cake to the fridge or freezer until firm to the touch. Spread the remaining frosting all over the cake. If desired, focus the frosting on the top to maintain the ‘naked’ look.
  3. Refrigerate while you prepare chocolate drip.

Make chocolate drip:

  1. Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a simmer, then immediately remove from heat and pour over chocolate. You can also do this in the microwave. Cover for a few minutes then stir until smooth.

  2. Allow to cool until it has thickened but is still pourable, about 10 minutes. Don’t place ganache in the fridge to cool. Test the consistency of the drip by pouring down the side of a glass. If it’s too thick, microwave for 5 to 10 seconds. If it’s too thin, allow to continue to cool. Spread the drip all over the top of the cake and allow it to drip slowly down the sides. Sprinkle crushed candy canes in a border around the diameter of the top of the cake before the drip sets.
  3. The cake can be stored, covered, at room temperature for up to 1 day or in the fridge for up to 3 days. Note that candy canes will bleed into the chocolate drip and frosting, so this cake is best served the day it’s decorated.

Recipe Video

Recipe Notes

*Note: place the candy canes in a ziptop bag and crush with a rolling pin or mallet.
Course : Dessert
Cuisine : American
Keyword : peppermint 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. #
    Sharon Reed — December 12, 2022 at 1:44 pm

    I’m trying to view the Peppermint Chocolate Cake and I can’t find/view the video. Please advise. Thank you, Sharon

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — December 13, 2022 at 9:18 am

      Hi Sharon! It’s almost at the top – just scroll down a little, underneath Tessa’s Recipe Rundown, and then a photo of the cake. Just scroll down and don’t click the button that says ‘recipe video’ as this link doesn’t work (we’re working on fixing this issue!). You’ll see a small header that says “Recipe Video”. Let us know what you think of this cake once you’ve given it a try! 🙂

  2. #
    Paula — December 11, 2022 at 10:49 pm

    I made this cake last year and it was absolutely wonderful! This year, I was thinking of making a Yule Log, and wondered if somehow I could use this cake and buttercream recipe. I would use the ganache, but whip it once set, then probably pipe on. Thank you.

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — December 13, 2022 at 9:21 am

      Hi Paula! Yay, I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed this cake so much! We haven’t tried anything like that with this cake, so we couldn’t really say unfortunately. Let us know how it goes if you give that a try 🙂

  3. #
    Susan Jensen — December 8, 2022 at 2:58 pm

    Hi Tessa & Emily
    I was able to pick up Fat Daddio’s 8″ X 2″ pans yesterday while I was browsing a bakery supply store. But after checking out what pans you used for this cake I realize that they’re not the right depth. Will 2″ tall pans work for this recipe?

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — December 9, 2022 at 12:37 pm

      Hi Susan! Tessa typically prefers to use 3-inch high pans to ensure that no overflow occurs. We did test this recipe using 3-inch high pans, but you may be able to get away with 2-inch high pans; just be cautious not to overfill the pans! Let us know how it goes if you give this a try!

  4. #
    Dairinn Milne — January 11, 2022 at 2:18 pm

    This is THE BEST recipe ever!! The chocolate cake is the richest chocolate flavour I’ve ever tasted. The buttercream is so silky and refreshing and to top it all off the ganache adds the perfect flavour and texture Definitely a must bake.

    • #
      Emily — January 12, 2022 at 11:28 am

      Wonderful! I’m so happy you enjoyed this recipe so much, it’s a favorite of mine too! 🙂

  5. #
    Whitney — January 5, 2022 at 9:19 am

    I made this for New Years Eve which was a beautiful additional to the table and was so yummy! Everyone loved it. Very easy recipe to follow and helpful tips. I ran out of patience waiting for the ganache to cool which did effect the final look. Next time I’ll wait!

    • #
      Emily — January 5, 2022 at 5:03 pm

      Happy you loved this recipe, Whitney, thanks for sharing! I agree, this cake is surprisingly easy to make!

  6. #
    Cristal — December 25, 2021 at 1:24 pm

    HUGE hit at Christmas Eve dinner! I never thought I’d be a baker…with your recipes and tips though, slowly but surely I’m getting more confident with desserts AND impressing my friends and family while I’m at it. Thank you!

    • #
      Emily — December 27, 2021 at 10:53 am

      Hooray!! That’s what we LOVE to hear, I’ll be sure to relay your kind words to Tessa, they’ll make her day! So happy you loved this recipe 🙂

  7. #
    Aimee P — December 22, 2021 at 4:37 pm

    This cake was as gorgeous as it was delicious. My daughter (who normally hates frosting) loved the peppermint buttercream so that’s a pretty big testament to this recipe’s tastiness.

    What I particularly liked was that this cake looks quite fancy, but the recipe was approachable and doable. This will be on holiday repeat for sure.

    • #
      Emily — December 23, 2021 at 9:09 am

      So happy to hear that, Aimee! I agree, this cake is easier to make than it looks, and that buttercream is to die for! My husband and I couldn’t stop eating it right from the mixing bowl!

  8. #
    Farah — December 17, 2021 at 10:45 pm

    I’m planning on making this cake next week but I’m hesitant about doing the drip! I never have done a drip- do you have any tips or tricks on how to get it to nicely drip on the sides? And just to confirm- I would first pour the chocolate ganache in the middle and then kind of push it around and rotate the cake stand too? Sorry if this is worded confusingly but I’m just confused overall about how to do the chocolate ganache on top.

    • #
      Emily — December 20, 2021 at 1:35 pm

      Hi Farah! Can’t wait to hear how it goes! There’s two different ways to apply a drip: either adding the drip effect first, then spreading ganache on top of your cake, or the completely opposite. Either will work perfectly fine. I recommend getting a mini squeeze bottle to use as a beginner (check out the pink tip box above the recipe for a link, they’re super cheap on Amazon!), and then yes, you’ll pour the majority of the ganache in the middle and quickly spread it on the top of your cake, letting some drip down the sides, though you’ll need to add additional drips manually to make it pretty 🙂 I hope that makes sense! Check out HTH’s Instagram, we recently posted a reel of this cake being decorated. While the reel is quick, it may help you at least understand the process a little bit better. You can also check out some tutorials on YouTube…Cupcake Jemma is a favorite of mine 🙂 I hope that helps!

      • #
        Farah — December 23, 2021 at 9:57 am

        Thank you for the tips! One more thing- do you think there’s a way to do the ganache without a drip effect? Also I’m so sad I can’t find any candy canes in stores- not even any mint candy’s!! I don’t know what I’ll decorate the top with anymore

        • #
          Emily — December 23, 2021 at 2:54 pm

          Absolutely! You’ll have a bit of ganache leftover, but you could totally save the extra for some delicious ice cream topping 🙂 If you have any leftover buttercream, you could pipe some swirls around the top of the cake and decorate those with some festive sprinkles! That could look really pretty!

  9. #
    Mandy — December 17, 2021 at 7:31 am

    Can this be made with gluten free flour?

    • #
      Emily — December 17, 2021 at 11:34 am

      Hi Mandy! We don’t bake with gluten-free ingredients, so I can’t say for sure, but please let us know how it goes if you give it a try!

  10. #
    Lia — December 11, 2021 at 6:12 am

    Hi Tessa,
    Thanks for sharing this awesome recipe.
    Would you please advise the substitute of sour cream as I don’t like tangy flavor in my cake?
    How much gram is it needed?

    • #
      Emily — December 13, 2021 at 4:15 pm

      Sure, you can try using plain, full-fat Greek yogurt in place of the sour cream. The gram measurement will be the same, as well as making sure it’s room temperature prior to using. Please let us know what you think!

      • #
        Lia — December 14, 2021 at 3:23 am

        Thank you so much Emily 🙂

  11. #
    Erica — December 7, 2021 at 11:33 am

    Peppermint and chocolate are one of my favorite combinations so I HAD to try this cake. It is so good! The chocolate cake is perfect and not too sweet. The recipe is really easy to follow and produces such beautiful results!
    I will definitely be making this one again!

    • #
      Emily — December 9, 2021 at 1:46 pm

      So glad you loved this recipe, Erica! Your cake turned out beautifully!

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