Chocolate Layer Cake Recipe

When I think about chocolate cake, I want the cake layers to be moist. I want them to be packed with chocolatey flavor, and to have a soft texture.

The baker in me also wants the cake layers to have structure, so that they don’t fall apart as you try to frost them.

I also wanted a chocolate cake recipe that could be carved for sculpted cakes!

The Perfect Chocolate Layer Cake Recipe

That’s how this recipe came to be. I had been playing around with different chocolate cake recipes for years, and they all were delicious. 

Each recipe had some of these attributes, but none of them had it all.

Was it greedy to demand so many things from one chocolate cake recipe?? No. We deserve it!

If we’re going to take the time to make a cake recipe from scratch, we deserve to have cake layers that are moist and keep their shape (as seen below).

IMG_2404 (2)

My First Chocolate Cake Recipe

Speaking of my past chocolate cake recipes, I’m not saying they’re not great in their own way. The first chocolate cake recipe I really fell for was my moist chocolate cake recipe.

It is incredibly soft and fluffy, and  I love the way it tastes!! It’s a great recipe for beginning bakers, and is really easy to make.

My moist chocolate cake recipe actually can be made in one bowl, AND can be made without a hand mixer!! Talk about the perfect starter recipe, right?

Photo Of Baileys Chocolate Cake

The only downside is that it isn’t the easiest to stack and frost with perfectly smooth sides!

When I was first getting into baking, taste was my #1 priority, so this didn’t bother me much.

My Chocolate Butter Cake Recipe

As I became more interested in cake decoration, I was obsessed with frosting cakes with smooth sides.

It was so much easier to frost cake layers that had a bit more structure, like my favorite vanilla layer cake recipe.

I fell in love with the strength of the layers, and how well they help up while being frosted.

I altered the recipe to a make a chocolate version, and used this as my chocolate layer cake recipe for a while.

photo of chocolate layer cake recipe

The only downside is that I like to trim my layers to remove the caramelization on the sides.

This means an extra step in the process, and I wasn’t completely satisfied with the texture of the layers.

Classic Chocolate Sponge Cake Recipe

This lead me to continue to try out new chocolate cake recipes, and experiment. I really loved using Yolanda Gampp’s chocolate sponge cake recipe, but didn’t like that they baked with such huge domes!

Photo of chocolate sponge cake recipe

I felt like i was cutting off 2/3 of each layer when I leveled them. However, the layers tasted great with simple syrup, and had great structure.

My Favorite Chocolate Layer Cake Recipe

I used Yolanda’s recipe as the starting point, then combined my favorite elements from all my past chocolate cake recipes.

The other element I really wanted to change was the size of the domes on top of each cake layer.

While creating this recipe, I chose to use black cocoa instead of regular baking cocoa. I love the taste and color it creates!! 

You can see what a beautiful color the black cocoa adds to the cake layers by looking at this slice of my raspberry chocolate cake.

fullsizeoutput_17e

I also swapped some of the water for buttermilk to add more moisture, and used less baking soda.

The result?? A soft, tender chocolate cake that doesn’t need simple syrup, and that holds its shape well while being frosted and stacked. 

I’m obsessed with this recipe, and hope you all will be too!

If you don’t have access to black cocoa or don’t want to buy it, you can also use regular baking cocoa in this recipe! That’s exactly what I did in my triple chocolate wrap cake below, and it was delicious. 

Photo of Chocolate Wrapped Cake With Chocolate Covered Strawberries

You can add a splash of simple syrup if you love using it, or think that the cake layers will be exposed to air for long period of time.

I highly recommend adding simple syrup if you’re making a carved cake or a wedding cake!

Tips on Making the Best Chocolate Layer Cake:

  • Don’t overmix your batter! Stir until the flour is just combined into the batter
  • Be sure to properly measure your flour (spoon into the cup measure, then level), or even better, use a kitchen scale when making the cake batter
  • Make sure your ingredients are at room temp
  • Bang your pans on the counter before popping them into the oven, to bring any air bubbles that are trapped in the batter to the surface
  • Don’t over bake you layers! Keep an eye on them, and be sure to set a timer

Let Me Know What You Think!

If you try this chocolate layer cake recipe, please tag me @chelsweets, and use the #chelsweets, so I can see your beautiful creations!!

Yield: 24 servings

Chocolate Layer Cake

Chocolate Layer Cake

This is my go-to chocolate layer cake recipe! It makes soft, tender, chocolaty cake layers that can handle a splash of simple syrup, and still hold up while being frosted.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Additional Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes

Ingredients

Chocolate Cake Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (390 grams)
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar (500 grams)
  • 1 tsp salt (6 grams)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder (6 grams)
  • 1 tsp baking soda (6 grams)
  • 4 large eggs, room temp (224 grams)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temp (2 sticks, 226 grams)
  • 1 cup hot water (237 grams)
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temp (240 grams)
  • 1 cup black cocoa (100 grams)

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

  • 2 cups (or 4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature (452 grams)
  • 6 cups powdered sugar (750 grams)
  • 1 1/3 cups of melted dark chocolate, cooled (232 grams, 8 oz.)
  • 1 cup unsweetened baking cocoa, sifted (100 grams)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (3 grams)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (115 grams)

Instructions

Chocolate Cake Layers

  1. Begin by preheating the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line four seven-inch or three eight 8-inch pans with parchment rounds, and spray with non-stick spray.
  2. Add the sugar and butter into the bowl of a stand mixer, and mix on high for 1 minute with a whisk attachment. The mixture should become light in color.
  3. Add in the eggs, one at a time. Then add baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix on high for another minute.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the cup of hot water, and cup of buttermilk. Pour in the cup of black cocoa, and whisk until no clumps remain.
  5. Next, add 1 cup of flour into the butter/egg mixture. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula, to ensure the flour is fully incorporated.
  6. Pour in half of the buttermilk/cocoa mixture, and gently pulse the mixture to incorporate the liquid (if you don't, you'll end up splattering the cocoa mixture all over you kitchen!)
  7. Mix in the 2nd cup of flour, at a low speed. Pour in the remaining buttermilk/cocoa mixture, and again gently pulse, then mix on low until fully combined.
  8. Add in the last cup of flour, and mix on low until the flour is incorporated.
  9. Evenly divide between the prepared pans. I like to use a kitchen scale to ensure each pan has exactly the same amount of batter.
  10. Bake for 32-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  11. Allow layers to cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, then run an offset spatula around the edge of the pans to help separate the layers from the pans.
  12. Place the pans in the freezer for about 45 minutes, to accelerate the cooling process. Once the layers are fully cooled, carefully flip the pans and remove the layers from the pans.
  13. Use a serrated knife to level the tops of the layers, and then frost as desired.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

  1. While the cake layers bake and cool, make the chocolate buttercream frosting.
  2. Beat the butter on a medium speed for 30 seconds with a paddle attachment, until smooth. 
  3. Add in the sifted cocoa, and mix on low until the cocoa is fully incorporated, and no clumps remain.
  4. Slowly add in the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. Alternate with small splashes of cream.
  5. Mix in the cooled, melted chocolate.
  6. Once fully mixed, add in the salt.
  7. Beat on low until the ingredients are fully incorporated, and the desired consistency is reached.
  8. If the frosting is too thick, add an extra Tbsp of heavy cream. If it's too thin, add in another 1/2 cup of powdered sugar.
  9. Stir by hand with a rubber spatula for a couple minutes to get the frosting SUPER smooth.

To Assemble The Cake:

  1. Stack and frost cake layers on a greaseproof cake board, using a dab of frosting to help stick the first cake layer to the board.
  2. Add an even layer of chocolate buttercream between each cake layer.
  3. Apply a thin coat of frosting around the the cake, to fully cover the cake layers. Smooth using a bench scraper, then chill the cake in the fridge (10 minutes) or freezer (5 minutes) until the frosting is firm to the touch.
  4. Add a second, thicker layer of frosting to the cake, and smooth using a bench scraper. Then decorate as desired!

Notes

These cake layers can be made in advance!! Learn more about how far in advance they can be made, and how to properly wrap them in my post on how to make cake layers ahead of time.

This buttercream can also be made in advance!! I highly recommend making it ahead of time to make the decoration of a cake less stressful and more fun. It keeps in the fridge for several weeks, if stored in an airtight container.

When you're ready to use the chilled buttercream, remove it from the fridge a few hours in advance (or overnight) and allow it to come to room temperature. Give it a good stir with a rubber spatula or your kitchen aid, to get rid of any air bubbles that may have formed. Once the buttercream is smooth again, it's ready to use!

Nutrition Information

Yield

25

Serving Size

1

Amount Per Serving Calories 440 Total Fat 16g Saturated Fat 9g Trans Fat 0g Unsaturated Fat 5g Cholesterol 61mg Sodium 256mg Carbohydrates 70g Fiber 3g Sugar 52g Protein 5g

153 thoughts on “Chocolate Layer Cake Recipe

  1. Hi!!! How would you turn your layer cake recipes into 3, 4 inch layers? would you half the 6 inch recipe, considering your small batch recipe for the chocolate was just half the 8 inch?

    1. Hi Jillian,

      Those are tiny little layers!! You can make 1/3 of a batch of batter for 3, 4-inch layers, and you’d have a tiny bit of extra batter left over!

  2. Hi!! I am planning on making this recipe for a wedding cake!! I am doing 4 nine inch cake layers for one tier and 3 6″ in layers for the top tier. Should I double or triple the recipe? Also, do you know app how many cups of batter would go into the 9 inch cake layers?

  3. Is my math correct. If I use this for the bottom tier of a wedding cake that is 14″ and I want to make that tier out of 3 1″ layers then I would need 9 1/3 cups of batter for each 1″ layer or a total of 462 cubic inches total? So one whole recipe for each layer?

  4. Do you go by the weight or the amount in your recipes? Because when I weigh it out, it is way off from the cup measurements.

  5. Hi Chelsey! I’ve been dying to ask… what brand of 7” cake pans do you use? I can’t find them in store. I’ve been looking on amazon but just wanted to see what you use.

    1. It depends on the height you want your cake layers to be! If you want them to be tall (slightly taller than an inch once leveled), you can actually use a full batch to make 4, 6-inch layers! I think the ideal amount of batter would be about 3/4 of a batch, but I’m not sure it’s worth the conversion to make slightly less batter.

      If you do use a full batch, the cake layers will need to bake for slightly longer! Hope that helps, happy baking 🙂

  6. Would this cake hold up well as the third tier on a four tier wedding cake? I use your vanilla cake recipe every time I do a wedding cake but I am always nervous when I have to put weight on top of a chocolate cake!

    1. Hi Shelby,

      This cake recipe will hold up just fine as long as they cake is properly supported with dowels 🙂 Hope that helps, happy baking!

  7. Hi! I’m baking a cake for my sister’s baby shower and I was wondering if you had an idea on how to adapt this recipe to make a 3 tier 9 inch cake? I’d love to use this recipe but I don’t think a 3 tier 8 inch will be big enough to feed all the people there. Any ideas? Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Mary!

      You can use cake flour in place of the AP flour. For every cup of all purpose flour the recipe calls for, use 1 cup + 2 TBSP cake flour. Hope that helps, happy baking!

  8. This is by far my favorite of your chocolate cakes and is my go to! I have a customer that wants a single layer 9×13 (so I can cut in half and create a two layered book). So wondering if I need to half the recipe (or do the small batch recipe) and if the time or temperature would change? Thank you so much for all of your amazing recipes! Your weekly email is the highlight of my week and my reason to go to the gym lol

    1. Hi Samantha,

      You are too sweet 🙂 This cake recipe makes two sheet cakes that are 9×13 inches. However, they’ll be slightly less than 1 inch tall once you level them. So it depends on how tall you want the layers to be! When I bake layer cakes, I place two flower nails spaced evenly apart in the center of each pan (and spray them), to help the layers bake more evenly and quickly. With flower nails, the cake layers bake in 37-40 minutes in my oven. I hope that helps, happy baking!!

  9. Hi Chelsea!

    I plan on using this recipe and your funfetti recipe for my wedding cake. I am using oval pans for this and plan on messing around with the batter amt.

    I wanted to know if you think adding chocolate chunks would cause problems for stacking and stability. My fiance inly really like double chocolate chip type cakes.

    I also wanted to know if you think i should still use simple syrup for stacking and keeping the cake moist. I will be doing this about 5 days in advance of my wedding and the frosting and decorations 7-10 days in advance.

    1. Hi Fenay!

      Sounds like you are going to have an epic wedding cake 🙂 I don’t think adding chocolate chips should cause an issue with stability or stacking, but I do recommend using mini chocolate chips, and tossing them in flour before folding them into the batter to help prevent them from sinking to the bottom of pan while the layers back.

      I definitely think you should use simple syrup for any wedding cake! even if the cake layers are moist on their own, by the time you level and stack all the tiers, they end up sitting out for a while and can dry out a bit. I always brush simple syrup onto cake layers for wedding cakes I make. I hope that helps, I’m sure your wedding cake will be amazing!!

    1. Hi Lisa! If you want to make the cake layers more moist, you can brush them with simple syrup once they’re leveled <3 It should be able to feed 25 people just fine. They won’t be super wide slices, but they’ll be tall / packed with buttercream so they’ll be filling! Hope that helps, happy baking!

  10. This is the best chocolate cake recipe I have found. So solid to stack, so moist that it melts in mouths. I have been baking this cake for a year and whoever eats it just feels more craving. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. For making a half sheet cake you will double this recipe?? Thanks in advance??

    1. I am so incredibly happy to hear that Arthi! If you are making one 12 x 18 inch sheet cake (with one layer), one batch should be just enough batter! Happy baking 🙂

    1. Hi Justin! Do you mean in general, or with this specific cake recipe??

      In general, I’d make a sponge cake recipe because they bake so quickly!

      With this cake recipe, I’d throw it directly into a blast chiller after it’s done baking, so that it cools as quickly as possible.

  11. I followed your recipe exactly & it turned out great !!! Super moist , sturdy for layering and very easy to do by seeing your video & the written instructions. Yummy !!! I can see why you use the black cocoa. I ordered mine and couldn’t wait to get baking .. Thanks Chels for the great information and q&a’s !! Youre inspirational !! 🙂

  12. Hello! I was wondering if it would be okay to make the batter and keep it in the fridge overnight if I am not quite ready to bake the cake. Thanks!

  13. Hi! I was wondering if I could switch the eggs for flax eggs? Are there any changes I’d have to make to the recipe for this?

  14. Hi Chelsea, do you think your chocolate layer cake recipe would taste fine with your vanilla buttercream frosting? I need to have different colors of frosting for a cake I am making so I can’t do a chocolate frosting, obviously. Let me know what you think. Thanks!!

    1. Hi Mandy,

      I think this chocolate cake recipe would taste awesome with my vanilla buttercream! I’ve done that for cakes in the past and I loved the way it tasted 🙂 Hope that helps, happy baking!!

Let me know what you think!