My Go-To Chocolate Layer Cake Recipe

When I think about chocolate cake, I want the cake layers to be moist, packed with chocolatey flavor, and fluffy. 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, or even worse, try to carve them into a shape.

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 and 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, and frost and decorate it, we deserve to have delicious cake layers that are moist and keep their shape (as seen below).

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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. It actually can be made in one bowl, AND can be made without a hand mixer!! Talk about the perfect starter recipe, right?

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.

As I became more into decorating (and obsessed with frosting cakes with smooth sides), I found it was so much easier to frost cake layers that have 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.

The only downside is that I like to trim away the carmelization on the sides, in additional to leveling the top of the cake. This means an extra step in the process, and I wasn’t completely satisfied with the texture of the layers.

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

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.

I decided to use Yolanda’s recipe as the starting point, but combined my favorite elements from all my past chocolate cake recipes. I also reduced the amount of leavening agents, to reduce 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), swapped some of the water for buttermilk to add more moisture, and used less baking soda.

Triple Chocolate Wrapped Cake With Chocolate Covered Strawberries

The result?? A soft, tender chocolate cake that doesn’t need simple syrup, and that holds it’s shape well while being frosted and stacked.  I’m obsessed with this recipe, and hope you all will be too! 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 (like making a carved cake).

dirt cup cake - with dirt cup

Begin by preheating the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line four 7 inch or 8 inch pans with parchment rounds, and spray with non-stick spray.

Add the sugar and butter into the bowl of a stand mixer, and whisk on high for 1 minute. The mixture should become light in color.

Add in the eggs, one at a time. Then add baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix on high for another minute.

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.

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.

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!Please learn from my mistakes :P).

Mix in the 2nd cup of flour, at a medium speed. Pour in the remaining buttermilk / cocoa mixture, and again gently pulse, then mix on low until fully combined.

Add in the last cup of flour, and mix on low until the flour is incorporated. Mix on high for 30 additional seconds, to incorporate a bit more air into the batter.

Evenly divide between the four prepared pans. I like to use a kitchen scale to ensure each pan has exactly the same amount of batter.

Bake according to the size of pan. For 7 inch layers, bake for 35-37 minutes. For 8 inch layers, bake for 32-33 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

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.

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.

Use a serrate knife to level the tops of the layers, and then frost as desired.

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Chocolate Layer Cake Recipe

This recipe makes soft, tender, chocolaty cake layers that can handle a splash of simple syrup, yet still hold up while being frosted. I'm obsessed with this recipe, and hope you all will be too!

Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Keyword best chocolate cake layer recipe, best chocolate cake recipe, chelsweets, go to chocolate cake recipe
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 1 seven or eight inch cake

Ingredients

Chocolate Cake Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2.5 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 4 eggs, room temp
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temp (2 sticks)
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temp
  • 1 cup black cocoa

Instructions

Instructions

  1. Begin by preheating the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line four 7 inch or 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 whisk on high for 1 minute. 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 medium 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. Mix on high for 30 additional seconds, to incorporate a bit more air into the batter.

  9. Evenly divide between the four prepared pans. I like to use a kitchen scale to ensure each pan has exactly the same amount of batter.

  10. Bake according to the size of pan. For 7 inch layers, bake for 35-37 minutes. For 8 inch layers, bake for 32-33 minutes, or until a skewer 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.

  13. Use a serrate knife to level the tops of the layers, and then frost as desired.

Recipe Notes

I chose to use black cocoa (I love the taste and color it creates), but if you don't have any on hand, you can use regular baking cocoa.

OR if you’d like to make a smaller cake, I have a small batch version this recipe! I typically use it to make 6 inch cakes, with three layers.

Small Batch Chocolate Layer Cake Recipe

This is a half batch of my go-to chocolate layer cake recipe! It's perfect for make two 7 or 8-inch cake layers, or three 6-inch cake layers.

Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Keyword chelsweets chococlate cake recipe, chocolate layer cake recipe, small batch chocolate cake recipe
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 1 6-inch cake

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1.25 cups granulated sugar
  • 0.5 tsp salt
  • 0.75 tsp baking powder
  • 0.5 tsp baking soda
  • 2 large eggs room temp
  • 0.5 cups unsalted butter room temp (1 stick)
  • 0.5 cups hot water
  • 0.5 cups buttermilk room temp
  • 0.5 cups baking cocoa (I like to use black cocoa)

Instructions

Instructions

  1. Begin by preheating the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line four 7 inch or 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 whisk on high for 1 minute. 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 1/2 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 another 1/2 cup of flour, at a medium speed. Pour in the remaining buttermilk / cocoa mixture, and again gently pulse, then mix on low until fully combined.

  8. Add in the last 1/2 cup of flour, and mix on low until the flour is incorporated. Mix on high for 30 additional seconds, to incorporate a bit more air into the batter.

  9. Evenly divide between the four prepared pans. I like to use a kitchen scale to ensure each pan has exactly the same amount of batter.

  10. Bake according to the size of pan. For 7 inch layers, bake for 35-37 minutes. For 8 inch layers, bake for 32-33 minutes, or until a skewer 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.

  13. Use a serrate knife to level the tops of the layers, and then frost as desired.

Recipe Notes

I chose to use black cocoa (I love the taste and color it creates), but if you don't have any on hand, you can use regular baking cocoa.

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79 thoughts on “My Go-To Chocolate Layer Cake Recipe

  1. Hi, I just made your “new” go to chocolate cake. I do have to say, with your go to vanilla and chocolate cake recipe I loved the one bowel method. I was wondering why you add the baking powders to the butter/ egg mixture rather then the flour?

    1. it’s easier to add them straight into the bowl of my stand mixer! I add the flour straight of the bag using a measuring cup, so to me it’s just easier that way!

  2. Hi Chelsweets! Would I be able to use dark hershey’s cocoa powder or normal hershey’s cocoa in place of the black cocoa?

  3. Hi Chelsea,
    I dont have black cocoa so i was wondering if regular unsweetened cocoa powder would work as a substitute? Also what is the difference between this chocolate cake recipe and your moist chocolate cake recipe? Besides the ingredients ?

    1. yes, it will! This recipe has slightly more structure, and is easier to stack to make layered cakes! It also can absorb simple syrup more easily. The moist cake is so soft it can’t handle simple syrup well!

  4. Hi Chelsea,
    I’ve been looking for a good chocolate cake with structure ! And since i LOVE your best chocolate cupcake recipe, i will definetly try this one ! I was wondering, no coffee in the hot water ? Have you tried with and without it ?
    Thank you 🙂

    1. I have, and i add it depending on the frosting / filling I pair with it! The black cocoa I use has so much flavor though, it doesn’t realllly need it! But I do add a bit of coffee if it’s a chocolate chocolate cake, since I do love the hint of coffee in an all chocolate cake!

  5. Hello!! I have made Yo’s recipe twice today and both ended up falling in the center 🙁 I’m concerned It was tooo moist both times… So I hope to make yours tomorrow, espically because you add more flour. I have two 8” circle pans that are 4” deep Could I half this batter to each of them and cook 2 thick cakes then slice/level them in half? I plan to have 8 layers for a cake I’m making. Can I just adjust the baking time and bake them longer? Or will trying to make them so tall possibly be why the others fell? Thank you!! Also, I love watching your channel and congratulations on your engagement and soon to be wedding!

    1. it should end up being firm, it sounds like you may be under baking them if they’re sinking in the middle! You can make them in taller pans, but they’ll need to bake for much longer!

  6. Hi! Just wondering, how much batter would I have to make if I wanted to use 10″ circle pans, but still wanted it to be as tall as the cake you made here?

  7. I made this cake today and as I was putting it in the oven I realized I forgot to add salt!! 🤪 Stuff happens. It’s still not bad. But I bet it’d be great if I didn’t screw it up.

    1. Hi sorn! I’m not sure I understand your question, you want a coffee chocolate cake recipe? like a chocolate cake made with coffee? my moist chocolate cake recipe uses coffee, and I recommend trying it if that’s what you’re after 🙂

  8. What is the black cocoa powder you use? I’m so excited to try this cake this weekend! I have used your vanilla cake and cupcake recipes and they are incredible! Thank you!

      1. This will forever be my go to chocolate. Cake recipe! It has turned out beautifully several times! Thanks you so much!!!

  9. Really loving your cakes! The recipes are trusted go-tos now. I made this and your white chocolate layer cake for my cousin’s 21st, alternating layers of each flavour and topping with white or milk chocolate ganache within a dam of vanilla smbc. I iced the cake with the vanilla smbc and then dripped coloured white chocolate ganache. I’ve never received so many compliments on a cake, everyone said they’ve had a lot of cakes and this was the best they’d ever had!
    Thank you for your wonderful recipes!!

  10. If I only have two 8 inch pans can I bake two at a time and leave the batter sitting or should I get two more pans? Thanks! The cake looks great

  11. Hi! I’m looking to make this recipe in 6in pans. Would you recommend on halving the recipe?

    And in general, how would you advise on altering pan sizes on recipes?

    1. that’s exactly what I would recommend! I actually have a small batch recipe (which is just a half recipe), which I just added to this post to make it easier to make! I like to use it to make 3, 6 inch cake layers 🙂 They bake in 25-28 minutes.

  12. Hi, I followed your instructions but used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa and added instant coffee and vanilla. I used two 8 inch pans and baked approximately 10 min. longer…just kept checking until the tester came out clean. Once cooled I was able to easily divide each layer in half. Great structure and taste. Will consider using a flavored simple syrup with the cherry buttercream I plan to use between the layers. Next time I will try with the black cocoa, which I didn’t have enough of. I always add vanilla to chocolate….it just adds another level of flavor. Thank you so much for sharing your recipe! 💕

    1. so happy to hear that!!! And happy you feel the same way about this recipe that I do!! 🙂 Thank you for sharing your feedback!

    1. this recipe makes two layers that size, that are about 1 inch tall!I usually stack the two layers on top of each other when I make a sheet cake <3

  13. Just want to confirm that this recipe is good for a tiered cake? I am making a 3 tier cake and the bottom tier is chocolate cake. Will this recipe hold up well as the bottom tier? Dowels will be used for support. I’ve made this recipe before without putting a simple syrup on it. Do you recommend using some?

    1. Yes, it works great as a tiered cake, as long as it’s supported properly! I usually don’t use simple syrup, but it’s really a matter of preference / how long the cake will be out as you assemble it. If you think it’ll dry out as you it you can, but usually it isn’t necessary 🙂

  14. Hi Chelsea,

    Do you think it would work ok to make 3x 9in layers of good height with this recipe?

    Thanks heaps for all the amazing tutorials!!

    1. they would be pretty thin!! I’d recommend only using one batch of batter to make 2 9 inch cake layers, or making a 1.5 batch!

      1. Rebecca I literally just made 3 9 inch layers… 1.5 batches of this recipe was perfect! Definitely not getting 3 layers with a single batch.

      2. thank you for sharing Wendy 🙂 and happy to hear that 1.5 batches works great for 3 9 inch pans!!!

  15. thank you so much for your recipes! I don’t see where you add the simple syrup? or is that optional? I was thinking of using this chocolate cake recipe and use the nutella buttercream fillings….will this recipe be enough for four 7 inch pans?

    1. it’s option! Sometimes I add it if I’m carving a cake and the layers will be exposed to air for a long time, but normally I don’t add any to it! This recipe will make 4, 1 inch layers using 7 inch pans 🙂

  16. Wow! Thank you so much! I’ve just made the small batch, divided the batter into two 6 inch pan.
    I kept ‘trimming’ just to eat that cake! Just couldn’t wait! Thank you so much for the recipes.
    Finally! The search for a perfect chocolate cake ended.

  17. Wow, I just tried dis now and it came out perfect. I baked mine in a 2inch high 8inch pan. Tanks for dis recipe. But if I might ask y does most of ur recipes uses buttermilk

    1. aw i’m so happy to hear that!! i love that flavor and moisture buttermilk adds to a cake! but you can always use whole milk in place of it if you want <3

  18. Hello! I have made many cakes using your recipes. They are, hands down, the best cake recipes I’ve come across. They are always crowd pleasers and they never fail! I’m interested in making one of your chocolate cake recipes, but I’m having trouble choosing between the recipes. I’ve come across 3 of your chocolate cake recipes: “Go to Chocolate Layer Cake” “The Best Chocolate Layer Cake Recipe” “Moist Chocolate Cake Recipe.” I’m curious to know the difference in taste. Flavor is more important to me than a nice structure. In your opinion, which has the best chocolate flavor?

    1. Happy to hear you’ve been putting my recipes to good use! Part of having the best chocolate flavor will depend on the type of cocoa you use, but I personally love my go-to layer cake recipe with black cocoa. The moist chocolate cake is also great, but my friends have told me they prefer my go-to chocolate cake recipe over the moist chocolate cake recipe 🙂

  19. Hello! I really want to make a 6 inch cake with 4 layers. Should I half the original recipe or use 3/4 of it? Thank you!

  20. I made your Moist Chocolate Cake recipe. Loved the flavor but it was lighter than I prefer. I really like a denser, moist cake. Would you say that this recipe would achieve that?

Let me know what you think!

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