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Chocolate Layer Cake Recipe

When I think about a chocolate layer cake, I want it to be moist. I want them to be packed with chocolatey flavor and to have a soft, tender 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 and stack 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).

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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 new bakers and is really easy to make.

My moist chocolate cake recipe actually can be made in one bowl AND you don’t need an electric 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 led 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.

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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 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 for Making the Best Chocolate Layer Cake

  • Properly measure your flour (spoon into the cup measure, then level) or use a kitchen scale.
  • Make sure your ingredients are at room temperature. It helps them mix together better.
  • Don’t level your cake layers until they are completely cooled.
  • Use a serrated knife to level your cake layers once they’re fully cooled.
  • If your cake layers turn out less than perfect, read my cake troubleshooting guide to see where things might’ve gone awry.
  • Chill your cake layers in the freezer for about 20 minutes before assembling the cake. It makes them so much easier to stack and frost.
  • Make sure your buttercream is the right consistency. This will help give your cake proper structure and make it easier to decorate.
  • I do NOT recommend using this recipe to make cupcakes! Instead, I highly recommend trying my chocolate cupcake recipe (I like the texture better for cupcakes)
  • Use my small batch chocolate cake recipe to a 6-inch layer cake.

Making These Cake Layers in Advance and Storage Tips

  • Make your cake layers in advance and freeze them. It breaks the process up and makes it more approachable.
  • Make your frosting ahead of time too or save any leftover frosting! It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Be sure to give it a good stir once it thaws to get the consistency nice and smooth again.
  • A frosted cake can last in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to a month. The buttercream locks in all the moisture, keeping the cake fresh and delicious!
  • If you cut into the cake and have leftovers, use any remaining frosting to cover the cut section to keep it moist and store in the fridge for up to a week.
image of chocolate blackout cake, sliced into to show moist chocolate cake layers with pudding and ganache filling

Let Me Know What You Think!

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

Other Recipes You Might Like:

Yield: 24

Chocolate Layer Cake

Photo of my nutella chocolate cake, made with my go-to chocolate layer cake recipe

This is my go-to chocolate layer cake recipe! It makes soft, tender, chocolaty cake layers that are amazing for stacking! This recipe works great for making layer cakes or wedding cakes!

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Additional Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients

Chocolate Cake Ingredients

  • 1 cup or 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature (226g)
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar (500g)
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature (224g)
  • 1 cup hot water (240ml)
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temp (240ml)
  • 1 cup black or dark cocoa powder(80g)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (375g)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder (6g)
  • 1 tsp baking soda (6g)
  • 1 tsp salt (6g)

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Instructions

Chocolate Cake Layers

  1. Begin by preheating the oven to 350 F / 175 C.
  2. Line four seven-inch or three 8-inch pans with parchment rounds and spray with non-stick baking spray.
  3. Add 1 cup of unsalted butter into the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl and beat on a medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add 2 1/2 cups sugar and cream together on a high speed for 1-2 minutes with a whisk attachment or hand mixer. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. The mixture should become light in color.
  4. Mix in 4 large eggs on a medium speed, two at a time.
  5. In a separate bowl combine 1 cup of hot water, 1 cup of buttermilk, and 1 cup of black cocoa. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and no clumps remain.
  6. Sift 3 cups of flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, and 1 tsp salt into a large bowl.
  7. Next, add in 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the butter/egg mixture. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula to ensure the flour gets fully incorporated.
  8. 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 your kitchen!
  9. Mix in the 2nd portion of the dry ingredients on a low speed. Pour in the remaining buttermilk/cocoa mixture and again gently pulse. Then mix on low until fully combined.
  10. Add in the last portion of the dry ingredients and mix on low until fully incorporated.
  11. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. I like to use a kitchen scale to make sure each pan has the same amount of batter.
  12. Bake for 32-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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 2 cups of butter on a medium speed for 30 seconds with a paddle attachment or hand mixer until smooth. 
  3. Add in 1 cup of sifted cocoa and 1/2 tsp of salt. Mix on low until the cocoa is fully incorporated and no clumps remain.
  4. Slowly mix in 6 cups of powdered sugar on the lowest speed. Halfway through adding the powdered sugar pour in 1/2 cup of heavy cream or milk to make it easier to mix the frosting.
  5. Once all the powdered sugar is incorporated, mix in 1 1/3 cups of melted and cooled chocolate chips. After melting my chocolate, I let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes. It should still be in a liquid state but less warm to the touch than when it was first melted.
  6. Beat on low until the ingredients are fully incorporated and the desired consistency is reached.
  7. If the frosting is too thick, add an extra Tbsp of heavy cream. If it's too thin, add in another 1/4 cup of powdered sugar.
  8. Stir by hand with a rubber spatula for a couple minutes to get the frosting SUPER smooth.

Assembling this Chocolate 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 with a large offset spatula.
  3. Spread a thin coat of frosting around the the cake, to fully cover the cake layers.
  4. Smooth using a bench scraper, then chill the cake in the fridge (20 minutes) or freezer (10 minutes) until the frosting is firm to the touch.
  5. Add a second, thicker layer of frosting to the cake and smooth using a bench scraper. Then decorate as desired!

Notes

Tips for Making the Best Chocolate Layer Cake

  • Be sure to properly measure your flour (spoon into the cup measure, then level) or use a kitchen scale.
  • Make sure your ingredients are at room temperature to help them mix together better.
  • Don't level your cake layers until they are completely cooled.
  • Make sure your buttercream is the right consistency. This will help give your cake proper structure and make it easier to decorate.
  • If your cake layers turn out less than perfect, read my cake troubleshooting guide to see where things might've gone awry.
  • Be sure to use heavy cream or heavy whipping cream! You need the high fat content to create the right consistency in this recipe. Milk cannot be used in place of the cream.

Making This Chocolate Layer Cake in Advance and Storage Tips

  • Make your cake layers in advance and freeze them. It breaks the process up and makes it more approachable.
  • Make your frosting ahead of time too or save any leftover frosting! It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Be sure to give it a good stir once it thaws to get the consistency nice and smooth again.
  • A frosted cake can last in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to a month. The buttercream locks in all the moisture, keeping the cake fresh and delicious!
  • If you cut into the cake and have leftovers, use any remaining frosting to cover the cut section to keep it moist and store in the fridge for up to a week.

Nutrition Information

Yield

24

Serving Size

1

Amount Per Serving Calories 450Total Fat 16gSaturated Fat 9gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 5gCholesterol 61mgSodium 274mgCarbohydrates 73gFiber 3gSugar 54gProtein 5g

Lisa Bodenmiller

Monday 21st of November 2022

I was just curious why there is no vanilla in this cake. I researched and everything I could find was “you will be sorry if you forget to add the vanilla, your cake will taste flat without it.” I thought possibly it was just a mistake. On a positive note, I only use your recipes and follow you. I find out all of your suggestions and tips work out the best for me. Thank you!

Chelsweets

Saturday 26th of November 2022

Hi Lisa,

Between the dark cocoa powder and the buttermilk, I found that I really didn't taste a difference with our without the vanilla. Since it's an expensive ingredient, I figured it made more sense to skip it in this recipe. You can always add in a couple teaspoons if you want though. Hope that helps, happy baking!

Jeanne Stahmer

Tuesday 15th of November 2022

“If you don't, you'll end up splattering the cocoa mixture all over your kitchen!” Hahahahaha! You were so right! I ended up getting black liquid all over my countertop and upper cabinets! I mixed the rest by hand. This is the second time I’ve used this recipe but first time using 6” pans (using your suggested bake time of 25-30mins). Delicious and very solid for stacking!

Chelsweets

Saturday 19th of November 2022

Hi Jeanne,

Oh no!!! That is the worst, trust me I've done that many a times!! Glad the layers turned out delicious though :) Thank you for sharing!

Mariana Wright

Sunday 23rd of October 2022

Hi,

I’m planning to bake this cake for my hubbys birthday. I have only 2 7 inch pans. Can I divide the cake batter between 2 tins if so how long shall I bake it?

Also could you tell how many portions would I get out of 7 inch 4 layer tall cake?

Many thanks

Mariana

Chelsweets

Sunday 23rd of October 2022

Hi Mariana,

The batter can sit at room temperature for a few hours, so I'd recommend baking as many layers at a time as you can at a time / baking two layers, then baking the other two. This recipe feeds about 24 people. Hope that helps, happy baking!

Christa

Friday 14th of October 2022

Hello; I would like to try this recipe for a sculpted cake. Can I use it for a 9x13 pan (adjusting the baking time accordingly)?

Chelsweets

Friday 14th of October 2022

Hi Christa,

This recipe would work great for a sculpted cake! This recipe can also be used to make a sheet cake! One batch will make 2, 9 x 13-inch cake layers that are about 1-inch tall. Bake them for 35-40 minutes at 350 F. You can also make one thicker sheet cake, but the bake time will be 40-50 minutes. Hope that helps, happy baking!

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