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Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

This chocolate buttermilk cake recipe is actually a modification of my favorite vanilla cake recipe! It’s delicious, moist, and best of all, it keeps its shape!

This is a butter cake, which means it has a denser crumb that a sponge cake. I love this, because it makes the layers perfect for stacking and frosting. I love using this recipe to make tiered cakes.

image of a small, 4-inch chocolate cake that's been frosted with chocolate buttercream

Substitutions and Swaps – Chocolate Buttermilk Cake Layers

This recipe uses quite a few ingredients and I know you might not have them all on hand. Or if you have food allergies or restrictions, I’ve got you covered.

Below are some swaps and substitutions that can be made in this cake recipe.

  • All Purpose Flour – This recipe turns out best with AP flour, but you can use a gluten free flour blend or cake flour if that’s all you have on hand.
  • Granulated Sugar – I do not recommend reducing the amount of sugar or changing the type of sugar, as it will change the texture of the cake layers.
  • Cocoa Powder – I like to use regular, unsweetened cocoa powder in this recipe. However, it would also taste great with dark cocoa powder or Dutch-processed cocoa powder.
  • Unsalted Butter – If you only have salted butter on hand, you can use it in place of the unsalted butter in this recipe. Just be sure to omit the salt that this cake recipe calls for. You can also use vegan butter in its place (and also omit the salt)!
  • Egg Whites – I like to use egg whites from a carton, but you can also use 4 large eggs in place of the egg whites in this recipe. Or if you have an egg allergy you can use a flaxseed egg or an egg replacer.
  • Buttermilk – You can also use full fat yogurt, sour cream, whole milk, or an alternative yogurt or milk (almond, soy, oat) if you’re dairy free.
  • Vegetable Oil – You can use any flavorless oil in this recipe. Canola or even sunflower oil would work great!
image of flour being leveled in a measuring cup

Substitutions and Swaps – Chocolate Buttercream

This recipe uses a chocolate American buttercream frosting.

If you want to use a less sweet frosting, I recommend making a half batch of my chocolate Russian buttercream or my chocolate Italian meringue buttercream.

Or if you’re unsure about the ingredients, below are some substitutions that can be made in this frosting recipe.

  • Unsalted Butter – If you only have salted butter on hand, you can use it in place of the unsalted butter. Just be sure to omit the salt that this frosting recipe calls for. You can also use vegan butter in its place (and omit the salt)!
  • Heavy Cream – Whole milk or alternative milk (soy, almond, oat) will work fine in this frosting recipe if that’s what you have on hand.
  • Chocolate Chips – I like to use dark chocolate chips, but you can also use semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips. You can also use chocolate bars or couverture chocolate.

Making This Chocolate Buttermilk Cake Gluten Free

You can swap in your favorite gluten free flour blend cup for cup in this recipe!

I personally prefer King Arthur’s gluten free flour blend, and find that 1 cup of GF flour weighs about 120 grams.

In addition to swapping the flour, there are two additional steps you need to take when making this mini cake gluten free.

image of a small chocolate smash cake that's been cut into to show its 4-inch cake layers

Gluten Free Baking Tip #1: Over-Mix the Batter

The first step is to vigorously whisk your batter for a few minutes once it’s made. This helps give your cake layers structure.

I know this goes against everything you’ve ever heard about baking, but over mixing your batter is key when making anything gluten free.

It helps the cake layers rise better as they bake and gives the cake a more tender crumb.

Gluten Free Baking Tip #2: Let the Batter Rest

The second step I recommend is letting your batter rest for about 30 minutes before baking your cake layers.

Gluten free flour blends can have a hard time absorbing moisture and fats.

Letting the batter sit before baking it gives the flour more time to absorb all that goodness.

This helps thicken the batter and prevents your cake layers from having a gritty texture.

image of a small, 4-inch chocolate cake that's been frosted with chocolate buttercream that has been placed on a cute little white cake stand with party decorations around it

Tips for Making the Best Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

  • Chill your cake layers in the freezer for about 20 minutes before assembling the cake. It makes it so much easier to stack and frost.
  • If your cake layers turn out less than perfect, please check out my cake troubleshooting guide.
  • Use a serrated knife to level your cake layers once they’re fully cooled. It makes this mini cake so much easier to assemble and frost.
  • I do NOT recommend using this recipe to make cupcakes! Instead, I highly recommend trying my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe. I like the texture better for cupcakes.

Making These Chocolate 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.

These cake layers can be frozen for up to 3 months, and as long as they’re wrapped right I promise they’ll taste just like they did the day you baked them.

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.

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Let Me Know What You Think!

If you try this chocolate buttermilk cake recipe, I’d love to hear what you think of it! Please leave a rating and comment below.

Tag me @chelsweets and use #chelsweets on social media so that I can see your amazing creations!

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Yield: 24

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

image of a small chocolate smash cake that's been cut into to show its 4-inch cake layers

This chocolate buttermilk cake recipe is made in one bowl and is super moist! One batch makes 3, 8-inch cake layers, and is frosted with delicious chocolate buttercream frosting.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 33 minutes
Additional Time 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 8 minutes

Ingredients

Chocolate Cake Recipe

  • 3 cups granulated sugar (600g)
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (280g)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa powder (75g)
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder (10g)
  • 1 tsp fine salt (6g)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temp (226g)
  • 1 cup egg whites from a carton or about 7 egg whites, room temp (235g)
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, room temp (360g)
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil (30g)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract (8g)
  • 1 tsp instant espresso - optional

Dark Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

  • 2 cups (or 4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature (434g)
  • 1 cup sifted, dark baking cocoa (80g)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (4g)
  • 1/2 tsp fine table salt (3g)
  • 5 cups powdered sugar (625g)
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream, room temperature (180g)
  • 1 1/3 cups dark chocolate chips, melted and cooled (230g)

Instructions

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake Layers:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F / 175°C. Line four 7" or three 8" pans with parchment rounds and grease with non-stick baking spray or homemade cake pan release.
  2. Mix 3 cups sugar, 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour, 3/4 cup of cocoa powder, 2 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp salt together in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or hand mixer until fully combined.
  3. Mix in 1 cup of room temperature, unsalted butter slowly into the dry ingredients on a low speed. Continue to mix until no large chunks of butter remain, and the mixture looks like moist sand.
  4. Pour in 1 cup of egg whites and mix on low until just incorporated. Mix in 1 1/2 cups buttermilk in two installments, on a low speed.
  5. Add in 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil, 2 tsp of vanilla extract, and 1 tsp instant espresso. Mix on a low speed until fully incorporated.
  6. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then beat on a medium speed for about a minute to make sure everything is properly mixed together. This also helps lighten the texture of the cake layers a bit.
  7. Divide the batter evenly between your prepared pans. I like to use a scale to make sure each pan has the same amount of batter and will bake up to be the same height.
  8. Bake for 33-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.
  9. Let the pans cool for 10 minutes, then run a small offset spatula around the perimeter of the pan to separate the cake from the pan.
  10. Place the cake layers into the freezer for 30 minutes to accelerate the cooling process. Once the layers are fully cooled, carefully flip the pans and remove the layers.
  11. Use a serrated knife to level the tops of the layers right before you plan to assemble your cake, or you can wrap and freeze them if you're making them in advance.
  12. If you make these cake layers in advance and freeze them, let them thaw for about 20 minutes before making your cake. The cake layers should still be slightly cold to the touch, which will make it easier to assemble your cake.

Dark Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:

  1. Beat 2 cups of butter on a medium speed for 30 seconds with a paddle attachment until smooth. 
  2. Add in 1 cup sifted dark cocoa, 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1/2 tsp salt, and mix on low until the ingredients are fully incorporated.
  3. Slowly mix in 5 cups of powdered sugar. Halfway through, add in 2/3 cup of heavy cream to make the frosting easier to mix. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula.
  4. Then mix in 1 1/3 cups of melted and cooled dark chocolate on a low speed until the ingredients are fully incorporated and the desired consistency is reached.
  5. To make the frosting extra smooth, stir by hand with a rubber spatula for a couple minutes. Push the frosting back and forth to work out any extra air that was incorporated while the frosting was being mixed. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent crusting and set aside.
  6. Repeat step 5 and stir the frosting by hand again right before you use it. Sometimes as frosting sits it develops air bubbles. Giving it a good stir helps make sure it stays silky smooth before you add it to your cake or cupcakes.

Assembling This Chocolate Buttermilk Layer 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 buttercream between each cake layer with a large offset spatula.
  3. Add a thin coat of frosting around the cake, fully cover the cake layers.
  4. Smooth using a bench scraper, then chill the cake in the fridge (30 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 and enjoy!

Notes

Recipe Variations

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 for 35-40 mins at 350 F / 175 C. I recommend using heating cores if you have them to help large cake layers like this bake more evenly and quickly.

You can make one 9 x 13-inch cake layer that's about 2 inches tall, but bake time will be 45-55 minutes at 350 F/ 175 C.

One batch of cake batter makes about 1800 grams. If you plan use four circular cake pans, add 450 grams of batter into each pan.

Tips for Making the Best Chocolate Layer Cake

  • Ingredients at room temp mix together better! Set out any cold ingredients ahead of time.
  • Properly measure your flour (spoon into the cup measure, then level). Or better yet, use a kitchen scale to measure your dry ingredients.
  • Use a scale to weigh your cake pans as you fill them. It will make your cake layers bake to the same height and bake more evenly.
  • Level your room temperature or thawed cake layers with a serrated knife to make them easier to stack.
  • Chill your cake layers in the freezer for about 20 minutes before assembling the cake. It makes it so much easier to stack and frost them!

Making This Chocolate Buttermilk Cake in Advance & 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 408Total Fat 15gSaturated Fat 9gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 6gCholesterol 32mgSodium 272mgCarbohydrates 64gFiber 1gSugar 53gProtein 5g

Maggie

Wednesday 11th of January 2023

Trying to make a two tiered birthday cake for my son’s birthday. Would this recipe work, or would you recommend a different recipe?

Chelsweets

Sunday 15th of January 2023

Hi Maggie,

Great question! This recipe would be excellent for a two tiered cake! It's essentially the chocolate version of my go to vanilla cake recipe, which I've used to make several wedding cakes :) I hope your son's birthday cake turns out great!!

Abigail

Wednesday 17th of August 2022

Hey, Chels! Love this cake, just baked up my layers. I’m curious, how many people would you say this cake serves? Thanks! ??

Chelsweets

Sunday 21st of August 2022

Hi Abigail,

Yay! I depends on the size of slices you cut, but I'd say it feeds about 24 people. Happy baking!

Mary Howicz

Thursday 7th of July 2022

Is there way to make this like, half of the size? Should I half it and make it or would that affect it’s taste and/or texture?

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