Chocolate Cake Recipe from Scratch

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This homemade chocolate cake recipe from scratch changed my life. Really! Not just hype, even though it’s worthy of any and all hype.

Four layer chocolate cake slice on white dessert plate with the sliced chocolate cake behind it

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You see, I used to believe that boxed cake mixes were the only way it was possible to bake an easy, moist chocolate cake at home. I thought from scratch cakes were heavy and dry. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.

Now, I’ve seen the light. This chocolate cake recipe can make a from-scratch cake believer out of anyone.

In fact, this is the exact same chocolate cake recipe that I used to make every single chocolate cake and variation thereof sold in the Sweet Bytes bakery!

Ready to bake?

Baking tools and equipment needed to make a chocolate cake recipe from scratch:

  1. Oven
  2. Cake pans
  3. Sifter or sieve
  4. A liquid measuring cup
  5. Dry ingredient measuring cups
  6. Measuring spoons
  7. Mixer or whisk
  8. Spatula

If you have questions about why certain ingredients or baking tools are required, this article, “How to bake a cake from scratch …” explains in full detail.

Chocolate cake ingredients:

  1. Cake flour (you can use all purpose, but you’ll sacrifice a little quality)
  2. Sugar
  3. Natural cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  4. Baking soda
  5. Baking Powder
  6. Salt
  7. Eggs
  8. Buttermilk
  9. Weak Coffee
  10. Vegetable oil (neutral flavored)
  11. Vanilla extract
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Cake flour makes the best layer cakes

It’s true. Tighter crumb, higher layers, softer texture, and it’s readily available at the grocery store.

If you don’t have it and just don’t want to get it. Use all-purpose flour, but not bread flour or whole grain something flour. This recipe will still work great with all-purpose but look into some cake flour ASAP.

Don’t substitute your buttermilk

I know it’s popular to say milk and lemon juice will do the same thing or even suggestions of watered down sour cream, yogurt, etc. are easily found.

I warn you, there are really mixed reviews on this. Truthfully,  you hardly ever SEE the results in a recipe where the author shows you what happens if you use the substitute.

They just say, “Hey, don’t worry, just do this hocus pocus and it’ll be the same.” If this is your first time with baking a cake, please get some buttermilk. Buttermilk is usually under $2 and you can freeze any leftovers or just trust that it never goes bad.

Read all about Why Buttermilk Substitutes Are a Bum Deal from Serious Eats.

Yes, coffee is in the chocolate cake

Leave the coffee for the deepest chocolate flavor. The coffee does not taste like coffee. You can even use full strength coffee if you’d like. The coffee really enhances the cocoa powder’s chocolate flavor. That’s why regular cocoa powder works so well in this recipe!

I just didn’t like my children bouncing off the walls if they ate the cake. They aren’t used to caffeine so they were pretty sensitive to it. Maybe it was psychological?

Whatever it was, I solved it by using very weak coffee. Basically half coffee half water. In a 12 serving cake that’s a bit over 1 Tablespoon per serving.

I wasn’t as happy with the flavor when I used plain water.

Use pure extracts

I know that vanilla is flipping 2.56 per oz. in OKC right now. We could buy booze and forget the whole thing and it’d be cheaper.

You can buy cheaper pure vanilla extract, you can buy a smaller bottle but use pure extracts. The more you bake from scratch, the more you’ll start tasting the fake stuff and the real stuff is goooooooodddddd.

And yes, you can scrape your own vanilla bean here or use homemade extract. +10 extra credit.

Making the homemade chocolate cake recipe

When you start making a recipe, always read the recipe first. (Learn how to read a recipe here.) Then, gather your tools and ingredients and make sure you have a clean work area.

Life will be easier.  Especially if this is your first time baking a cake from scratch.

Prepare your cake pans

I’m going to use four 6″ round cake pans and bake a tall cake. You can use three 8″ pans, two 9″ pans, or even one 9″ x 13″ pan.

4 six inch, greased cake pans ready to make chocolate cake

When baking a cake, you can use any size or shape pan you have, just don’t fill it more than about 1/2 way full.

The deeper the pan, the longer it will take to bake the cake and vice versa. You might even have to lower your oven temperature so the outside edges of the cake don’t get overbaked while waiting for the center of the cake to get done.

You’ll need to grease and flour the cake pans or spray them with a baking spray so the cakes won’t stick. If you aren’t familiar with greasing your baking pans, you can read all about it here.

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Prepare your ingredients

Room temperature ingredients are required for this recipe to do it’s best. Since that takes a little time, get those ingredients ready first.

You can set the eggs, buttermilk, and coffee out for 30 minutes and let nature do its thing.

Or, If you are in a hurry, you can use a few shortcuts:

  • Set the eggs in hot water from the tap for about 5 minutes
  • Microwave the buttermilk for about 15 seconds
  • Put ice cubes or water in hot coffee to weaken it and cool it at the same time

For this recipe, you will need to sift your cake flour before you measure it. Cake flour gets a little packed down and clumpy sitting around waiting for you to bake a cake, so it needs to be lightened up before you use it.

I like to use a flour sifter, but a sieve will do. If you don’t have either, use your whisk and stir it up nicely before measuring out the proper amount. Here are a few tips for getting that cake flour sifted.

Pre-measure all of the ingredients

While the eggs, buttermilk, and coffee are coming to room temperature, you can get started pre-measuring all of your other ingredients.

If you are unsure about measuring the different types of ingredients, here’s a handy-dandy demonstration called “How to Measure Ingredients Correctly” from Wilton.

First, go through the recipe and pre-measure all of the dry ingredients. For this chocolate cake recipe, I go ahead and put all of the dry ingredients into the mixing bowl.

Large stainless steel mixing bowl with dry ingredients for the chocolate cake recipe inside

Then, measure all of the liquid ingredients.

Crack your eggs into a small cup or bowl before adding them to the main ingredients so that you can check for shells.

Overhead photo of measuring cups filled with wet ingredients for the chocolate cake arranged on a gridded silicon mat

After I have them measured, I go ahead and mix them all together in a large liquid measuring cup and stir them together. I add the eggs into this cup as well.

Make sure all of the dry ingredients are mixed together nicely in your large mixing bowl.

A stainless steel mixer bowl with well mixed dry ingredients for a chocolate cake and a glass measuring cup with all wet ingredients for the chocolate cake mixed together

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Make the chocolate cake batter

Now it’s time to preheat the oven and start mixing your very own chocolate cake from scratch! Isn’t this exciting?

You can use a stand mixer, a hand mixer, or even a whisk for this recipe, it’s such an easy one! Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones., mixing as you go.

via GIPHY

Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds to get everything blended, then crank it up to medium for about 1 minute. Scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl and mix another minute.

You should have a thin batter that is ready to pour into your greased pans!

Close up of finished chocolate cake batter in a stainless steel mixer bowl with stand mixer paddle attachment covered in thin cake batter showing

Evenly distribute the chocolate cake batter into your greased cake pans

It’s important to get close to the same amount in each pan so that your cake layers will be even when you go to decorate the cake. This is one of the secrets to those beautiful slices of cake.

You can use your eyeballs and aim for about the same amount. You can use a scoop or measuring cup. Or you can be a bit obsessed with precision and use your kitchen scale.

Guess which one I use?

Overhead shot of 4 six inch cake pans filled with chocolate cake batter. The far left pan is sitting on a kitchen scale showing 17.54 ounces

Bake the chocolate cake

Now it’s time to bake some cake!

Make sure your oven is up to the right temperature. If you have a regular oven, that will be 350°F. If you are using dark coated pans or pans like my Fat Daddio’s Cake Pans, 325°F might be a better temperature for you.

** Side note: Oven temperatures vary a lot. Even the temperature INSIDE the oven varies a lot from front to back and left to right. IF you’ve had trouble with domed cake tops or cracked tops, or sunken middles in your oven before, just give 325°F a try. Slower and lower is a tried and true method for avid bakers. You can also get an Oven Monitoring Thermometer.

I use my convection setting, Fat Daddio’s pans and bake on 315 in my top oven and 320 in my bottom oven. That may sound crazy precise to you, but when you’ve baked over 2000 cake layers in an oven you know each other intimately.

Before my oven and I became BFF’s I always used Wilton Bake Even Cake Strips.

Four pans filled with chocolate cake batter inside of an oven with blue walls

Gently, place your cake pans in the center of your preheated oven with at least 1″ of space in between the pans. Close the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes, but it might need a few more minutes after that.

How to know when the chocolate cake is done

The cake is done when you can gently press the center of it with your finger and it bounces back into shape when you remove your finger. This is my preferred method for testing cake doneness.

You can also use a cake tester or toothpick. When you poke it and there are only a few moist crumbs, it’s done.

If you check the cake and it’s not done, 4 more minutes is usually a safe time to check again.

It’s done when it’s done, not when the timer goes off.

Set your pans on a cooling rack or other heat protected surface to cool for 10-20 minutes before removing the cake layers from the pan.

Four 6" chocolate cake layers in Fat Daddio's pans cooling on a cooling rack

Chocolate Cake Recipe From Scratch

An easy, moist chocolate cake recipe. You won't believe what an amazing cake baker you are until you try this chocolate cake! 

Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Keyword Cake, Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Cake Recipe
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Cooling 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 12
Calories 293 kcal
Author Mikel from Sweet Bytes OKC

Ingredients

Equipment needed

  • 4 Six inch round cake pans
  • Mixer or whisk
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Measuring Cups
  • Measuring Spoons
  • Large liquid measuring cup
  • Spatula

Chocolate Cake

  • 1 3/4 Cup Cake flour, sifted (190 grams)
  • 2 Cups Sugar (430 grams)
  • 1 Cup Natural cocoa powder, sifted (55 grams, according to my scale, contrary to what the internet says it should weigh)
  • 2 teaspoons Baking soda (11 grams)
  • 1 teaspoon Baking powder (4 grams)
  • 1 teaspoon Salt (5.69 grams)
  • 1 Cup Buttermilk, room temperature (240 mL)
  • 1 Cup Weak coffee, room temperature (240 mL)
  • 1/2 Cup Vegetable oil (120 mL)
  • 2 Large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract (5 mL)

Instructions

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F (or your preferred cake baking temperature)

Make the chocolate cake batter

  1. Grease and flour the cake pans and set aside. 

  2. In large mixing bowl or bowl of your stand mixer, whisk together cake flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. 

  3. In the large liquid measuring cup, stir together buttermilk, weak coffee, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla extract. 

  4. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, mix on low until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated, then turn the mixer up to medium speed for 30 seconds. 

  5. Stop mixing, scrape the sides of the bowl and the bottom of the bowl with a spatula. Mix the batter on medium high for 1 more minute. 

  6. Pour batter into the prepared cake pans. 

Bake the cake

  1. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until cake springs back from lightly pressing the center.

  2. Remove cakes from oven. Place on a cooling rack or another heatproof surface to cool. 

  3. Cool the cakes in the pans until pans are cool enough to handle, 10 - 20 minutes. Remove the cake layers from the pans. 

  4. Cool cakes completely before decorating or wrap in plastic wrap for later use. 

  5. Decorate and enjoy! Chocolate Cake Frosting is AMAZING with this. 

Recipe Notes

If you don't have 4 six inch pans, you can use a 9" x 13", 3 eight inch, or 2 nine inch. This recipe was adapted from a recipe called the Texas Sheet Cake.

Decorate as desired!

Finished six inch, four layer chocolate cake from scratch frosted with chocolate cake frosting sitting on white cake board with brown ribbon

If you aren’t going to decorate the cake right away, you can read my post on How to Store Baked Cake Layers. 

I used my chocolate cake frosting recipe and my Wilton Icing Decorating 3 Piece Comb Set to make the texture around the sides.

I left my cake plain for this photo, but it’s like a blank canvas.  All I need to get fancy are some fresh flowers, a bit of piped frosting, or some sprinkles and she’ll be ready to party!

More to come on cake decorating. I think I’ll save all that for another post!

Frequently asked questions about making chocolate cake from scratch

  1. Will this chocolate cake recipe work under fondant? Yes, I’ve used it under fondant with success.
  2. Is this a good chocolate cake recipe for carving? I’ve done it, but it’s really a moist and messy cake to carve. I would recommend finding a different recipe.
  3. Does this recipe work for cupcakes? Yes, but I like to use all-purpose flour when I make cupcakes with it because they are a little sturdier. It makes about 18-20 cupcakes.
  4. Can you make a tiered cake out of this chocolate cake recipe? Yes. BUT you have to use the proper support structure inside. You can’t just stack whole cakes on top of each other without the proper foundation. (I’ve seen crazy things on the internets.)
  5. Can I leave out the cocoa powder out of chocolate cake and make a white cake? No. The baking science of this recipe will not work without the cocoa and white cake is usually made with egg whites. Even yellow cake won’t happen if you leave out the cocoa powder.
  6. Can I use real chocolate instead of cocoa powder? Not with this recipe. A recipe is really a scientific formula and they work as written and you have to rewrite the formula when you start changing things around
  7. Can I leave out or substitute the eggs, milk, oil, etc.? Not and still make this recipe. I’m not being difficult, I promise. This recipe works as written and I can’t vouch for substitutions that I’ve never tried.
  8. How long will chocolate cake stay fresh? If you keep the cake covered and it will stay fresh tasting for about 1 week. It will stay great for months if you freeze it in an airtight container or wrap in plastic.

Slice of 4 layer chocolate cake on a white dessert plate graphic for Pinterest

Questions or comments?

I hope that you’ll love this chocolate cake as much as my family has. Let me know if you have any questions or leave a comment below!

One last thing, I’d love to have you join my Delicious News subscribers, so we can stay in touch!

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