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It took me years to find the best chocolate cake recipe — the one that we’d make again and again. This buttermilk chocolate cake is it. It’s moist and just the right amount dense, with a tender crumb. We’ve made it many times in the last decade, almost always with raspberry whipped cream. Hope you love it.
Why we love this recipe
This substantial layer cake — filled and frosted naked with our raspberry whipped cream — is my daughter Celia’s favorite birthday cake, and she asks for it every year. It’s big, but that’s not the only the reason she loves it so much. This cake is:
- Rich and chocolatey
- Not overly sweet
- Tender and moist
And, filled and frosted with our pillowy pink whipped cream, it makes a gorgeous, simple presentation.
The recipe is adapted from a 1999 issue of Gourmet magazine. At least for a while, it was the most popular recipe of all time on Epicurious.
What you’ll need
Here’s a glance at the ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe.
- You won’t taste the coffee even though rhere’s a lot of it. It simply amps up the chocolate flavor. Use decaf if you like.
- Buttermilk makes a tender crumb and contributes acidity to the batter.
- Use natural cocoa powder. This is unsweetened cocoa powder that has not been washed with alkali. Anything from Guittard to Ghirardelli to Hershey’s is fine. Just don’t use Dutch Process cocoa.
- You can chop up a bar of bittersweet chocolate or use chips.
- Safflower oil is our go-to, but you can substitute your favorite neutral-tasting oil, such as canola, peanut, corn, or a vegetable oil blend.
How to make it
Here’s all you need to do to make buttermilk chocolate cake. You can see all the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post. Get the full details in the recipe card below.
- Prepping the pans is a little bit of an arts and crafts project. Spray the bottoms of the pans, cut out and position a circle of parchment in each pan, and spray the parchment, too. This will ensure that the cake releases easily after baking.
- You’ll melt the chocolate into the hot coffee, beat the eggs alone until lightened and frothy and then mix the wet ingredients together.
- Sift the dry ingredients together and then mix them into the wet ingredients.
- Divide the batter between the pans. I like to weigh them to ensure they’re evenly filled. Each pan will get between 900 and 1000 grams of batter. Bake low and slow — 325°F for over an hour, until moist but baked through. Let cool completely before turning out from the pans and frosting.
Expert tips and FAQs
Yes! The cake stays moist and tender for days, so you can easily bake it the night before. I like to assemble the cake within a few hours of serving time when possible, though you can frost it earlier in the day and keep it covered in the fridge if you like.
If you plan to use a denser frosting such as chocolate buttercream or ganache, you can ice the whole cake. It tends to shed crumbs, so you may want to use these pro cake decorator tips:
You can freeze the cake layers (cooled completely, then wrapped well in plastic wrap and foil) and then defrost them slightly before assembling. This makes cakes easier to work with while also making them extra tender.
Crumb-coat your cake: apply a very thin layer of frosting to lock in the crumbs, then place the cake in the fridge for 20 minutes or so before frosting completely.
This is a large cake, so we do often have leftovers. They keep well, tightly sealed in a nice cold fridge, for up to three or four days.
A few more of our favorite cake recipes
Our family tends to return to the same beloved frosted cakes again and again. We also adore:
- Norwegian Gold cake with Sour Cream Ganache (this my personal favorite of all time)
- Perfect chocolate cupcakes with buttercream (these are great to dress up in themes)
- The Silver Palate’s yellow cake (with white wine in the batter!)
- Carrot cake with not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting
- 3 ounces (85 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) hot brewed coffee
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 cup (177 ml) vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) well-shaken buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 cups (600 grams) sugar
- 2 1/2 cups (300 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups (120 grams) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 300° F. (Yup, just 300!) Spray both pans with cooking spray. Cut out two circles of parchment paper to cover the bottoms of the pans. Place them in the greased pans and spray those, too.
- Combine the hot coffee with the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl or glass measuring cup. Let sit for a few minutes and then stir until the chocolate is completely melted.
- In a very large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs until thickened a bit and lightened in color, about 4 minutes. Add the coffee-chocolate mixture, oil, buttermilk, and vanilla and beat on low until well combined.
- Into a large bowl, sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients all at once and mix on low just until well combined.
- Pour half the batter into each pan and bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, approximately 60 to 70 minutes.
- Let the cake cool completely in the pans on cooling racks. Then run a knife around the sides of each pan and turn out the layers. Remove the parchment. The cake is ready for frosting when completely cool.
- This recipe was originally written for two 10-inch round cake pans. I've found that most people don't own this size pan. If that's the case for you, you can use two 9-inch round cake pans and bake on the longer side. That's what I've done for these photos and the video. In 9-inch pans I bake for a full 70 minutes.
- In place of chopped bittersweet chocolate bars, I sometimes use bittersweet chocolate chips. That's a fine substitution in this recipe.
- For the cocoa powder, you can use any brand that's both unsweetened and natural (not Dutch-processed). Guittard, Scharffen Berger, Ghirardelli, and even Hershey's are all fine choices.
- If using a standard-size stand mixer, be very careful for sloshing. This is a large recipe, and especially at the early stages before adding the dry ingredients, the batter is very loose.
- I like to weigh the batter in the pans to make sure it's evenly divided. Each pan should get between 990 and 1000 grams of batter.
- We usually fill and frost this cake with our raspberry whipped cream. If you plan to use a denser frosting such as chocolate buttercream or ganache, you can ice the whole cake. It tends to shed crumbs, so you may want to use these pro cake decorator tips: You can freeze the cake layers (cooled completely, then wrapped well in plastic wrap and foil) and then defrost them slightly before assembling. This makes cakes easier to work with while also making them extra tender. Crumb-coat your cake: apply a very thin layer of frosting to lock in the crumbs, then place the cake in the fridge for 20 minutes or so before frosting completely.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 387Total Fat: 14.9gCarbohydrates: 62.7gFiber: 3.4gProtein: 6g