How to Make a Classic Chocolate Cake
Layers of incredibly moist chocolate cake and rich chocolate buttercream frosting make this the ultimate dessert. A baking pro shares her recipe and best tips.
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Article, Classic Chocolate Cake recipe, and photographs by Annalise Sandberg
Is there anything better than a slice of homemade chocolate cake with rich, fudgy buttercream frosting? This recipe is a chocolate lover’s dream come true, for sure. But it’s also a fairly basic and uncomplicated chocolate cake recipe so it’s perfect for all occasions, from your child’s birthday party to a free Saturday afternoon.
As a blogger who's passionate about baking from-scratch, I love learning the little details that make a dessert come out perfectly. And I'm happy to pass that knowledge on!
Cocoa powder and instant espresso (optional, but highly recommended) contribute to this cake’s rich chocolate flavor, while vegetable oil gives it a nice moist crumb. Combine that with a creamy chocolate frosting, and I promise you won’t find a more delicious chocolate cake.
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How to make the best chocolate cake
Ingredients for Classic Chocolate Cake
It might be completely from-scratch, but that doesn’t mean this classic chocolate cake is difficult to make. In fact, it doesn’t get much easier than this!
1. Sift dry ingredients
Use a fine-mesh strainer or a sifter to sift all-purpose flour, sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder, baking soda, espresso powder, and salt into a large bowl. Sifting removes any lumps, and aerates the flour so it combines more easily with the other ingredients. The instant coffee is optional but adds flavor depth.
2. Whisk wet ingredients and add to dry ingredients
In a separate bowl, whisk together large eggs, vegetable oil, and milk. (Room temperature milk and eggs combine more effectively with other ingredients, ensuring the baked cake has the best rise, texture, and flavor. Try to pull them out of the fridge 30-60 minutes before making this cake.)
Add the wet ingredients to the bowl with the dry ingredients and whisk just until no streaks of flour remain and the batter is smooth. For the most tender cake, don’t overmix!
3. Divide batter between prepared cake pans
Cake pans prepared for Classic Chocolate Cake
There is nothing worse than a cake that sticks to the pan. Thankfully, the solution is easy:
Spray 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick baking spray (the kind with flour in it, such as Baker’s Joy; or use softened butter and a little flour), then line with parchment paper rounds. You can use pre-cut 8-inch parchment paper circles, or make your own from a sheet of parchment paper (trace around baking pans with a pencil, then cut out parchment rounds with scissors).
Add an even amount of batter to each prepared pan. If you have a kitchen scale, it’s a handy tool to ensure pans have the same amount of batter and will bake up to be the same size.
4. Bake cake layers
Bake cakes in a preheated 350°F oven until until the cakes start to pull from the sides of the pans and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, 25-32 minutes.
Do not open the oven at all during the first 20 minutes of baking or you risk the cake collapsing. Start checking for doneness only when the center is no longer shiny and appears set.
Once cakes are baked, let them cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely before frosting.
How to make the perfect chocolate frosting
Dark chocolate buttercream is light and creamy, but also incredibly rich and chocolatey. It’s the ideal topping for this classic chocolate cake, and a frosting recipe you’ll want to keep on hand for cupcakes and other favorite recipes.
Sift the powdered sugar through a mesh strainer or sifter to remove any lumps, then beat it with a stand mixer or hand-held mixer along with unsalted butter, melted and cooled unsweetened chocolate, milk, vanilla extract, and salt until smooth and light. Start with medium speed to combine ingredients, then switch to medium-high to beat to a fluffy texture. Don’t hesitate to pause and scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure the frosting is mixing evenly.
How to frost a cake
How to frost Classic Chocolate Cake
Frosting a classic chocolate layer cake isn’t that difficult or complicated, and knowing a few simple tricks can take your home-baked cake from basic to beautiful.
1. Start with flat cake layers
Since the baked cakes have a domed top, arrange them with the rounded sides down when you frost. The rounded part of the top layer will flatten slightly as the cake goes together.
2. Keep cake plate clean
Place one cake layer on your serving cake plate. Slide several small strips of waxed paper under the edges of the cake to keep the surface clean while you frost the cake.
3. Add filling layer
Add about 1 cup of chocolate cake frosting on top of the first cake layer and spread into an even layer. Place the second cake over the frosting top side-down so you have a smooth flat edge to work with on top.
4. Frost the rest of the cake
Set aside about 1 cup frosting if you’d like to add a piped border. Spread the rest of the chocolate frosting over the stacked cake. (I highly recommend an offset spatula for this job if you have one, as it makes smoothing the frosting a breeze.) Start by frosting the top of the cake in a rough, uneven coat and working down the sides. Once the cake is covered, use long, steady strokes with your spatula to get a clean, smooth finish.
Remove the waxed paper strips on the cake plate. If you’d like to add decorations to your cake, use a piping bag and tip to pipe the reserved frosting along the top and bottom edge of your cake.
For clean, neat slices, chill the cake in the fridge for 30 minutes to set the frosting before serving.
How to store chocolate cake
You can hold the Classic Chocolate Cake at room temperature, covered, for 1 day. Otherwise, store it covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. (Let a refrigerated cake stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before slicing to allow the frosting to soften slightly.)
Can this cake be made in advance?
While this cake will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days, I alway prefer to serve it soon after assembling for the freshest flavor. However, I don’t always have the time to bake and assemble on the same day. For me, the perfect make-ahead option is to prepare the cake layers and frosting separately ahead of time, and then assemble them when I’m ready to serve.
You can wrap cake layers in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for up to 3 days and in the freezer for up to 1 month. Thaw frozen cake layers in the fridge overnight or at room temperature for a few hours, unwrapping them only once they’ve thawed.
Store the buttercream frosting in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1 week or the freezer for a month or more. Before using the frosting, let it come to room temperature and then beat it for a few minutes to get it light and creamy again.
Can you freeze chocolate cake?
Yes, you can also freeze a frosted chocolate layer cake! Chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up the frosting, then wrap it well with 2 layers of plastic wrap and a layer of foil. Assembling the cake on an 8-inch cardboard cake round instead of a plate or cake stand makes freezing even easier.
When you’re ready to enjoy the cake, move it to the fridge to thaw overnight. The next day, remove the wrappings and let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Get our Classic Chocolate Cake recipe
You won’t find a more perfect chocolate cake! Moist, chocolatey cake layers and rich and creamy chocolate buttercream frosting make this a decadent cake everyone will love.
So many ways to love chocolate
If this recipe has whetted your appetite for all things chocolate, we have loads more chocolate dessert recipes on Yummly including flourless chocolate cake, easy chocolate Bundt cake, fudgy chocolate cupcakes, quick chocolate fudge, chocolate ganache, buttermilk chocolate cake, Dutch chocolate cookies, fudgy brownies, classic chocolate chip cookies with semisweet chocolate chips, and party s’mores with bars of Hershey’s chocolate. Keep exploring in these next articles.