Sometimes you just want a plain-ass chocolate cake.
And sometimes sometimes is actually all the time if you happen to be Taylor.
And I realized, while I’ve got recipes for Red Wine Chocolate Cake and Whiskey Chocolate Cake and Lemon Cake with Fudge Frosting, I’d never actually posted a recipe for a damn good chocolate cake, your basic chocolate on chocolate, the kind Taylor requests each and every year for his birthday, and the kind I usually deny him in lieu of something ‘weird’ (see: aforementioned red wine chocolate cake, which, while good, is definitely not plain).
So, for once, I acquiesced and gave him exactly what he asked for.
And, since it didn’t turn out quite right the first time (the cake was TOO moist—if there is such a thing—and the frosting too stiff, which made it hard to assemble—not that that stopped us from eating the whole thing), I made it again the following week to perfect the recipe.
That’s TWO plain-ass chocolate cakes in three weeks, dear husband. Two cakes add up to a whole slew of wife points (still deciding what I should cash them in for… a kitten, perhaps? lol just kidding! 3 cats, unlike 2 cakes, is more than enough).
Anyway. Let’s talk cake.
The base recipe is actually very similar to the Red Wine Chocolate Cake, just with plain hot water instead of red wine in this case, as well as bit more oil and a bit more salt and vanilla to amp up the chocolate flavor.
I learned my lesson with the first cake that you shouldn’t mess with a good thing (I tried to add sour cream to make it even more rich and moist and it was so moist it could barely support itself let alone layers of dense fudge frosting).
As for the frosting, it’s a variation on a classic American buttercream, with cocoa and powdered sugar, but made with a bit of sour cream and hot water to cut the sweetness, and melted chocolate to make it even more fudge-like.
It’s super creamy and shiny when you first mix it up (just ignore that moment when you first add the hot water… despite what it looks like, it will work!) However, like all frostings that use melted chocolate, it will set up and loose its shine as it cools, so you can’t really make it ahead of time. If you freeze your cake layers like I froze mine, you do have to work pretty quickly as you frost the cake to prevent the frosting from setting up too firmly before you’re done. I imagine it’d hold its shine longer in the summer.
While I was originally shooting for a super glossy dark chocolate frosting, this version was too good not to share, even if it wasn’t quite what I intended (I’m going to keep working on that glossy frosting, so don’t be surprised if you see another chocolate cake recipe here in the near future!)
Pictured is a half size cake, made in 2 6-inch cake pans. A full recipe would give you 2 8-inch layers, or you could also divide it into 3 pans for 3 thinner layers (adjust the cook time accordingly to account for the thinner layers).
But for two people, a 6-inch cake is pretty darn perfect, and the math works out to be exactly half of an 8-inch cake.
Want to make this recipe as cupcakes? I’ve got you covered.
To get the ultra-dark color for the layers, I used a combination of 75% Dutch-processed cocoa powder and 25% black cocoa for color. While the ultra-Dutched black cocoa gives the cake a lovely rich chocolate color, the extra Dutching it endures means it has almost no fat and no acidity. If you used all black cocoa in this recipe you’d end up with a dry and crumbly, albeit super dark, cake. So please don’t!
What about natural cocoa powder? Natural cocoa powder is more acidic than Dutch-processed cocoa, which undergoes a potassium wash that neutralizes its acidity. You should be ok using natural cocoa powder in this recipe (since it contains both baking soda and baking powder). Frostings aren’t subject to the same chemical reactions as cakes, so it’s not an issue to replace one for the other there either. However, Dutch-processed cocoa is really superior in terms of color and texture when it comes to chocolate cakes… I use it pretty much exclusively in all my recipes, I can’t even recall the last time I bought natural cocoa powder.
Ultimate Chocolate Cake with Fudge Frosting
Dark, fudgy and ultra-moist chocolate cake slathered with a dark chocolate fudge frosting that’s ultra rich and not too sweet. This cake might just be your new favorite chocolate cake recipe!
- 2 cups (400 grams) sugar
- 1-3/4 cups (220 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (120 grams) dark or dutch-processed cocoa powder (I used 3/4 cup Dutch processed and 1/4 cup black cocoa for color – do not use all black cocoa).
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup boiling water
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil or light olive oil
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For Fudge Frosting:
- 2 cups (4 sticks/452 grams) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 1/2 cups (300 grams) powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 1/4 cups (150 grams) dark or Dutch processed cocoa powder (I used 30 grams black cocoa and Dutch-processed for the rest), sifted
- 1/2 cup full fat sour cream, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup hot water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- pinch fine sea salt
- 10 ounces dark chocolate (60-70%), melted and cooled to lukewarm
- Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter and line two 8-inch round baking pans with parchment paper. Butter parchment.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt, whisking until thoroughly combined. Add eggs, buttermilk, water, oil, and vanilla and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until all dry ingredients are incorporated. Divide evenly among prepared pans.
- Bake for 40 to 45 minutes (30 to 35 minutes for a 6-inch cake) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack until cool enough to handle. Run a small knife around the edges of each pan, then gently invert onto wire racks. Cakes should come out cleanly. Peel off parchment and allow cake layers to cool completely. At this point, the cakes can be frozen until ready to use, up to 1 month. Simply wrap each layer individually in a double layer of plastic wrap and then store inside a large zip top bag (I find frozen cakes to be much easier to work with later, and always freeze mine even if I’m finishing the cake the next day).
- To prepare frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until very pale and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add sifted powdered sugar and cocoa powder and mix to combine. Add sour cream, hot water, vanilla and salt and mix on low speed until the liquid is incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. It may look slightly curdled at this point, but don’t worry. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until smooth, another 2-3 minutes. Add lukewarm chocolate and mix until smooth and glossy. At this point you have about 30 minutes at cool room temperature (longer in the summer) to work with the frosting before it begins to harden (this frosting doesn’t do particularly well when made ahead of time).
- To assemble, level your cake layers first if necessary (if there is any sort of domed top, you want to trim that off with a serrated knife). Place one layer, bottom side up, on a cake stand or serving platter (on a piece of parchment if you will need to move it). Spread about 1 cup of frosting in an even layer, then place second layer on top, flat side up, pressing gently to adhere.
- Cover the entire cake with a thin layer of buttercream using an offset spatula. This “crumb coat” will seal in the cake crumbs and make the final layer of frosting easier. If your cakes were frozen this should firm up pretty quickly, otherwise refrigerate for about 10 minutes to set.
- Slather with remaining buttercream in a thick layer, reserving some for piping decorative details if desired.
Frosting adapted from Sweetapolita.All images and text © Lindsay Landis / Love & Olive Oil
Did you make this recipe?
Let us know what you think!
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I just tried making this cake gluten free for some family members who are coeliacs. It works perfectly! Can’t really taste the difference. I usually use cake flour for this recipe, and for a gluten free cake I just swapped the flour with a gluten free flour mix, but reduced the amount by 5-10 %, as the gluten free flour tends to soak up more liquid than regular flours. The cake came out just as moist and decadent as it does with regular cake flour. Just make sure you don’t overbake it, and it’ll be the perfect gluten free chocolate cake!
Oh. My. Gosh. I have been trying chocolate cake recipes for years, and finally I have it!! Seriously this tastes just like that cake from Matilda looks like it tastes – it was so moist and perfectly dark and not too terribly sweet and just perfect. I will never use another chocolate cake recipe ever again. Thank you from the bottom of my sweet tooth!
Hi Lindsay, this is my favourite chocolate cake. My family loves it also. To serve 20 people, should I double the recipe? Would it be too much batter for three 9-inch round pans?
Hi~ would it be s good idea to add fudge pudding powder in? I am so excited to make this cake!!
It’s plenty chocolatey as is, no need to add anything else.
Hi, is this cake sturdy enough to hold fondant/ decorations for a birthday?
Thank you so much, and picture look amazing, soooo indulgent!!
This cake really is unbelievable, it is that perfect… and on my 1st try. The cake itself, perfect, the frosting pretty unbelievable. Having said that, there was enough frosting left to frost a whole other 8 in layer cake. And although it tastes phenomenal, and sits on the cake well, it never did get thick or stiff. It was actually very silky and smooth. So whatever I did wrong with that, it worked out great. Thanks!
So glad you enjoyed! And I think the frosting consistency really depends on the weather. I first made it in January and the frosting set up pretty firmly. But now that it’s warm outside? I think it’d stay softer/shinier much longer.
Hello, could I use 1/2 the chocolate bar, 5 oz, or will it effect the frosting result? Thank you
I don’t recommend it, you’ll end up with a lot less frosting and it may not set up properly (as the chocolate solidifies it helps the frosting firm up).
I’m confused is this recipe for 8 inch or 6 i?nch pans?
The recipe is written for an 8″ cake. Halve it if you are using 6″ pans (this is the size that is pictured).
Hi, I found the same brand Dutch processed cocoa powder which I plan to use, but I’m not sure what black cocoa powder is? Can you plz clarify so I can do exactly as you have instructed in your recipe. Thank you:)
You can certainly use all Dutch process cocoa! Black cocoa is extra Dutched, so it’s even darker in color. But the recipe works totally fine without it. :)
Are you cooking at sea level? I’m thinking I’ll need to make some adjustments because I’m up at 7,200 ft. What do you recommend?
Hi there! I love this recipe especially the frosting but wondered if your frosting recipe would be large enough to cover 2 9-inch cakes? Making for my sweetie’s birthiday this coming weekend.
Two 9-inch single or double layer cakes? The recipe is written for a single 8-inch, 2-layer cake. If you’re using 9 inch pans instead I may do 1.5 times the frosting recipe just to be safe (better to have too much than too little).
Hi Lindsay! Thank you for the reply, I am sorry but I did mean a single 9 inch 2 layer cake. So would you still recommend 1.5 the amount of frosting?
I mean, it depends how thickly you want to frost it. A 9-inch cake pan is actually about 25% larger in terms of volumne. I’m not skilled enough at math to figure out the surface area difference between the two, but again, I figure it’s best to have more frosting than you need in the end?
Is there a substitute for eggs?
Sorry I cannot speak to substitutions here; the eggs are an integral part of this cake’s structure and I would not recommend replacing them.
I am allergic to eggs so I actually kept the whole recipe the same and subbed in half a cup of apple sauce in place of the eggs and it’s been my go to cake recipe for 2 years now, no one believes me when I say it’s egg free, it’s still decadent and suuuper moist and the flavour is to die for still. My friends and family beg me to make it all the time!
I was wondering if it would be ok to replace all or some of the oil with applesauce
I would not recommend this. The fat from the oil is the reason this cake is so moist and delicious; it’d be much drier without it.
I know this question has been asked 1000 times already, but never a concrete answer.
Can you please confirm – your recipe above:
1x the recipe = 1x 8″ or 2×6″
2x the recipe = 2×8″ or 4×6″
3x the recipe = 3×8″ or 6×6″
I am looking at making a 3 layer 8″, so don’t want to 3x the recipe if I only need to do 1.5x the recipe
The recipe as written gives you two 8-inch layers. So if you want 3, 1.5x the recipe should do it!
I’m confused because the recipe says it yields 1x 8inch layer? Not two?
One cake, two layers. Halve it for just one layer (or two 6-inch layers).
Hello. Always wonder if i can substitute dark chocolate for cocoa powder? Can i only use dark chocolate couverture only for this recipe?
Cocoa powder is not the same thing as dark chocolate (the absence of cocoa butter makes a huge difference in the product and its behavior in baked goods).
Thanks for sharing this recipe—always on the hunt for that perfect plain chocolate cake. I actually like mine super claggy, so your first attempt with the sour cream making the cake TOO moist sounds right up my alley. Were all the other ingredients the same? How much sour cream did you use? Thanks for your insight!
I honestly can’t remember, sorry! You could start with replacing half the buttermilk with sourcream and go from there? Maybe start with a half size so you don’t waste too many ingredients.
Can this be made with gluten free flour?
THE BEST….little effort yet BIG flavor. I will no longer be looking for a chocolate cake recipe.
Years later, and this is still my go-to chocolate cake recipe.
I was wondering what sugar you use for the cake? Granulated or caster?