Unbelievable Chocolate Cake

Smothered Pork Chops.
Yellow Cake.
Spare Ribs.
Chocolate Cake.
Cream Cheese Coffee Cake.

Any idea what all of the above items have in common?

Well, just between you and me, they are currently on my list (among several others) of recipes I’m searching to find the PERFECT version of. The Best Of, if you will. There are many things (like Indian food and pasta dishes to name a few) that I’ll probably always try different versions of just for the fun of it, but my “search” list includes recipes I want to know are the best so I can turn to them when the time arises and know they will not fail me.

And wouldn’t you know that this week, I’m able to cross off TWO of them! The magical frosting that still visits my dreams was detailed yesterday and now today I’m letting you in on the best chocolate cake I’ve ever made.

I first made this cake nearly eight months ago for my son’s birthday but wanted to make it several more times to ensure it really is the best. And it is! Hands down, it beats any other homemade chocolate cake I have ever made. Moist (unbelievably so!), dense with chocolate flavor but with a perfectly light and tender cake crumb, and with the perfect balance of sweet and rich chocolate, this cake was taken to new heights slathered in my new favorite frosting.

So perfect and so decadent and delicious, this is the only chocolate cake I need to worry about from here on out.

Actually, I probably should be worrying more about the effect of this chocolate cake on my thighs. Ignorance is bliss, I say.

One Year Ago: Oatmeal Pancake Mix
Two Years Ago: Chicken Tikka Masala

*Update (10/6/10): Several of you have mentioned that you had issues with this cake spilling over the edges of the cake pan while baking. Ugh! That’s annoying. While I haven’t had the same issues, enough of you mentioned it that I want to put a note here to watch your cakes closely. You may want to judge the batter in the cake pan by only pouring it 2/3 full and using the rest of the batter for cupcakes, just to make sure you don’t have a mess in your oven.

Unbelievable Chocolate Cake

Yield: Makes two 9-inch cake layers and I’ve had great success making it in a 9X13-inch pan (I suspect cupcakes would work out great, also)

Unbelievable Chocolate Cake

This cake is best made in cake pans that have sides at least 3-inches high so it doesn't overflow while baking.


  • 1 ¼ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 2 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons salt
  • 2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 ¼ cups warm water
  • 1 ¼ cups buttermilk
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, making sure the baking rack is in the middle of the oven. Prepare your cake pans by cutting out a piece of parchment or wax paper to line the bottom of the pan. Grease the pans, place the parchment or wax paper in the bottom of the pan and lightly grease again. Dust the pans with flour (or cocoa powder if you don’t want the white dusting on the finished cakes). Set the pans aside.
  2. Using a fine mesh strainer, sift together the cocoa, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add the eggs, yolk, warm water, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Mix on low speed (with a handheld mixer or in the bowl of an electric stand mixer) until smooth, about 3 minutes.
  3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake the cakes for about 32-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean or with moist crumbs. Do not overbake! Remove the pans from the oven and set the pans on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Gently run a thin knife around the edges of the pans and unmold the cakes, removing the parchment paper liners from the bottom of the cakes. Let them cool completely, top sides ups, on a wire rack.
  4. Trim the tops of the cake layers with a long serrated knife to make them level. Frost as desired (I highly recommend this life-changing frosting).

Recipe Source: adapted slightly from Martha Stewart Living The New Classics

297 Responses to Unbelievable Chocolate Cake

  1. Aurora says:

    This recipe is A-MAZING!! So moist, rich (used Droste Cocoa Powder) and not too sweet! It turned out beautifully! I even halfed the recipe to make an additional small 6″ round. SO so good! Thank you for sharing your awesome recipe!

  2. Thank you for your recipe, you are my go to blog for fail safe recipes! I am just waiting for the cake to cool, so far so good, looks and smells great!

  3. Nisha says:

    This cake turned out wonderful. Not overly sweet. I made it with your life changing frosting. All in all it was time consuming and made a ton of dishes, but worth it! Yum!!!
    I was able to not overfill my cake pans too much and had enough batter left over to make about 10 cupcakes with it. Thanks Mel.

  4. Amber says:

    Hi Mel!! Just a quick question for ya. I’d like to add chocolate chips to this cake recipe without them sinking to the bottom. Knowing this is a thin batter, making it difficult to support the chips, would you suggest putting it in the fudge to thicken before baking and then add the chips coated in cocoa powder? Thanks a bunch!!

    • Mel says:

      I’ve never tried adding chocolate chips, Amber – but it usually helps to toss them in with a tablespoon or so of flour to help coat the chips before stirring them in. I’m a little afraid they are going to sink no matter what you do since the batter is so thin but good luck experimenting!

  5. jen says:

    This cake really does rock! Easy and uber chocolatey. I’ve tried a bunch of homemade recipes for my girl’s bday, and this is the winner. It’s light, moist and just sweet enough. I baked in 2 9x9inch square pans. Cakes took about 40 minutes to cook and did sink a bit in the center as they cooled. But who cares? Not I! This is THE chocolate cake for bdays in my house now.

    • heather says:

      Was very glad to see this post. Mine were not baked through at 32 minutes. Here’s hoping that the extra 10 min will help, they are in the oven right now. Have no idea why this happened as I bake quite a but. I did not see the note re filling the cake pans. Maybe just too much batter.

  6. Kim says:

    Yes, this cake is the real deal. Stop looking for the perfect chocolate cake recipe, because this is it people!!! I made the recipe in my normal 9 inch round cake pans (not 3 inches high) and my cake came out picture perfect. My layers rose beautifully all the way to the top of my pans without any danger of spilling over. I just love it when that happens! This cake really made my day, especially because I was making it as a birthday surprise for my sweetheart. He loved it! Thanks so much for sharing this truly outstanding recipe!

  7. Heidi says:

    Hi Mel,
    I had been using recipes from your blog for a long time before I learned last year that you are Rob’s cousin!! I’m Amy’s little sister, Heidi. Anyway, I just wanted to say that my husband and I made this cake with the frosting you recommended (chocolate version) for my birthday yesterday and it was AMAZING!!! We both kept saying after every bite that it was the best chocolate cake we had ever had. It really was unbelievable! 🙂 Thanks for being awesome! I love your blog!

    • Mel says:

      Hi Heidi! I love Amy! I’ve told her and Rob several times I wish we were next door neighbors (they had the nerve to move out of state the minute we moved to Idaho!). I’m so happy you loved this recipe…that version you put together for your birthday is my absolute fave. Happy birthday!

  8. Eve says:

    Please help Mel! So i need to make a cake in advance as was wondering whether it was possible to refrigerate/freeze this cake for one and a half day, would that be okay? Also, do i use the fridge or freezer to do this (i know i sound a bit slow but please humour me).



    • Kim says:

      I absolutely LOVE this cake straight from the fridge! Go for it!

      • Eve says:

        Thank you so much for your reply, yeah i decided to refrigerate it in the end and it was still good. Best cake ever (thanks Mel)

    • Mel says:

      Hi Eve – for a day and a half, I’d probably refrigerate the cake well covered and if possible, already iced. That will help it stay moist.

      • Eve says:

        Thank you! I’ll bear this in mind when i next decide to make it a day or so in advance. Best cake ever and this is from someone who isn’t really fond of chocolate anything!

  9. Jenna says:

    This is an AMAZING cake-so moist and sinfully delicious without being too sweet and with a really deep and rich chocolatey-ness (I used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder with unbelievable results). I frosted it with a vanilla whipped cream (nobody in my family really likes traditional icing) and it was scrumptious, just SCRUMPTIOUS! <333

  10. Claud says:

    I usually just buy box cake mix because I find it more convenient and I have not encountered a recipe that I really like but after trying this I will definitely stop buying those box mix. Thank you so much

  11. Leann says:

    Hi Mel,

    Do you think it is a bad idea for me to make this recipe using Dutch processed cocoa? I have some really nice cacao rouge, but never get to use it because all recipes seem to need natural cocoa powder. Since this recipe has an acid (buttermilk) to compensate for the acid that is missing in the cacao rouge, I thought it might still turn out okay. Any thoughts? Thanks!

    • Mel says:

      I haven’t tried it with Dutch-process but because Dutch-process has a lower acidity, it’s usually used in recipes with baking powder. This recipe has both (baking powder and baking soda) but because it’s higher in baking soda, you might need to play around with those amounts if using Dutch-process. I believe some in the comments have used Dutch-process so if you read through the comment thread you may find some help. Good luck!

  12. Amber says:

    You already know this…and now I do too: This cake absolutely rocked! I have made a chocolate cake every year (a new recipe every year) for my daughter’s birthday in search of finding the perfect chocolate cake. Now I’ve found it! Search over. Everyone raved about it and the aptly named magical frosting! Even my highly skeptical, notorious-for-hating-cake Mother loved it. Thank you!

  13. Tracy says:

    This recipe looks great! Do you think it would hold up to buttercream and fondant?

  14. Kris says:

    Is there a gluten free version?

  15. Erin says:

    Do you know the approx baking time for this when done in a 9×13 pan?

  16. Kim says:

    Loved this recipe. It was awesome. I used it with a strawberry buttercream frosting and marshmallow fondant. It was uber moist!

  17. Ashley says:

    Hi I have to say I absolutely love this recipe. It’s delicious and easy and always moist. I’ve made it at least 5 times now and I always get this HUGE dome on top which sadly leads to waste sometimes. Is there a way to prevent such exaggerated dining? I even put it in cupcake tins. And while some bakers like rounded tips, this set pretty low in the cup and rose pretty high in the middle. So there was a lot of space in the cup.. =/

    Am I off somehow? I do weigh my ingredients and I find that I have to lower my temperature halfway through baking to make sure it doesn’t burn.. any tips please?

    • Mel says:

      Hi Ashley – I’m not exactly sure what might be happening but you might try decreasing the leavening in the recipe just a little so it doesn’t rise too high (either that or try baking it 25 degrees lower).

  18. Mao Yebron says:

    Hi Mel, I only have cake flour available on hand, can I use that instead of the all-purpose flour?

    • Mel says:

      I’ve actually never used cake flour for this cake but I believe others have with good results (you might read through the comment thread to see for sure). The cake crumb will be a bit finer using cake flour.

  19. Angela McKinney says:

    Have you found a best Devil’s a Food Cake that you can share; the Chocolate cake is quite dark and I’ve never been a fan of very dark chocolate cake?

  20. Kathryn says:

    This cake taste amazing! For some reason the center of my cake didn’t rise. What did I do wrong?

  21. Annie says:

    When I made this cake the first time it was way too cocoa-y for me and my family ( I just used Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa). I also live in China where cocoa is expensive, so I decreased the cocoa to 3/4 cup and it was the perfect milk chocolate cake. So moist and delicious. Everyone said it was the best chocolate cake they had ever had! This is my go-to chocolate cake from now on. Thanks Mel!

  22. Quen says:

    Hi is it possible to achieve the frost’s texture just by using a whisk?

  23. Kim says:


    Thanks for the time and energy on your recipes. This blog is awesome and so much thought and detail go into it! I have to say I have made this chocolate cake a few times. I messed it up Friday night. Not sure how I did, but I re-made the cake and let the one I messed up on, sit on the counter for a couple of days uncovered. When I messed up the cake its because I pulled it out of the pan too soon and it was misshapen. I wanted to throw it out but my friend kept eating it saying it was so good. Now I’m sitting on the couch eating this chocolate cake and it’s still amazing! Thank you for the recipes. This chocolate cake rocks!

  24. Angie says:

    I have a question. I only have short 9 inch rounds, but I have three of them. Could I do it in 3 short 9″ rounds? Also, is this cake sturdy? I’m making a mother’s day cake and I am not very experienced with the putting together and decorating part. But I find it so much easier when the cake isn’t so crubly and unstable.

    • Mel says:

      This cake is definitely sturdy enough for icing and yes, I think it should be ok in the three 9-inch rounds with shorter sides. Just make sure not to overfill the pans so it doesn’t overflow in the oven.

  25. Gracie says:

    I would love the white frosting recipe as well, how did you make it?

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