Chocolate Cake (aka The Birthday Cake).

chocolate cake with chocolate icing

I’ve always loved to bake, and a few years ago I decided to part ways with cake mixes. I mean, making a cake from scratch has to taste better, right? Um, not necessarily. I’ve tried a lot of recipes and while they’ve all been “good” in the “I’m eating chocolate cake” sense, I haven’t always loved the texture, or the taste was unexciting. But this – this is by far the best chocolate cake I’ve ever made – and maybe ever had?? It’s so moist, so chocolatey, so light and fluffy, and it makes the perfect birthday cake. My four-year-old had it for her 3rd birthday…then we made it again for her half birthday (yes, we make half a cake for half birthdays around here), and her 4th birthday, and we just made it for my mom’s birthday! It’s pretty beloved around here.

eating chocolate cake

I took some pictures while we were making it, but since it was already dark even though it was 4:30 they didn’t turn out well (thanks for nothing, DST). But it’s so easy to throw together! Once you measure and mix the dry ingredients, it’s just as easy as a cake mix. You can use a stand mixer, a handheld mixer, or whisk it up by hand! After you add the wet mixture, there is one extra ingredient: you stir in a cup of hot coffee at the end, which enhances the chocolate flavor without making it taste like coffee. (I’m lazy and don’t actually know how to make coffee, so I used a random Starbucks Via packet that we had in the cupboard!) The batter will seem super runny, but that’s okay – it’s just a very moist cake.

As for the icing situation, I love (love, love) this whipped chocolate buttercream from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe – it has melted chocolate chips in it and it’s heavenly! I have no cake frosting skills, so I went with the rustic look and didn’t even frost the sides. Bonus: this method leaves you with a little leftover icing to do with what you will – I personally recommend dipping animal crackers or pretzels in it while your children are napping.

The cake would also be delicious with a vanilla frosting, or cream cheese frosting, if that’s your thing, or or or peanut butter! (I haven’t tested these recipes, but perhaps you should!?) Or maybe you need a beautiful, naturally-dyed pink icing?

my baby sneaking a bite of chocolate cakeNote to self: take pictures of decadent chocolate cake during naps next time. Love that chubby hand!

Chocolate Cake (aka The Birthday Cake).

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 55 minutes

Yield: 1 8- or 9-inch layer cake

Chocolate Cake (aka The Birthday Cake).


  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-3/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I have used regular vegetable oil and avocado oil)
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot, freshly brewed coffee (I used hot water + a Starbucks Via packet!)


Preheat the oven to 350 and prepare 2 round cake pans (you can use 8 or 9 inch pans) by lining them with parchment paper and greasing them with butter or oil.

Whisk (or sift) the dry ingredients together, making sure there aren't any lumps of cocoa powder. Measure the buttermilk and oil into a large measuring cup, then add the eggs and vanilla and mix. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients while mixing on low speed (I use my stand mixer to make this easier - if you're mixing by hand or with a hand mixer, just add the wet ingredients in a couple of batches and mix gently in between), scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl a couple of times as you mix. Add the coffee to the batter and mix just to combine. The batter will be runny, but that's okay!

Pour the batter evenly into the pans and bake for 35-40 minutes (for 8 inch pans) or 23-28 minutes (for 9 inch pans). A toothpick should come out clean when the cakes are done! Cool in the pans for about 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack and cool completely before frosting.


This recipe is slightly adapted from Ina Garten's recipe for Beatty's Chocolate Cake, which is apparently from a recipe on the back of the Hershey's cocoa powder container! The only change I made was to slightly decrease the sugar.

I have made the cake in a 9x13 pan and also as cupcakes, but I don't have a record of how long I baked either of those!

I love to use Whipped Chocolate Buttercream from Mel's Kitchen Cafe to ice the cake.

I often use a buttermilk substitute (such as 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar + milk to make 1 cup, or half milk/half plain yogurt) in this recipe.

This chocolate cake is so moist, so rich, and so easy to make! It's very much in demand for birthdays and any special occasion at our house.

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  1. So moist and delicious, and it keeps well…if it lasts. If you plan on kids having this cake after dinner you might want to use decaf coffee in the batter. You’ll still have the chocolate and sugar to contend with (not to mention birthday!), but less caffeine. #butI’mnottired #wired

    1. YES, good call. You can also use plain hot water! :o)

  2. I also have a chocolate cake from scratch recipe that I love and thought that you were describing b/c it’s incredibly moist and amazing. So I’m challenging us to a Chocolate Cake Taste Test next time we’re together! #2wholecakes! #let’smakealltheicingstoo

    1. Yes. Obviously, we should do this. Just not while we’re making All The Pies.

  3. I (ashamedly) use cake mix all too often! I’m super excited about this one, Bet. Pinned and making soon!

    1. Thanks, Senika! Sometimes you gotta just make a cake, with or without an occasion. ;o)

  4. It’s the buttermilk that makes it so good! Sometimes when a sweet recipe calls for milk I’ll add ACV to have the buttermilk effect.

    1. Yes, I love a good buttermilk sub! I don’t usually have the “real” stuff around! :o)

  5. I know “Laurie” and have a “Chocolate Chip Cake Recipe” that I might better into the “Taste test”. Don’t say a chocolate cake is the BEST you have ever tasted…until you try MINE! lol (smile) 🙂

    1. Hmm, I’m willing to keep an open mind. All chocolate cake applicants are welcome!! 😉

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