Best Chocolate Cake Recipe (From Scratch)

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This is the best chocolate cake recipe ever! It is rich, chocolatey and moist with a perfect crumb! Topped with chocolate buttercream frosting it’s the ultimate chocolate birthday cake. Check out the step-by-step photos and watch the video to learn how to make this easy chocolate cake recipe and ditch boxed cake mixes once and for all!

a slice of chocolate cake on a plate with a fork

We have a large family, so we celebrate lots of birthdays in a given year. I used to use a chocolate cake recipe that called for a boxed cake mix and instant pudding, and I just didn’t love the idea of using a highly processed ingredients for all of our (many) birthday celebrations. 

So I created this chocolate cake recipe. I worked hard to make this taste exactly like our favorite chocolate cake, but completely from scratch. I tested and tried this easy chocolate cake recipe for two years worth of birthdays before I perfected it enough to share it with all of you. (Also try these homemade chocolate cupcakes or this recipe for the best yellow cake from scratch)!

Before perfecting this recipe, I had made many others that didn’t meet my expectations. Ingredients like boiling water, hot coffee, buttermilk etc. tend to lead to a chocolate cake that wasn’t moist or rich enough for our tastes. So you will find none of those ingredients in this easy chocolate cake recipe. 

This moist chocolate cake is seriously the best, it’s dense and rich and never ever disappoints. Frosted with our favorite chocolate buttercream recipe, it’s a chocolate-lover’s dream come true. 

two-layer chocolate cake on a plate with a slice cut out of it so you can see the inside.

Chocolate Cake Recipe: Ingredients and substitutions 

Many people ask how to make a cake super moist. It’s all in the ingredients. I made sure to choose ingredients that would create a moist chocolate cake with a rich chocolate flavor that everyone raves about. So here are some notes about the ingredients and some possible substitutions.

overhead view of the ingredients in this chocolate cake recipe
  • All-purpose flour. Cake flour can be used in place of all-purpose flour. I have not tried all-purpose gluten-free flour so if you do report back and let me know how it goes. 
  • Granulated sugar. There really isn’t a substitute for the sugar. I suggest regular white sugar or organic cane sugar for the best results. 
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder. Choose your favorite variety. For an extra-dark cake use dark cocoa powder. 
  • Espresso powder. always have espresso powder on hand to make chocolate desserts (like this chocolate zucchini cake). It’s worth purchasing if you love baking. You can substitute instant coffee if you must. 
  • Canola oil. Oil keeps this chocolate cake extra moist. You can substitute equal amounts of melted butter or another neutral oil if desired, however canola oil will yield the best results. 
  • Sour cream. Full-fat, plain Greek yogurt can be used in place of sour cream. I recommend using full-fat ingredients for the richest, most moist chocolate cake. 
  • Whole milk. Again, I am an advocate for using full-fat whole milk in this chocolate cake recipe. You could substitute 2% milk but nothing with a lower fat content. Half and half is also a good substitute.
  • Vanilla extract. You can switch up the extract and use almond, peppermint, orange, etc. if you prefer a flavored chocolate cake. 
  • Mini chocolate chips. These are an absolute must. Regular-sized chocolate chips sink to the bottom of the cake while baking. Be sure to use mini chips for the best results. 
a slice of Chocolate Cake on a plate with a bite taken out of it

How to make Chocolate Cake from Scratch

This chocolate cake recipe makes two, 6″ round chocolate cakes – that I use to make the best chocolate birthday cake (frosting with this chocolate buttercream or vanilla frosting). With a 6″ cake, every member of my family of 8 enjoys two slices.

You can double the recipe to make two, 9″ round cakes, if desired. We’ll walk through how to make chocolate cake step-by-step, and don’t forget to watch the video.

Prepare cake pans

Line two 6” round cake pans with parchment paper and grease well, then set them aside. I like to line them by tracing the bottom of the cake pans onto parchment paper and then drawing “handles” out of opposite sides (see below). This makes it very easy to lift the cake out after baking.

two photos showing How to line a cake pan

Combine Dry Ingredients

In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, sea salt and espresso powder. Set aside to use later. This step is important to ensure the ingredients are evenly distributed and that there are no lumps. 

two photos showing How to Make Chocolate Cake From Scratch - combining dry ingredients

Combine wet ingredients

Next, combine the wet ingredients. In a large bowl, whisk together canola oil, eggs, sour cream, milk and vanilla until the mixture is smooth.

two photos showing How to Make Chocolate Cake From Scratch - combining wet ingredients

Add dry ingredient mixture

Once the wet ingredients are combined, add the dry ingredients and stir until the batter is smooth.  

two photos showing How to Make Chocolate Cake From Scratch - combining wet and dry ingredients

Add mini chocolate chips

Stir in the mini chocolate chip until evenly distributed.

two photos showing How to Make Chocolate Cake From Scratch - adding mini chocolate chips to the batter

Pour into cake pans & bake

Next, divide the batter evenly into the two prepared cake pans. You can either eyeball it or actually measure. I like to put 1 cup of batter at a time into each cake pan. 

two photos showing How to Make Chocolate Cake From Scratch - batter in cake pans before baking

Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean or with a few crumbs.

chocolate cake baked in two 6" round cake pans on a wire cooling rack

Cool the chocolate cakes

Place cake pans on a wire cooling rack to cool to room temperature (takes about 30 minutes). Once cool, lift cakes out of the pans and remove parchment paper. Let cool completely on the wire cooling rack.

two chocolate cake layers cooling on a wire cooling rack

Frost 

Once the cakes are completely cooled, frost or decorate them any way you wish. I either use this chocolate frosting or this vanilla frosting to make our chocolate birthday cakes!  Don’t forget to do a crumb coat first – a thin base layer of frosting to keep crumbs from getting into your final design. 

two photos showing how to make chocolate cake from scratch - frosting the cake

Freeze

I often bake this homemade chocolate cake recipe a few days before I need to frost it and store it in the freezer. Simply wrap each chocolate cake layer tightly with plastic wrap, put them in a ziplock bags and store in the freezer.

Even if you plan on frosting the homemade chocolate cake the same day you bake it, I still recommend freezing it before frosting. Frosting a a cake when it’s frozen reduces the number of crumbs that make their way into the frosting.

a whole frosted Chocolate Cake on a cake plate with chocolate chips and sprinkles

Chill

If you decorate the cake with a design (like rosettes, etc.) I recommend chilling it in the refrigerator until the frosting hardens and the design sets. 

Chocolate Cake cut into slices

Serve 

If you decorated the cake and chilled it in the refrigerator, remove it from the fridge 1-2 hours before serving so it can come to room temperature – because that’s how it tastes best! This is another reason why I typically bake the chocolate birthday cake in advance. Then I frost it the day before someone’s birthday so it has time to chill/set and then come to room temperature to eat! 

We like eating cake with a side of ice cream, like this homemade vanilla ice cream or homemade chocolate ice cream.  A dollop of homemade whipped cream also tastes amazing! 

a slice of Chocolate Cake being taken out of the whole cake with a cake server

FAQs about How to make Chocolate Cake from Scratch

Here are my answers to some commonly asked questions about making this homemade chocolate cake recipe. 

Can you double this recipe? 

Yes! This recipe is easily doubled and baked in two, 9″ round cake pans. This is a great option if you will be making the cake for a large crowd. When I make this recipe as written for my family of 7, everyone usually eats three servings (slices) before the cake is gone. 

How do you make a moist chocolate cake? 

This recipe yields the best, moist chocolate cake ever. To ensure it turns out that way be careful not to over-bake, and measure all the ingredients properly and precisely. 

How do you decorate a chocolate birthday cake? 

I use either this chocolate buttercream frosting or homemade vanilla frosting to decorate this easy chocolate cake recipe. I use the following tools to decorate (after my kids choose their design): 
Piping bags – I have both reusable and disposable piping bags and use them all the time. 
Piping tips and couplers – I recommend a great starter tip and coupler set. However I always make this rosette style cake with a Wilton 1M tip and large coupler. 
Pastry Scraper. I use this pastry scraper to make a smooth crumb coat. I love it so much!

a fork taking a bite of Chocolate Cake on a plate

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Best Chocolate Cake Recipe – Homemade From Scratch

Laura
This is the best chocolate cake recipe ever! It is rich, chocolatey and moist with a perfect crumb! Topped with chocolate buttercream frosting it's the ultimate chocolate birthday cake. Check out the step-by-step photos and watch the video to learn how to make this easy chocolate cake recipe and ditch boxed cake mixes once and for all!
5 from 31 votes
Course cake, Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 16 Servings
Calories 217
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time30 minutes
Cooling time1 hour
Total Time1 hour 40 minutes

Ingredients 
 

Instructions 

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Line two 6” round cake pans with parchment paper and grease well. Set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, sea salt and espresso powder. Set aside
  • In a large bowl, whisk together canola oil, eggs, sour cream, milk and vanilla until the mixture is smooth.
  • Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until combined.
  • Add mini chocolate chips and stir until evenly distributed.
  • Divide the batter evenly into the two prepared cake pans.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean or with a few crumbs.
  • Place cake pans on a wire cooling rack to cool to room temperature (takes about 30 minutes).
  • Once cool, lift cakes out of the pans and remove parchment paper. Let cool completely on the wire cooling rack.
  • Once cool, with chocolate frosting and serve.

Video

Notes

Doubling the recipe: 

To make two, 9” round cake layers double the recipe and bake in two 9” round cake pans.

Ingredient Substitutions:

  • All-purpose flour. Cake flour or bread flour can be used in place of all-purpose flour. 
  • Granulated sugar. I suggest regular white sugar or organic cane sugar for the best results. 
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder. For an extra-dark cake use dark cocoa powder. 
  • Espresso powder. It’s totally worth purchasing if you love baking. You can substitute instant coffee if you must. 
  • Canola oil. You can substitute equal amounts of melted butter or another neutral oil if desired, however canola oil will yield the best results. 
  • Sour cream. Full-fat, plain Greek yogurt can be used in place of sour cream. I recommend using full-fat ingredients for the richest, most moist chocolate cake. 
  • Whole milk. Again, I am an advocate for using full-fat whole milk in this chocolate cake recipe. You could substitute 2% milk but nothing with a lower fat content. 
  • Vanilla extract. You can switch up the extract and use almond, peppermint, orange, etc. if you prefer a flavored chocolate cake. 
  • Mini chocolate chips. These are an absolute must. Regular-sized chocolate chips sink to the bottom of the cake while baking. Be sure to use mini chips for the best results. 
Nutrition information calculated for only the chocolate cake (without frosting), for 1 serving assuming the recipe makes 16 servings. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1slice | Calories: 217kcal | Carbohydrates: 28g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 26mg | Sodium: 133mg | Potassium: 74mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 20g | Vitamin A: 99IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 36mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Did you enjoy this recipe? Have a question? Leave a comment below!

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27 Comments

  1. I detest coffee. I can taste it in a chocolate cake every time. Can I just sub in more cocoa powder? I have spent years passing up on every chocolate cake recipe that contains any amount of coffee. It would be nice to get a salution.

  2. 5 stars
    My husband loves chocolate. I do not, but we made this cake as part of a “ Force” cake for May the 4th. We layered it with a vanilla cake with your chocolate frosting between layers and your vanilla frosting on the outside- light side dark side. Delicious. I didn’t care for the texture of the chocolate chips, but my husband did. We will make this cake again.

    1. Love that you made the cake *and* some compromises! You can always omit the chocolate chips in the future!

  3. 5 stars
    Oh wow! Absolutely delicious! I did reduce the sugar to just one cup and it was still amazing. Double the recipe too. I had to re do

  4. 5 stars
    Wow, I followed the same procedure as u have specified. It’s delicious. This is the best cake so far I have done. However I don’t like too much sweet, so I didn’t go for chocolate frosting. It’s yummy. N moist too.Thank u for sharing such recipe.

  5. 5 stars
    Wow, I followed the same procedure as u have specified. It’s delicious. This is the best vahe so far I have done. However I doubt like too much sweet, so I didn’t go for chocolate frosting. It’s yummy. Thank u for sharing such recipe.