Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake

I didn’t have a reason for making this.  Well, except for that thought that popped into my head, “Hmmmm….what sounds really good?  Chocolate cake!”  Usually, when things like that come creeping in, I try to hold off.  These thoughts start coming in, “How about some delicious leafy greens? What about tofu?  What about taking your vitamins, taking Scout for her daily long walk, and drinking a big glass of water instead?”  Sometimes, just that amount of distraction can get me going in a better direction.

But, for the past four days, I have been consistently dreaming of chocolate cake, warm from the oven, with a thick, fudge-like buttercream frosting.  I scoured some of my baking cookbooks.  I thought about doing something fancy, with add-ins or a flavor.  Nope.  My brain wanted just a straight-forward chocolate cake.  Dense.  Layered.  Something to have for dessert (or for a second dessert) with a nice, tall glass of cold milk.  Something that I could put sprinkles on.  And, so, here it is.

I went to my go-to baking guide for this one.  I would trust the editors of anything created by Cook’s Illustrated.  And once again, they came through with flying colors.  The cake was moist, dense, and provided enough chocolate punch for me to feel satisfied.  And don’t even get me started about the buttercream frosting.  It truly is a thing of beauty.  Thank you, again, Cook’s Illustrated.  You have satisfied my sweet tooth.

Old-Fashioned Layer Cake

Servings: 12


For the cake:

1 and 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting pans

12 tablespoons (1 and 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool

1 and 1/4 cups sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup nonalkalized cocoa, such as Hershey’s, sifted

2 teaspoons instant espresso or coffee powder

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the frosting:

10 ounces chocolate (you can use bittersweet, semisweet, or milk chocolate….your choice!), chopped fine

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 and 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 and 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened


1. For the cake: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Generously grease two 8-inch round cake pans and cover the pan bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.  Grease the parchment rounds and dust the pans with flour, tapping out the excess.

3. Beat the butter on the bowl of a standing mixer at medium-high speed until smooth and shiny, about 30 seconds.

4. Gradually sprinkle in the sugar; beat until the mixture is fluffy and almost white, 3 to 5 minutes.

5. Add the eggs one at a time, beating 1 full minute after each addition.

6. Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa, and instant espresso powder in a medium bowl.

7. Combine the milk and vanilla in a liquid measuring cup.

8. With the mixer at the lowest speed, add about a third of the dry ingredients to the batter, followed immediately by about a third of the milk mixture; mix until the ingredients are almost incorporated into the batter.

9. Repeat the process twice more.

10.  When the batter appears blended, stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

11.  Return the mixer to low speed; beat until the butter looks satiny, about 15 seconds longer.

12. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.

13.  With a rubber spatula, spread the batter to the pan sides and smooth the tops.

14.  Bake the cakes until they feel firm in the center when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 23 to 30 minutes.

15.  Run a knife around the perimenter of each pan, invert the cakes on a wire rack, and peel off the paper liners.

16.  Reinvert the cakes onto the racks and cool completely before frosting.

17. For the frosting:   Place the chocolate in a food processor,

18.  Bring the cream, corn syrup, and salt to a boil in a liquid measuring cup in the microwave.  Stir the mixture to combine.

19. Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate and process until the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute.

20.  If your food processor is big enough (mine is not), continue with the following instructions, combining everything in your food processor.  I actually switched everything over to my stand mixer at this point.  Be careful-the mixture is hot.

21. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to process (or mix) until combined, about 30 seconds.

22. With the machine running, add the softened butter, one piece at a time.  Continue to process until the frosting is smooth and no butter chunks remain, about 2 minutes.

23.  Transfer the butter to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until thick and spreadable, 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours.

Cake adapted from Baking Illustrated and Frosting from Family Baking Book.

October 26, 2010 - 6:32 am

KeepItSweet - that picture is making me want to lick the screen lol – when you want chocolate cake there is no substitute!

October 26, 2010 - 7:56 am

buttersweetmelody - ohhhh….that looks SO amazingly good you don’t even know…



October 26, 2010 - 9:27 am

Hannah - oh no! now you’ve gotten me dreaming of thick and silky chocolate fudge… b:


October 26, 2010 - 2:26 pm

Pretty. Good. Food. - I’ve been looking for a good chocolate cake recipe! I think I’ll have to give this a try, the photo just looks too yummy 🙂

October 26, 2010 - 3:03 pm

Heather I. - I’ve been dreaming of chocolate cake lately, too. That looks so tempting, I don’t know if I can resist!

October 26, 2010 - 3:59 pm

Rachel - oh man, sometimes you have to go with your gut, like when it says make chocolate cake that’s absolutely oozing out of the computer screen.

October 26, 2010 - 5:53 pm

Bakeolicious - What a fantastic chocolate cake. I love the generous frosting!

I’d love for you to submit one of your beautiful photos, and a link to your post, to my new baking food photo gallery showcasing beautiful baking, sweets and desserts. Feel free to submit photos of any other baking as well 🙂

October 27, 2010 - 12:21 am

Karen - Delicious looking cake and I am going to make it today. Was just wondering whether I can use a 10 inch round (4-5inches high) cake tin instead of two 8 inch tins?

October 27, 2010 - 1:14 am

Leanne - Now I’m craving this! Looks delicious– wonderful job!

October 27, 2010 - 7:43 am

Shanon Lacy - All you can do is try. Keep an eye on it during baking-you might have to adjust the baking time. Good luck-I hope it turns out for you!

October 27, 2010 - 9:36 am

kitchenarian - Every day is a great day for chocolate cake!

October 29, 2010 - 9:41 am

ElevenLovelyThings - Looks sooo delicious! I will try it!



November 6, 2010 - 12:59 pm

Patty - Wowee, now that’s one luscious cake!

February 3, 2011 - 7:47 am

angel - I made this today & loved, loved, LOVED it! This is heaven!

February 20, 2011 - 12:54 pm

Sherri - Your site is so nice! Photos are beautiful, articles interesting!

March 23, 2011 - 10:14 pm

Chocolate cake (nom nom nom nom) « cupcakejunky - […] Cake adapted from Baking Illustrated and Frosting from Family Baking Book by the Curvy Carrot. […]

April 25, 2012 - 11:52 am

Paula - You should try that recipe with brigadeiro topping! That’s the traditional brazilian chocolate cake. It’s delicious! 😀

October 1, 2012 - 9:03 am

The Curvy Carrot » German Chocolate Cupcakes - […] I merged a few recipes here to create a combined final product, but I’m going to be completely honest with you.  I wasn’t a super huge fan of the frosting that I made to go with these cupcakes this time.  I’m going to post the recipe to stay true to the pictures (because, in all honestly, it’s a great standard chocolate buttercream for cookies, etc, but it wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned for this recipe.) If you want some good alternatives, I recommend this one or this one. […]

April 12, 2013 - 9:45 am

Evelyn - Not being much of a coffee flavoring type of person. Is there something else I can use instead of coffee powder?

April 12, 2013 - 9:57 am

srlacy - Hi Evelyn-
You can skip the powder all together if you would like-the cake doesn’t really have a “coffee” taste, so to speak, but the flavoring is there to enhance the chocolate flavor. If it’s an ingredient that you won’t really ever use after this cake, I would save the money and skip it. I think the cake should turn out just fine!

April 22, 2013 - 3:52 pm

Wanda - Don’t know if someone already asked this but can I use Cake Flour instead? This cake looks delish

April 22, 2013 - 3:56 pm

srlacy - Hi Wanda-

I think you should be ok if you use cake flour instead.

April 24, 2013 - 7:05 pm

Wanda - Cool thanks. I plan on making this tomorrow morning 🙂

May 9, 2013 - 10:22 pm

Jessica - Can I make all of the frosting with a hand mixer, because I don’t have a food processor?

May 10, 2013 - 12:03 pm

srlacy - Hi Jessica-
You sure can. Just be sure to mix all of the ingredients really well.

May 11, 2013 - 11:10 pm

Jessica - ok thanks

January 10, 2014 - 5:41 pm

Rosvitha - This cake is really amazing. The frosting is so professionally made, well done!
I like cakes too…like to make them, like to collect them and like to eat them 🙂