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This homemade chocolate layer cake is perfectly moist, rich in flavor and adorned with a light and creamy chocolate buttercream. Try this and you’ll never go back to chocolate cake mix again!

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A slice of layered chocolate cake being taken out of the whole cake.

Everyone needs a good go-to chocolate cake recipe. Sure, you can use a cake mix, but I’ve always found chocolate cake mixes to be a little, well, blah. They’re too fluffy and crumbly and simply don’t seem to have the moistness that I desire in a chocolate cake, especially.

Here is you new go-to chocolate cake recipe. Seriously. If you’ve been searching for the perfect homemade chocolate cake, here you go. I’ve tried numerous chocolate cake recipes, but this recipe is special. So special that after the first time I tried it, I stopped all other chocolate cake recipe searching and said “this is THE ONE.”

There were two food blogs I started following a few years ago and they were both cake blogs. Yep, just cake. Liv for Cake and Cake by Courtney are the blogs I look to for almost any cake recipe I need. However this chocolate cake of mine just can’t be beat! (And actually it’s almost the exact recipe on the Liv for Cake site, but hers doesn’t use my “secret” ingredient…coffee!)

A close up image of a piece of cake laying on it's side on a white plate.

The Best Birthday Cake!

This homemade chocolate layer cake is perfect for pretty much any occasion. A birthday party, anniversary, dinner party, potluck…..or just because! So speaking of birthdays – I’ve been dying to tell you all this story!

June was a busy month. Between work, blog work, and fun weekend getaways, there just seemed to be very little downtime. Zach’s coworkers knew we had been busy and challenged him to make his own birthday treats (since I was “busy enough”).

I chuckled and asked Zach what he wanted to make….rice krispie bars? Cookies? Scotcheroos? You know, something simple…?? His response was “Actually I want to make your homemade chocolate layer cake – my coworkers will be impressed and it’s just the best cake ever.”

He was determined. And I wasn’t about to tell him he was wayyyyy in over his head. I’m so glad I didn’t because you guys, he KILLED IT!!! For real. Look at these photos! (And I promise I never touched the cake!) You know what the best part of this is?? Now when February rolls around, I can count on him to make me this cake for my birthday! (Or at least I hope so!!)

Three consecutive images showing the process of a cake being decorated.
He even insisted on decorating the top. I went to bed early that night but when I woke up, I was amazed at his design! (For those non-farm kids, this is a gate with a salt box for the cattle) How cute is that?! 🙂

Why do you add coffee to chocolate cake?

When you add a hot liquid to cocoa powder, it helps it “bloom,” meaning it enhances the flavor of the chocolate. You can “bloom” the chocolate with any hot liquid (milk, water, coffee, etc), but I always choose coffee for my chocolate cake.

Why do I use coffee? Because coffee actually brings out even more chocolate flavor. Are you concerned you’ll taste the coffee? You won’t! I know it seems odd, but really it just helps deepen the flavor of the chocolate.

What makes a cake more moist?

The most important thing with this recipe is to make sure you do not over-bake the cake layers. Once the cake is done cooking, if you leave it in the oven, more moisture continues to be drawn out (no good!!). Therefore, I recommend removing the cakes from the oven once there are just a few moist crumbs on a toothpick inserted in the center. It does not need to be completely clean as some recipes state.

This cake recipe is very moist. Simply follow the directions, keep track of the time so you don’t over-bake and be sure to wrap up the cake when it’s cool so it doesn’t dry out.

A close up shot of the frosting on the side of the cake.

Do I need any fancy tools to decorate a cake?

Are butter knives considered “fancy?” 🙂 You certainly don’t need any crazy cake tools to decorate a cake. For these photos (minus the photos of Zach’s cake), I simply used a butter knife to show a more “rustic” look.

Now, of course you CAN use some cake tools if you wish. Some of my favorite tools/short-cuts are…
-Parchment paper rounds (so you don’t have to cut circles out – lazy or smart? ;))
-Piping bags
-Flat kitchen scraper (helps smooth out the frosting)
-Wilton Bake-Even strips (helps the cake bake flat so you don’t have to cut the dome off) –> although I miss not having scraps to snack on! 🙂

How do you store leftover chocolate cake?

The cake is really best a room temperature. Therefore, if I’ll be eating the cake soon after completing it (within a few hours), I’ll just leave it at room temperature. If it’s much longer than that, I store it in an airtight container and keep it refrigerated until an hour before serving.

Can I freeze leftover chocolate cake?

You bet!! I do this all the time. I typically cut my cake into slices and lay them in an airtight container with sheets of waxed paper in between. Then, when I want a piece of chocolate cake, I can easily just grab one…..or two. 😉

A slice of cake laying down on a piece of parchment paper outside.
Yes, Zach made this. And even saved this slice for me! He sure knows the way to my heart!

Do you love chocolate but don’t have enough time to put together a layer cake? You know I’ve got you covered…. Here’s a few other options!
Chocolate Cobbler (30 min)
Rocky Road Brownies (45 min)
Oh Henry Bars (25 min)

chocolate layer cake
5 from 4 votes

Chocolate Layer Cake

Author: Kelsey
This homemade chocolate layer cake has moist, flavorful layers and a light and smooth chocolate buttercream. You'll never need another chocolate cake recipe!


Chocolate Cake Layers

  • 2 c flour
  • 2 c sugar
  • 3/4 c cocoa powder sifted
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 c vegetable oil
  • 1 c buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 c hot coffee

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 1/2 c cocoa
  • 1/2 c hot water
  • 1 c salted butter
  • 6 c powdered sugar


Cake Layers

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Grease two 8" (or three 6") round cake pans. Line the bottom with parchment paper.
  • Add flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and baking soda to your mixing bowl (I use a stand mixer with the whisk attachment). Stir until combined.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla. Once combined, add in the coffee slowly so you don't cook the eggs.
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir slowly until combined. Then mix on high for two minutes, scraping the sides halfway through.
  • Distribute the batter between the two prepared pans.
  • Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. (A few moist crumbs sticking to the toothpick is fine, but you don't want it gooey).
  • Cool for a few minutes. Run a butter knife around the outside of each pan, and turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack.
  • Wrap in plastic wrap and then put in a freezer bag and freeze, if desired.

Chocolate Buttercream

  • In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder and hot water. This will enhance the chocolate flavor.
  • In a large bowl (again, I use my stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment), whip the butter until smooth.
  • Add half of the powdered sugar; stir. Add all of the chocolate mixture and finally the remaining powdered sugar.
  • Whip the frosting for a few minutes, scraping down the sides on occasion. The frosting will be light, fluffy and sooo delicious!

Building the Cake

  • Get the cake layers out of the freezer; don't let them thaw. (Frosting frozen cake is much easier than a soft crumby cake – it'll thaw out and be so moist and delicious!)
  • If your cakes are domed, use a serrated knife to carefully cut the tops off to level the cakes.
  • Place one cake on a serving dish. Spread some frosting on top.
  • Place the second cake over the frosting (I like to put the cake on cut-side down).
  • Frost the outside and top of the cake with a butter knife or whatever other utensils you have for decorating. (These photos show the look of just a butter knife – see, you don't need anything fancy to make a cake!!)
  • Add sprinkles, mini chocolate chips and/or chocolate shavings for decor.
  • Let the cake come to room temperature before serving.
“Dance Around the Kitchen” is not a dietitian or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is an estimate. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, we recommend running the ingredients through whichever online nutritional calculator you prefer. Calories and other nutritional values can vary quite a bit depending on which brands were used.

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Recipe added to the Weekend Potluck and Meal Plan Monday.

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Recipe Rating


  1. Hi! The cake seems amazing! But can i use heavy cream or just milk instead of buttermilk?

    Thanks a lot!

    1. If I don’t have any buttermilk on hand, I add 1 Tbsp white vinegar to a liquid measuring cup and add enough milk to equal one cup liquid. I’d recommend doing that rather than switching to regular milk or cream. The buttermilk (or vinegar milk) helps the baking soda work to its full potential, giving the cake a wonderful texture! 🙂
      I hope this helps! -Kelsey

  2. My husband and I are trying to eat lighter but still crave sweets. This moist, healthy chocolate cake really helps with that. With the rich frosting, it makes a decadent treat! —LaDonna Reed, Ponca City, Oklahoma

    1. I’m so glad to hear that, LaDonna!!! We love this one, too! 🙂

  3. Mike Paul says:

    We won’t know the critical reviews until the birthday boy gets home from work but the cake was pretty easy to throw together and not bogged down with tedious procedures or arcane ingredients. Heads up on the frosting: You’ll have a ton of it so don’t hold back, especially on the inner layer where people tend to be stingy. There’s easily enough to do a three layer cake. Or several additional cupcakes. Or redo your hallway.

  4. Hi Kelsey
    What does c in the ingredients mean? Is it a cup?

  5. Would you be able to bake this cake in a 13 x 9 baking pan? If so, how long would you bake it?

  6. Was wanting a chocolate cake looked at many recipes and decided to go with this one didn’t used the frosting recipe used the frosting on the cocoa container . used coconut oil instead of vegetables oil in the cake and didn’t freeze cakes , Ate cake the next day best cake ever, so moist not overly sweet, will make again for the family

  7. Hi Kelsey – I have tried a lot of recipes for homemade chocolate layer cake but let me tell you that the one that you have described here tasted the paste. The kids absolutely loved it. Thanks.

  8. 5 stars
    This is the perfect chocolate cake recipe.
    Turns out beautifully every time. I just wanted to mention that for those of us who dislike coffee: yes, we can taste every bit of it in chocolate cake recipes and it completely ruins the the taste for me. It’s a fallacy that you don’t taste the coffee. If you like/love coffee it’ll taste fine. For anyone else who dislikes the taste and smell of coffee you can sub it out with chocolate syrup in hot water, gives an extra chocolate boost and is coffee-free Sorry for the rant; the recipe is the perfect chocolate cake!

  9. 5 stars
    I made this recipe for the peanut butter poke cake for my dad’s birthday a year or two ago and my family loved it!! I want to make this chocolate cake recipe but for cupcakes. Do I need to adjust any ingredients, baking temps or times? I’m still new to baking. Thank you!

  10. Maria Knode says:

    5 stars
    I made this for my son’s birthday, and it was a huge hit with everyone! So moist and delicious!

  11. Would this work for a 9×13 sheet cake?