Chocolate Butter Cake

Updated February 23, 2016

Chocolate cakes that look super dark but have a disappointingly weak chocolate flavor drive me crazy—double that when they leave me with dry mouth. About two years before I opened CakeLove, I set out to develop a recipe from scratch for a rich, moist, and irresistible basic chocolate cake. Experimenting in the kitchen brings triumphs and tragedies, and a lot of people kindly helped out by sampling some tragedies before I finally created my ideal chocolate cake. There are many things that make a chocolate cake memorable. One of the most important aspects I focus on is cocoa powder. I always use a full-fat, unsweetened, Dutch-processed cocoa powder with 22% to 24% cocoa butter— that’s twice the amount of cocoa butter in common grocery-aisle cocoa powder. Regularly available unsweetened cocoa powder with 10% to 12% cocoa butter works perfectly well in this recipe, but try the other kind if you can find it. It’ll make a difference.

Acohol-free variation: Omit the brandy and vanilla and increase the half-and-half by 1 tablespoon.

Cooking Methodbaking



Total Timeunder 4 hours

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionFamily Get-together

Recipe Coursedessert

Equipmentelectric mixer


Taste and Texturebuttery, chocolatey, sweet

Type of Dishcake


  • Mixing bowls
  • Standing mixer
  • Two 9-inch-round pans or cupcake pans
  • Unbleached all-purpose flour, 7 ounces (1¼ cups + 2 tablespoons), or 7¼ ounces (1¼ cups + 3 tablespoons) at high altitude
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 ounces (½ cup), or 2 1/8 ounces (½ cup + 1 tablespoon + ½ teaspoon) at high altitude
  • Baking powder, 1½ teaspoons, or 1 teaspoon at high altitude
  • Salt, 1 teaspoon
  • Half and half, 1 cup, or 1 cup + 2½ tablespoons at high altitude
  • Brandy, 2 tablespoons
  • Vanilla extract, 1 tablespoon
  • Unsalted butter, at room temperature, 6 ounces (1½ sticks)
  • Extra-fine granulated sugar, 14 ounces (1¾ cup), or 13 ounces (1½ cups + 2 tablespoons) at high altitude
  • Eggs (large), 4, or 5 at high altitude


Preheat the oven to 350°F (conventional) or 335°F (convection). Set the rack in the middle of the oven. For cupcakes, set racks in the upper-middle and lower-middle positions.

Set out the ingredients and equipment:

Sift the flour directly into a bowl on a scale for accurate measuring.

Measure the other dry ingredients into a separate mixing bowl, add the flour, and whisk for 10 seconds to blend. Set aside.

Measure the liquid ingredients into a separate bowl and set aside.

Measure the butter and sugar into separate bowls and set aside.

Crack the eggs into a separate bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on the lowest speed for 3 to 5 minutes.

With the mixer still on the lowest speed, add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl.

Add the dry ingredient mixture alternately with the liquid mixture in 3 to 5 additions each, beginning and ending with the dry mixture. Move swiftly through this step to avoid overworking the batter. Don’t wait for the dry or liquid mixtures to be fully incorporated before adding the next. This step should take a total of about 60 seconds.

Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl all the way down. Don’t miss the clumps of ingredients hiding on the bottom of the bowl. Mix on medium speed for 15 to 20 seconds to develop the batter’s structure.

Prepare the pans. For 9-inch-round cakes, line the bottom of each pan with parchment; do not spray the sides. For cupcakes, lightly spray the pan with a nonstick spray to help release any overflowing crowns. Line the pan with paper liners.

For 9-inch-round cakes, deposit the batter in three separate areas of each pan and smooth out with the rubber spatula or an offset metal spatula, making sure the pans are two-thirds full. For cupcakes, use a 2-ounce, trigger-release, ice-cream scoop to deposit batter into the lined pans so they’re two-thirds full.

Follow the approximate bake times listed below.

ITEM: 9-inch rounds - at Sea Level, bake 28 minutes; at High Altitude, bake 35 minutes.

ITEM: cupcakes - at Sea Level, bake 22 minutes; at High Altitude, bake 20 minutes.

. Once the top of the cake doesn’t jiggle in the center, test for doneness by inserting a bamboo skewer in the center of the cake. An even dark brown color should extend from the edge to the center, and the cake’s edges may pull away from the pan. When the skewer shows just a touch of crumbs or comes out clean, the cake is done. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a heat-resistant surface or wire rack.

. For 9-inch-round cakes, cool to room temperature, 25 to 30 minutes, before removing from the pans. Use a small offset spatula to loosen each cake from the rim of the pan. Carefully invert each pan onto a flat surface and remove the layers. Remove the parchment from the bottom of each cake and wrap the cake tightly in plastic. Refrigerate the layers for up to 5 days before frosting. (See page 200 for more information on layering and assembling.)

. For cupcakes, cool to room temperature, 25 to 30 minutes, before carefully lifting each cupcake from the pan. Proceed with frosting or store for later use.


Serve frosted with your choice of buttercream. It's especially good paired with Coconut Buttercream.

Store under a cake dome at room temperature, or wrapped in plastic in the fridge for up to 1 week. If frosted, store under a cake dome for up to 3 days, or in the fridge for up to 1 week. To store unfrosted cake longer, label, date, and store the plasticwrapped cake in the freezer for up to 1 month.



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