Last Updated on November 7, 2022 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD
Moist Chocolate Cake. This cocoa-based recipe is deeply chocolatey. If you’ve ever wondered how to make cake moist, I’m sharing the science and pro bakers’ secrets to make them soft and tender every time.
Moist Chocolate Cake
This cocoa-based cake is deeply chocolatey with an incredibly moist, tender crumb. It surprises me every single time with how good it is for something so easy.
I have used this recipe to make sheet cakes, layer cakes, cupcakes, mini cupcakes, etc. Really, you can’t go wrong.
Everything gets tossed in the standing mixer (no creaming of butter and sugar, or alternating between dry ingredients and liquid as in typical cake recipes). The cake batter is poured into cake pans, and popped in the oven. Easy as 1-2-3.
It is a great emergency chocolate cake to have in your repertoire for forgotten birthdays, last-minute visitors, or urgent Friday night chocolate cravings.
Smother it in this super-easy, 6-minute fluffy chocolate frosting. Not the fancypants Italian buttercream, the shortcut American-style buttercream that is basically just butter, icing sugar, and cocoa powder. Or try my fluffy vanilla frosting for a cookies and cream vibe. Couldn’t be simpler.
How do You Make Cakes Moist?
These things will help you make super moist cakes every time:
- Start with a good recipe to ensure success. I’m here for you on that with tested-till-perfect options.
- Learn how to accurately measure.
- Mix enough and not too much.
- Use a thermometer to tell when the cake is done.
Let me dive in a little deeper.
3 Essential Techniques Bakers Use to Keep Cakes Moist:
1. WEIGH Your Ingredients. One cup of flour by volume will be different if I scooped it or if you did because flour compacts and settles.
Too much flour by accidentally adding a few more tablespoons can make the difference between an incredible moist cake and a dry one.
This $15 scale is what I’ve used for 10 years.
2. Know when to beat and when to just combine ingredients: with some cakes like my Moist and fluffy Vanilla Cake, proper mixing is key to create enough air bubbles to leaven the cake, making it fluffy and moist (not compact and firm).
For this moist chocolate cake cake, however, the baking soda and eggs do all of the leavening without any major muscle and it’s pretty darn foolproof. The only concern here is not to overmix it.
Batter-toughening gluten starts to develop as soon as liquid is added to the flour mixture, and it continues to get tougher the longer you stir.
Stop the mixer once the largest lumps are gone (it’s ok if a few little ones remain).
3. Use data and not guesswork to check a cake’s doneness: if you press the cake and it’s a bit of bouncy (doesn’t feel like liquid under the surface), pull out your cooking thermometer.
The temperature in the middle of the cake should register 190ºF for it to be perfectly moist. This is the temperature at which the starch in the flour has finished setting, as have the eggs, and it is considered done. If the temperature isn’t there yet (you don’t want it to be lower, even by a few degrees), return the cake to the oven for another minute or two and check again.
Keep in mind that 212ºF and that’s the point at which water is converted rapidly to steam. As you approach that temperature, your cake is quickly losing moisture. The fastest way to ruin a moist cake is to overbake it.
I can’t stress enough how much more accurate it is to use a thermometer to eliminate all guesswork. This is probably the number one trick to a moist cake. Forget the toothpick, cake tester, finger touch test or inserting paring knives.
Buttermilk Makes a Cake Super Moist
Buttermilk is so special because it’s chock full of incredible phospholipid emulsifiers. What does this mean for your cake?
The phospholipids allow the fats to disperse evenly within the batter and the fat doesn’t separate from the water as it naturally would. This makes a smooth batter, and a evenly-soft, moist crumb.
Phospholipids also stabilize foams, meaning the air bubbles you create with baking soda stay suspended in the batter rather than floating up. That keeps your cake tender and fluffy as well.
Home bakers often substitute buttermilk with another dairy or milk plus lemon juice, but let’s compare. Buttermilk is made up of up to 16% phospholipids by weight and milk is about 3.5%. So although a buttermilk substitute will provide the dairy and acid components, you’ll miss out on the magical phospholipids.
If you want a truly moist cake, don’t substitute the buttermilk for something else.
Ingredient Tricks to Make a Cake More Moist
- Use buttermilk (see above)
- Substitute oil: butter is solid at room temperature and oil is liquid. Once a cake has cooled, it will feel softer with oil rather than butter. You can substitute half or all of the butter in this recipe with a vegetable oil (I like avocado). Just don’t use coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature and doesn’t offer the flavour boost that butter does to be a worthy tradeoff.
- Brush on simple syrup: this is a trick often used in bakeries to keep cakes moist. Poke the cake all over with a toothpick to make small holes, then use a pastry brush the cake with simple syrup (a mixture of equal parts sugar and water, heated until sugar dissolves).
- Use cake flour: but only if the recipe calls for it. Cake flour absorbs more moisture than regular all-purpose flour. It is finer and has less gluten-forming protein as well, which is the main draw, but if you just throw it into a recipe that wasn’t developed for it, it could actually dry out your cake as it slurps up all the free liquid.
I promise you, however, this cake does not need any tricks. It is the moistest chocolate cake you’ve ever had, exactly as written.
Can I Adapt This Recipe to Other Size Pans?
One of the most common questions I get is on how to adapt it for cupcakes or another size cake pan.
To adapt to a different size pan, if the pan is smaller but filled more deeply, it might take more time. Start checking at the normal time but allow up to 10 minutes more. \
If the pan is larger and the batter is shallower with more surface area, it will probably cook faster. Keep a close eye and remember that no matter what the size of the pan, the temperature should be 190ºF in the middle.
For cupcakes, bake at 375ºF for 20 or so minutes, until the tops are domed, then do the thermometer test. It yields 24 cupcakes or 48 mini cupcakes.
Can I make it in advance?
This chocolate cake recipe freezes beautifully and I’ll typically make it a few days in advance when preparing for a party.
Just wrap the cooled cakes well in plastic wrap before popping them into freezer bags. Freeze them until ready to use, and you can frost them while still cold (this actually makes it easier to spread the frosting). I do make sure that it’s at room temperature by the time it’s served for best texture (although my husband loves it straight from the fridge).
How Do You Keep a Cake Moist Overnight After Frosting?
The best way to keep a frosted cake moist is at room temperature. Cover it with a glass dome. The frosting itself will insulate the cake and feed it more moisture as it sits.
The refrigerator stales cakes and breads several times faster than it would natural stale on the counter.
I don’t advise keeping it in the fridge unless you are using a whipped cream or cream cheese frosting (or your house is super hot and the frosting will melt).
A frosted cake with buttercream can stay at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Chocolate Cake Recipe Variations
This chocolate cake recipe has been the most popular post on Foodess.com for years – it has been pinned hundreds of thousands of times, and for good reason! Everyone who makes it falls in love, and everyone who tastes it asks for the recipe. You won’t be disappointed. It’s still my go-to, no-fail, delicious chocolate cake recipe for every birthday, celebration, or Valentine’s Day.
I’ve made many variations on it since it was originally posted, and due to popular request have shared the Fluffy Chocolate Frosting recipe to go with it. I’ve also made it as Moist Chocolate Cupcakes with Oreo Cream Cheese Frosting and as Caramallow Cupcakes – chocolate cupcakes filled with creamy caramel and topped with deliciously sticky marshmallow frosting. That frosting, also known as seven-minute frosting, was the way we enjoyed chocolate cake most often when I was a kid and is still probably my top choice. Another favourite way to enjoy this beloved cake is very simply with sweetened whipped cream and fresh berries. Hope you love it, too.
Moist Chocolate Cake Recipe (How to Make Cake Moist)
- 1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
- 2 cups granulated white sugar
- ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 ½ tsp baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk or substitute by putting 1 tbsp white vinegar in a cup then filling the rest up with milk; let stand 5 minutes until thickened
- ½ cup butter melted
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup hot coffee or 2 tsp instant coffee in 1 cup boiling water
- Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour two 9-inch baking pans (or line with parchment paper circles) and set aside.
- In the large bowl of a standing mixer, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt on low speed for one minute.
- Add eggs, buttermilk, melted butter and vanilla extract and beat on medium speed until batter forms, about 30 seconds. Pause to scrape down sides and bottom of mixer bowl as well as the paddle. Beat 15 seconds more, until mixture is mostly smooth.
- Remove bowl from mixer and stir in hot coffee with a rubber spatula. Batter will be very runny.
- Pour batter evenly between the two pans and bake on middle rack of oven for 25-35 minutes, until thermometer inserted in the middle reaches 190ºF.
- Allow to cool 15 minutes in pans, then run a butter knife around the edges of each cake. Line two cooling racks with parchment paper. (See note)
- Place a cooling rack over top of each pan. Wearing oven mitts, use both hands to hold the racks in place while flipping the cakes over onto the racks. Set the racks down and gently thump on the bottom of the pans until the cakes release. Cool completely before handling or frosting.
- Consider using cocoa powder to flour your chocolate cakes. You won’t have any white residue.
- Line your cooling racks with parchment paper to avoid the cake sticking to the wire racks.
- I have been asked dozens of times if you can taste the coffee, and the answer is no; it does not taste at all like coffee. You won’t know it’s there, it just deepens the flavour of the chocolate and the heat helps smooth out the batter and get rid of lumps. But feel free to use just plain boiling water in its place.