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.

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.

Slices of Moist Chocolate Cake on plates

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.

adding hot coffee to the batter

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.

Moist Chocolate Cake Recipe

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.

fresh from the oven chocolate moist cake

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.

mixing the batter

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.

batter poured on round pan

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

Moist Chocolate Cake Recipe (How to Make Cake Moist)

Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Servings 12
Dessert
American

Ingredients
 
 

  • 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

Instructions
 

  • 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.

Notes

  • 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.

Nutrition

Calories: 384kcalCarbohydrates: 72gProtein: 5gFat: 11gSaturated Fat: 6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0.3gCholesterol: 51mgSodium: 388mgPotassium: 138mgFiber: 4gSugar: 50gVitamin A: 324IUCalcium: 53mgIron: 2mg
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Zo @ Two Spoons
11 years ago

Yummm. You can pick the flower buds off and they’ll divert energy into producing more leaves, but eventually it’ll cotton on and only grow the flowery bits. I quite like “older” leaves too, they are nice and pungent!

Unhip Squirrel
11 years ago

Pesto is one of my favourite summer things to make too. So good! Also, I didn’t know you could freeze it. Jenn, you’re a genius, as usual. 🙂

Jennifer Pallian
11 years ago
Reply to  Unhip Squirrel

Aww shucks 🙂

Dee
Dee
11 years ago

Jenn, my Cilantro just started to look a little strange. Do you think it might be thinking about flowering? Should I harvest?

Jennifer Pallian
11 years ago
Reply to  Dee

Yes, you probably should.  The flowers of the cilantro plant don’t look that different from the leaves at first, which is why I didn’t notice it happening… but the stalks become tough and the leaves lose their flavour.  

Mjskit
11 years ago

Your pesto is beautiful!  It so green.  I make pesto and freeze it, but it turns brown very quick.  How do you keep pesto from turning brown?

Jennifer Pallian
11 years ago
Reply to  Mjskit

Hmm… I have never actually encountered that problem! Mine stays bright green. So do my other herbs that I freeze in oil…

Gil Carleton
Gil Carleton
3 years ago
Reply to  Mjskit

I make and freeze pesto all the time. When I get. Ready to use it the top is a little oxidized but it doesn’t hurt anything. Just stir it up and everything is below it is green. You will never tasted it and after you stir it you will never see it.

Jenn
Jenn
11 years ago

I planted some Basil this year and I would love to attempt this homemade pesto.  Did you like the flavor of it with the walnuts or do you prefer it with pine nuts?  Pine nuts are so pricey and I would love to use walnuts instead if you think it tastes just as good?

Jennifer Pallian
11 years ago
Reply to  Jenn

The taste is different than pine nuts, for sure, but I love it!

Dariane Dawson
Dariane Dawson
2 years ago
Reply to  Jenn

4 stars
My mum uses cashew in this dish the taste is so yum .

Don Francis
Don Francis
11 years ago

Cut the basil flowers as soon as possible. Basilis an annual, so, you can get the most of it just cutting them.
I,m a Chef, and I grow my own herbs, trust me this proccedure works!

Jennifer Pallian
11 years ago
Reply to  Don Francis

Thanks for the tip! I pinched off all the flowers and have been harvesting it lots, and feeding it good organic plant food, and it’s back to flourishing 🙂

Jennifer Pallian
11 years ago

YES! Any nuts really would work, there’s a lot of room for creativity. Toast them for best flavour.

Hector
Hector
11 years ago

How many oz of basil is there in 3 cups

Jennifer Pallian
11 years ago
Reply to  Hector

gourmetsleuth.com has a great online cooking converter that I use for those things!

Natassha Stash
Natassha Stash
4 years ago

It was gorgeous THANK YOU!! Perfect without frosting and with ice cream!!

Rach
Rach
4 years ago

What’s the frosting used in your cake in the photo? Looks yum!

Saff
Saff
4 years ago

the most moist cake i’ve ever made everybody loved it thank you plus the buttermilk alternative was amazing…..thank you Jennifer & foodess

Lindelwa Mothete
Lindelwa Mothete
4 years ago

May i please ask! There is no baking powder?

Bonita
4 years ago

It’s replaced with the baking soda 😉

Shayne
Shayne
4 years ago

Can i make this without the coffee?

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Shayne

You can just use boiling hot water, but it won’t have the same depth of flavour! I like to use instant decaf coffee to avoid it having any caffeine.

Shayne
Shayne
4 years ago

Can i make this without the coffe or substitute something in its place. My husband does not like coffee.

ECB
ECB
4 years ago
Reply to  Shayne

Directly from the recipe above:

Note: 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.

Winnie Arevalo Dela Cruz
Winnie Arevalo Dela Cruz
4 years ago

thanks much for this delicious chocolate cake recipe 😉

Rach
Rach
4 years ago

What’s the frosting used in your cake in the photo? Looks yum!

Mjskit
11 years ago

Your pesto is beautiful!  It so green.  I make pesto and freeze it, but it turns brown very quick.  How do you keep pesto from turning brown?

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Mjskit

Hmm… I have never actually encountered that problem! Mine stays bright green. So do my other herbs that I freeze in oil…

Don Francis
Don Francis
11 years ago

Cut the basil flowers as soon as possible. Basilis an annual, so, you can get the most of it just cutting them.
I,m a Chef, and I grow my own herbs, trust me this proccedure works!

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Don Francis

Thanks for the tip! I pinched off all the flowers and have been harvesting it lots, and feeding it good organic plant food, and it’s back to flourishing 🙂

Zo @ Two Spoons
11 years ago

Yummm. You can pick the flower buds off and they’ll divert energy into producing more leaves, but eventually it’ll cotton on and only grow the flowery bits. I quite like “older” leaves too, they are nice and pungent!

Dee
Dee
11 years ago

Jenn, my Cilantro just started to look a little strange. Do you think it might be thinking about flowering? Should I harvest?

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Dee

Yes, you probably should.  The flowers of the cilantro plant don’t look that different from the leaves at first, which is why I didn’t notice it happening… but the stalks become tough and the leaves lose their flavour.  

Jenn
Jenn
4 years ago

I planted some Basil this year and I would love to attempt this homemade pesto.  Did you like the flavor of it with the walnuts or do you prefer it with pine nuts?  Pine nuts are so pricey and I would love to use walnuts instead if you think it tastes just as good?

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Jenn

The taste is different than pine nuts, for sure, but I love it!

Lindelwa Mothete
Lindelwa Mothete
4 years ago

May i please ask! There is no baking powder?

Bonita
4 years ago

It’s replaced with the baking soda 😉

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago

No there is baking soda.

Unhip Squirrel
4 years ago

Pesto is one of my favourite summer things to make too. So good! Also, I didn’t know you could freeze it. Jenn, you’re a genius, as usual. 🙂

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Unhip Squirrel

Aww shucks 🙂

Saff
Saff
4 years ago

the most moist cake i’ve ever made everybody loved it thank you plus the buttermilk alternative was amazing…..thank you Jennifer & foodess

Natassha Stash
Natassha Stash
4 years ago

It was gorgeous THANK YOU!! Perfect without frosting and with ice cream!!

Hector
Hector
4 years ago

How many oz of basil is there in 3 cups

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Hector

gourmetsleuth.com has a great online cooking converter that I use for those things!

Shayne
Shayne
4 years ago

Can i make this without the coffee?

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Shayne

You can just use boiling hot water, but it won’t have the same depth of flavour! I like to use instant decaf coffee to avoid it having any caffeine.

Jaden
Jaden
6 months ago
Reply to  Shayne

Decaf coffee is also an option

Shayne
Shayne
4 years ago

Can i make this without the coffe or substitute something in its place. My husband does not like coffee.

ECB
ECB
4 years ago
Reply to  Shayne

Directly from the recipe above:

Note: 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.

Brenda
Brenda
1 year ago
Reply to  Shayne

5 stars
You can not taste the coffee at all

Winnie Arevalo Dela Cruz
Winnie Arevalo Dela Cruz
4 years ago

thanks much for this delicious chocolate cake recipe 😉

Zo @ Two Spoons
4 years ago

Yummm. You can pick the flower buds off and they’ll divert energy into producing more leaves, but eventually it’ll cotton on and only grow the flowery bits. I quite like “older” leaves too, they are nice and pungent!

Rach
Rach
4 years ago

What’s the frosting used in your cake in the photo? Looks yum!

Gemma Bland
Gemma Bland
4 years ago
Reply to  Rach

Was there an answer to this?

Mjskit
4 years ago

Your pesto is beautiful!&#160 It so green.&#160 I make pesto and freeze it, but it turns brown very quick.&#160 How do you keep pesto from turning brown?

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Mjskit

Hmm… I have never actually encountered that problem! Mine stays bright green. So do my other herbs that I freeze in oil…

Don Francis
Don Francis
4 years ago

Cut the basil flowers as soon as possible. Basilis an annual, so, you can get the most of it just cutting them.
I,m a Chef, and I grow my own herbs, trust me this proccedure works!

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Don Francis

Thanks for the tip! I pinched off all the flowers and have been harvesting it lots, and feeding it good organic plant food, and it’s back to flourishing 🙂

Unhip Squirrel
4 years ago

Pesto is one of my favourite summer things to make too. So good! Also, I didn’t know you could freeze it. Jenn, you’re a genius, as usual. 🙂

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Unhip Squirrel

Aww shucks 🙂

Hector
Hector
4 years ago

How many oz of basil is there in 3 cups

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Hector

gourmetsleuth.com has a great online cooking converter that I use for those things!

Lindelwa Mothete
Lindelwa Mothete
4 years ago

May i please ask! There is no baking powder?

Bonita
4 years ago

It’s replaced with the baking soda 😉

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago

No there is baking soda.

Saff
Saff
4 years ago

the most moist cake i’ve ever made everybody loved it thank you plus the buttermilk alternative was amazing…..thank you Jennifer &#038 foodess

Dee
Dee
4 years ago

Jenn, my Cilantro just started to look a little strange. Do you think it might be thinking about flowering? Should I harvest?

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Dee

Yes, you probably should.&#160 The flowers of the cilantro plant don’t look that different from the leaves at first, which is why I didn’t notice it happening… but the stalks become tough and the leaves lose their flavour. &#160

Natassha Stash
Natassha Stash
4 years ago

It was gorgeous THANK YOU!! Perfect without frosting and with ice cream!!

Jenn
Jenn
4 years ago

I planted some Basil this year and I would love to attempt this homemade pesto. &#160Did you like the flavor of it with the walnuts or do you prefer it with pine nuts? &#160Pine nuts are so pricey and I would love to use walnuts instead if you think it tastes just as good?

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Jenn

The taste is different than pine nuts, for sure, but I love it!

Shayne
Shayne
4 years ago

Can i make this without the coffee?

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Shayne

You can just use boiling hot water, but it won’t have the same depth of flavour! I like to use instant decaf coffee to avoid it having any caffeine.

Winnie Arevalo Dela Cruz
Winnie Arevalo Dela Cruz
4 years ago

thanks much for this delicious chocolate cake recipe 😉

Shayne
Shayne
4 years ago

Can i make this without the coffe or substitute something in its place. My husband does not like coffee.

ECB
ECB
4 years ago
Reply to  Shayne

Directly from the recipe above:

Note: 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.

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago

YES! Any nuts really would work, there’s a lot of room for creativity. Toast them for best flavour.

Rach
Rach
4 years ago

What’s the frosting used in your cake in the photo? Looks yum!

Zo @ Two Spoons
4 years ago

Yummm. You can pick the flower buds off and they’ll divert energy into producing more leaves, but eventually it’ll cotton on and only grow the flowery bits. I quite like “older” leaves too, they are nice and pungent!

Don Francis
Don Francis
4 years ago

Cut the basil flowers as soon as possible. Basilis an annual, so, you can get the most of it just cutting them.
I,m a Chef, and I grow my own herbs, trust me this proccedure works!

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Don Francis

Thanks for the tip! I pinched off all the flowers and have been harvesting it lots, and feeding it good organic plant food, and it’s back to flourishing 🙂

Mjskit
4 years ago

Your pesto is beautiful!&#160 It so green.&#160 I make pesto and freeze it, but it turns brown very quick.&#160 How do you keep pesto from turning brown?

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Mjskit

Hmm… I have never actually encountered that problem! Mine stays bright green. So do my other herbs that I freeze in oil…

Unhip Squirrel
4 years ago

Pesto is one of my favourite summer things to make too. So good! Also, I didn’t know you could freeze it. Jenn, you’re a genius, as usual. 🙂

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Unhip Squirrel

Aww shucks 🙂

Hector
Hector
4 years ago

How many oz of basil is there in 3 cups

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago
Reply to  Hector

gourmetsleuth.com has a great online cooking converter that I use for those things!

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