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cake on a cake plate with a cake server lifting a slice up

Buttermilk Chocolate Cake

Buttermilk chocolate cake is a delicious and simple dessert that's perfect for any occasion!

Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 42 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 22 minutes
Servings 12
Author Kelsie


Cake layers

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk*
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate** melted and cooled slightly

Chocolate frosting

  • 1 1/4 cups unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 5 to 6 tablespoons whole milk or heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups powdered sugar


Cake layers

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 8-inch cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottom of the pans with parchment. Spray the parchment with more cooking spray and set pans aside.
  2. Whisk the dry ingredients (flour through salt) together in a medium bowl. (If your cocoa powder is lumpy, sift it first.)
  3. Place the butter in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar and beat on medium until very light and creamy, several minutes.
  4. Add the the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the the yolk and vanilla to combine. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
  5. With mixer on low, gradually beat in half of the dry ingredients, followed by half of the buttermilk. Beat only until combined; you don’t want to over-mix.
  6. Scrape down the bowl again, then beat in the remaining dry ingredients followed by the remaining buttermilk. Again beat until just combined.
  7. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the melted chocolate and ensure that all the flour is mixed into the cake batter.
  8. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans and bake 42 to 48 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake layers comes out clean.
  9. Cool cake in the pans for 20 minutes, then run a knife around the outside of each layer to loosen. Carefully invert the cake layers onto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.


  1. Place the butter in a medium bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in the cocoa powder, 5 tablespoons of milk, the vanilla, the espresso powder (if using), and salt.
  2. Turn mixer to low and gradually beat in 4 1/2 cups of powdered sugar. Turn mixer to medium and beat until frosting is smooth.
  3. If frosting is too thin, add additional powdered sugar; it it’s too thick add additional milk.


  1. Trim your cake layers if they’ve domed. Set 1 layer on a cake stand or cardboard cake circle.
  2. Spread a thick layer of frosting over the cake, then top with the second layer. Frost and decorate cake as desired.
  3. Uneaten cake can be stored at room temperature, covered, for up 3 or 4 days. You can also freeze slices, tightly wrapped, for about a month.

Recipe Notes

  • *You can substitute 1 cup whole milk mixed with 2 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice or white vinegar. Mix the two together, then let the mixture sit for 5 minutes before using.
  • **You can use chocolate chips; you'll need a 1/2 cup.
  • If you prefer, you can use 9-inch cake pans. Bake your cake layers for about 25 to 30 minutes.
  • You can also bake this cake as cupcakes. Check for doneness after 15 minutes; they’ll probably take longer but you don’t want to over-bake them.
  • I think this cake is best a day or two after it’s made. Freezing and/or refrigerating the cake will dry it out a bit. There’s a lot of frosting to make up for any dryness, but just keep that in mind if you want to store your cake very long.
  • If you want to make your cake layers a day before serving the cake, you can cool them to room temperature and wrap them tightly with plastic wrap, then leave them on the counter overnight. (Don't wrap the layers while they're warm.)
  • You can make the frosting a day ahead and store it, covered, in the fridge for about a day. When you’re ready to use it, beat it with an electric mixer on high speed until it’s spreadable. (You might need to add a little milk but I usually don’t find that necessary.)