You're not going to believe how perfectly moist and intensely chocolatey this cake is! This easy one-bowl, do-it-all recipe can be used to bake a sheet cake, layer cake, or cupcakes, so it's perfect for any occasion. If you need a chocolate cake recipe for a birthday celebration, graduation party, bridal or baby shower, or just because... this moist and fudgy chocolate cake is it!
This cake is giving serious Matilda chocolate cake vibes. I know my fellow '90s kids know what I'm talking about... the scene in the 1996 movie when Matilda's classmate, Bruce, devours Miss Trunchbull's chocolate cake. It's seriously chocolatey with the perfect balance of fudgy flavor and moist texture, and it's about to be your favorite chocolate cake recipe!
Why This Recipe Works
I may be biased, but I can't get over how perfect this cake is. Most importantly, it's seriously scrumptious, with deep chocolate flavor and moist-but-not-too-dense texture. But it's also incredibly simple to make!
Here's why you're going to love this recipe:
- Easy to Make - This chocolate cake could not be easier to make! The recipe uses simple ingredients and comes together in just one bowl.
- Versatile - This cake recipe is so versatile! Need a layer cake to celebrate your spouse's birthday? Check! Need a sheet cake for a graduation party? Check! Need to make a bunch of cupcakes for your child's birthday party? Check! This cake recipe can do it all!
- Flavor & Texture - I worked hard to really nail the flavor and texture of this cake. It needed to be deeply chocolatey with fudgy, dark chocolate flavor and also be perfectly moist without feeling too dense. Many recipe tests playing with different combinations and ratios of liquid ingredients led me here.
- Crowd-Pleasing - I served this cake (in sheet cake form) at my kids' birthday party and also made it for each of their birthdays (in layer cake form) at their requests! I always receive rave reviews on the flavor and how perfectly moist the cake is.
Ingredient Notes & Substitutions
All-Purpose Flour - This cake manages to be tender and moist without cake flour, so we're sticking with pantry staple all-purpose flour.
Cocoa Powder - Cocoa powder gives this cake its rich chocolate flavor. You can use natural unsweetened for a classic chocolate flavor, though I prefer Dutch process for a smooth dark chocolate flavor. The cakes and cupcakes shown in this post were all made using Dutch process cocoa.
Whole Milk - Milk adds moisture and richness to the cake batter. I always recommend whole milk for baking, though you can substitute a lowfat milk if you prefer.
Vegetable Oil - Vegetable oil adds needed moisture and fat to the cake batter. Compared to butter it creates a cake with a more tender crumb, which is why we're using oil instead of butter in this recipe.
Sour Cream - Sour cream helps to create a moist cake. Because of its acidity, it's also responsible for activating the baking soda, which helps the cake to rise when baking.
Hot Coffee - The hot liquid blooms the cocoa powder, deepening its chocolate flavor, while the coffee enhances the flavor of the chocolate (without making it taste like coffee - promise!). If you prefer you can substitute an equal measure of boiling water.
See recipe card at the bottom of this post for full ingredient list and measurements.
This recipe requires no special equipment! All you'll need is a mixing bowl, whisk, and wooden spoon. Then choose your baking pan based on the type of cake you want to bake:
- 9x13 metal pan OR
- Two 9 inch round cake pans OR
- Cupcake pan
Step-By-Step Recipe Instructions
Step 1: Make the cake. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Step 2: To the dry ingredients add milk, oil, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla. Stir until well combined.
Step 3: Add hot coffee to the batter, carefully mixing with a whisk until well blended.
Step 4: Add batter to a parchment-lined pan. Bake at 350º F for 35 minutes. Let cool.
See recipe card at the bottom of this post for detailed recipe instructions.
This cake is really versatile and could be frosted with just about any frosting you like. Here are some of my favorite pairings:
- You can't go wrong with a classic all-butter buttercream frosting. This recipe makes the best-tasting American buttercream frosting, includes detailed-step-by-step instructions, and explains multiple ways to customize the flavor, from vanilla to chocolate to strawberry to cookie butter.
- Chocolate ganache buttercream frosting plays up the richness of this cake to create a truly decadent chocolate cake. You see this frosting on the sheet cake and layer cake in this post, and this is the frosting to use if "Matilda cake" is your goal!
- To create the ultimate cookies and cream cake, pair this cake with Oreo buttercream frosting!
- For an adults-only spin on chocolate frosting, try this Irish coffee chocolate frosting. It might be my favorite flavor of chocolate frosting, and it would be so fun for a St. Patrick's Day cake! You see this frosting on the cupcakes in this post.
- Classic cream cheese frosting would also pair beautifully with this cake! This recipe also includes fun flavor variations like brown butter and vanilla bean.
When the dry and wet ingredients in the cake batter are mixed together, the batter will be thick and look a lot like brownie batter. When you add the hot coffee, it will at first seem like it won't blend into the batter, but keep mixing. It will eventually come together and the batter will be thin and pourable.
Be sure to line the cake pan with parchment paper to ensure the cake doesn't stick. Here's a tutorial for the easiest way to line pans with parchment paper.
The recipe explains how to bake this cake in a 9x13 pan, but it can easily be adapted for other pans and sizes. (You can also find these instructions in the Notes section at the bottom of the recipe card.)
- For baking round cake layers, spray two round 9 inch cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Divide cake batter evenly between cake pans and bake at 350º F for 25 minutes.
- For baking cupcakes, line cupcake pan with paper liners and fill each ¾ full with batter. Bake at 350º F for 18-20 minutes.
- The recipe can also be halved to make a single-layer 9 inch round cake, a two-layer 6 inch round cake, one 8x8 cake, or 12 cupcakes.
Boiling water is often added to chocolate cake recipes made with cocoa powder in order to "bloom" the chocolate, which brings out the flavor of the chocolate while minimizing any lumps in the cake batter. Hot coffee serves the same purpose with the added bonus of further enhancing the chocolate's flavor.
Cocoa powder is very absorbent, so it certainly has the ability to dry out a cake. But since we need it for it's delicious chocolate flavor, we can simply add enough moisture to ensure that our cake isn't too dry. In this recipe, oil, milk, sour cream, and hot coffee add moisture to the batter and help to create a perfectly luscious texture.
Either type of cocoa powder - natural unsweetened or Dutch process - can be used to bake chocolate cake. The decision comes down to what kind of chocolate flavor you want and what leavener is used in the cake.
Natural unsweetened cocoa powder will give you a classic, slightly acidic chocolate flavor that's lighter in color, while Dutch process cocoa powder adds a smooth dark chocolate flavor that's darker in color.
Since natural unsweetened cocoa is acidic but Dutch process is not, you'll also need to consider which leavener you're using. If the recipe calls for baking soda and there are no other acidic ingredients in the cake, then you'll need to use natural unsweetened cocoa in order to activate the baking soda. If your cake uses baking powder or if it includes another acidic ingredient like sour cream, buttermilk, or brown sugar then you're free to use whichever type of cocoa you prefer since you're not relying on it for adding acidity to the batter.
These storage suggestions are for the cake only. If you'll be frosting the cake, be sure to consider how the frosting needs to be stored; you may need to refrigerate the cake once frosted.
Room Temperature: This cake can be stored in a covered container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Freezing: This cake can be baked ahead of time and frozen. For round or square/rectangular cake, wrap the completely cooled cake in plastic wrap followed by a layer of foil before freezing for up to 3 months. For cupcakes, wrap completely cooled cupcakes with plastic wrap before sealing in a plastic bag or airtight container and freezing. Cupcakes can be wrapped together in groups and do not need to be individually wrapped. Defrost all cake or cupcakes at room temperature before frosting and serving.
More Chocolate Recipes
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Fudgy Chocolate Cake
- Cake pan (round or rectangular) or cupcake pan
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- ¾ cup cocoa powder (Dutch processed or natural unsweetened)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- ¾ cup whole milk
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- ¼ cup full-fat sour cream
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup hot coffee
Make the cake batter.
- Preheat oven to 350º F. Line a 9x13 metal baking pan with parchment paper and set aside. *See recipe note for baking round cake layers or cupcakes.
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- To the dry ingredients add milk, oil, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla. Stir until well combined. The batter will be thick, similar to the texture of brownie batter.
- Add hot coffee to the batter, carefully mixing with a whisk until well blended. The batter will now be very thin.
Bake the cake.
- Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake pan.
- Bake the cake for 30-35 minutes, or until the top sprigs back when gently poked and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs.
- Let the cake cool completely before frosting or storing.