Sour Cream Mocha Cake

This sour cream mocha cake is a knockout. It's made with unsweetened chocolate and instant espresso and is wicked moist. Want to impress the boss or a date? This is your recipe.

Sour Cream Mocha Cake Recipe

This recipe has been sticking out of my beat-up recipe folder for almost 20 years. If you like wickedly flavored, moist, dense cakes, then say hello to your new go-to recipe. The cake is made with unsweetened chocolate, chocolate extract, and instant espresso, so it’s a very “adult” dessert. Some friends have complained they get a caffeine buzz if they eat it before going to bed. So? You can make it with decaffeinated espresso; the flavor isn’t affected.

And the espresso frosting is a wonder. It’s as light as the cake is dense. But, my dears, you must use a food processor and nothing but a food processor, or it won’t come together. This recipe has been updated. Originally published June 2, 1999.David Leite

Sour Cream Mocha Cake Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 1 H
  • Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients

  • For the mocha cake
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate (113 g), grated
  • 2 cups granulated sugar (396 g)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (180 g), plus more for the pans
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda (5 g)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (2 g)
  • 5 teaspoons instant espresso granules (10 g), dissolved in 1 cup of hot water
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (113 g)
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter (56 g), melted, plus more for the pans
  • 1/4 cup canola oil (60 ml)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (10 ml)
  • 1 teaspoon chocolate extract (5 ml) (or omit and up the amount of vanilla to 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature, beaten
  • For the espresso frosting
  • 1/4 cup instant espresso granules (24 g), dissolved in 5 tablespoons of cold water
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (113 g), at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar (140 g)
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream (208 ml)

Directions

  • Make the cake
  • 1. Slide a rack in the middle of the oven and crank the heat to 350°F (175°C). [Editor’s Note: If you’re using dark non-stick pans, make that 325°F (160°C).] Butter two 8-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter and flour the paper, tapping out any excess flour.
  • 2. Melt the chocolate, either in a microwave on medium or in a pot set over another pot filled with an inch of simmering water. (Make sure no water splashes into the chocolate or it’ll seize and become grainy, and you’ll become grouchy.) Set aside to cool until just warm.
  • 3. Meanwhile, dump the sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
  • 4. Whisk together the hot espresso, sour cream, canola oil, butter, and vanilla and chocolate extracts in a medium bowl. Pour this coffee-sour cream concoction into the dry ingredients in the stand mixer and mix on low until just blended, about 30 seconds. Slowly drizzle in the beaten eggs and mix on medium until smooth. Scrape in the melted chocolate and beat until the batter is uniform in color, about 15 seconds. The batter will be thin, but that’s how it should be.
  • 5. Divide the batter evenly between the 2 pans and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edge of each cake and invert them onto another rack to cool completely.
  • Make the espresso frosting
  • 6. Dissolve the espresso granules in the water. Pour the espresso mixture into a food processor (see: food processor) and add the butter, sugar, and heavy cream. Process the mixture until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. The frosting will look hopelessly curdled and destroyed at first, but then just when you’re about to lose all faith, it will come together beautifully. (Cross my heart.)
  • Assemble the cake
  • 7. Frost the cake as usual. Devour immediately, also as usual.
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Comments

  1. …making it tonight (yet again) for my daughter Brigit’s 15th Birthday Party this Friday. I will wrap and freeze the (3) layers for maximum moistness before I make that oh-so-silky mocha frosting Friday morning! (et Bien Sur, Julia’s Boeuf Bourguignon c’est l’entree’). Thanks for making me remember this keeper by making it so, well, memorable, David. <3<3

  2. a cake for true coffee lovers. we had leftovers for breakfast, and my husband now calls it the “eat your coffee for breakfast” cake. it comes together very easily. i confess that i didn’t grate the chocolate before melting it in the microwave!:-) the cake didn’t seem to suffer (it didn’t last past the next day’s breakfast, either).

    1. well, there’s more than one way to get your coffee fix, it seems. love what your husband dubbed the cake. love that it didn’t last–the truest sign of a keeper recipe. thanks for letting us know, aj.

  3. The cake was an absolute keeper, but the frosting was a loser. Had to make it three times before I could get it to come together, and even then it didn’t set up nicely for frosting. So the cake looked a lot shabbier than I had wanted it to. I’m a very experienced baker and this rarely happens; I actually suspected there might be a typo in the recipe. Will use my own mocha buttercream recipe in the future.

    1. Hi Jo, sorry you had a problem. I’ve made the frosting a gazillion times (I’ve even made it for catering events). Where some bakers derail is by not using a food processor. This simply can’t be made in any other kind of mixer. Also, the texture isn’t like a classic buttercream. It leans more toward a whipped-cream frosting.

  4. Something about sour cream & baking…great flavor and wonderful texture or crumb. Lovely cake ~ I pinned! Thanks for the link love, too :)

    1. We couldn’t agree more, Maria. Sour cream just adds that extra oomph of creaminess or moistness, yes? I’m a sucker for old-fashioned doughnuts made with sour cream. Anyways, thanks for your kind words, and you’re very welcome for the link love.

    1. Exactly, Beth. Exactly. (See? Now HERE is an instance where I approve of the use of frosting…)

        1. Yes, shared frosting ground. Uh, how do you feel about frosting straight from the beaters?

  5. Lies! It’s all lies about needing a food processor! If you really, really soften the butter (enough that you can whip it by hand with a whisk) you can slowly add in the rest of the icing ingredients.I mixed together the cream/coffee granules/water/icing sugar, let the icing sugar dissolve into the liquid and then added that mixture a couple tablespoons at a time to the super soft butter and hand whisked until it was smooth before adding more. Then I put it in the mixer with the whisk attachment and beat it for a couple minutes to fluff it up. You might need to chill it for a bit to get it really fluffy. I’m sure it takes much more effort than doing it in the food processor, but if you don’t have one it does work in the end (and it’s worth it!).

    1. Love it, mc! Thanks! As someone who doesn’t have a food processor, I’m grateful to hear it….

  6. Ah. I did not follow SassyMC’s instructions well because my icing is a mess. LOL. I ended up using a blender which removed the curdling (I admit my butter was not soft enough and I added liquids too fast) but it then became 100% liquid. I now have it in fridge to harden it and I can hopefully rewhip in mixer. If it fails I will either borrow my mom’s food processor or redo SassyMC’s way. All this is my fault for not following instructions to the T.

    1. Ooooooh sorry to hear it, Regine. Yeah, unfortunately, sometimes instructions are pretty precise and need to be followed. We’re thinking of you with fingers crossed and breath held. Kindly let us know how it goes!

  7. Frosting fiasco LOL but I will remake soon and this time borrow my mom’s food processor. But the flavor of the frosting is so good regardless. I ended up using an easier “spur of the moment” frosting made from 1 1/2 sticks butter, 2 cups powdered sugar, and 2 (what was left of my expresso powder) tbsp expresso powder mixed with 2 tbsp heavy cream. The cake is too die for, so moist and so flavorful and my frosting was good too. My parents and husband loved the cake. I can’t wait to make it again and then take it to my mom’s house to use her food processor so that I can hopefully remake the frosting.

    1. Way to persevere, Regine! I am so proud of you! And yes, I agree, frosting is soooo good. I’m one of those people who oft leave some cake on the plate but practically lick it clean of frosting. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. Can’t wait to hear about the next recipe you make from the site…

  8. Wow. Yes you do need food processor to make this unbelievably silky frosting. After 2 failures trying to use my cake mixer and another baker’s suggestion on how to do so, I successfully made the frosting with my mom’s food processors. Exactly like David wrote, the frosting became smooth adter 5 minutes. Wow. I am bringing this cake to a friend for Easter Sunday. This is a magical frosting, I say. Smooth and silky like the egg based buttercream.

    1. Lovely to hear it, Regine! And yeah, we tested this recipe over and over, trying to make it work in other machines, but sometimes just one will do.

      1. I would like some clarification on the food processor part of the recipe. You do not specify which blade that you are using to make the frosting. Metal or plastic? Just wondering. Thanks.

  9. Renee, I made this cake a third time but as I had done some of the prep work, I noticed I did not have sour cream and the unsweetened chocolate. I looked at what I had on hand, and thus ended up replacing the sour cream with buttermilk, and the unsweetened chocolate with a 3.5 oz bar of 60% bitterweet chocoalte (by Ghiradelli). Wow… Not that the original recipe is not good, but the cake to me seemed even better – lighter and more moist. So if you like experimenting, try it one day and let me know. Maybe the increased sugar (due to the chocolate) and more liquidy acid agent (buttermilk versus sour cream) further enhanced the texture. Also, since I had already returned the food processor that I had borrowed for the icing, I used my quick icing mentioned in a prior post (1 1/2 stick butter, 2 cups powdered sugar, 2 tbsp heavy cream mixed with 3 (instead of 2 in prior post) tbsp expresso powder. I also added a tsp of chocolate extract. You should try it out next time, and maybe called it Chocolate Expresso Cream Cake. LOL

    Also, by the way, in retrospect, next time I make your icing in the food processor, I may increase the powdered sugar to 2 cups. I thought it could be a tiny bit sweeter.

    Thanks!
    Regine

    1. Regine, this is wonderful! Am thrilled that it worked out so well and yes, I am very tempted to try your version of this recipe. I love when someone makes a recipe their own. Thanks so much for sharing your tweaks, I know I won’t be the only one who appreciates them!

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