If you’re looking for something, say…less funfetti-pastel-swirl-sprinkle-coated for your next adult party, this deeply chocolatey and espresso gilded beauty might be exactly what you want. No baby-pink sparkles, here. Just an ultra rich and barely sweet cake with a whisper of luxurious frosting. Happy birthday, indeed.–Jenny Latreille


Yes. In fact, don’t even think about using a stand mixer, handheld mixer, whisk, or spoon to make the espresso frosting. It needs to be a food processor. And make sure to keep it running for the required amount of time.

A whole sour cream mocha cake on a white decorative cake stand.
A sour cream mocha cake with espresso frosting on a cake stand with a slice cut from it.

Sour Cream Mocha Cake

4.59 / 12 votes
This sour cream mocha cake is a knockout. Made with unsweetened chocolate and instant espresso, it’s wicked dense, intense, chocolatey, and easy to toss together from ingredients you already have at home with an espresso frosting that’s as light as the cake is dense. A very “adult” dessert.
David Leite
Servings12 servings
Calories501 kcal
Prep Time25 minutes
Cook Time1 hour 35 minutes
Total Time2 hours


For the mocha cake

  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, grated
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 teaspoons instant espresso granules, dissolved in 1 cup of hot water
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, not fat-free
  • 1/4 cup (2 oz) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the pans
  • 1/4 cup mild vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon chocolate extract, or omit and up the vanilla to 1 tablespoon
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature, beaten

For the espresso frosting

  • 1/4 cup instant espresso granules, dissolved in 5 tablespoons of cold water
  • 1 stick (4 oz) stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream


Make the sour cream mocha cake

  • Crank the oven to 350°F (175°C) and adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Butter two 8-inch (20-cm) cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter and flour the paper, tapping out any excess flour.
  • 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 become grainy. And then you’ll become grouchy.) Remove from the heat to cool until just warm.
  • Meanwhile, dump the sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
  • In a bowl, whisk together the hot espresso, sour cream, oil, butter, and vanilla and chocolate extracts. Pour the espresso mixture into the flour mixture 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.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the 2 pans and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Move 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

  • Dissolve the espresso granules in the water.
  • Pour the espresso mixture into a food processor and add the butter, sugar, and heavy cream. Process until it becomes light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. The frosting will initially look curdled and destroyed. And then just when you’re about to lose all faith, everything will come together beautifully. Swear.

    ☞ TESTER TIP: You simply must use a food processor for the frosting. Seriously. Or the frosting won’t come together.

Assemble the cake

  • Place 1 cake on a cake stand or serving plate. Frost the top and then stack the second cake on top. Frost the top and sides. Devour immediately.


Decaf Sour Cream Mocha Cake variation

If you’re sensitive to caffeine, you may get a subtle buzz from this cake. Rather than risk a sleepless night if you tend to eat a late dessert, simply make the recipe with decaffeinated espresso. The intense mocha flavor won’t be affected in the least.


Serving: 1 sliceCalories: 501 kcalCarbohydrates: 65 gProtein: 5 gFat: 27 gSaturated Fat: 17 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 77 mgSodium: 194 mgFiber: 2 gSugar: 46 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 1999 David Leite. Photo © 2019 David Leite. All rights reserved.


About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    This is a five star dessert! The cake is rich and fudgy, the frosting is delicious, and the result is a perfect combination of chocolate and coffee. I had no problem with the frosting; it started to smooth out at about four and a half minutes of food processor mixing time. Thanks for another terrific recipe.

  2. 5 stars
    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.


    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!

  3. 5 stars
    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.