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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  1. A question: Would it be possible to make this cake in a Bundt pan instead of two 8-inch cake pans? If so, how would the instructions change as to baking time and any other details?

    1. Vin, we didn’t test it that way, so I can’t say. But I think you would be missing out on the best part, which is the frosting.

  2. Hello David!

    I am planning to make this cake, store it overnight on the kitchen counter and serve it the next day. Will the frosting hold up or do I need to make it right before serving (I hope not!).

    Thanks so much.

    1. Judith, it should be fine, but I would store it in the fridge and take it out 2 hours or so before serving.