Basic Chocolate Cake

This basic chocolate cake checks all the boxes: easy, moist, simple, classic. And, most importantly, it boasts a rich chocolatey flavor thanks to a lovely blend of unsweetened chocolate and cocoa powder. Dress it up with frosting and prepare to be asked for seconds.

A person holding a plate with a slice of basic chocolate cake on it.

Adapted from Emily Luchetti | The Fearless Baker | Little, Brown & Company, 2011

This basic chocolate cake may be modestly named but it elicits reactions far more impassioned than its humble name would lead you to believe. We’re hearing a lot of folks say this is easily one of the best darned chocolate cakes they’ve ever experienced, let alone made themselves, and that it’s become their go-to birthday cake. Its creator, pastry chef Emily Luchetti, explains it can easily be varied with different frostings so that it seems a little different each time, just like Luchetti’s Basic White Cake that so many of you deemed the absolute best as well.–Renee Schettler


Sifting dry ingredients does a couple of things—most importantly, it removes clumps. Clumps that lead to concentrated spots of ingredients in your finished cake. Everything gets mixed together evenly once you add the liquids, ensuring a successful bake. It also helps to make your batter rise into a lighter and fluffier cake by adding air to the mixture. If you don’t have a sifter, a strainer or whisk or even a fork will work too.

☞ Contents

Basic Chocolate Cake

A person holding a plate with a slice of basic chocolate cake on it.
You can have your molten lava cake; you can have your chocolate soufflé; just give me a classic, really, really delicious, moist, loaded-with-frosting chocolate layer cake, and that's all I need.

Prep 20 mins
Cook 30 mins
Total 50 mins
12 servings
408 kcal
4.67 / 3 votes
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  • 3/4 cup natural cocoa powder plus more for the pans
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate chopped or broken into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks (6 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for the pans
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk


  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C) and adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Butter the bottoms and sides of two 9-by-2-inch round cake pans and coat them evenly with cocoa powder, tapping out any excess.
  • In a small bowl, stir together the cocoa powder and water to make a paste.
  • Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over but not touching a saucepan of simmering water. (Go ahead and use a double boiler if you have one.) Warm the chocolate, stirring and scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula, until the chocolate is smooth and melted. Let cool to room temperature.
  • Hold a sifter or a fine strainer over a large bowl or piece of parchment paper and sift the flour and baking soda together. (If using a strainer, simply dump both ingredients in the strainer and gently tap your hand against the edge.) Add the salt on top.
  • Using a stand mixer or a handheld mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar together until smooth.
  • Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and then mix in the eggs, 1 at a time, just until combined.
  • Reduce the speed to low and add the cocoa paste and mix just until combined followed by the melted chocolate and continue to mix until thoroughly combined.
  • With the mixer still on low speed, add half the sifted flour mixture, mixing thoroughly. Then add half the milk. Repeat with the remaining flour and then the remaining milk, mixing well after each addition. Divide the batter between the pans and, using the spatula, spread it evenly.
  • Bake the cakes on the middle rack of the oven until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

    TESTER TIP: If you need to put the cake pans on 2 different racks in the oven, switch the pans halfway through baking to ensure they bake evenly.

  • Let the cakes cool in their pans on a wire rack.
  • Unmold the cakes by running a sharp knife around the inside edge of each pan and then placing a plate on top of it and invert both the cake and the plate. Remove the pans. Cool the cakes completely before serving or frosting. (The wrapped cake layers will keep at room temperature for a few days or in the freezer for up to a couple of months.)
Print RecipeBuy the The Fearless Baker cookbook

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Show Nutrition

Serving: 1sliceCalories: 408kcal (20%)Carbohydrates: 56g (19%)Protein: 8g (16%)Fat: 20g (31%)Saturated Fat: 12g (75%)Trans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 110mg (37%)Sodium: 205mg (9%)Potassium: 241mg (7%)Fiber: 4g (17%)Sugar: 35g (39%)Vitamin A: 499IU (10%)Calcium: 58mg (6%)Iron: 4mg (22%)

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Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This will be the “go-to” basic chocolate cake recipe for my family. When I cut into the cake, the texture was perfect. It was moist and light, dense but not heavy. The flavors of the cocoa and unsweetened chocolate blended well together to give the cake depth of flavor without being overly rich and the perfect balance of sweet to chocolate. My tasters didn’t even need, nor ask for, a glass of milk. When they finished their pieces, they simply asked for another.

This cake is great without frosting and would probably be just as wonderful with it. The recipe produces a cake that bakes up high but doesn’t drip over the sides of the pan and onto the bottom of the oven. I baked mine in 2 heart-shaped pans and they came out beautifully. My cakes required 30 minutes of baking time but that may have been due to the shape of my pans.

This basic chocolate cake recipe is very easy and fast to make, even for a non-baker such as myself. The cake itself was wonderful—moist, light, chocolatey but not overly so, and far from too sweet. My toddler wanted to add some frosting, but I decided instead to make a mixture of cream cheese, sugar, and mashed strawberries and it was a huge hit with everyone–my older daughter even asked me to make this cake for her birthday next month.

Not sure if this has to do with my oven, but after 20 minutes the middle of the cake was still pretty liquidy. I left it in for 7 more minutes and that did the trick. Even though I buttered the cake pans very well, I had some trouble getting the cakes out. Next time I’ll use springform pans.


#leitesculinaria on Instagram If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.


  1. Although not as elegant would this batter amount work as a 9 x 13? Should oven temperature remain 350 or would the wider shallow area require maybe 325?

    1. Great question, Denise. We haven’t tested the recipe in a 9 x 13 pan but it should work well. You will want to keep the oven at the same temperature and increase the baking time. Please do let us know how it turns out.

  2. I’m guessing regular cocoa powder, rather than dutched, is the way to go in this recipe, since I see baking powder but no other obvious source of acid to react with it?

    1. You’re absolutely right, Melissa. You definitely want natural cocoa powder here since you’re using baking soda in the recipe.

  3. I’ve got a friend whose birthday is coming up in a couple weeks. She’s asked for Ina Garten’s “Beatty’s Chocolate Cake” (which is the equivalent of what you call “Hersey’s Chocolate Cake Redux”). She requested that because she’s had it before when someone else’s birthday was the occasion.

    If I make this one instead — I’m seduced by the extra eggs and the addition of baking chocolate — will she be disappointed? I really want an excuse to try this cake but don’t want to let her down.

    My plan is to use ganache as the filling and pour a sheen of glossy liquid ganache over the top of the frosting.

    1. Ooooh, Rainey, expectations are such a tricky thing, aren’t they?! This cake is, I suspect, going to be less sweet than the Ina/Hershey’s rendition you mention. That said, the chocolate flavor itself doesn’t disappoint, as you surmised from the addition of the baking chocolate. It’s just a more, dare I say, refined approach to chocolate, less gilded with sweetness. It sounds like the ganache would be a lovely accent to this cake, and I don’t think you’d be disappointed in the least. As for your friend, I don’t know how much of a sweet tooth she has. David’s version of the Hershey’s cake is astounding. I’m going to let this be your call. Hope this helped some.

      1. Very useful tips! Glad you have your experience of this cake and the Hershey/Garten variations.

        I’m going to go for it ’cause I just want to try this recipe. She’ll have another b-day next year, right?

        1. Laughs! Yes, exactly, Rainey. And I admire your curiosity! And I suspect your friend will be pleased as can be…fingers crossed. Of course, you know I’ll be waiting to hear how it goes. Oh, and maybe don’t mention to David I said anything about a chocolate cake other than his…!

  4. 5 stars
    This sounds delicious! Thanks for all the great recipes on your site. I was wondering if this recipe might work for a bundt type cake? I’ve been searching for a chocolate bundt cake recipe with a good texture and taste. Thanks.

    1. Cathy, we haven’t tried it as a Bundt cake so I’m hesitant to promise you that it will work. Most Bundt cakes tend to have a denser (in a good way) texture. May I suggest you try this Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake recipe from our site? Look beneath the recipe for the rave reviews its drawn from everyone who’s tried it. I think this may be more what you’re wanting…?

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