The Best Moist Chocolate Cake From Scratch (with Coffee)

Cara Campbell
by Cara Campbell
8 people
50 min

I'm not kidding around when I say this is the best moist chocolate cake ever. Like ever ever. It's a family recipe from my in-laws, and it's been made literally hundreds of time. Every single family birthday this cake gets whipped out, and it's the highlight of the day. And by the way, I'm going to be using the word "moist" many, many times in this recipe. You've been warned.

Don't you just want to grab a bite? And then the slice? And then maybe lick the plate?

Credit where Credit is Due

This recipe belongs to my mother-in-law, Liz, who has generously agreed to let me post it here. She's the one who has been making this cake for, I kid you not, decades. The first time I had it, I knew I was going to have to marry her son. Because I could not live without this cake in my life. And you know. Him also.

One-Bowl Wonder

This cake is simple, easy and produces results every time. You can use a stand mixer if you want, but mixing by hand also works. And: Yay! You don't have to destroy your entire kitchen with dishes because this comes together in one bowl.

How to Make Cake from Scratch

Making most types of cake from scratch really isn't that much harder than in a mix. The only time your saving yourself is measuring the dry ingredients. There is definitely a time and a place for cake mixes, but this isn't one of them. If you're cake is more than one layer high (this one is two), then we're officially in special occasion cake territory. And those cakes are just so much better from scratch. Like the best moist chocolate cake is only ever going to be homemade. While our family traditionally uses this chocolate cake for birthdays, it's also perfect to bring out at Christmas.

This is a pretty standard cake recipe. We're going to measure our dry ingredients, whisk them, and then add our wet ingredients (except the coffee) and combine. After everything's nice and combined, we add the hot, rich coffee which is going to take the flavour of this cake to another level (more on that later).

Next, we need to prepare our baking rounds (and this is key. I have thrown literal tantrums over a perfectly baked cake tearing itself apart because it was stuck to the bottom of the pan FOR NO REASON, omg FINE it was because I didn't use parchment paper even after my mom told me too), and there's nothing worse. We're not taking any chances and using both cooking spray and parchment paper.

Once we get our cake batter in the pans, the go into the oven for about 35 minutes. After that the cool in the pans for 15, and then we CAREFULLY take them out and let them cool the rest of the way on wire racks. At this point they're ready to be frosted, and eaten.

How to make the Best MOIST Cake Ever

To me, making the best moist cake comes down to one ingredient: oil. It's an absolute must for this recipe, and here's why. First, oil is liquid, and is liquid at room temperature, unlike butter. This means, because science, that the cake is going to have a more moist sensation, and remains moist for longer. Because butter solidifies at room temperature, the cake, as it cools, tends to get more crumbly. Second: butter is actually 80% fat and 20% liquid (water). When the dry ingredients interact with the butter then, they're mixing with both fat and water. Water + flour = gluten, meaning that you're cake is going to be relatively tough. That's compared to oil, which is pure, pure fat. If you want to read more about this, and how it works, check out this Bon Appetit article. And also, stop making your cakes with butter. Immediately. Chocolate cake without butter is the way to go.

There's a lot of info out there about using sour cream and mayo to make your cakes moist, but I haven't found this makes a huge difference for me. It's really all about the oil vs. butter.

What about Olive Oil?

Olive oil has the same effect as regular vegetable oil - but, it has much much more flavour. So this can be an absolutely delicious variation - you just have to be aware of all the flavours your using in the cake, and how they will interact with the olive oil.

Why Are we Using Coffee?

Apart from the fact that coffee is the elixir of the gods, it's because it makes the chocolate flavour so much more intense and delicious. This cake does not taste like coffee, I promise you. It tastes like the most decadent, rich and complex chocolate cake you've ever had. So even if you're tempted to skip it, don't. We're also putting it in the frosting for good measure.

Can you Freeze it?

Yes you can, as long as you haven't frosted it yet. Once the cakes have cooled completely, wrap them separately in plastic wrap and lay them flat in the freezer. They should keep for up to three months. To defrost, let them warm up on the counter, and then decorate as normal.

What do I do with the Leftovers?

Ok, when you're making the best moist chocolate cake ever, there are not often leftovers. However, on the off chance you do find yourself in this enviable situation, here's what you're going to make:

Let's not even pretend we aren't craving this now.

This is a chocolate cake milkshake. And yes, it's as outrageous and ridiculous as it sounds. You're welcome.

Leftover cake is the best cake.

The Best Moist Chocolate Cake From Scratch (with Coffee)
Recipe details
  • 8  people
  • Prep time: 15 Minutes Cook time: 35 Minutes Total time: 50 min
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For the Cake
  • 1 3/4 C flour
  • 2 C sugar
  • 3/4 C cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 C milk
  • 1/2 C vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 C hot coffee
For the Chocolate Icing
  • 2 2/3 C icing sugar
  • 2/3 C cocoa powder
  • 1/4 C margarine
  • 1/4 C hot coffee
Bake the Cake
Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Prepare your baking rounds: Trace the bottom of your 8" rounds onto parchment paper. Cut the circles out, and then line the bottom of your pans with them. Spray the parchment and the sides of the rounds with cooking spray. Set aside.
Combine the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Whisk until combined.
Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. Slowly stir until just combined. Add the coffee, and stir until just mixed. There might be a few lumps - this is totally fine.
Pour the batter (it should be quite runny) equally into each pan. Place in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then turn upside-down on a cooling rack to get them out. Flip them right side up again and let them cool completely, then frost.
Make the Frosting
Combine the cocoa, powdered sugar, and margarine in a small bowl. Using a stand mixer or a hand mixer, start on a low speed to mix the frosting. Add the coffee one tablespoon at a time until the icing reaches a smooth and silky consistency. You may not need the entire amount of coffee (or you may need more). See notes.
  • This is a fairly runny cake batter, so don't worry if you're thinking it looks thin. It's supposed to be!
  • I often double the frosting - I just find it makes the entire cake easier to decorate.
  • You may need to use more or less coffee in the frosting depending on the conditions at your place. I've had to adjust the amount of coffee pretty much every time to make sure that the icing isn't going to dry out.
Cara Campbell
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  • Msf27430720 Msf27430720 on Feb 15, 2022

    I'm going to try this recipe since it's one bowl wonder. I always add coffee to my chocolate cookies, brownies & chocolate cake mix. Hellman's mayo cake is also one of the moistest cake I ever ate. You don't taste the mayo!

    • Cara Campbell Cara Campbell on Feb 15, 2022

      I've heard that, I've never tried it, but I'm definitely going to now!

  • Flor Galindo Flor Galindo on Feb 17, 2022

    Does it matter what kind of coffee, can it be instant coffee?

    • See 2 previous
    • Mary Mary on Feb 25, 2022

      You can use instant coffee as long as you make a cup (with hot water) and then measure out the appropriate amount.