Every recipe box needs a staple chocolate cake recipe! This chocolate cake recipe is my go-to for a rich, dense, moist cake that is perfect on it's own or slathered in frosting!
As with a lot of my favourite cakes, this one is super simple and takes very little time to prepare. All the ingredients are whisked together in one bowl (no electric mixer required!).
Chocolate Cake Ingredients
- Milk + Vinegar: milk and vinegar can be combined to create a faux buttermilk which helps make the cake moist. The acidic vinegar will slightly curdle the milk and the mixture will become a little bit thicker.
- Any variety of mildly flavoured vinegar will work (apple cider, malt) or even lemon or lime juice.
- Instead of combining milk and vinegar, you can use 1 cup of buttermilk.
- Canola oil: using oil instead of butter keeps the cake fresher and moister for longer. You can use any flavourless vegetable oil or cooking oil (safflower, rice bran, sunflower etc.). Don't use olive oil or coconut oil as they will change the flavour of the cake.
- Brown sugar + caster sugar (superfine sugar): This combination of sugars will both give the cake structure (with caster sugar) and make it rich and moist (with brown sugar). Light or dark brown sugar will work.
- Can I replace the brown sugar with more caster sugar? Yes however this will make the cake less moist and more fluffy and 'cakey.'
- Can I use all brown sugar? I don't recommend using all brown sugar or the cake may sink and have a denser texture.
- Plain flour (all-purpose flour)
- Unsweetened cocoa powder: use a good quality unsweetened cocoa powder which is designed for baking. Avoid Dutch-processed 'cacao' powder as this tends to be much more bitter.
- Baking powder (NOT baking soda): make sure it is not expired! Expired baking powder is one of the most common causes of sunken cakes.
- Boiling coffee OR boiling water: coffee enhances the chocolate flavour in the cake. The cake will NOT taste like coffee. Make sure you use fresh, strongly brewed black coffee: I like to combine ½ teaspoon of instant coffee granules with ½ cup of boiling water, but you can make the coffee using your preferred method (French press, drip coffee, pods, coffee bags etc.).
- If you're using a coffee machine or pod machine, select the "long black" option.
How to Make Moist Chocolate Cake
1. Whisk together the milk and vinegar and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes until the mixture is slightly curdled and thickened.
2. Add the oil, eggs, and sugars.
3. Whisk until the mixture is well combined (there should be minimal 'strands' of eggs).
4. Sift over flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.
5. Whisk together until well combined.
6. The batter will still be quite thick at this point.
7. Pour in the strongly brewed black coffee.
8. Whisk in well. The batter will be much thinner now!
9. Grease and line a 20 cm (8 inch) circular cake tin. TIP! If you are using a springform pan, make sure it is VERY secure as the batter is thin and will leak through any cracks!
10. Bake for 55-60 minutes. Don't open the oven door earlier than the 45 minute mark or the cake may sink in the middle. Check if the cake is cooked by inserting a clean skewer in the centre of the cake-- if it is cooked, there will be just a few moist crumbs (no wet batter). Allow to cool in the tin for 20 minutes then transfer to a wire rack and let the cake cool completely (or as long as you can resist!!).
FAQ + Top Tips
- Why is my chocolate cake dry and crumbly?
- You are measuring your dry ingredients incorrectly. to measure dry goods such as flour, you should spoon the flour into your measuring cup until it is piled up high, then level off the pile with the back of a flat-bladed butter knife.
- You have overcooked the cake. make sure you oven is at the correct temperature (you should regularly check your oven's temperature accuracy with an oven thermometer). If the cake still hasn't baked in the 55-60 minute timeframe, you should be checking again every 5 minutes. If the cake is burning around the edges, cover the top of the cake tin with foil and continue to bake until cooked through.
- Why is my chocolate cake dense and/or sinking in the middle?
- You over-whisked the batter. over-whisking the batter will cause the gluten strands to over-develop and give you a dense, tough cake. It can also add too much air into the batter which causes it to collapse in the oven. The batter for this cake is very thin and forgiving. Once you add the dry ingredients, however, you should make sure to only whisk as much as necessary to combine the ingredients well.
- Your rising agent (baking powder) is expired. Always double check whether your rising agent (in this case, baking powder) is within the best-before date. If the cake cannot rise effectively, it will be flatter and denser, or may sink in the middle.
- You opened the oven door too early. Make sure not to open the oven door until at least the 45 minute mark. Opening the oven while the cake is quite undercooked can destabilise the oven temperature and cause the centre of the cake to sink or cave in.
- How do I know when my cake is cooked?
- Insert a clean skewer into the centre of the chocolate cake. When you remove it, it should be mostly clean with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. If there is wet batter on the skewer, the cake is not cooked through yet.
How long can I keep my chocolate cake for?
- You can keep this cake stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. It may become a bit dry after the third day.
- To freeze the cake: wrap the cake in a layer of cling wrap and then in a layer of foil. Keep frozen for up to 6 months. Defrost at room temperature for 6 hours or overnight before serving.
- 1 cup (250 mL) milk
- 1 tablespoon (20 mL) white vinegar
- ¾ cup (190 mL) canola oil
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup (220 g) brown sugar, packed
- ½ cup (120 g) caster sugar
- 1 cup (150 g) plain flour / all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup (75 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon (16 g) baking powder
- 1 (6 g) teaspoon salt
- ½ cup (125 mL) boiling coffee or water
- Preheat the oven to 160°C / 320°F (fan/convection) or 180°C / 355°F (standard). Grease and line a 20 cm (8 inch) circular cake tin with baking paper.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together milk and vinegar. Allow to sit for 5 minutes until thickened. Whisk in oil, eggs, brown sugar and caster sugar.
- Sift over flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Whisk together until well combined. Whisk in boiling coffee (or water).
- Pour into prepared tin and place in the lower half of the oven. Bake for 55-60 minutes or until well risen and a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean (don't open the oven until at least the 45 minute mark). The top may crack slightly but it will sink back down once the cake cools. Allow to cool in the tin for 20 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
- You can keep the cake stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Substitutions & Tips
- Vinegar: the vinegar reacts with the milk to create a homemade buttermilk substitute. You can use any type of vinegar (apple cider, brown, malt etc.) or the same amount of lemon juice. You can also substitute both the milk and vinegar with 1 cup of buttermilk.
- Oil: you can use any flavourless cooking oil or vegetable oil. I don't recommend using strongly flavoured oils like olive oil as these can give the cake an odd flavour.
- Caster sugar: you can substitute caster sugar with white sugar. The cake may have a crispier crust if you do.
- Will the cake taste like coffee? No. Coffee just emphasises the chocolate flavour. I use 1 teaspoon of instant coffee and combine it with half a cup of boiling water.
- Why did my cake sink in the middle? This means that you have opened the oven door too early. Make sure to wait until at least the 45 minute mark before opening the oven door. Try to avoid moving the cake around too much before it has finished cooking. If worst comes to worst, you can cover any sunken parts with frosting!
Nutrition Information:Serving Size: ⅛th of the Cake
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 443Total Fat: 24gSaturated Fat: 2.9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0.5gCholesterol: 46.3mgSodium: 501.2mgCarbohydrates: 58.3gFiber: 3.4gSugar: 41.1gProtein: 5.8g