Chocolate Layer Cake with Espresso Buttercream

It happened.  I think I found a chocolate cake recipe I like as much as my go-to Guinness chocolate cupcake recipe.  They are both wonderful but this cake recipe that I am about to share with you from Add A Pinch is SO moist and rich but not dense – perfect for cakes.  It’s sweeter than the version with Guinness in it, but still not overly sweet.  I don’t think this cake recipe would hold up well in a cupcake since it is so fluffy and moist, but perhaps I’ll try one day!

Chocolate Layer Cake with Espresso Buttercream
Chocolate Layer Cake with Espresso Buttercream

I had a family potluck with my mom’s side of the family and volunteered to make the dessert my contribution.  We had 17 people to feed and most of them had sweet tooths.  For big parties, I always try to make two small/medium desserts if time allows – usually one with chocolate and one with fruit – to satiate everyone’s preferences.  In addition to a batch of “Pink Lemonade” (Raspberry Lemon Bars), I made this chocolate layer cake with espresso buttercream.

Family Potluck Game is STRONG
Family Potluck Game is STRONG

The cake was a hit – there were no leftovers to bring home!

Here’s the recipe as adapted from Add A Pinch, along with some tips on assembling your layer cake.


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t espresso powder
  • 1 C milk
  • 1/2 C  vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 1 C boiling water
  • Double the ingredients for this Espresso Buttercream recipe (I used about 1.5x the recipe and it was just enough)

Prep Tip: If you decide to dry-prep (combining all of the dry ingredients the night before to make production easier day-of) the cake, do so without the espresso powder. The first time I made this cake, the espresso powder clumped to itself and then didn’t disintegrate well in the cake batter.

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by spraying with baking spray or buttering and lightly flouring. NOTE: I highly recommend using parchment circles, or making cake circles out of parchment paper.  Put a cake circle at the bottom of the pan after you put baking spray. It’ll help the cake release from the pan after baking.
  2. Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk through to combine or, using your paddle attachment, stir through flour mixture until combined well.
  3. Add milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix together on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed and carefully add boiling water to the cake batter. Beat on high speed for about 1 minute to add air to the batter. NOTE: If you don’t have a splash guard for your stand mixer, put a wet towel (or damp paper towel cut almost completely in half) over the top of the bowl before you turn the mixer back to prevent batter being splashed all over your counter. The batter will seem a bit watery, and that’s totally okay.  I am not used that, but trust me – you’re not doing anything wrong!

    It'll Look More Watery Than You're Used To
    It’ll Look More Watery Than You’re Used To
  4. Distribute cake batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, remove from the pan and cool completely.  Peel your parchment cake circle off both layers.  I usually replace the parchment with a cardboard cake circle just for the bottom layer.
  6. Frost cake with double recipe of Espresso Buttercream.

Layer cake tips:

  • Level your cake layers: If you don’t have a cake leveler, use a bread/cake knife to carefully level out the dome out of your cake layer. It’ll make frosting so much easier and ensure your cake has a flat top.

    Leveling the Cake Layers
    Leveling the Cake Layers
  • Layering:  The tops of your cake layers should face each other inward. In other words, the bottom of one layer should have the cut side facing up, and your top layer should have its bottom facing up.  The flattest sides of both areas should be facing outward.  See below:

    Cake Tops Facing Each Other
    Cake Tops Facing Each Other
  • Crumb coat: This is the first thin layer of frosting you’ll spread around the cake.  This process will catch a lot of the loose crumbs from your cake and it’ll show. Once you get the first layer on, freeze the cake for 20-30 minutes.  The buttercream will harden and hold the crumbs tight. Then you can add a final and smoother layer of frosting without worrying about any unsightly crumbs showing.

    Crumb Coat - Freezer-Ready!
    Crumb Coat – Freezer-Ready!

Kevin is a choco-holic and really liked this cake, so I also made this cake for his family’s birthday celebration potluck with Vanilla Buttercream (to be shared in a later post) this past weekend!

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