Chocolate Espresso Cake

Prep 20 mins
Cook 22 mins
Add'l 20 mins
Total 1 hr 2 mins

Whoever said you can’t have it all never tried this Chocolate Espresso Cake! Layers of rich espresso chocolate cake are wrapped with a beautiful fluffy espresso buttercream to create this incredibly indulgent treat. This cake is extra moist, perfectly dense with a soft crumb, and holds up wonderfully to the sweet and strong espresso buttercream.

A chocolate layer cake is presented on a white plate with a small cup of espresso next to it.

Chocolate Espresso Cake

Indulgent doesn’t even begin to cover it, y’all. This chocolate espresso cake is rich with deep chocolate and espresso flavors with fluffy, yet dense cake layers and a thick homemade buttercream that will undoubtedly have you licking the spoon. Oh, and you can’t forget to decorate it with sweet chocolate syrup and espresso beans, if desired! And let’s face it – that’s definitely desired.

Instead of snagging the usual birthday cake from the store for my hubby this year, I’m HIGHLY considering making this chocolate espresso cake instead. He’s a big fan of espresso, and while I’m not even a huge coffee fanatic like he is, I can’t stop myself from enjoying a big slice of this cake! The way that the chocolate and espresso flavors meld together is crazy delicious, and honestly, better than any store-bought birthday cake I’ve ever had. Even if you’re not a “coffee person,” trust me – you’ll love this sweet, decadent treat.

My favorite part of any cake is always the ice cream, but with this cake, it’s actually difficult to make that distinction! While the buttercream is spoon-licking good, each layer of soft homemade chocolate espresso cake is also downright delicious. I know what you might be thinking, too. A cake this perfect in every way and so picturesque must be a hassle, right? No! From start to finish, this layer cake takes under an hour to whip up. This is an easy recipe that always impresses – the best of both worlds!

The ingredients for chocolate espresso cake are placed on a gray surface.

Ingredients

For the cake layers, you’ll need:

  • All-Purpose Flour
  • Cocoa Powder
  • Instant Espresso Powder – This isn’t the same thing as instant coffee! Double check the label and make sure it’s espresso powder.
  • Baking Powder
  • Baking Soda
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Granulated Sugar
  • Dark Chocolate – It’s important to use dark, not semi sweet or milk chocolate. It helps create that divine rich flavor that makes this cake so irresistible.
  • Unsalted Butter – Do NOT use salted! The pinch of salt that the cake calls for is enough to enhance the other flavors. Salted butter will make this cake salty, which you absolutely don’t want.
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Eggs – It’s best if the eggs are room temperature.

The buttercream will need:

  • Instant Espresso Powder
  • Water
  • Unsalted Butter – Make sure it’s softened and room temperature, or your buttercream will wind up lumpy.
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Salt – Just a pinch!
Dry ingredients are being whisked in a white mixing bowl.

How to make a chocolate espresso cake

Prepare. To make chocolate cake, preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three, 8-inch round cake pans and line bottom with a round piece of parchment paper cut to fit bottom of your cake pans. (This ensures your cake does not stick.) Set aside.

Mix the dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, instant espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Wet ingredients have been mixed together in a metal pot.

Boil and stir. In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, combine water and sugar. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and add chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally, until melted.

Whisk. Whisk in vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Quickly beat in eggs (do this quickly so they don’t cook) into chocolate mixture until combined. Whisk in dry ingredients, until smooth.

Three cake pans are filled with uncooked batter.
Three baked cake are presented on cooling racks.

Bake. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and bake for 20 to 23 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool. Let cakes cool in pans until cool to touch – then frost as desired.

Sticks of butter and cups of vanilla extract and espresso are placed around a bowl of powdered sugar.

How To Make Espresso Frosting

Whisk. For espresso buttercream, in a small bowl, whisk together espresso powder and water. Set aside.

Beat. Beat butter on medium high, for 3 minutes. Slowly add in powdered sugar, about a half a cup at a time, until you have added 5 cups of powdered sugar.

Buttercream is being mixed in a white bowl.

Combine. Carefully add vanilla extract, pinch of salt, and espresso powder/water mixture, beating till well combined.

Check the consistency. At this point check consistency of buttercream. You should be able to lift beaters and have buttercream hold its shape. If it is too loose, add more powdered sugar, again 1/2 cup at a time.

Icing is spread over a later of chocolate cake.

Assemble. Assemble three cake layers with a thick layer of frosting in between layers. Then apply a thin crumb coat on top and sides. Pop cake in freezer to harden crumb coat for about 10 minutes.

Decorate. This is the fun part! Apply one final thick and even layer around outside of cake and decorate as desired.

A gorgeous chocolate espresso layer cake is topped with chocolate syrup and more icing with espresso beans.

Tips For The Best Chocolate Espresso Cake

  • Use a high-quality cocoa powder and dark chocolate for the best tasting cake. 
  • Let the cake cool completely before decorating, otherwise, the icing will melt. The cake layers can be made a day before adding the frosting.
  • Use room temperature eggs to help the cake rise better.
  • If you’re looking for extra protection in your cake pans, flour the edges of each pan after you’ve buttered them and/or add a circle of parchment paper to the bottom. There’s will guarantee your cake will not stick!
  • After you’ve finished decorating the cake, allow it to set in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
A slice of cake is on a small white plate.

How long will this cake stay fresh?

This cake is so good I doubt you’ll have any leftovers, but if you do, cover the cake with a lid or plastic wrap and keep it in your fridge. It should stay fresh for up to 3 days.

You can freeze chocolate cake as well. Bake the cake layers as normal, wrap them individually in plastic wrap once cooled, and freeze for up to 3 months. A frosted cake will last just as long when kept covered in the freezer. To thaw, leave it in the fridge overnight and serve cold.

Chocolate buttercream can be made up to 4 days in advance. Store it in an airtight container in the fridge, then let it sit at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours before using. You can also freeze the buttercream for up to 3 months.

CAN I MAKE THIS CAKE IN TWO LAYERS?

Absolutely! Butter two 8-inch round cake pans instead before baking. Divide the batter evenly in both cake pans, filling to about half-full in each. The baking time may need to be extended to 30-35 minutes.

Looking For More Impressive Cakes?

A slice of cake is being removed from the cake itself.

Head on over to Dixie Crystals to get the full recipe I developed for them by clicking the button below:

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Welcome!

Jessica
I'm a trial & error, self taught, sugar addict who thankfully learned how to survive in the kitchen! I am also a wife, mama of 3.
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