A classic three-layer chocolate cake recipe, with moist chocolate cake and a creamy ganache filling and frosting.
If you’re anything like me, you’re forever searching for that perfect, basic chocolate cake recipe, the one you can stack into impressive layers (without it falling apart) and lavish with creamy frosting.
This cake is the one!
It bakes to a fine, moist crumb with an old-fashioned taste that’s a little bit devilish, and the layers are iced in an ultra-creamy chocolate ganache.
In my book, milestones are always better when accompanied by some form of chocolate.
And cake. Of course.
So, why not just whip up a chocolate cake from a mix? It’s easy and foolproof, after all.
In my opinion, a homemade cake not only tastes much better, it also has that personal touch that comes from the heart, making each bite that much more special.
Plus when you make a cake from scratch, you’re in total control of the ingredients that go into it.
That includes everything from the flour, sugar, butter, eggs and perhaps most importantly in a chocolate cake — the chocolate!
What kind of chocolate do you need to make chocolate cake?
You’ll need two different kinds of chocolate to make the cake recipe. The chocolate ganache frosting is made with just heavy cream and chocolate.
To boost the flavor in the cake, I used both unsweetened cocoa and chopped bittersweet chocolate for the best chocolate experience.
- Cocoa: This recipe uses the most readily available kind — Dutch-processed cocoa — which just means that alkali is added to the unsweetened powder to neutralize the acidity of the cocoa. This results in a rich, dark color and a smooth flavor.
- Bittersweet chocolate: Dark (bittersweet) chocolate is defined by its cacao content. It has a higher percentage than semisweet chocolate, anywhere from 70 to 100 percent, and a bit less sugar as well.
Do you like your cake on the slightly sweeter side? You can use a good semisweet chocolate in this cake instead.
One thing you don’ t want to skimp on is the chocolate. For the best flavor and texture, be sure to use a good chocolate quality one (please, not chocolate chips!).
High quality chocolate is available in blocks, bars or smaller chunks or wafers for baking.
If your chocolate is in the form of a bar, you can use a sharp heavy knife to slice it into small pieces, although I sometimes just smack the wrapped bar on the counter to break it up easily.
Tips for making perfect chocolate birthday cake:
- Quickly bring eggs to room temperature by immersing them in a bowl of very hot water for 15 minutes.
- You’ll need three 8 x 2-inch cake pans to make the layers.
- The baked cakes easily release from the pans as long as they’re brushed with butter and the bottoms are lined with parchment paper.
- Trim a very thin layer off the tops of the cakes before icing if you prefer to make them flat.
- A small offset spatula is a great inexpensive tool for easily spreading icing on cakes.
How to make a parchment liner for cake pans:
Three Layer Chocolate Birthday Cake with Chocolate Ganache
Yield 12 or more servings
An essential homemade chocolate cake recipe, with a moist tender crumb and perfect deep chocolate flavor and a creamy ganache frosting.
This is the cake to make for family birthdays, as well as for other special occasions that require cake!
- For Cake:
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process)
- 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 2 cups boiling water
- 2 ¾ cups (380 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
- 4 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
For Chocolate Ganache Topping:
- 1 pound (450 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- Pinch of salt
- 2 cups heavy cream
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 3 8-inch cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper.
- Put the cocoa powder and chocolate in a heatproof bowl and pour the boiling water over. Stir until smooth and let cool.
- Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.
- In a heavy-duty mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes on medium-high speed. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture in 3 separate additions, alternating with the cocoa mixture.
- Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans. Bake 30 - 35 minutes, shifting the pans from front to back halfway through, until the tops of the cakes spring back when touched in the center. Cool in the pan 20 minutes, then gently turn out and cool completely on a rack. The cakes can be made up to 2 days ahead - wrap in plastic and store at room temperature.
- To make the ganache topping, put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl with the salt. Bring the cream to a boil then pour over the chocolate. Let stand for 10 minutes, then stir until the chocolate melts and the ganache is completely smooth. Cool to room temperature, until it's thickened to a spreadable consistency.
- To assemble the cake, spread the cooled ganache over the top of each layer, spreading to the edges. Stack the cakes on a plate and spread the top and sides with more ganache to cover the cake.
- The cake will be have an even better texture if the layers are wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature, for one day before frosting and serving.
- If you're in a hurry to frost the cake, stick the ganache in the fridge for 15 minutes or so to cool and thicken it faster.
- Semisweet chocolate can be substituted in both the cake batter and ganache.
- To store the cake, cover lightly with plastic wrap and store at cool room temperature up to 3 days. In warmer climates, store in the fridge and bring to room temperature before serving.
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Hi there! I’m Karen, a mother of two and a professionally trained cook certified in holistic nutrition.
As the recipe developer, photographer and publisher of Familystyle Food, I share recipes and tips for making easy seasonal meals that are healthy and flavorful.
Have a question or feedback? Get in touch or leave me a comment below — I love hearing from you!