Chocolate cake and coffee buttercream come together in this cake worthy of any celebration. Topped with dark chocolate ganache, it’s a guaranteed show-stopper.

Chocolate Coffee Layer Cake

Every year as my husband’s birthday looms closer, I hand him a few of my cookbooks and tell him to pick out the cake he wants. I’ve had mixed success recreating his choices over the yearsโ€” there was this incredible chocolate cola cake with toasted coconut and pecan icing, but there was also this failure of a chocolate peanut butter cake.

Thankfully, this year’s creation goes in the huge success column.

Chocolate Coffee Layer Cake

Steve chose this stunning chocolate coffee layer cake with chocolate ganache from Baked Explorations, one of my favorite baking cookbooks. I don’t know how I’d missed it before.

Chocolate Coffee Layer Cake
Chocolate Coffee Layer Cake

The cake is a simple and super moist chocolate sour cream cake. The coffee buttercream is a bit labor-intensive but well worth the effortโ€” light, creamy and subtly scented with coffee. The ganache is the literal and proverbial icing on the cake, and it ties it all together beautifully and deliciously.

Heavy on the chocolate and light on the coffee, this cake will be loved by everyone, not just coffee lovers.

After dinner and a movie with my husband, we came home and sliced into the cake and oohed and ahhed through every bite. Birthday cake success!

Chocolate Coffee Layer Cake

A few notes about this recipe:

>> When making the cake, it’s very important that you sufficiently cream the butter and sugars together before proceeding. It affects both the rise and texture. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, check out my tutorial on The Creaming Method.

>> The buttercream recipe is a bit unusual at first glance, but it is actually a variation on Swiss or Italian Meringue Buttercream. Butter is whipped into a pseudo pastry cream, creating a frosting that is light and dreamlike.

>> The success of the buttercream is largely determined by the temperature of the butter. It should be at room temperature and soft enough that your finger will leave an imprint when pressed, but not so soft that your finger easily presses through it.

>> If the buttercream is liquidy after you’ve added all the butter, try chilling it in the fridge in 10 minute intervals to stiffen the butter. After 10 minutes, try beating it again. If necessary, chill for another 10 minutes.

>> To create the perfect drips of ganache down the sides, work with small amounts of ganache at a time. Use a small spoon to encourage it over the side in regular intervals (instead of just pouring a lot on and letting it drip down on its own).

>> For more tips and tricks on baking and icing a cake, see my tutorial on How to Build a Layer Cake.

Chocolate Coffee Layer Cake

Chocolate Coffee Layer Cake
Yield: One 8-inch layer cake
For the chocolate cake:
  • ¾ cup (65 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ⅔ cup (150 grams) sour cream
  • 1¼ cup (296 ml) hot coffee or water
  • 2⅔ cup (320 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1¼ cup (280 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (215 grams) brown sugar
  • 1½ cups (300 grams) sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the coffee buttercream:
  • 1½ cup (300 grams) sugar
  • ⅓ cup (40 grams) flour
  • 1¼ cup (295 ml) whole milk
  • ⅓ cup (80 ml) heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
  • 1½ cups (340 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the ganache:
  • 8 ounces (227 grams) dark chocolate, chopped or use chips
  • ¾ cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
To make the chocolate cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line two 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and grease with non-stick cooking spray or coat with butter and flour.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa, sour cream and hot coffee or water until smooth. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  4. In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars together on medium high speed until very light and creamy, scraping the bowl down as necessary, about 5-7 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each. Add the vanilla.
  5. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the cooled cocoa mixture, ending with the flour mixture. Mix until just combined. Divide the batter equally between the prepared cake pans.
  6. Bake, rotating halfway through. until the center of the the cakes bounce back when touched and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, about 40-45 minutes. Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the coffee buttercream:
  1. Whisk together the sugar, flour, milk, heavy cream and espresso powder in a medium saucepan. Set over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is thickened, about 8-10 minutes.
  2. Pour mixture through a mesh strainer into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium high speed until cooled to room temperature, about 10 minutes.
  3. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the cubed butter a tablespoon at a time, letting it become incorporated before adding the next tablespoon. Once all the butter has been added, add the vanilla and beat on high speed until buttercream is thick and creamy. If buttercream is too soft, chill in the fridge for 10 minutes, then try beating again.
To assemble the cake:
  1. If desired, cut the cooled cake layers in half, creating 4 layers. Place the first cake layer on a cake stand or plate. Cover with ¾ cup of the buttercream and top with another cake layer. Repeat.
  2. Cover the layer cake with a thin layer of buttercream to create a crumb coat. Chill cake for 10 minutes to set, then cover with remaining buttercream. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
To make the ganache:
  1. Place the chopped chocolate, cubed butter, and corn syrup in a large heat-proof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir as mixture melts. Once smooth, remove from heat and let cool for about 5 minutes.
  2. Pour about ½ cup of the ganache over the top of the chilled cake, spreading it just to the edge without letting it spill over the sides. Chill 5 minutes. Pour another ½-1 cup of the ganache over the cake, this time pushing it over the sides and letting it drip down. Let cake set for 30 minutes at room temperature or 10 minutes in the fridge before serving.
Note: If desired, top with chocolate covered coffee beans for decoration.

Recipe adapted from Baked Explorations.

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64 Responses to Chocolate Coffee Layer Cake

  1. Wow, this looks absolutely decadent and that frosting looks so light and fluffy – love it. Chocolate and coffee is one of my favorite combos for a dessert!

  2. Deborah says:

    This is so gorgeous, Annalise!! It definitely looks perfect for a birthday.

  3. I am loooooove with this! Dang!

  4. I would be a very happy chappy if i had this for my birthday! Your husband is such a lucky guy for you to go to trouble of making this coffee choc delight.

  5. Bruce says:

    Another one I’m going to try soon.

  6. Have mercy. Seriously, you are amazeballs!

  7. Annalise,
    This looks delicious and so pretty too! Pinned.

  8. Sheila says:

    Annalisa my birthday is December 24th I’d love this very cake. Thank you!;)

  9. I make a similar sour cream chocolate cake that is HEAVEN! I often make it with peanut butter buttercream, but the coffee sounds absolutely amazing! Dying to try this!

  10. This cake truly looks amazing! My family is a huge coffee lover except for me, so this cake will make all of us happy; me thanks to the chocolate part, and them thanks to the subtle coffee flavor!
    Thanks Annalise! And Happy Birthday to your husband ๐Ÿ™‚

    xo, Elisa

  11. Laura says:

    Thinks looks amazing!! Could you check your recipe for the buttercream frosting? it’s missing an ingredient, 1/3 cup of ??????. Thanks!! I’m looking forward to trying this!

  12. I have been waiting for this recipe. I fell in love with it on Instagram.

  13. You can’t go wrong with chocolate and coffee, can you? I’m pinning this so I will have the recipe handy when the need for a special occasion cake arises!

  14. Becky says:

    Wow!!! It turned out incredible!! I love the tradition you have of letting him flip through cookbooks! I’m sure he will ask for this one again!!

  15. What a beautiful cake! Perfect for celebrating a birthday!

  16. What a beautiful birthday cake! I think the funest thing about having a birthday is choosing the cake.

  17. Ahem…SOMEBODY has a birthday next week and would really, really love this cake delivered to her door. Just sayin’. Gorgeous.

  18. Katy Judy says:

    Has anyone tried to print this yet? I have been unable after three trys to get page 2 to print. Printer is running but page doesn’t print. Annoying.

  19. Chels says:

    WOW! What a cake! Completely beautiful and I cannot wait to make this for my husband too!

  20. Meredith says:

    Hi Annalise,

    I don’t see when to add the espresso powder for the buttercream. Will you please clarify when to add it? Thanks!

    • Annalise says:

      Hi Meredith! Thank you for catching my omission and I’m sorry for the goof. You whisk the espresso powder with the flour, sugar, milk and cream before cooking the mixture. I’ve now fixed the recipe. Thanks!

  21. Ashley says:

    Just made this cake for my mother’s birthday and it turned out absolutely delicious! Thank you so much for this wonderful recipe!!!

  22. Bri says:

    This cake is GOR-GEOUS! I cannot wait to make it. It is a stunner!

  23. Elise says:

    Made this for my husband’s birthday this weekend, and it turned out as one of the most delicious and for sure the most beautiful cake I’ve ever made! Everything worked so well. Thank you for this recipe, and for your thorough instructions for us cake beginners!

  24. Christine says:

    I divided the mixture and after 45 mins it is no where near baked and has risen too much – what have a done wrong!!!!!

    • Annalise says:

      The cake layers weren’t baked after 45 minutes? Hmm, not sure what could have gone wrong. Have you double checked to see that you followed the recipe as written?

  25. Melissa says:

    I had too much batter for two 8″ pans (didn’t use all the batter and they still overflowed during baking). I will try using 9 or 10 inch pans next time or use three 8 inch pans. Otherwise, it was outstanding.

  26. Christine says:

    @melissa I think I will use 9″ pans next time as well. I had extra batter as well?

  27. Christine says:

    But the cake turned out fantastic and was delicious!!!

  28. Emma says:

    Hi in your recipe you mention sugar and also brown sugar can you please specify which type of sugar and which type of brown sugar please .im thinking caster sugar and light brown sugar but want to check as I want my sisters birthday cake to be fab.

  29. Najia says:

    Do we need to moisten the cake with any syrup?
    If yes, then how?

    • Annalise says:

      Nope, there’s no syrup in this recipe.

      • Najia says:

        Thanks dear. Actually Nando s in Pakistan serves a similar cake which is very moist and quite irrestible .
        Will definitely try and let u know.
        Keep baking

  30. Hannah says:

    I made this cake for mother’s day, it was a HUGE hit!! People couldn’t believe that I didn’t buy the cake. I have to say, it didn’t look as beautiful as the cake pictured here, but it tasted great!

  31. Jem says:

    Wow, this cake looks amazing! ๐Ÿ™‚ i have been trying to find for a coffee cake for a really long time! My heart dropped when i saw the word ‘8inch pan’ though. Am i able to use a 9 inch or 7 inch pan instead? What adjustments would i have to make?

    • Annalise says:

      Yes, you can certainly use different sized pans. It will change the look of the cake (larger pans will make it shorter, smaller pans will make it taller because you’ll need more of them) and you will need to adjust baking times. I’d just keep an eye on the cakes in the oven, and take them out when they appear domed and dry on top and the center bounces back when gently pressed. Hope this helps!

  32. Catherine says:

    My husbands cousin made your cake for the Christmas party this year. I can still taste this cake!! It was awesome! I’m not a fan of chocolate cake at all, but everyone kept on and on about how good it was so I had to try it. WOW! I will be making one soon. Thanks for sharing your recipe! ๐Ÿ™‚

  33. Sarah says:

    I see that you can freeze the Italian Merigue Buttercream. Would it be possible to freeze this icing as well? I’m making the cake for a Friday evening but won’t have time that day to make it. My plans are to make it on the Sunday prior and assemble on Thursday. Should I freeze the cake and icing or will refrigeration be sufficient?

    • Annalise says:

      Hi Sarah! Yes, most frostings will freeze just fine. Let it thaw in its container to room temperature, then beat until light and creamy. If there’s only a few days between when you’re making the frosting and assembling the cake, you could try just chilling it in the fridge.

      • Sarah says:

        Thanks! This cake is amazing, it’s my second time making it. I also love your clear, concise directions! Thanks so much!

  34. ShariCooks says:

    This cake is delicious, but very time consuming. If I could have made it inside the refrigerator, it would have been perfect. The butter cream is VERY hard to keep at the right cool/cold consistency. It melts quickly. You must keep everything cold. I used 2 9″ pans and had enough for 4 cupcakes left over. The amount of buttercream in the picture was much more than I had, so I’m glad I only did a 2 layer cake. I’m afraid that more than 2 layers would slide if the cake needed to be transported, as mine did, even a 20 min. trip. The butter cream is that slippery. I’d use a little less expresso powder in the butter cream, but if you love coffee, this is a very coffee-intense flavored cake. I assume the straining in step 8 is to remove some of the expresso powder, but I had nothing in my kitchen fine enough to do that, and what’s the point, anyway? I really appreciated the mixer times mentioned. I’m sure I would not have mixed that long, but those times are right on! I’ll make it again when I can take all afternoon and get the room cold!

    • Annalise says:

      Thanks for the feedback Shari! I’m sorry you found the frosting problematic. It is a rather unusual frosting and does do better when it doesn’t get too warm. I always frost my cakes straight from the fridge which helps keep things cold, and is probably why I didn’t have any trouble with the cake layers sliding. Using cold cake layers is a step I do without thinking, but I’ll add a note in the recipe to hopefully avoid any problems in the future.

      The straining of the pastry cream in step 8 is to remove any lumps that may have formed while the mixture is cooking, making sure the frosting is silky smooth. Hope this helps!

  35. Allison says:

    My buttercream ended up more like a butter glaze, but after 6 hours in the fridge it turned out exactly like the one in the picture!

  36. tonya yoder says:

    In your tutorial on how to build a layered cake you mentioned changing the temp and baking time to make a level cake. Have you already done that to this recipe or do i need to change it yet?

  37. Ree says:

    You either over or under-cooked the flour mixture for the butter, or completely over-whipped the buttercream. The solid had begun to separate from the liquid which is why it doesn’t look very appealing and probably didn’t achieve the mouth feel their frosting’s should. This has happened to me. Nonetheless, I’m sure the cake tasted good. =)

  38. Anna says:

    The recipe from baked explorations calls for three eight inch pans. Yours calls for two with the same amount of ingredients.

    • Annalise says:

      You can use either 2 or 3 depending on desired end result. I decided to use only 2 because it’s easier to assemble.

  39. VSmith says:

    On the buttercream….. Rather than being like Swiss or Italian Meringue the buttercream in the above recipe is actually a variation of Ermine icing or frosting. There are no egg whites in the above recipe so no meringue. I love the Ermine buttercreams and the German buttercreams as well. The Ermine buttercream is made with milk and or cream and is thickened like a pudding with flour that then has butter beat in and the German buttercream is a custard with milk and or cream and egg yolks with maybe a little cornstarch and then has butter beat in. Both are delicious!

  40. Jeanne says:

    How far ahead can I make each of the components in this cake? Can I assemble the cake the night before?

    • Annalise says:

      Sure! You can make all the components several days in advance and assemble it 24 hours in advance and store in the fridge. Let come to room temperature 30-60 minutes before serving.

  41. Joey says:

    Hi, I love this recipe but have run into trouble with the coffee buttercream. It tastes heavenly but it’s too thin. And when I put it in the fridge to chill after 10 mins it coagulates. Is it because it came too cold or how shall I thicken the mixture for frosting? Help pls!

  42. Jay says:

    Made this for a friends 40th bday last week and IT was a Huge success!! Your instructions were spot on regarding the frosting and it was easily the best looking and tasting cake I hv ever made!! Thanks!

    • Annalise says:

      I’m so happy to hear the cake turned out so well and that you enjoyed it. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, Jay!

      • Jay says:

        A Quick question.. Which would you recommend -Between this chocolate cake and your sour cream chocolate cake which is easier to make.. This cake was amazing so am wondering if the sour cream one matches in taste or is it better than this? Friends are asking me to make the coffee choc cake again!


  43. Rachel says:

    Cannot wait to make this for my husband’s birthday in a couple weeks! Coffee and chocolate are his favorite things (well, and beer but that has no place near this beautiful cake). 2 questions:

    1. Did you use light or dark brown sugar?

    2. Trying to determine the ideal timing. Based on some of the comments I’m thinking best to make the cake a day ahead and chill so it’s cold when I frost. Not an expert baker so need to give myself every possible advantage ๐Ÿ™‚ Would you recommend making the buttercream the day of?

    • Annalise says:

      Hi Rachel! You can use either light or dark brown sugar per your preference. I almost always use dark brown sugar as that’s what I have stocked in my pantry. And you can bake the cake up to 3 days in advance and store it in the fridge, or up to 2 months in advance and store in freezer (double wrapped). I usually make all my cake layers at least 1 day in advance as it spreads out the workload and ensures my cake layers are cold when I build the cake. I usually make the frosting and assemble the cake the day I plan on serving it. Otherwise you have to bring the frosting to room temp after storing it in the fridge and re-whip it to get it creamy again, so I figure I might as well make it fresh. Hope this is at least a little helpful! Happy almost birthday to your hubby!

  44. Rachel says:

    Sorry, one more amateur question! Natural or Dutch process cocoa powder??

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