Chocolate Coffee Layer Cake
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.
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 years— 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.
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.
The cake is a simple and super moist chocolate sour cream cake. The coffee buttercream is a bit labor-intensive but well worth the effort— 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!
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.
- I baked this cake in two 8-inch by 3-inch pans. If your cake pans aren’t 3 inches deep, use three or more cake pans to avoid overfilling them.
- 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
For the chocolate cake:
- ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (65 grams)
- ⅔ cup sour cream (150 grams)
- 1 ¼ cup hot coffee or water (296 ml)
- 2 ⅔ cup all-purpose flour (320 grams)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ¼ cup unsalted butter , at room temperature (280 grams)
- 1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar (215 grams)
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar (300 grams)
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the coffee buttercream:
- 1 ½ cup granulated sugar (300 grams)
- ⅓ cup flour (40 grams)
- 1 ¼ cup whole milk (295 ml)
- ⅓ cup heavy cream (80 ml)
- 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
- 1 ½ cups unsalted butter , at room temperature and cubed (340 grams)
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the ganache:
- 8 ounces dark chocolate , chopped or use chips (227 grams)
- ¾ cup unsalted butter , cubed (170 grams)
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
To make the chocolate cake:
- Preheat oven to 325°F. Line two 8-inch by 3-inch round cake pans (see Note) with parchment paper and grease with non-stick cooking spray or coat with butter and flour.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa, sour cream and hot coffee or water until smooth. Set aside to cool.
- In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- If your cake pans aren't 3 inches deep, it's best to use 3 or more cake pans.
- If desired, top with chocolate covered coffee beans for decoration.
96 Comments on “Chocolate Coffee Layer Cake”
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!
This is so gorgeous, Annalise!! It definitely looks perfect for a birthday.
I am loooooove with this! Dang!
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.
Another one I’m going to try soon.
Have mercy. Seriously, you are amazeballs!
This looks delicious and so pretty too! Pinned.
Annalisa my birthday is December 24th I’d love this very cake. Thank you!;)
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!
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 🙂
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!
Ack! Thanks for catching my goof. I’ve fixed the recipe. (it’s 1/3 cup flour)
I have been waiting for this recipe. I fell in love with it on Instagram.
Thanks Meagan! You’ll have to let me know what you think if you give it a try!
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!
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!!
What a beautiful cake! Perfect for celebrating a birthday!
What a beautiful birthday cake! I think the funest thing about having a birthday is choosing the cake.
I completely agree!!
Ahem…SOMEBODY has a birthday next week and would really, really love this cake delivered to her door. Just sayin’. Gorgeous.
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.
WOW! What a cake! Completely beautiful and I cannot wait to make this for my husband too!
I don’t see when to add the espresso powder for the buttercream. Will you please clarify when to add it? Thanks!
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!
Just made this cake for my mother’s birthday and it turned out absolutely delicious! Thank you so much for this wonderful recipe!!!
This cake is GOR-GEOUS! I cannot wait to make it. It is a stunner!
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!
I divided the mixture and after 45 mins it is no where near baked and has risen too much – what have a done wrong!!!!!
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?
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.
Us Too! Just baked in 2 8″ pans and a significant amount of batter ended up on the oven floor? but the cake is deliciously dark and devil’s food-like. Can’t wait to assemble!
@melissa I think I will use 9″ pans next time as well. I had extra batter as well?
But the cake turned out fantastic and was delicious!!!
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.
Granulated sugar, and either light or dark brown sugar.
Do we need to moisten the cake with any syrup?
If yes, then how?
Nope, there’s no syrup in this recipe.
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.
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!
So happy to hear that it turned out so well! Thanks for the comment!
Wow, this cake looks amazing! 🙂 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?
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!
Thank you so much for your help! 🙂
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! 🙂
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?
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.
Thanks! This cake is amazing, it’s my second time making it. I also love your clear, concise directions! Thanks so much!
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!
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!
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!
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?
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. =)
The recipe from baked explorations calls for three eight inch pans. Yours calls for two with the same amount of ingredients.
You can use either 2 or 3 depending on desired end result. I decided to use only 2 because it’s easier to assemble.
This cake is definitely a three pan recipe. The blogger is out to lunch on it working in two pans. It made a huge mess of my oven (others had the same issue). Unfortunately I took the blogger’s word and didn’t read the comments. Big mistake!
Agree with you here. It should call for 3 pans up at the top. Made a huge mess of my oven and the cakes sunk. Unfortunate. Will try again this evening using 3 pans.
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!
How far ahead can I make each of the components in this cake? Can I assemble the cake the night before?
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.
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!
I have made this cake several times and it’s always a hit! Your frosting recipe has become my go-to recipe, with or without the espresso. Have you ever tried drizzling in cooled melted chocolate to make chocolate frosting? Does it work?
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!
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!
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!
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 🙂 Would you recommend making the buttercream the day of?
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!
Very helpful! Thanks so much!!
Sorry, one more amateur question! Natural or Dutch process cocoa powder??
This recipe looks Devine! This will be the first cake I ever make. Is it worth going for it or will
I mess up?
Hi Aisha! It’s completely up to you if you want to try this recipe. 🙂 The cake itself is pretty basic, but the frosting is a little unusual. If you’d like something easier, you can try this easy fudge buttercream frosting.
I’d like to convert this to Cupcakes? Has anyone done this before? Are there any things to note?
You should be able to bake cupcakes with this recipe just fine. You’ll probably yield 24-36 (I haven’t tried it so I don’t know for sure). Follow all the same instructions, but fill greased or lined cupcake tin no more than 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees F for 12-15 minutes. Hope this helps!
The recipe was just what I was looking for to use up some leftover coffee. But my kitchenaid wasn’t big enough and I had what looked like a liquid chocolate massacre. Cleaned that up and while I KNEW I should have used more then 2- 8″ pans I didn’t listen to myself. Overflow all over the oven. This was a huge disaster and ended up with a big mess even in the trash can. It didn’t work for me….Sorry
Followed the recipe using grams and it didn’t turn out for me. The cakes sunk in the middle and when trying to remove them from pans they crumbled. But it tastes great.
Hi Iv! I’m sorry to hear that this recipe didn’t work for you. And crumbled cakes are the worst! Did you prepare the cake pans properly before baking? I have a little tutorial here.
My buttercream split!! I brought it back by mixing in a few tablespoons of the ganache but any idea how I managed that?
I just made it and waiting for the cake to chill after putting on the crumb layer. Then I can decorate it with another layer of frosting. One thing I notice is that the frosting gets very warm (sort of melty) very fast. I have to keep chilling it then beating it to warm it up before I can decorate. But by the time I’m doing the second row (doing ruffles), it starts to melt and droop down. Had to remove it and smooth it out so I can redo it.
Other than that, the frosting is delish! Not too sweet and very creamy and flavorful. Yum
I made this buttercream tonight & frosted my chocolate cake with it. You called it dreamlike, how about heavenly too? It’s creamy, light, decadent& so so coffeely delicious! I couldn’t stop eating! It stood firm for hours too.
Thank you so much for this recipe, this is definitely my most favourite ermine buttercream.
oh no I just put my cakes in the oven and realized that I forgot to add the 1 cup of brown sugar!!! How badly will this affect the cake?
Just made this cake for my husband as it’s valentines day, very pleased how it has turned out, husband is very impressed, thank you xxx
This looks delicious. Cannot wait to try making it tonight!
What can i do to transport this for a friend who lives about an hour and half away ?
For best results when transporting a cake, first chill it completely. I also like to put it in a box or a cake container to keep anything from brushing up against it. Then put it on a flat surface in your car, either on the floor or in a trunk. Finally, drive a little more carefully, you don’t want to take a turn to fast and send it flying. Hope this helps!
Thank you ! I did exactly that and followed the recipe step by step keeping in mind all the pointers you have given above! It turned out amazing and everyone loved it 🙂
Yay! So happy to hear you all loved the recipe!
This dude helped me make the frosting! Hope it’s ok I share his link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EA9PT3UGfSY
I used a different chocolate cake recipe but made this frosting and ganache. It was definitely a tasty combination and turned out well. This frosting is a lot of steps and took a long time. Granted I was going back and forth in tasks, but in the end it took me nearly 3 hours! Even the part about having to add 3 sticks of butter, incorporating 1 tablespoon at a time takes awhile. And no question after all that time beating, I stuck it back into the refrigerator for about 20-25 minutes to stiffen it back up. The coffee and chocolate combo was a huge hit. The end result was beautiful and tasted delicious, but I just don’t think I would make it again because it took so long.
Saturday will make the third year in a row my coffee snob son has chosen this for his birthday cake.
Would it be possible to substitute honey or maple syrup for the corn syrup?
Sure, or just leave it out altogether. It’s mostly there to make the ganache extra glossy and smooth.
I have had the same issue with the mixture overflowing the cake tins – what a waste of cake batter! I’m gutted as have spent ages on this getting it perfect. Should have read the comments before starting to bake!
Great recipe! I made this for my birthday, and my husband, who does not like cakes because they are too sweet, went absolutely crazy for this one. The coffee flavour is perfect. He likes it so much that he’s bringing the leftover cake to work to share with his friends. The recipe is clear and easy to follow. Definitely a keeper. Thanks!
I just made this for my husband’s birthday as he requested something with chocolate and coffee. It was a hit! Absolutely delicious! A little time consuming, but not a difficult recipe for an amature like me and totally worth the time. Of course, mine wasn’t nearly as pretty as the pictures here, but this recipe is a keeper!
Can I make this the night before to serve the next day? Do I need to refrigerate? Can I make this if I don’t have a stand mixer with paddle attachment?
Yes, this cake can be made ahead and stored in the fridge. And if you don’t have a stand mixer, I would recommend a hand-held electric mixer. Beating by hand is a lot of work, but also possible.
I made this cake for my daughter’s birthday and it’s turn out delicious. Only one difficulty I had with buttercream after clone crumble coat I kept cake and buttercream both in freeze to keep it chilled but buttercream turn out curdle/grainy while I was doing final coat. So I made another buttercream and that also after an hour when I was finished the cake started curdled. Both times it turn out nice but after an hour it started curdled. Any idea why it’s happened? I have throw it in bin 1st time but 2nd one I have kept in fridge so I can try to fix it again so it can be helpful in future.
My daughter is a coffee and dark chocolate lover so she was very very happy to had that.Thank you very much for sharing this wonderful recipe and I will try again also.
I baked this for a friend’s birthday and it was so delicious! I didn’t get to eat an actual slice of cake, but I felt like the taste of the coffee buttercream really enhanced the moist and dense cake! Thank you for sharing the recipe. I don’t like chocolate cake, but this really made me look at chocolate cakes differently.
Also, I ran out of unsalted butter by the time I came to the ganache, and so I used heavy cream and dark chocolate instead. I don’t know if it changed the taste, but still worked great!