Filed under: Cakes / Layer cakes
August 1, 2021

Black Cocoa Cake

Rich chocolate cake that's not overly sweet. Black cocoa adds smoky, earthy notes to this wonderfully tender layer cake. 

5 from 42 votes
Yield: 12
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black cocoa cake

 

black cocoa cake

The darkest cake, ever. 

A long, long time ago (ok, it was like two years but a lot has happened since) I made a chocolate cake with a chocolate mascarpone buttercream and used some black cocoa in it. I remember thinking the cake was lovely in person and I tried taking photos of it but felt they were just meh but the cake was gone and I had no other content one evening, so I posted it.  It soared past anything I had done before then on IG (it continues to get a lot of attention on Pinterest) and it was all because of the color: it was black. 

When I reposted it, I got a slew of messages asking for the cake recipe (not just the buttercream) which wasn’t mine. And it’s always bothered me that: a. The cake didn’t use black cocoa like the buttercream and b. The cake recipe wasn’t one of my own creations. It’s not like I don’t have a go-to chocolate cake recipe which I love even more than that one, I just hadn’t used it that particular day. 

So it’s time to set this right with my own recipe for a cake that is 100% made with black cocoa. And because black cocoa is devoid of fat (more on that in a bit) full fat kefir/buttermilk ensures the cake is still ultra-tender, the way all cakes should be. 

 

What is black cocoa and why make a black cocoa cake? 

You are likely more familiar with black cocoa than you think; it’s the cocoa that’s used to make your favorite chocolate sandwich cookies: oreos! It’s a rare and special kind of cocoa because of the drama it adds to any baked good; turns it completely black. Truly,the color is wonderful but black cocoa is so much more than it’s color! 

It’s earthy, smokey and tastes different than other cocoas. Because it’s ‘double dutched’ (alkalized) it’s got some almost bitter notes to it. When you use it in baking it really balances out the sweetness coming from the sugar (which in turn, is necessary for texture and structure and why I always ask you not to reduce it). 

 

Kefir and buttermilk for Black Cocoa Cake

By now you know how much I love using buttermilk in my recipes, it makes the bake taste tangy and less one-dimensional but more than that it is responsible for a tender cake. Kefir, like buttermilk, is also a cultured milk, but where buttermilk is fermented with just lactic acid bacteria, kefir is fermented with several kefir grains (colonies of bacteria). They taste fairly similar and their consistency is similar as well. 

While I’ve used it for years to make things like pancakes and waffles for the girl’s breakfast (it’s a great way to get them those healthy probiotics), I have begun using kefir frequently in place of buttermilk lately for a few reasons: 

  • I can find it in full fat more frequently, whereas I only find low fat buttermilk in my area.
  • It lasts longer than buttermilk; a few months compared to a few weeks. 
  • It is tangier and creamier; so everything I love about buttermilk and more! 

 

In this cake specifically I use full fat kefir because of the lack of fat from the black cocoa. The tangy taste also pairs nicely with the muted sweetness of black cocoa. 

 

black cocoa buttercream

Ingredients for black cocoa cake

  • Cake or all purpose flour: for a more tender and soft cake you can use cake flour, however it will be a little harder to frost (you can freeze it for a bit before you frost to make it easier). 
  • Black cocoa: If you cannot find it and still crave a rich chocolate cake, this can be turned into a dark chocolate cake simply by using dutch process cocoa. 
  • Kefir: the acidity of kefir balances the ph out in the cake and the fat compensates for the lack of fat in black cocoa. If you cannot find kefir, you can use full fat buttermilk or thinned out full fat greek yogurt. In a pinch you can use low-fat.
  • Chocolate: I add melted chocolate to the buttercream to give it a richer chocolate taste but also to smooth it out. Since the cake itself is not very sweet I used a semi-sweet chocolate (55% cocoa solids) but you can use what you like. 

 

Tips for frosting black cocoa cake 

  • Make the buttercream ahead of time and let it sit at room temperature 
  • The cooler the cakes are, the easier they will be to frost. I set mine in the freezer for about an hour before I frost. 
  • Buttercream temperature matters: if the buttercream is cold it won’t spread or pipe nicely, if it’s too warm it will make a mess. If you make it early, keep it refrigerated until an hour or two before you are going to use it. 

Recipe for Black Cocoa Cake 



Black Cocoa Cake

Rich, moist & fluffy chocolate cake made with black cocoa. Covered in a black cocoa buttercream.
black cocoa cake
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yields: 12
5 from 42 votes

Ingredients

Black Cocoa Cake Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature (226g)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar 420g
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 ½ cups cake flour 325g
  • 1 cup black cocoa 85g
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ½ cups full-fat kefir or buttermilk 350g

Black Cocoa Buttercream Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups unsalted butter at room temperature (3 sticks, or 330g)
  • cup black cocoa 28g
  • 3 ½ cups organic powdered sugar sifted (455g)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 113 g semi-sweet chocolate optional

Method

How to make black cocoa buttercream

  • Beat the butter with the vanilla and salt for 1 minute. Add the cocoa and powdered sugar and beat it until smooth. If adding the chocolate, heat it in the microwave until mostly melted then stir until smooth. Once it’s cool, stir it into the buttercream. If not using the chocolate, add milk or heavy cream until the buttercream is smooth (about 2-3 tablespoons). Set aside, in an airtight container or covered with plastic wrap.

How to make black cocoa cake

  • Preheat the oven to 325. Grease and flour two tall 8” or 9″ round cake pans.
  • Beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla and salt until light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes.
  • Add the eggs, one by one, allowing each to beat fully before adding another. Once all the eggs are in, beat for another 2 full minutes.
  • Sift in the cocoa, baking soda and flour and with the mixer on, pour the kefir in and mix until the batter is fully incorporated (scrape the bottom a few times to make sure nothing got stuck and didn’t blend). Avoid overbeating this once the flour is in the batter or the cake will come out tough.
  • Bake the cakes for 40-45 minutes, until a cake tester turns out clean or you can press the surface of the center of the cake and it springs back.
  • Let the cakes cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then flip them onto a wire rack to fully cool. Transfer to the freezer, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for an hour or more.
  • Frost the cakes when they are cold.

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Recipe Reviews




  1. I need to make this gluten free. I have a nice quality gf flour, but what would be the ratio since I would not be using cake flour?

  2. 5 stars
    This is now our go-to birthday cake recipe! Just made it for my daughter for the second year in a row and we devoured it again. I covered it with a cream cheese frosting for Oreo vibes and it was a hit!

    Also I forgot to pick up buttermilk at the store so I subbed with 50/50 whole milk and plain yogurt and it still turned out great!

  3. I want to make this recipe. I just wanted to check what you mean by tall 8 inch pans. I haven’t measured mine, but I know they’re not as deep as some they sell.

  4. I am having trouble finding black cocoa at my local grocery store so am having to order online. Is there a brand you recommend?

  5. This is the best cake! one question though, the first couple of times I made it, the icing turned out perfectly black. now it’s gray. what am i doing wrong?

    • Hi! It could be a few things: over-whipping the buttercream which would lighten the butter and thus the frosting, skipping the added melted chocolate usually makes it darker, but also the cocoa brand (or the brand you use might’ve changed their ‘recipe’).

  6. Hi Sam, thanks for the quick response. I’ll definitely check my oven, but I haven’t had any issues recently so I don’t know if that would account for it entirely. The cake pans were a thin metal too. I noticed in one of your comments below that you said to half fill the cake pans and mine were probably 3/4 full before I popped them into the oven, I think next time I’ll fill halfway and see if that works. Thanks!

  7. Hi Sam, I used this exact recipe (except I couldn’t find full fat kefir, so I used low fat) and I spread it across (3) 6 inch cake pans. After 50 minutes of baking it was still completely raw through the center and then caved in after I took them out of the oven (I didn’t realize how raw the center was initially). I was worried the outside parts were going to get over baked, but perhaps I should’ve left it in for another 15 minutes or so? The cake tins were quite deep, but the cake did start to rise over the edge during baking. Do you think I should’ve just made 3/4 of this recipe or baked for a lot longer? The cake is so delicious, so I’d love to try it again. Thanks for any tips.

    • Hi Lindsey, sorry you had trouble baking the cakes! I wonder if there’s something off with your home oven? I’m thinking that any 6″ cake at 325 should be done baking by 50 minutes. My own oven is often off so I have another thermometer in there to double check the temperature, you might want to get one and test the oven to see what’s going on. The only other thing I can think of is the cake pan material, was it a thin metal? If it were something like ceramic, those tend to take a longer to heat.

  8. I am looking to make this cake here in a few days for may husbands 40th birthday but can’t find any whole milk kafir or whole milk buttermilk. Any other suggestions or tips on how to mix full fat yogurt to make something similar? I did find a Karoun yogurt drink at a small Indian store but not sure how is compares. Thanks!

  9. I’ve been waiting for an all-black-cocoa recipe! Can’t wait to make this for my DIL and teen grandkids. I’ll probably make it as a one layer–the simpler, the better. Next up…please create an all-or-mostly black cocoa cookie! Maybe a choc butter cookie would be able to balance out the dryness? Thank you! Amy

  10. 5 stars
    My husband made this cake for my birthday and it was without a doubt the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had. He used the mascarpone icing instead of the buttercream and we really loved how smooth and rich it was. For those having issues with the color, I would try the King Arthur black cocoa that you can get on Amazon. That’s what we used and the cake and icing were both a deep black. I’d like to make these again as cupcakes to make for easy transportation and sharing. How would the baking time change for cupcakes and is there anything else in the recipe that would need to be altered?

  11. 5 stars
    This cake is DIVINE. It’s the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had – and really easy to make, too!

  12. 5 stars
    Made the black cocoa cake with the Raspberry Curd recipe and some swiss meringue buttercream and it was so delicious!!

  13. 5 stars
    Made this recipe for my birthday. The cake is ultimately soft. I would have loved darker colour in the sponge. I did make this recipe as 75% by weight in 6” tins. Not sure if that has an effect.

  14. THANK YOU!
    They have Lindt here so i will do that – does it matter if its dark or milk? so long as its 70%?

  15. Hi there!
    One more question on the semi-sweet chocolate – what brand do you recommend? I am seeing bakers chocolate online as ‘100% pure semi-sweet chocolate’ would that work? I am in Toronto and would love recommendations on what brand/product works best!
    Thanks so much

    • So semi-sweet would be something that’s like 55% cocoa solids. I think the best place to find chocolate is in the candy aisle at the grocery store, some brands I like: Tony’s, Endangered Species, Beyond Good, or even Lindt (for Lindt I’d go to 70% cocoa solids as their bars are rather creamy).

  16. 5 stars
    Made the sponge part of this recipe today for an Oreo cake with some standard vanilla buttercream frosting and it turned out DELICIOUS. I really love the tanginess that comes from using kefir.

  17. Hi there, this cake looks incredible and I am very excited to make it:) Quick question: do you know what % of fat ‘full-fat’ keifer is? Apologies but upon googling i can’t seem to find a consistent definition. Would love to know the specs of the product you use (i.e. 1%, 2%). I am in Canada so will try to find an equivalent. Thanks so much!!

  18. 5 stars
    What a gorgeous cake. Normally black in cooking/baking is a little off-putting, but there was something so rich about the color and the taste lived up to the same expectation. I made it for my son’s birthday and he absolutely loved it. I may make it again this year!

  19. HELP!
    I have made black cocoa cakes before that turned out gorgeous. The cake recipe here is amazing. But the frosting, which was followed to a T is NOT the same color as the frosting in these photo’s…it’s like a dark grey and matte. I know how to make buttercream frosting and not sure what happened. Please help with some pointers as I have now made this 2 days ahead of Thanksgiving.
    Best Regards,
    Portia

    • Hi Portia, did you add the chocolate? That usually smooths it out so that it’s shiny and dark colored. If it tastes good and smooths over, I wouldn’t worry too much about the color. Color variations are usually due to the cocoa brand.

  20. 5 stars
    Chocolate cakes can often be dry, but this one was beyond delicious and moist. The depth of flavor is fantastic. This has become my go to chocolate cake recipe

  21. 5 stars
    I made this a while back, and it came out so well! So beautifully earthy and luscious. I did, however, use oil instead of butter. Mine turned out well, but I highly suggest that you follow Sam’s recipe before you embark on your own experiment.

  22. 5 stars
    This cake was so yummy! Had a great black color and texture was very good. I baked it as a sheet cake in a metal 13×9 pan. Was good to take out of the oven after 45 min. I made the full batch of frosting but had leftovers. I would reduce the frosting amount by a quarter or third if I did a sheet cake again. I also used black cocoa powder from Modern Mountain since it was what I could easily get on Amazon.

    My only possible change for next time would be to add more cocoa powder to the buttercream. It was good but I wish the chocolate flavor was a bit stronger. I didn’t use the semi sweet chocolate in mine so that could have been why.

  23. 5 stars
    This recipe needs 10 stars. Easy to follow, and it’s definitely one of the top 3 best tasting cakes I’ve ever had. Thank you so much Sam for sharing!

    • 5 stars
      I ended up making this recipe as 4 layers with 6 inch pans (I made two smaller cakes). I used buttermilk and King Arthur’s black cocoa in my recipe. The bake times were about the same, I think I left them in for a few minutes longer. The cakes were wonderfully moist and I received so many nice comments from my husband and colleagues who devoured it. I also loved the fact that it wasn’t overly sweet. I personally liked this cake even better than traditional chocolate cake. So happy I came across your Instagram page and recipes. Will definitely be my go-to chocolate cake!

  24. I’m baking right now but they are overflowing in the oven. I was careful with the ingredients , etc and I used 8 inch pans…..

    • Oh no Dina!!! This is so frustrating. I think this might be an issue of the pans being too shallow. When you add the batter to the pans it there should be enough room for the cakes to almost double in size. Hopefully you can catch the extra batter and the cakes will still turn out ok?

  25. 5 stars
    I made this for my sisters 50th and it was amazing! I followed the recipe exactly. Did three cake layers instead of two and added a teaspoon of instant espresso powder in the frosting. It was divine! My husband (who does not prefer chocolate) ate 3 pieces.

  26. 5 stars
    What an excellent chocolate cake! This is my first time using black cocoa and wow does it add lovely chocolate notes to this cake. I paired the cake with your chocolate mascarpone buttercream and it was excellent! Certainly something you could order at a fancy restaurant. Thank you for the recipe!

  27. Very excited to try this cake for an “Oreo” alternative. I’ve previously made your initial black cocoa cake by substituting a portion of the cocoa for black cocoa – it was perfection! Hoping to try this for 2 9” pans, suggestions on proportions?

    • Hi Dema! I don’t have another black cocoa cake 😐 (unless you meant the KAF cake with the mascarpone buttercream…). But yes two 9″ pans will be fine, the layers will be a bit thinner and will bake quicker so I”d check it 10 mins early.

  28. Hello, I tried both recipes the black cocoa one and the blueberry… I put them in the freezer before frosting overnight and the cakes were so very dry…the frostings were amazing… so was it the freezing part that caused them both to be dry?

    • Hi Rose! SO sorry they were so dry =( If you froze them completely covered (plastic wrap and in an airtight container) then I don’t think it was the freezer. Could it be that the flour was overmeasured or that the type of flour was a higher protein content?

  29. 5 stars
    This is the first black cocoa cake recipe I’ve made that wasn’t a crumbly mess. The flavor and texture are perfect! I substituted 1/3 of the butter with oil and it seemed to help the cake to stay moist. The butter definitely helps with the cake’s structure.

  30. Would using vegetable oil keep it moist? If I were to sub would I sub 1 for 1 with butter? I don’t typically sub on recipes but I am very into moist leftover cake LOL

    • Hi Lily, a few people have told me they’ve done it successfully but I haven’t myself. I think if you are using cake flour, measuring everything carefully you won’t have to worry too much about it going dry

  31. Hi- should the eggs be room temp or cold? I’m waiting for my cakes to cool now and color is great but they sank in the middle. My butter may have been too soft, but I also wonder about the egg temp. Thank you!

    • Hi Nancy, I’m so sorry they sank! The eggs ideally would be room temp but it wouldn’t have caused the cakes to sink. Usually cakes sink when there’s an issue with the leavening (here baking soda)/if they were overmixed or if the oven door was opened during baking.

  32. 5 stars
    Recipe is delicious! I bundt’ed it. No change to ingredients or amounts. Almost 50 minute bake time. And I halved the icing.

    • You would thin it out until it’s the consistency of a thick buttermilk or kefir. I’d do 1 cup greek yogurt and 1/2 cup water but add more or less depending on how it changes.

  33. Does the buttercream in these photos have the optional semi-sweet chocolate? I used it and my frosting is much lighter in color. I prefer the visual of black on black and may try leaving it out next time if that is what contributes to your extra dark frosting. The cake was delectable!!

  34. Should the butter be room temp before beating for the cake? Also – planning to make a week in advance and will freeze until needing to frost. I know you said this cake dries out fast – will the freezing prevent the dry out?

  35. Can’t wait to try this recipe! May I ask, why using butter instead of oil? I know a lot of chocolate cakes recipes use oil. From the pictures it looks very tender so I’m guessing it’s to get that texture??

    • Hi Ana, it’s a good question and something I’ve been thinking about actually. The short answer is I began testing this cake based off a recipe that was in one of the cookbooks my mom had when I was a kid (can’t remember the name – it was a little thin thing she got in the grocery store, very forgettable) and that one had butter. I have been thinking about trying to do another oil-based version because this one does dry out in the days after baking. We’ll see!

      • 5 stars
        Made this cake for my birthday. Everyone loved it! It had such a depth of flavor. Thank you for the recipe. It was the best part of my birthday.

    • I think it could all fit in there, it would be a taller 13×9. Bake temp can stay the same but you’ll judge doneness by checking the cake itself (press the top to see if it springs back or use a cake tester). I’d check it first at 25 minutes and go from there