Ever since I mentioned my recent birthday, I’ve had a lot of readers asking about my birthday cake.  Those who have been reading for a while know that it is a tradition of mine to bake my own birthday cake.  Those who don’t love to bake have a hard time understanding this.  Wouldn’t I rather have someone else bake it for me?  Or have one from a bakery?  No and no.  When you love to bake as much as I do, half the joy is in the making – the creaming of butter and sugar, the smoothing of batter in cake pans, and most certainly in the silky swirls of frosting.

Normally I spend a lot of time agonizing over what kind of cake I should make, since it’s the one time all year that I make a cake for myself.  But this year was a little different.  Since I knew I was making a cake for a rather large party, I wasn’t thinking as much about what cake I wanted but more what would be most fitting for the party and enough to feed everyone.  In the end I decided on a small three-tiered cake – lemon/lemon, chocolate/chocolate, and red velvet/cream cheese.  There was something for everyone and definitely plenty of cake for everyone.

After all the birthday hoopla was finished, I couldn’t shake the idea of making a cake just for me (well, just our family).  For some reason though, it wasn’t any of the fancy pants cakes or the uniquely flavored cakes I wanted.  All I wanted was a straight up, old fashioned, classic chocolate layer cake.  So that’s what I made.  You just can’t beat a a really good chocolate cake and this is most definitely a good one.  Everyone has their own opinions of what makes an ideal chocolate cake.  Mine is fudgy and has a dense, moist crumb.  I opted to use my beloved chocolate sour cream frosting this time, but I think it would also be stellar with this dark chocolate frosting, depending on your mood (or sometimes, what ingredients you have on hand).


For the cake:
1¼ cups (6¼ oz.) all-purpose flour
1 cup (3 oz.) unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for dusting the pans
2 tsp. instant espresso or coffee powder
1 cup boiling water
½ cup sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1¾ cups (12¼ oz.) sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt

For the frosting: 
9.5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
4 tbsp. unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup plus 1 tbsp. sour cream


  • 01

    To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Butter the edges of 2 9-inch round cake pans and dust with cocoa powder, shaking out the excess.  Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, combine the cocoa powder, espresso powder, and boiling water.  Whisk until smooth; set aside to cool slightly.  When cooled down a bit, whisk in the sour cream and vanilla.  Set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute.  Gradually blend in the sugar and whip on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes more.  Blend in the eggs one at a time.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; whisk to blend.

  • 02

    With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the sour cream mixture, beating each addition just until incorporated.  Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  Bake the cake layers for about 23-27 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, rotating the pans during halfway through to ensure even baking.  Transfer the baked cake layers to a wire rack and let cool in the pans at least 30 minutes before inverting onto the rack to cool completely.

  • 03

    To make the frosting, melt the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Set aside to cool until just barely warm.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.  Gradually mix in the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder and salt.  Beat in the melted and cooled chocolate and then the sour cream.  Continue beating until the mixture is smooth and well blended.

  • 04

    To assemble the cake, place one of the cake layers on a cake board or serving platter.  Spread an even layer of the frosting over the top of the cake.  Top with the second cake layer.  Frost the top and sides of the cake using a thin crumb coat at first.  Place in the freezer for 30 minutes to set.  (While the crumb coat sets, you may want to leave the mixer on low speed with the remaining frosting so that the melted chocolate doesn’t set.  Once the crumb cake is set, frost the top and sides of the cake again using an offset spatula or spoon for a soft, billowy appearance.  Slice and serve.


  • I love this classic! Your frosting looks especially lovely and the cake looks perfectly moist! Great job :)

  • Oh this looks so good! My favorite cake is chocolate/chocolate so I will have to try this. I understand what you mean about baking your own cake – the fun is in the making (and eating) of it.

  • Beth

    I am new to your blog (stumbled across it at 2 a.m. while waiting for hubby to get home from work) and loving it! I’ve been looking at a lot of cake recipes lately as I’m feeling your sentiments regarding baking your own birthday cake – I SO get what you’re saying! Folks don’t get it when I tell them I bake my own cake – I love it, then it’s just what I want, the way that I want it. It’s like it’s my present to me – so Happy Birthday to us! ~Beth

  • Vanessa F.

    Had to smile when I read your post this morning. I, too, have found that baking my own birthday cake is the only way to go these days. My husband has bought me fancy cakes from nearby bakeries for past birthdays, and although I appreciated his effort to give me a break, I’m never satisfied with those fancy cakes. Friends may comment on how sad it is that I have to bake my own cake, but honestly, it’s a little birthday gift I give to myself :) Real ingredients, moist, delicious, and exactly what I want!

  • marcie @ flavor the moments

    This cake reminds me of the sour cream chocolate cakes my mom would make when I was a kid. Yum! If I don’t have time to bake my own birthday cake, it has to come from my favorite bakery. I agree, when you love to bake, and you know exactly what you want, why not bake your own?!

  • Annie Standing

    I totally agree with you about making your own cake! I’ve gone right off shop bought cakes since I’ve been baking myself so I would most definitely not prefer a shop bought cake! Haha, this year I’m planning on making myself a topsy turvy cake! Your cake looks lovely, you really can’t beat classic chocolate! I’m going to try this one as I haven’t found my perfect, go-to chocolate cake yet & I’m hoping this is the one! :D

  • Liz N.

    I will never cease to be amazed at how perfectly your cakes are frosted, cut and photographed. Not a single smear of chocolate frosting on the cardboard base either! Like you, I would much rather make my own birthday cake than purchase one. I made your recipe for the salted caramel chocolate layer cake for my birthday last year and it my favorite. I’m already thinking ahead for this year…

  • Annie @Annie’s City Kitchen

    Those chocolate frosting swirls belong in a cookbook! Gor-geous! And Happy Birthday!

  • The cake is beautiful! There’s nothing better than a good chocolatey cake and frosting.

  • Yeah this looks fantastic, and you bet’cha that you deserved your own birthday cake for your birthday month!! This sounds absolutely sinful and perfect to celebrate the big 3-0!! Happy Birthday again!!!

  • Liz @ Tip Top Shape

    You make the most beautiful cakes. This looks delicious!

  • It looks so yummy, but I strongly dislike sour cream, and generally shy away from recipes involving it. I made David Lebovitz’s peach ice cream, and couldn’t eat it do to the sour cream taste.
    Can you taste the sour cream in the frosting or cake? I know it is suppose to give great texture to cakes, but have been afraid to try it.

  • disqus_IwzuN5fvyD

    one question…why don’t you weigh like 400 pounds…..oh be still my heart….cake.sigh

  • Caroline L.

    Sometimes (most of the time… ok, basically all of the time), you just can’t beat the classics! This looks so scrumptious :)

  • Kendra | apartment302

    Happy Birthday! What a perfect birthday present to yourself! That cake looks divine!

  • Yum! That frosting looks amazing! I was just getting flack a few weeks ago for wanting to make my own birthday cake :)

  • Sarah Bulmer

    I love this Annie. I think you’re at your best when you make the classics. I’m sure it’s the best chocolate cake recipe out there.

  • Jackie Preas

    You have helped me make up my mind as to what to make for my hubby’s birthday in a few days.This looks easy and delicious!Thanks!!!

  • RatCat

    I’m following you from switzerland and I have to say that your cake looks reeeeeeealy good! Thank you for sharing your recipes!

  • Tracy

    Beautiful birthday cake. Sometimes simple is the most rewarding and tastiest.

  • Anything with coffee and chocolate has to be good!

  • Oh my!!! I want a piece of this cake soooo badly!!!!!
    My people like fresher cakes, I myself like more chocolaty cakes.
    I’ve never tried sour cream and cheese cream frosting. Is it more fresh or
    more rich? Is it the kind of cake for people who like “death by
    chocolate” or is it lighter?

  • Adrienne Green

    I love your cake stand! Where did you get it? And do you have to add the espresso powder, would it work without? Thanks for all your amazing recipes! I probably cook from your blog once a week at least!z

  • annieseats

    The cake stand was a gift from my aunt. Don’t skip the espresso powder, it enhances the chocolate flavor. Enjoy!

  • annieseats

    It’s a rich chocolate cake.

  • annieseats

    It tastes like, chocolate cake, not sour cream :)

  • Tiffani T.

    Happy Birthday Annie!! I’m a sugar fiend and a huge fan of frosting so your cake is calling to me right now. That frosting is chocolatey fluffy perfection. My birthday is in two days and people have been asking what they should bake for me but now you’ve inspired me to bake something for myself!! :)

  • Lauren Ochoa

    It’s not my birthday but I don’t care, I’m making this cake for myself anyway! Though I’m sure my husband and kids won’t mind helping themselves to a nice big piece as well. It will be my reward for joining the gym.

  • LinaSweden

    I showed the picture of this cake to my fiancée when you posted it and it was a done deal: I had to make it straight away. And it turned out amazingly! The frosting is to die for and when it’s combined with the coffe flavor of the cake it sailed right into the top five of all cakes I’ve ever had. Thank you so much for the recipe!

  • bloggingpaysbillsdotcom

    That looks Sooo good!! too bad im on a diet!

  • Glenda

    How would you alter the recipe to make a 6 inch cake instead of a 9 inch that you made? Is half the recipe sufficient?

  • annieseats

    I’m not sure exactly, you’ll have to play around and see what works. Good luck!

  • Zach

    haha you’re the only other person besides me that I know of that likes to bake their own birthday cakes! :)

  • Thank you for the feedback!

  • aimee

    I have unsweetened and premium dark chocolate for the icing, which would you use? Or should I have bought semi-sweet?

  • Bridget

    I am looking for alternative cake and frosting recipes to try since I have yet to come across the “perfect” recipe. Would you say that this frosting could be piped with?

  • annieseats

    Yes, I pipe with this often. You can see another post about it here: http://www.annies-eats.com/2012/04/04/cupcake-basics-chocolate-frosting/

  • annieseats

    This recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate, which is the same as dark chocolate. Enjoy!

  • Kristine

    How much is 1 cup in grams?

  • annieseats

    It depends on what ingredient you are converting, and you’ll need to look for an online conversion. Please see the FAQ page for more details.

  • Janelle Reeves

    Thanks for this recipe! I made it for my son’s first birthday party and decorated it with Smarties and chocolate fingers – it looked great and tasted delicious, i got several compliments :) I used the sour cream frosting – yum!

  • Anna

    Hi Annie,

    thank you so much for this recipe, I made it for my husband’s birthday and it turned out great! How did you make those curls, they look amazing!

  • Erica

    Made this today for my husband’s birthday. Oh my word! I only had a little sour cream so I used half sour cream and half homemade whipped cream (unsweetened) for both the cake and frosting. This was SOOO good. This is without a doubt the best chocolate cake I have ever made. It was so moist and delicious. Everyone LOVED it! Thank you for sharing another great recipe!

  • Tina

    can I substitute reg coffee or do you recommend using the espresso? Thanks!

  • annieseats

    I always recommend whatever is indicated in the recipe, but you can make substitutions as you see fit. Enjoy!

  • I totally get what you mean! I always love to make my own birthday cake! Baking is something I love love love but I can’t do it as often as I want because my pants wouldn’t fit fit fit. Ha. A classic chocolate cake is a thing of beauty.

  • Annabelle

    I made this for my birthday, I pair with a vanilla layer in the middle and filled it with Dulce de leche, omg, delicious and everyone loved it. I am going to make them into cupcakes for my daughter´s bday!!!

  • I am making this Friday for my son’s second birthday (He picked it out…he tried to eat the iPad when I showed him the picture). I was going to make it in the morning, but it in a cake container/carrier, and then serve it after dinner. Should I refrigerate it for the 6 hours or so between the time I make it and the time we eat it? Or will it be ok at room temp? Thank you!

  • annieseats

    I think it would be fine left out. Enjoy!

  • Thank you, Annie!

  • Kristin Clay

    Can I use the Dutch-process unsweetened coccoa powder in both the cake and frosting?

  • annieseats

    It’s recommended to use the ingredients called for, but you can experiment with substitutions as you see fit.

  • Puti Allison

    Hi Annie,

    I tried this recipe twice and it turned out great! The only problem I had was the cake was super moist to the point it was really hard to transfer from the wire rack to the cake stand. I ended up cracking it in half but covered it anyways with the frosting because I figured it won’t be seen anyways :p.

    Do you have any tip regarding to transferring and assembling the cake?

    Thank you! :]

  • annieseats

    Did you use parchment paper to line the baking pans? In my experience, leaving the parchment paper on until each cake layer is placed where it needs to go, and then peeling it away, helps add a little bit more stability. It’s definitely true that a trade off with super moist cake is it requires slightly more delicate handling than a regular cake. Glad you still enjoyed it!

  • Nicole Perak

    Hi Annie,
    thank you for this amazing recipe. I made this cake for my dad’s birthday and it looked and tasted incredibly good, everyone loved it! I absolutely love your website! Can’t wait to try out more of your recipes! Keep it up!

    greetings from Austria :)

  • Hillary

    I have made this several times so I figured I’d let you know how amazing it was and how appreciative I am of all your recipes. I used your classic cream cheese frosting for this and it’s a hit!

    Thanks for being such an inspiration to me! I started following your blog about four years ago… back when I didn’t know how to make a grilled cheese. I am so grateful I stumbled upon your blog years ago and seriously give you credit for inspiring me and giving me confidence in the kitchen! Thanks for being you, Annie! So strange to have cried and laughed “with” someone I’ve never met.

  • annieseats

    This is the best kind of comment. Thank you so much, Hillary!

  • KM

    Loyal reader here, and I apologize if you’ve answered this question before, but I’m needing a cake that I can split the layers to get more layers of frosting in. (Four year old insists on “rainbow” frosting between the layers — and it’s her birthday, so I’m doing my best!). I can figure out quantities, but I’m curious about how stable this cake is for cutting into thinner layers. Thanks in advance for any suggestions or recommendations you can share!

  • KM

    Thank you so much – appreciate your blog immensely!

  • Alaina Mosley

    I wanted to make small “personal pan cakes” so I halved the recipe and they came out fantastic. Used a different frosting, as I didn’t have sour cream, but it’s the best (and first!) cake that I’ve made from scratch. Nice job!

  • Rachel Hagewood

    What size did your cake end up being? I want to make a small cake (6-7 inch), and I’m wondering if halving the recipe would be enough for two small layers?

  • Lauren F.

    Right after I posted the first comment, I reread the recipe it says baking SODA, not powder! So I’m guessing that was my problem. I’m going to try making it again!

    No wonder the texture was so weird!

  • annieseats

    Oh, well maybe that’s it. You’ll have to let me know how it turns out with the baking soda.

  • Erin Leahy

    I just made this for my dad’s birthday and it was fantastic!

  • Mary Ruth Stuckart Cummins

    The cake will be for after dinner for my son’s birthday, but I had to tell you it was the BEST cake batter I have ever tasted! I love the texture of the cake and the icing is to die for! Once again success with Annie’s Eats! Thank you Annie for sharing yourself and your recipes with us.

  • Hannah Potter

    I didn’t think I liked chocolate cake until I made this recipe. The others I’ve tried have been dry or lacking the rich, chocolate flavor I wanted. I’ve made this cake several times to rave reviews. It’s super moist, with intense chocolate flavor. It’s rich, but not overly sweet. It’s absolutely perfect. Thanks for the great recipe, Annie!