Ultimate Chocolate Cake

June  2, 2021
4 Stars
Photo by Rocky Luten
Author Notes

I’ve been making cakes and pies in the Food52 offices since 2014, and couldn’t be happier that they asked me to develop a new cake to celebrate their 10th birthday. This cake is chocolate, plus chocolate, with a little chocolate (I don’t use the word ultimate lightly). It’s impressive to look at it - but more importantly, it’s so, so delicious, just like these last 10 years have been. —Erin Jeanne McDowell

Test Kitchen Notes

Bake It Up a Notch is a column by Resident Baking BFF Erin Jeanne McDowell. Each month, she'll help take our baking game to the next level, teaching us all the need-to-know tips and techniques and showing us all the mistakes we might make along the way. Today, a very sweet lesson in all things frostings, icings, and glazes. —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Ultimate Chocolate Cake
  • Prep time 2 hours
  • Cook time 1 hour
  • Makes one 4-layer, 8-inch cake
  • Devil's food cake
  • 1 1/2 cups (128 g) unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably dark or black cocoa powder, plus more for coating pans
  • 1 cup (242 g) boiling water
  • 1 1/4 cups (285 g) whole milk
  • 9 ounces (255 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups (595 g) granulated sugar
  • 5 (284 g) large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon (15 g) vanilla extract
  • 3 cups (361 g) all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons (8 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (6 g) baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon (3 g) fine sea salt
  • Chocolate custard filling
  • 2 1/2 cups (605 g) whole milk
  • 1/2 cup (121 g) heavy cream
  • 4 ounces (113 g) unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
  • 4 ounces (113 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup (198 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup (37 g) cornstarch
  • large pinch fine sea salt
  • 2 (42 g) large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons (28 g) unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons (10 g) vanilla extract
  • Whipped ganache
  • 21 ounces (595 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups (590 g) heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 g) fine sea salt
  • 1 recipe Basic Chocolate Glaze (
  • chocolate sprinkles, as needed for finishing
In This Recipe
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 8 inch cake pans with nonstick spray, then add cocoa powder and tap around until the pan is well coated.
  2. Place the 1 ½ cups (128 g) cocoa powder in a medium, heat-proof bowl. Whisk in the boiling water until fully combined. Stir in the milk and set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-low speed until light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Scrape the bowl well. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add one third of the mixture to the mixer and mix on low speed to combine. Add half of the cocoa/milk mixture and mix to incorporate. Repeat, alternating between the dry and wet ingredients, until both are fully incorporated and the batter is smooth.
  5. Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. While the cakes cool, make the filling: in a medium pot, heat the milk, cream, and chocolate over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the chocolate has fully melted. Turn the heat up to medium and bring the mixture until it’s just barely simmering.
  7. Meanwhile, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in a medium heatproof bowl. Whisk in the egg yolks until well combined.
  8. When the chocolate mixture has come to a bare simmer, pour about half of it into the egg yolk mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly. Then pour the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan and cook the pudding over low heat, stirring constantly with a spatula until it gets very thick and a few large bubbles break the surface. Stir in the butter and vanilla until well combined.
  9. Pour the mixture onto a sheet tray, or into a shallow bowl or casserole dish. Cover directly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until totally chilled.
  10. Make the whipped ganache: Place the chocolate in a large heat-safe bowl. Place the cream in a medium pot and heat over medium heat until it comes to a boil (be careful - once it starts to simmer, it goes fast and cream is prone to boiling over).
  11. Add the vanilla and pour the simmering cream over the chocolate. Let set for about 20 seconds, then start mixing with a silicone spatula in the center of the bowl in tight circles, then slowly enlarging the circles as the mixture starts to melt and come together.
  12. Continue mixing until the mixture is smooth, then stir in the salt. Cool the mixture to room temperature. As it cools, the chocolate will firm the ganache - the idea is to cool it enough to be set, but still be soft/spreadable. This is best done by gradually cooling at room temperature, rather than trying to rush in the fridge, which can cause it to set too firm/unevenly.
  13. Scoop the cooled (but still soft) ganache into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Whip on medium-high speed until the mixture becomes light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Transfer half of the ganache to a disposable piping bag (or a large zip-top bag). Cut a ½ inch opening in the end, or fit with a large round tip.
  14. Assemble the cake: use a serrated knife to divide each cake evenly into two pieces. Place one half on a cake turntable, cake stand, or platter. Pipe a ring of icing around the outer edge of the cake layer. Scoop 1/3 of the pudding mixture inside (don’t let it rise over the ganache ring around the outside), and spread into an even layer. Place another cake layer on top. Repeat this process until you’ve used all of the pudding and cake layers.
  15. Use the remaining whipped ganache and/or custard to do a thin crumb coat all around the outside of the cake. Chill the assembled cake for 15-30 minutes.
  16. Spoon or pour the glaze all over the top, letting it drip down the sides. After the glaze sets, you can pipe the remaining whipped ganache in dots (or switch to a star tip - whatever!) on the top of the cake, then finish with sprinkles.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Lynn Slater Miller
    Lynn Slater Miller
  • Hina Khan
    Hina Khan
  • AG
  • Yoli L Juarez Zaragoza
    Yoli L Juarez Zaragoza
  • Catherine Walters
    Catherine Walters
I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, The Book on Pie, came out on November 10th, 2020, and my pie merch collaboration with Food52 is out now too:

100 Reviews

BrigidBakes April 1, 2022
This cake was EVERYTHING! My husband's family loves chocolate, so I made this for his birthday and everyone really enjoyed it. I topped it with the dark chocolate Ferrero Rochere chocolates atop circles of chocolate whipped cream. So pretty, so decadent, so delicious. Will be making again.
RachelKay February 28, 2022
This cake was absolutely FANTABULOUS! The recipe, along with the video, was easy to follow and made for a beautiful birthday cake. Thank you, Jeanne!
nothanks January 17, 2022
Anyone know the HEIGHT of this cake? Daughter & I planning to make for a friend and need to order approp size box. Thank you so much!!
Helen January 1, 2022
Loved the cake, it was easy to make. I couldn't get the icing to work. It turned hard and was impossible to use.
LoveBaking December 26, 2021
I absolutely love this recipe. Made a birthday cake for a friend’s birthday. Used two 10” pans and they came out amazing. Thank you so much, Erin.
Beloo December 26, 2021
I had the same issue as Riab. I am very disappointed that the cake is crumbling. Could I have mixed it too much at the end? I needed to bake it for 45 mins + to get a clean toothpick and now the sides are falling off! I'm hoping I can save it somehow to use it for the "Black Forest" cake I want to make for my family gathering tomorrow. I sure hope I don't need to bake up something new at the last minute.
Riab December 24, 2021
Made this twice, thinking that I made a mistake the first time. Nope. Both cakes are going in the garbage. By the time the center of the cake bakes, the edges are dry. It's just not fit to serve to guests. If my kids were still at home, I'm sure they'd eat it.
Beloo December 26, 2021
I had the same problem!
el A. December 8, 2021
It is disappointing that the issue of the amount of batter vs. the size of the pans has not yet been addressed.
Sharmeen October 16, 2021
Omg I cant tell you how delicious this cake was. I followed the recipe and had no trouble at all. The cake is so moist, the pudding filling is so delicious, the whipped ganache is also yum. But i think this cake is more for adults than for kids. It has a strong chocolate taste that adults would love. I baked this in 2 tall 8inch cake pans...for about 45 mins. For those who want to see the inside of the cake you can see it on my instagram page the_flourgirlz it was so beautiful. Its a huge cake. I didn't make it for any occasion. I JUST WANTED TO TRY IT...AS i was eyeing it for a few days. A must make for all cake lovers. And not too sweet...and ofcourse it tastes better as it ages... Yummmmmyyyyyy
Gypzi July 12, 2021
This cake was so delicious and I LOVE how even and flat the tops were. The only thing was that the batter came right to the very edge of my 9" cake tins as it baked (and a little bit over). I was a bit nervous about it spilling over, but it worked out. Just a note if anyone is using the 8" pans the recipe calls for.
DENIS June 4, 2021
I just finished this wonderful cake. May I tell you that my once beautiful kitchen is a glorious mess. My hands are kinda crippled which makes baking let's say, umm interesting. The cake wanted to crumble. The pudding is perfect. The whipped icing never hardened enough to pipe... soooo. I have a large footed parfait that needed using. So, punt!!! I have this this incredible dessert ready for the evening with a delicious raspberry (spiked) sauce. Thank you so very much for the inspiration. I have a retired Home Ec teacher as a participant this evening. I betcha I get an A+ ... Cordially, Denis
Helen May 7, 2021
Hi Erin:
I loved the cake. I had no problem making the cake, cutting it into layers. The pudding was easy and it tasted great.
My problem was with the ganache icing. I weight and measured everything, following the recipe. When it was cool, I whipped it until light and fluffy. I managed to get one layer done and then it started to stiffen and it was difficult to pipe. I kneaded the icing to warm it up and got the other layer dams in, but it was too stiff to try to coat the side or top of the cake. I know my house is only around 68 when I tried to ice it. Do you have any suggestions to get this to work in a cooler house?

Lynn S. March 31, 2021
Hi Erin, I used only the chocolate cake part of this recipe. I was looking for a reliable basic chocolate cake. The batter tasted great and I love that you bloom the cocoa before adding it to the batter. However, you do not state to refrigerate the cocoa, water milk mixture to cool it before adding to the batter. Mine was cooled but still a bit warm when I added it causing the batter to curdle. Another problem arose when filling the pans. I used the batter to fill 12 jumbo ice cream cones (for cone cupcakes) and poured the remainder into 2 8" pans. It was way too much batter for 8" pans. even after filling the cupcake cones! If using 8" pans that are 3" deep, it might work, but my 8" x 2" pans were overflowing by the time they were finished baking. Everything is still usable, but you should specify a deeper pan or move to a 9" pan instead.
Gypzi July 12, 2021
I encountered this EXACT issue. Wayyyy too much batter. I baked in 9" pans, because that's what I had and it still rose over the top a little bit. So thankful I didn't try it with 8" pans. Would have had a mess on my hands. Boy was it delicious, though!
Cuirelegateau March 21, 2021
Hi Erin,
I made this cake for a birthday. Baking was no problem, pudding no problem, ganache no problem. I stirred it together like you did, same magic happened. I chilled it in the fridge overnight. Now the problems started: the cakes had a little dome, the whipped ganache was too stiff to pipe with my old reusable pipe bag - at least it was broken. Drove to the store - new ones. Thought to fix the ganache with a drip of cream. Wrong. the ganache split - butter? Ok I had enough of the pudding. The cake was a little wonky after assembling. I liked to stay on track, but I decided to coat the hole cake, cause I couldn't fill the cracks with the pudding properly. I never coated a cake in my live before, my offset spatula was to big for this type of - for me new - job. Now to the dripping ganache - I made this at the day of assembling. For me it was too stiff, but I was afraid to warm it up, cause of the split ganache experience from the whipped ganache. Now the big spatula did his job on the top very well. During the piping - 5 roses worked very well - the tip was clogged from a non melted peace of chocolate... At least all my little white chocolate hearts fell out of the mould (on their faces) and they was smeared with ganache while turning them over... I decided after a lot of laughter to run a fork thru all of the coating and piping. Made it all messed up to hide the mess from tried it doing well - if that makes sense.
With a nice red candle in the middle the cake looked like a big log with a candle on the top. Only the hight and the width looked like your cake, but it tasted great. At first I was afraid of this 3 cups of sugar, but it was not too sweet.
I never listend to my own advice - don't prepare a dish to a special occasion you never made before - where is the excitement and the danger? It was very funny, I laughed a lot of myself, and I experienced how to fix it all, that at least there is a presentable birthday cake.
Hina K. March 6, 2021
Hi Erin! I need some help here. I baked the cake and stuck to the recipe. It turned out wonderful. Structurally it was a problem. It just did not hold itself and slide off like anything, once two slices were cut off it! The pudding was great and so was the ganache. Thank you for an amazing recipe but how do I prevent it from sliding?
Gypzi July 12, 2021
Easy fix: add dowels to the cake to hold the layers together and support the structure. With a softer filling like pudding, you really need support. I used bamboo skewers (like what you use for kebabs) cause they were easy to trim to the correct height with kitchen shears and I had them on hand. 3 or 4 poked thru all layers and I had no issues. Gotta look out for them as you're slicing, tho.
bethiegail February 28, 2021
hi Erin it's so nice to meet you. i needed to tell you , i received 2 of your cookbooks today. they are just wonderful. you have started the fire to get baking again. thank you so very much. bethiegail
Kknopick February 26, 2021
I made this cake today. The cake turned out great. It was the whipped ganache. It wasn’t as dark and wasn’t fluffy. It was stiff. What did I do wrong?
Willard January 16, 2021
What did I.miss? Live the video and the site. Everyone is loving Iyar=t. Mine is a flop and I am an experienced maker. Beautiful batter. 2 8” cake pans full to the top Estes was the first warning sign. Re-read and saw I had followed the instructions and measurements. Took 65 minutes to bake and almost overflowed. Now I have teo very dry and crumbly layers that did not want to come out of the greased. And dusted pans. After reading all these reviews I’m feeling really stupid!
AG December 25, 2020
Hands down this is the BEST chocolate cake I have ever made. Erin Jeanne McDowell is amazing and a delight to watch. Give this woman a raise!!! Fantastic cake, I can't fault it!! Thank you
Yoli L. December 14, 2020
I made this for my mother in law with a few adjustments added simple syrup to try and keep the cake more moist. But I found it to be still a bit too dense. The taste was amazing, but would like it to be more moist.. any suggestions?
Catherine W. December 27, 2020
I would try sour cream or yogurt in place of the whole milk. I rarely used milk in my recipes and hands down works better and you can reduce the sugar by no more than 1/2 a cup. Don't use buttermilk --will make it more heavy in place of the milk it gives it a nice texture.
Catherine W. December 27, 2020
..also reduce your salt to 1/2 tsp.
Catherine W. December 27, 2020
My apologies, unable to edit original reply.. sour cream to replace milk would need a lesser amount..3/4 of a cup.