Ultimate Chocolate Cake

June  2, 2021
65 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten
  • Prep time 2 hours
  • Cook time 1 hour
  • Makes one 4-layer, 8-inch cake
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

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Ultimate Chocolate 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
  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.

  • Trishington
  • Rob Gallagher
    Rob Gallagher
  • Lynn Slater Miller
    Lynn Slater Miller
  • Jill Littley
    Jill Littley
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, Savory Baking, came out in Fall of 2022 - is full of recipes to translate a love of baking into recipes for breakfast, dinner, and everything in between!

108 Reviews

Jill L. October 29, 2023
First time making this cake and it is truly delicious. I used 9” pans and they were plenty big enough for the amount of batter. I did cut back on the sugar and used 2 cups instead of three and it was the perfect amount for our taste. I struggled with the ganache a bit but managed to pipe it after refrigerating. Definitely would make it again.
Trishington September 15, 2023
First off: I haven't made this cake yet. But I'm reading all these reviews about how there's too much batter vs. the size of people's cake pans and "raw in the middle and dry on the outside" issues. At first I was going to suggest using 3" deep, straight-sided pans but then I scanned the ingredient list and see that there are 3 cups of flour, 3 cups of sugar and 1.5 cups of cocoa and half a pound of butter in this recipe. Whoa! There's no way all that stuff is gonna fit in two 8" pans without overfilling, even 3" deep pans. Based on those measures, I'm guessing this is a bundt or tube pan recipe. And even then there might be some extra to make a few cupcakes with.
Rob G. September 15, 2023
This is a 9 or 10-inch cake, do not use 8-inch pans as specified in the recipe!!
Formerly a professional baker and a current serial cake baker, I am waiting for the oven to cool so I can throw out the two 8-inch volcanos that continued to spew cake batter over the bottom of my oven - both still liquid after 35 minutes - and clear the smoke from the house. This said I accept the situation is on me as it was apparent the pans were excessively full. Fix the pan size on the recipe!
cocoquette April 23, 2023
Hello Erin! Pants < Fun, 100%! Watching your long-form vid Frostings, Icings, Glazes... excellent! Thanks for this info and in such a digestible delivery.
Murjana April 3, 2023
Hi Erin! I made this for a wedding and it was a huge smash hit (I did leave out the the ganache this time (it’s my second time making it) cus I did Swiss meringue buttercream instead). Everyone kept coming up to me to say that it was the best chocolate cake they’ve ever tasted! Thank you so much!
DiVent November 13, 2022
Absolutely love this recipe and love watching you bake Erin!
I’ve made this 4 times now and each time my technique improves. Absolute crowd pleaser :-)
[email protected] September 28, 2022
This cake is delicious! Question- If I have Dutch chocolate on hand do I eliminate or reduce the baking soda?
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.
Gypzi July 13, 2023
Note to self - fill pans to 1411g and put the rest in a loaf pan. ALWAYS USE PARCHMENT ON THE BOTTOM!!!!
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!