Bake

Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cream Frosting

December 18, 2020
4.6 Stars
Photo by James Ransom. Prop Stylist: Gerri Williams. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog
Author Notes

This chocolate cake recipe has been "the" chocolate cake in our family for decades, for two big reasons. First, it is the best-tasting chocolate cake in my family's (considerable) baking repertoire, moist and deeply chocolatey without being heavy. Second, sheer ease. This cake has exactly two steps: mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, and bake. I've cheated on my mom's recipe by adding instant espresso powder—a baking trick that heightens the flavor of chocolate—but feel free to leave it out. Classic chocolate frosting works well if you want to gild that chocolate lily, but we prefer to frost this cake with homemade, lightly-sweetened whipped cream.

Note: A few hours at room temperature will be fine, but unless stabilized with gelatin, whipped cream frosting like this will "melt" over time. So make sure the cake has fully cooled before applying it to your cake—and don't frost the cake too far in advance or you will have to hold the cake in the fridge.

For more stories, memories, and extended histories behind your most-loved, treasured family recipes from the column, check out our new podcast My Family Recipe.

Lisa Ruland

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: A Chocolate Cake That Celebrates Mothers—Lost & Found. —The Editors

  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 35 minutes
  • makes 2 x 8" round cake layers
Ingredients
  • Chocolate cake
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 3/4 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • Whipped cream frosting
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream, very cold
  • 3 tablespoons confectioner's sugar, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Chocolate cake
  2. Preheat the oven to 350° F and grease two 8-inch cake pans or line the cupcake tins.
  3. Add all the ingredients to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low, and then on medium, for about three minutes, until the batter is smooth. Scrape the bowl to make sure the cake batter is fully mixed. This can also be done by hand with a spatula until the batter is smooth and the ingredients fully incorporated.
  4. Divide the batter between the cake pans and bake until the center of the cake springs back lightly when pressed and a cake tester comes clean, about 30 to 35 minutes for 8-inch cake layers.
  5. Cool fully.
  1. Whipped cream frosting
  2. Add the heavy cream to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Extra points for chilling the bowl first—keeping the cream as cold as possible makes it whip better and adds stability.
  3. Starting on low to medium-low to prevent splashing, increase the speed to medium high and whip the cream until it thickens slightly. Add the confectioner's sugar and vanilla. Continue to whip, checking often, until the whipped cream just barely comes to stiff peaks and holds its own shape. Do not over whip. (If the whipped cream looks grainy or chunky, it has over-whipped.)
  4. Layer, fill, cover and decorate the cake as you like!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Joyce Mastronikolas
    Joyce Mastronikolas
  • Christina Terrell
    Christina Terrell
  • Lisa Ruland
    Lisa Ruland
  • lydia
    lydia
Recovering lawyer, food writer, pastry chef, and lover of food-related everything (namely: cheese, baked goods, and anything made by Mom)

24 Reviews

lydia January 30, 2021
Making this cake it seemed odd to me where are the eggs??
 
thecavemancook January 2, 2021
Looks delish. This is essentially a "Wacky" cake aka Depression cake, no?

Also, I've been intrigued by fully swapping out the white sugar for brown to add more interesting flavor and a bit more moisture. Any thoughts on this?
 
Author Comment
Lisa R. January 3, 2021
Hi! I was unfamiliar with "wacky" cakes so you sent me down a very fun rabbit hole and yes! This does, I believe, qualify since it has no dairy or eggs. And yes, I do think you could sub brown sugar for white 1:1. Let me know how it turns out!
 
LuAnne December 27, 2020
Made this for Christmas dinner and it was a huge hit with everyone. Just the right amount of richness without being too heavy. Added chocolate curls to the top. Thank you for sharing this recipe. It's a keeper.
 
Author Comment
Lisa R. January 3, 2021
That's fantastic, and how beautiful it must have looked with the curls. Glad you liked it.
 
Joyce M. December 23, 2020
Beautiful story of love and loss and the intimate bond of life and food. Thank you for sharing your story.
 
Author Comment
Lisa R. January 3, 2021
Thank you, Joyce, for the kind comment.
 
melpp December 22, 2020
Thank you so so much for sharing your story. I cannot wait to make this cake for a special occasion (or just because) and will be thinking of you and Margot.
 
Author Comment
Lisa R. December 22, 2020
Thank you so much! I hope you enjoy it.
 
Sara December 21, 2020
What kind of cocoa powder you recommend to use on this recipe?
 
Author Comment
Lisa R. December 21, 2020
Any standard, good-quality unsweetened cocoa will work (not Dutch-processed). My go-to is Hershey’s. Make sure you sift it so there aren’t any lumps in the batter. Happy baking!
 
Sara January 2, 2021
Thank you !!! :)
 
mwaters301 December 20, 2020
A lovely, touching story. My wife has asked for this cake for her birthday.

Quick question: the instructions say to grease the cake pans. Grease and flour? Or just grease? Thanks!
 
Author Comment
Lisa R. December 20, 2020
Hi, and thank you so much. I just grease them, then run an offset spatula around the edges before a release them onto the cooling rack. If you flour, just flour the bottom. I find that flouring the sides of a chocolate cake sometimes leaves a white “sheen” on the cake exterior, which isn’t a huge deal unless you want exposed sides that look nice and chocolatey.
 
Cnoya December 20, 2020
Thank you for sharing your heart-filled story. We make a chocolate pudding cake that calls for vinegar, pudding mix and hot water. It’s a fan favorite in our house but we will certainly make your/your mom’s cake over the holidays with my two teenage daughters. Everything tastes better when made with love.
 
Author Comment
Lisa R. December 20, 2020
That sounds delicious! And I hope you enjoy baking the cake over the holidays. You're right. Love is definitely the best ingredient :-)
 
Christina T. December 20, 2020
The chocolate cake recipe reminded me of one I have used for years from a 1990 "Hershey's Fabulous Desserts" Filled Rich Chocolate Cupcakes. It uses vinegar too, only variation is 2/3 c of cocoa and 2/3 c oil. Love the story. Coffee a definite boost for chocolate flavor.
 
Author Comment
Lisa R. December 20, 2020
I have to check out that recipe! My mom couldn't remember where she got her recipe from. Maybe it evolved from this? Thanks for writing.
 
jhm147 December 19, 2020
I found a simple way to stabilize whipped cream. While adding the powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons of low fat dry powdered milk. Whip cream until peaks form. This will keep it's shape for several days. The dry milk also adds a creamy taste to the cream.
 
Author Comment
Lisa R. December 20, 2020
That's such a good idea! When I was in a professional pastry kitchen, we added powdered milk to so many things. A great "secret ingredient" that works in so many ways.
 
HeidiHo! December 19, 2020
Would you please provide instructions on how to stabilize this frosting?
 
Author Comment
Lisa R. December 20, 2020
Hi! If kept refrigerated, the frosting will last in the fridge for a couple of days, and you can always refresh it by re-whipping. (Though obviously this doesn't work if it's already on a cake!) You can make a stabilized whipped cream using gelatin as well. Sarah Jampel wrote an article about it here. Happy Baking!: https://food52.com/blog/22473-how-to-make-whipped-cream-stabilized
 
francybluefeather December 19, 2020
1) Can this cake be made in advance the day before serving? Or served immediately? and
2) How should it be stored: covered or uncovered?
 
Author Comment
Lisa R. December 19, 2020
Hi! Good questions. I actually prefer baking cakes a day in advance. I think it makes them taste better. Just cover and leave at room temperature overnight. But frost with whipped cream shortly before serving. Whipped cream will start to melt as it sits out, so put any leftover cake in the fridge. Hope this helps!