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Intense Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

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Imagine slicing into the perfect chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting: incredibly moist, rich with chocolate flavor, and undeniably decadent. This recipe is not just a dessert; it’s your next go-to for that deep, satisfying chocolate indulgence.

Easy to whip up and impossible to resist, it’s poised to become the chocolate cake you compare all others to.

Slices of a chocolate cake recipe with cream cheese frosting at room temperature.

Simple Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

This is an incredibly decadent and moist cake with an intense chocolate flavor. It is easy to make and will quickly become your go-to chocolate cake recipe.

I have baked this cake more times than I can count.  It is hands down my most requested cake, and for a good reason.  This cake is soft and moist with a rich, intense chocolate flavor.

This cake is easy and fast to make and can even be done without an electric mixer which I have done on many occasions.

Check out our chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream to see how I modified the recipe and only used a whisk to mix the batter.

You will want to keep this one in your recipe box for an easy and reliable recipe that will always give you fantastic results. This really is an intense chocolate cake. 

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A dark chocolate cake with cream cheese icing on a platter with with four layers.
intense chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting

Here is Why This Chocolate Cake Recipe Works

  • Coffee-Infused Chocolate Magic: The secret weapon here is the hot coffee! It deepens the cocoa’s flavor, transforming the cake into a rich, chocolaty delight. It’s like giving the chocolate an espresso shot, waking up all those intense cocoa flavors without making the cake taste like a morning brew.
  • Frosting Perfection: Let’s talk about that cream cheese frosting. It’s creamy, it’s dreamy, and it pairs with the chocolate cake like a champ. It strikes the perfect balance, adding a luscious, tangy counterpoint to the rich, sweet cake. They are meant to be together!
  • Versatile and Foolproof: Whether you’re a fan of towering layers or simple sheet cakes, this recipe’s got you covered. It’s forgiving and adaptable, giving you a show-stopping dessert every time.

If you love this recipe, try our chocolate cassata cake.

Secret Ingredient for Rich Chocolate Cream Cheese Cake

The secret ingredient for this intense chocolate cake is coffee, yet it does not taste anything like coffee, just chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!!

Since coffee has the same flavor elements as chocolate, it deepens and actually compliments the chocolate flavor without making it taste like coffee.

Why Hot Coffee (or Hot Water) in Chocolate Cake

Adding the hot coffee (or hot water) to the cocoa will melt the cocoa solids and cause the flavor molecules to burst and intensify the chocolate.  

I mix the hot coffee with the cocoa then let it sit and come to room temperature while I am preparing the rest of the ingredients.

This is a simple step that makes a huge impact on the depth and richness of the chocolate. But if you don’t want to use the coffee, just use hot water. 

Rave Reviews for Tender Cake and Creamy Frosting

Here are some reader reviews for this recipe for chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting.

“Better than Portillo’s Chocolate Cake! Wow! Wow! I’ve never reviewed a recipe online before but I had to for this one. Made a birthday cake for a member of our book club. It was so easy and the scraps and frosting were fantastic. Can’t wait to try some variations! Made 4 6” cakes and baked them for 30 min.  Thanks for a great recipe!”

From Susan S.

“So good! Easy, moist, delicious! The frosting, oh my gosh. Such a good cake!”

From Jen B.

Every time I make this cake someone comments that it is the best chocolate cake they have ever had.  The crazy thing about it is that this cake is the easiest cake I have ever made.

There is nothing better than an easy recipe that turns out incredibly delicious.

I keep the ingredients for this cake on hand at all times just in case I need a quick dessert. The ingredients are simple and inexpensive.

If your not a coffee drinker then keep some instant coffee in your pantry,  stir a spoonful into some hot water then add it to the cocoa. If you don’t have that, just use hot water and it will still be one of the best chocolate cakes you ever make.

A four layer chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting and filling.
intense chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting

I guarantee you will get rave reviews for this cake. You don’t have to tell anyone how easy it is to make.

Let them think you slaved all day making the most perfect chocolate cake for them! (Because you love them so much).

In the video, I used a mixer to blend the ingredients, but honestly, the batter comes together perfectly fine with a hand whisk.

You don’t even have to worry about over-mixing the batter like most cakes. Seriously, you just can’t mess up this cake.

The Ingredients

Here is the list of ingredients you will need for our chocolate cake with cream cheese icing. From achieving the perfect moist texture to capturing that rich, intense flavor, everything you need is right here.

Scroll down to the printable recipe card for all the details. 

For the Cake

  • Pantry: Cocoa powder, sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, vegetable oil, vanilla extract. 
  • Dairy: Milk
  • Fridge: Eggs
  • Other: Hot coffee

For the Best Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Pantry: Vanilla extract, powdered sugar, salt
  • Fridge: Cream cheese, butter

 

Which Cream Cheese To Use

For the perfect cream cheese buttercream, stick with block-style cream cheese. The block style is denser and has a lower moisture content than spreadable cream cheese.
If you use spreadable cream cheese, low fat cream cheese, or Neufchâtel, then the frosting will be thinner and more difficult to work with.

An Intense Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

  • This chocolate cake recipe was adapted from the back of the Hershey’s cocoa box.  I have increased the amount of cocoa to balance out what was otherwise an overly sweet cake. 
  • In addition, I switched the hot water for coffee to complement and enhance the chocolate. The hot liquid is added directly to the cocoa powder to ensure the cocoa solids melt. The result is a perfectly rich and intense chocolate cake recipe.
  • You can use any brand of unsweetened cocoa powder but the recipe works best if you do not use Dutch-processed cocoa.  
  • This cake uses baking soda as a leavening agent which needs an acidic ingredient to achieve proper rise and to balance out the flavors.
  • Believe it or not, chocolate is a naturally acidic ingredient, but Dutch-processed chocolate has has been treated to neutralize the acidity and does not react with alkaline leaveners like baking soda.
  • The cake will rise higher if you use natural cocoa but if all you have is the Dutch processed stuff, it will still work and be one of the best chocolate cake recipes you ever had.
Three plates with slices of chocolate cake with cream cheese filling.

I made four layers out of this cake by cutting each of the layers in half horizontally.  

This is an easy task to do with the use of a cake leveler but if you don’t have a leveler and don’t feel comfortable slicing the layers by hand, then I have provided instructions to bake the cake in 4 different pans. Just see the notes at the bottom of the recipe card.

I made this cake with a super creamy, decadent cream cheese frosting.

It’s a great combination that everyone loves. If you want to try a different combination of flavors, you can frost the cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting, a pretty pink strawberry cream cheese frosting, or peanut butter cream cheese frosting. And, if you like to use a decorating bag and tips, try our thick cream cheese frosting.

Substitutions

This is a very versatile recipe and does well with several ingredient substitutions. You can make it dairy free, gluten-free, switch out the oil, or change the coffee.

Here is a list of the ingredients you can switch out and still get great results. Switch them at a 1:1 ratio.

IngredientSubstitutions
MilkAny non-dairy milk
Sour cream
Greek Yogurt
Buttermilk
Vegetable
oil
Melted coconut oil
Melted butter
Mayonnaise
CoffeeHot water
Hot beer
Hot cola
All-purpose
flour
Gluten-free
flour blend

Quick tip on the substitutions.

  • Sour cream and yogurt will make the batter thicker but will not change the bake time.
  • Melted coconut oil or butter will make the cake taste denser and a bit ‘fudgy’.
  • Using hot liquid in place of the coffee will help the cocoa solids melt.
  • For the gluten-free flour, make sure you use a flour BLEND. For example, using only almond flour will result in a heavy and dense cake that will not look the same. Good flour blends that work are Pamela’s flour blend, Cup 4 Cup, and our gluten-free flour blend.

How to Make Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Here are some process photos to get an idea of how to make this chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting. This frosting recipe has a tad more cream cheese and slightly less sugar than most recipes. It is also a large batch because you will need extra to fill all the cake layers.

A collage of four photos showing how to make a recipe for chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting.

For The Chocolate Cake

  1. Add the hot coffee or water to the cocoa.
  2. Stir in the sugar and oil.
  3. Whisk in the eggs.
  4. Stir in the milk.
  5. Sift in the dry ingredients.
  6. Stir until well combined.
Two photos showing the options for baking either in two pans or four pans.

If you don’t want to tort the cakes in half, you can bake four thinner layers. See the notes in the recipe card for all the details.

Making cream cheese frosting then spreading it on the cake layers.

For The Cream Cheese Frosting

  1. Beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth.
  2. Add the powdered sugar and beat well.
  3. Blend in the vanilla extract.
  4. Cover the chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting.

Tips for the Best Results

  • Use room temperature ingredients. Room temperature eggs will blend into the cake batter easier. And when it comes to the frosting, room temperature butter and cream cheese are essential. They combine effortlessly, resulting in a creamy, velvety frosting that spreads like a dream over your cake.
  • Check Your Leaveners: Ensure your baking powder and soda are fresh. Their ability to rise diminishes over time, and old leaveners can result in a cake that’s flat rather than fabulously fluffy. 
  • An Oven Thermometer is Your Friend: Ovens can be tricky and often run hotter or cooler than the dial indicates. Using an oven thermometer ensures your cake bakes at the precise temperature, preventing over or under-baking. 
  • Chill the Layers for Frosting Ease: If you’re working with a cake that’s as tender and delicate as this one, a little time in the freezer can make a big difference. Briefly chilling the cake layers before frosting solidifies the crumbs, making it easier to spread your frosting. Just pop the layers into the freezer for about 20 minutes; they won’t freeze solid but will firm up enough to handle the frosting without breaking or crumbling.

Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply craving something sweet and satisfying, this chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting recipe promises a delightful treat that’s bound to impress. Don’t miss out on making what could easily become your favorite chocolate indulgence.

For other decadent chocolate recipes:

If you love this cake and want a vanilla version, try our vanilla cake with cream cheese frosting.

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A cream cheese frosting chocolate cake on a plate with a fork and chocolate curls.

Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

An incredibly moist and intensely chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting. This is an incredibly easy cake to make and a very versatile recipe.
I streamlined the instructions to make the recipe a convenient one bowl process. It is the same favorite chocolate cake but the order of ingredients have been swapped.
4.67 from 484 votes
Print Pin Video Save
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 12 servings
Calories: 752kcal
Author: Dahn Boquist

Ingredients

  • 1 cup 80g unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
  • 1 cup hot coffee (240 ml)
  • 2 cups sugar (400g)
  • ½ cup vegetable oil (120 ml)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk (240 ml)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-¾ cup (210g) all-purpose flour
  • 1-½ tsp baking powder
  • 1-½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 20 ounces cream cheese softened
  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter softened (240 grams/ 8 ounces)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4-½ to 6 cups (560 grams) powdered sugar (confectioners sugar), sifted

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350°. Line the bottom of two 8 or 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper, grease and flour the sides. (The parchment paper will make the cake come out much easier than just grease and flour).
  • If you prefer to bake the cakes in 4 separate pans, see the notes at the bottom.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk the hot coffee and cocoa together until smooth. Let the mixture sit for 2 to 3 minutes to let the cocoa solids bloom.
  • Add the sugar and vegetable oil and stir well. Whisk in the eggs, then stir in the milk and vanilla extract.
  • Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt over the chocolate mixture. Stir until well incorporated. Make sure to scrap the bottom and sides of the bowl. The batter will be thin.
  • Pour the batter into the two prepared pans and place in the center of the preheated oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes for the 9 inch pans or 33 to 37 minutes for the 8 inch pans (a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes should come out clean).
  • Let cool in the cake pans for 5 to 10 minutes then run a knife around the edge of the pans to loosen the cake from the pans. Invert the cakes onto a cooling rack and remove the parchment paper. (At this point if you re-invert the cakes onto another rack and let them cool with their tops up, they will retain more height and the tops of the cakes will not stick to the cooling rack.)

Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • To make the cream cheese frosting, combine the cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl, and beat until soft and creamy.
  • Add 4-½ cups of the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat on low speed until the sugar is mixed in then beat on high speed until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add additional sugar if desired.

Assemble the cake:If you baked in two pans:

  • Slice each layer of cake in half horizontally by using a cake leveler or by placing each layer of cake on a turntable and use a serrated knife to slice through the cake as you turn the turntable. This will give you 4 layers to fill and stack. To transfer each layer, use a thin plastic cutting board to slide under the layers.
  • Optional: Place the cake layers in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm them up and make them easier to frost.
  • Put a dab of frosting on a cake plate and place a cake layer on top of the plate. Use 3/4 to 1 cup of frosting to spread between each layer of cake then use an off-set spatula or knife to ice the top and sides of the cake.

If you baked in four pans:

  • Put a dab of frosting on a cake plate and place a cake layer on top of the plate. Use 3/4 to 1 cup of frosting to spread between each layer of cake then use an off-set spatula or knife to ice the top and sides of the cake. 

Notes

  • If you prefer to bake the cakes in 4 separate pans, line four 8-inch pans with parchment paper and divide the cake batter into the four pans. You will have about 1 1/3 cups or 350 grams of batter in each pan. Bake the cakes, two pans at a time, for 15 to 18 minutes. (you can bake all four pans at the same time if you rotate the pans halfway through the bake time)
  • To get a higher rise to the cake, use natural cocoa not Dutch processed which does not react to the baking soda
  • Store this cake unfrosted at room temperature for up to one day or frosted for up to two hours. In the refrigerator, it keeps well for six days, and when wrapped airtight, it can be frozen for three months.
  • Here is a tip to make it easier to frost the cake: Partially freeze the cake layers for approximately 20 minutes before frosting. After keeping it in the freezer for a short time, the partially frozen cake will be firmer and easier to frost. 
  • This recipe does well with cupcakes. For standard sized cupcakes, bake at 350°F for 22 to 24 minutes. For mini cupcakes, bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes
  • For a 13 x 9 inch cake, bake at 350°F for 35 to 40 minutes. 
  • The cream cheese frosting recipe makes a large batch so you will have enough to frost between all four layers. If you do not want to make four layers, you will only need a half batch of frosting.

Video

Nutrition

Serving: 1 slice | Calories: 752kcal | Carbohydrates: 99g | Protein: 9.3g | Fat: 39g | Saturated Fat: 20g | Cholesterol: 111mg | Sodium: 598mg | Fiber: 2.9g | Sugar: 79g

Do you need to refrigerate a cake with cream cheese frosting?

Yes, a cake with cream cheese frosting should be refrigerated. Cream cheese frosting is made with dairy products that are perishable and can spoil if left at room temperature for too long.  I recommend storing the cake in an airtight container to maintain its freshness and to prevent it from absorbing any odors from the refrigerator. Before serving, you can let the cake sit out for a short period to allow it to come to a more palatable temperature.

Does cream cheese frosting go with chocolate cake?

Absolutely, cream cheese frosting pairs wonderfully with chocolate cake! The tangy and creamy nature of cream cheese frosting beautifully complements chocolate’s rich, deep flavors.

A layered chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting.
photo taken December 4, 2018
intense chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting

Dahn Boquist

Dahn is a retired nurse, recipe creator, home cook, baker, and self-proclaimed foodie. She loves creating in the kitchen and cooking for family and friends. She lives in Washington State with her husband and dog. When she isn't cooking or baking, you can usually find her spending time with her grandchildren or exploring the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

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Recipe Rating




Margaret W Tilsley

Saturday 16th of March 2024

I found that it works just as well to divide batter into 3 pans. You just have to adjust the baking time.

Dahn Boquist

Sunday 17th of March 2024

Yes, this also works with three layers. It works well with many variations. Thank you for the comment!

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