Chocolate Espresso Layer Cake

This Chocolate Espresso Layer Cake is one of the most popular cakes on my blog! Once you try it, you’ll know why. This chocolate espresso cake recipe is rich and flavorful, with just the right level of sweetness. The flavors compliment each other perfectly, and the meringue buttercream adds incredible lightness. Keep reading to learn how to make my chocolate espresso cake. 

Chocolate Espresso Layer Cake - Savory Simple

I love layer cakes but I have to admit they stress me out. There are so many all or nothing moments where there’s just no turning back. Getting the three layers of cake to be even and level.

Making sure the buttercream doesn’t break. Flipping layers of cake upon frosted layers of cake, hoping that each one sits just perfectly so that the sides are even. It makes my palms sweat.

No matter how many times I’ve made layer cakes, I still get nervous at these defining moments. I was so thrilled with the way this chocolate espresso layer cake turned out. I couldn’t have asked for better results.

Chocolate Espresso Layer Cake - Savory Simple
Chocolate Espresso Layer Cake - Savory Simple

I haven’t always been that lucky, though! I always procrastinate cutting that first slice. I’ve spent so much time with the frosting and everything looks so beautiful from the outside.

Will it look as good on the inside? Will the frosting layers be even? Will the slice pull neatly away from the cake so that I can get a picture of both together?

Will the center have an even point? Sometimes, when I’m lucky, it all comes together perfectly in the end. And when that happens, it feels like magic. This chocolate espresso layer cake was definitely one of those magical moments.

Chocolate Espresso Layer Cake - Savory Simple

Update:  I’m getting a lot of questions about how I got such a clean slice of cake. My method: use a long, sharp knife. Run it under hot water, wipe it dry and immediately cut one slice in a straight down, non-sawing motion.

Don’t pull the knife up, pull it straight out toward you. Then repeat the process for the other side, starting with the hot water. That’s how I do it!

Also, I use Valrhona cocoa powder (linked below under “Tools I Used”) which is a high quality cocoa powder used by most high end bakeries and restaurants. Using a standard grocery store cocoa powder will work perfectly well but the cake may be lighter in color).

Want to learn more about layer cakes?

Check out my post on how to make a perfect layer cake!

Want to learn more about buttercream?

Don’t miss my post: What is buttercream + troubleshooting tips

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Chocolate Espresso Layer Cake

5 from 9 votes
This chocolate espresso layer cake is absolute decadence. It's filled with cocoa powder plus added richness from espresso, and each bite bursts with flavor. 
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings 16
Calories 621
Author Jennifer Farley

Ingredients

Chocolate Espresso Cake:

  • 10 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons espresso powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 ounces Dutch-processed cocoa powder (9 tablespoons)
  • 1 1/2 cups half-and-half (or 50% cream + 50% whole milk)
  • 1/4 cup espresso vodka such as Van Gogh (regular espresso may be substituted)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 9 ounces unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 21 ounces granulated sugar (2 1/4 cup)
  • 6 large eggs (room temperature)

Chocolate Espresso Italian Meringue Buttercream:

  • 13 ounces (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons water
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon corn syrup
  • 5 large egg whites
  • 16 ounces unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate (melted)
  • 1 tablespoon espresso vodka such as Van Gogh, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon brewed espresso room temperature

Instructions

Prepare the cakes

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place an oven rack in the middle position. Lightly spray the bottom of 3 8-inch cake pans with baking spray and then cover them with parchment rounds. Set aside.
  • Whisk together the flour, espresso powder, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Sift in the cocoa powder and whisk until the dry ingredients are evenly combined. In a separate small bowl, combine the half and half, espresso vodka and vanilla extract.
  • In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together on low speed for 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, allowing each egg to incorporate before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the mixer still on low speed, swiftly alternate between adding the dry and liquid ingredients over the course of a minute. Scrape down the sides well, making sure to reach the bottom of the bowl. Turn the mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds.
  • Distribute the batter evenly between the 3 prepared cake pans, using a spatula to even out the tops.
  • Bake until the a toothpick comes out of the center of each cake clean, approximately 30-35 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool completely in the pan before removing.

Prepare the frosting

  • Add sugar, water and corn syrup to a medium sized sauce pot. Cover and turn the heat to high. Once the liquid begins to simmer and steam has developed, remove the cover (this helps prevent crystallization). Using a candy thermometer, cook the sugar to the soft boil stage, 235-240 degrees F.
  • While the sugar is cooking, whisk the eggs on high in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until a soft peak has formed.
  • Turn the mixer speed down to medium low and very slowly pour the syrup down the side of the bowl into the egg whites. Don’t pour the hot syrup directly into the meringue.
  • Once the syrup is completely incorporated, turn the speed to high and allow the meringue to continue to form a stiff peak while cooling down. Mix on high until the meringue has reached room temperature. To speed up this 15-20 minute process, ice packs can be placed around the bowl.
  • Once the meringue is room temperature, slowly begin incorporating the soft butter on medium speed. Once all of the butter has been incorporated, turn the mixer speed up to high and very slowly add the chocolate, espresso and vodka.

Assemble the cake

  • Place the first layer of cake on a revolving cake stand and remove the parchment paper. Placing a cardboard round below the cake is optional but will make transporting the cake easier after it is assembled.
  • Spread approximately one cup of buttercream on the cake and spread it around evenly with an offset spatula. Add more buttercream as needed to reached the desired thickness. Repeat with the second and third layer (don't forget to remove the parchment each time). Use an offset spatula to apply a thin layer of frosting to the side and top of the cake. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set this first layer of buttercream. Cover the entire cake with a final layer of frosting. Grate some unsweetened or semi-sweet chocolate on top of the cake for decoration, if desired.
  • Cake is best when served at room temperature.

Notes

Regular espresso may be substituted for the espresso vodka (but I highly recommend using the vodka!)
Italian meringue buttercream is an advanced frosting. To simplify the recipe, substitute any regular chocolate buttercream frosting and add some of the espresso powder (here is a good one).
Also, check out my article all about buttercream, including tips on fixing it if it breaks!

Nutrition

Calories: 621kcal | Carbohydrates: 81g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 33g | Saturated Fat: 27g | Cholesterol: 165mg | Sodium: 275mg | Potassium: 295mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 60g | Vitamin A: 25.5% | Vitamin C: 0.2% | Calcium: 8.2% | Iron: 16.3%

Recipe Troubleshooting

For help troubleshooting a recipe, please email recipehelp@savorysimple.net. I’ll try to respond to urgent questions as quickly as possible! This email address is only for recipe troubleshooting; Solicitations will be ignored.

Tried this recipe? I'd love to hear about it! Mention @savorysimple or tag #savorysimple!

 

Tools I used:

(these links go to my Amazon affiliate store)

Ateco Revolving Cake Stand
EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale
KitchenAid Stand Mixer
Parchment Sheets
Wilton Cake Rounds
Wilton Cake and Cookie Lifter
Digital Thermometer
Offset Spatula
Valrhona Cocoa Powder

About Jennifer Farley

Jennifer graduated from the Culinary Arts program at L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland, and has worked professionally as a line cook, pastry chef, and cooking instructor. Her cookbook, The Gourmet Kitchen, was published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster.

This chocolate espresso layer cake is absolute decadence. It's filled with cocoa powder plus added richness from espresso, and each bite bursts with flavor. #chocolateespresso #layercake #chocolatecake #espresso #SavorySimple

Recipe Troubleshooting

For immediate help troubleshooting a recipe, please email recipehelp@savorysimple.net. I’ll try to respond to urgent questions as quickly as possible! This email address is only for recipe troubleshooting; Solicitations sent to this email will be ignored.

Affiliate Disclaimer: Posts may contain affiliate links. I am a participant in the rewardStyle and Amazon affiliate programs, which help support Savory Simple by providing me with a small commission fee when you shop through my links, at no additional cost to you.

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  • I really want to make this for a very close friend’s birthday. The only issue is I have 9″ inch cake pan instead of 8″ so was wondering if I split this recipe between 2 9″ inch cake pans and have 2 layers, would it be okay? Alternatively, if I were to stick with 3 layers of 9″ inch, I understand the same ingredients would result in thinner cakes so how would you suggest I go about regarding increase of ingredients?
    P.S – I really really really want to make 2 layers of 9″ as there’s a lot of travel involved so a lower height would be preferable.
    Look forward to hearing from you on this soon!

    • Hi Karishma! You can absolutely turn this into a 2-layer cake! I’ve done so before in my 8-inch pans. Do you by any chance have a cupcake/muffin pan? The easiest thing for you to do would be to follow the instructions as is and fill the two 9-inch pans. Then, you could pour any excess batter into a lightly greased cupcake pan and make little cupcakes so you don’t waste the excess batter and frosting. That way you can enjoy a treat in addition to giving your friend a birthday cake! The bake time should be almost identical for the 9-inch cakes, maybe a minute or two longer. Just keep an eye on it. The cupcakes would be around 22-25 minutes.

      • Hey Jennifer! Really appreciate the super quick response! I sure do have a muffin tray and this sounds like a great idea! Wanted to confirm on the granulated sugar. Where I come from, it is that typical crystal sugar. Would this be okay or a powder form consistency would be better? Also I’ll be making my corn syrup(light corn syrup) so is it okay if I make it on the same day as the cake? Oh and one more thing. I don’t have a candy thermometer easily available so could you please tell me visible signs about soft booking of the sugar syrup so I could take a call on shutting the gas (this is how I make my caramel as well. Thanks a ton!

        • I don’t know what crystal sugar is, can you send me a link to an example? My guess is yes, but I don’t want to mislead you. It’s DEFINITELY not powdered sugar, don’t use that in the cake. Also, I would just omit the corn syrup completely from the buttercream if you have to make it. It’s not essential. There’s no visible sign to look for with the soft boil stage, but I’d say around 5 minutes should be a good guess.

          • This is the one. Would it do?
            Oh brilliant if corn syrup isn’t a must. Phew. I’m as it is making espresso vodka so this is one task less! Out of curiosity, could you tell me the essence of corn syrup? Thanks a ton, Jennifer! :)

  • I found the same recipe at this address. is it you or someone else?
    amazing cake i must say. I just baked it. and the aroma is oh so heady!!!!!!

  • I just did it today for my boyfriend, flavor or the cake to freaking die for.
    In another hand i messed up the frosting, so i put it soft on the cake and put the whole cake of the fridge. Its getting good. I will give 1000%props to this frosting. I never like buttercream but this italian is amazing. Thanks.

    • Hi Lucy, I need a bit more information to help troubleshoot. It’s always kind of tough when I’m not there. At what step was is looking curdled? Before or after you added the flour? Sometimes the batter will separate slightly before adding the flour mixture, but the dry ingredients will bring it back together again. The step where you turn the mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds also fluffs things up and helps with the batter structure as well.

        • Hi Lucy, are you using a kitchen scale to weigh the flour, and if not, what sort of conversion are you using? In most of my posts, I’m pretty adamant that people weigh the flour, because cup measurements create extremely inconsistent results. I’m realizing I didn’t do that in this post/recipe and I really need to update it.

      • Hi it’s me again! I have made this in the past and that’s the only reason I want to get to right so badly. But my mixture is very thin. Is that normal? And it looks like I‎t has little flecks of the butter in I‎t? Im very confused because I am following every step… overall the only reason im concerned about the batter is because my cakes aren’t really rising that much. Is that normal? Sorry for all my questions!

    • Hi there! Each layer should make around 12 standard or 24 minis. Possibly a bit more since you only fill the muffin tins halfway regardless. I’ve made these into cupcakes several times over the years, but it has been awhile.