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This old-fashioned buttermilk chocolate cake requires just one bowl and a whisk! You don’t even need an electric mixer to stir together the simple batter or the rich, fudgy icing. Best of all, it’s a light, fluffy, and incredibly moist chocolate cake recipe that’s perfect for every occasion! Serve a slice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a cold glass of milk for the best dessert ever.

Slice of one bowl buttermilk chocolate cake on a white plate.

Moist Chocolate Cake Recipe

Thanks to my mother-in-law who sent me this recipe, I feel like I’ve finally hit the chocolate cake jackpot! No one can resist a slice of moist homemade buttermilk chocolate cake that’s slathered in a rich, chocolate fudge frosting. It’s the perfect go-to dessert for birthdays, cookouts, or Sunday suppers with family. Best of all, the easy cake requires just one bowl, no electric mixers, and simple ingredients that I always have on hand. Skip a trip to the grocery store and toss out the box of cake mix, because this is the best chocolate cake recipe you’ll ever taste!

What makes a cake moist and fluffy?

There are a few keys to a super moist chocolate cake recipe with buttermilk:

  • Whole Buttermilk. This ingredient adds moisture and richness to the batter, and the acid in the buttermilk yields a cake with a tender crumb.
  • Use Oil. While butter adds flavor, you can’t beat oil when it comes to keeping a cake super moist!
  • Add a Leavener. In this recipe, the baking powder and the baking soda react with the acid in the buttermilk to lift the cake and create a light, fluffy texture.
  • Don’t Over-Mix. Mixing for too long incorporates too much air in the batter, which will deflate in the oven and result in a dense cake. It also increases the gluten production, which yields a tough texture.
  • Don’t Over-Bake. This is incredibly important. Even over-baking by a minute or so can result in a dry cake. Since oven temperatures can vary, and total baking times will depend on the type of pan used (as well as other factors), be sure to keep a close eye on your cake and start checking it at least 1-2 minutes before you think it should be done. I typically look at the cake by the 30-minute mark, even though it usually requires about 35 minutes of total baking time. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a couple of lightly-moist crumbs.
Slice of easy chocolate cake on a white plate with chocolate frosting

Ingredients

This is a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for both the chocolate cake and the chocolate icing. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • All-purpose flour: I prefer all-purpose flour in this recipe rather than cake flour, because the cocoa powder already has a fine, soft texture. All-purpose flour keeps the cake sturdy.
  • Granulated sugar: just enough for a cake that’s sweet, but not too sweet.
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder: this ingredient gives the cake and the icing rich chocolate flavor. I use Hershey’s cocoa powder, but any similar brand will work.
  • Baking soda and baking powder: leavening agents that help the cake rise.
  • Salt: to enhance the other flavors in the cake and to balance the sweetness.
  • Eggs: give the cake structure.
  • Vegetable oil: for moisture. You can substitute with another neutral oil, such as canola.
  • Buttermilk: use thick, whole buttermilk if possible. It’s creamy, tangy, adds moisture to the cake and yields a tender crumb. The buttermilk also reacts with the baking soda to help the cake rise.
  • Hot water: the hot liquid helps “bloom” cocoa powder, creating a deeper, more rich chocolate flavor. Do not use boiling water.
  • Salted butter and confectioners’ sugar: for the icing.
  • Vanilla extract: adds flavor to the icing.

What does buttermilk do to a cake?

Whole buttermilk is my preference for this cake, since it has a rich flavor and a thick texture that you don’t get with low-fat buttermilk. The acid in the buttermilk yields a tender crumb, helps the cake rise, and gives a subtle hint of tangy flavor. If you’re in a pinch and you don’t have buttermilk in your fridge, you can substitute with a “homemade buttermilk” instead.

how to make buttermilk

Again, my preference is always thick, rich, whole buttermilk. That said, if it’s an emergency and you just don’t have any buttermilk on hand, you can make 1 cup of homemade buttermilk by using regular milk and either lemon juice or white vinegar. To do so, pour 1 cup of regular milk into a small bowl. Add either 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice or 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. Give it a stir, let it sit for about 5 minutes, and then use it in the recipe as directed! You’ll need to do the same for the buttermilk called for in the icing, but just use 1/3 cup of milk and 1 teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice.

Ingredients for buttermilk chocolate cake

How To Make Buttermilk Chocolate Cake

This chocolate buttermilk cake recipe comes from my mother-in-law, who got it from one of her friends. I’ve added my own chocolate buttermilk icing, but all of the credit and inspiration goes to Chi-Chi, who shares my undying love for all things cake!

  1. Whisk together the dry ingredients.
  2. Add the eggs, oil and buttermilk; whisk well to combine.
  3. Whisk in the hot water until the batter is smooth.
  4. Transfer the batter to a 9 x 13-inch baking pan that’s lined with parchment or greased and floured.
  5. Tap gently on the counter to release any big air bubbles.
  6. Bake in a 350°F oven for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Cool completely before icing.
Process shot showing how to make a one bowl chocolate buttermilk cake recipe

Buttermilk Chocolate Frosting

Once the cake is cool, you can slather it with a rich, fudgy, buttermilk chocolate frosting. This icing sets up as it cools, so you’ll want to spread quickly while it’s still warm. It’s thinner than a buttercream frosting, and reminds me of the ganache-like icing on top of a Texas Sheet Cake. I love that it comes together really quickly, uses basic pantry staples, and doesn’t require an electric mixer. An easy icing for an easy cake!

Buttermilk chocolate icing in a pan with a whisk
  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan.
  2. Whisk in the cocoa powder and cook for 2 minutes (do not boil).
  3. Remove from the heat and whisk in the powdered sugar and buttermilk.
  4. Add vanilla extract and whisk until smooth.
  5. Spread the warm frosting on the cool cake.
  6. Let the frosting set, then slice and serve!
Square image of a pan of chocolate sheet cake with buttermilk

Serving Suggestions

You can’t beat a slice of old-fashioned buttermilk chocolate cake that’s paired with a cold glass of milk or a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Square image of moist chocolate cake on a white surface

How to Store One Bowl Chocolate Cake

Store the frosted cake covered on the counter at room temperature for 3-4 days, or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. The frosting will firm up when chilled, so if your house is warm and you’d like the frosting to set more, just pop it in the refrigerator. If the cake is refrigerated, let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

To Freeze

Wrapped tightly, you can freeze the unfrosted cake for up to 2 months. You can also freeze the leftover frosted cake in an airtight container for up to 2 months — the frosting just might not look quite as pretty when thawed. It will still taste delicious, though!

Front shot of one bowl chocolate cake on a white plate

Recipe Variations

  • Try this one-bowl vanilla buttermilk cake for an equally delicious alternative to chocolate.
  • For a smaller cake, cut all of the ingredients in half and bake the cake in a 9-inch or deep 8-inch square pan.
  • For a layer cake, divide the batter evenly between two 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans. You will likely need to decrease the baking time by about 5 minutes for the smaller cakes.
  • This icing is thinner and more like a ganache, so it’s perfect for this single-layer 9 x 13 cake. If you want to stack a layer cake, I would recommend a sturdier frosting like this chocolate buttercream.
  • Fold miniature chocolate chips into the cake batter or sprinkle mini chocolate chips on top for even more flavor and texture!
Side shot of a cake server lifting a slice of one bowl buttermilk chocolate cake from a pan

Tips for the best chocolate cake recipe

  • While most cakes do best with cake flourI recommend all-purpose flour for this recipe. That’s because the chocolate cake includes cocoa powder – which already has a soft, dry texture. The combination of both cake flour and cocoa powder can result in a flimsy cake. All-purpose flour has a higher protein content and is milled to a slightly coarser consistency, which keeps this cake nice and sturdy.
  • Use thick, full-fat buttermilk. This adds richness, moisture and flavor to the cake that you won’t get with low-fat varieties.
  • Make sure that all of your ingredients are at room temperature. This helps them blend together more easily and smoothly, and helps to avoid over-mixing (which can result in a dry, dense cake).
  • Sift the confectioners’ sugar to avoid any lumps in your frosting.
  • Do not over-bake the cake or it can become dry. Start checking for doneness by the 30-minute mark, since total baking times will vary depending on your personal oven and the pans that you use.
  • Make the cake about 1 day ahead of when you plan to serve it. The cake just gets better as it sits!
Fork with a bite of homemade buttermilk chocolate cake
Slice of buttermilk chocolate cake on a white plate

One-Bowl Buttermilk Chocolate Cake

5 from 21 votes
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 35 minutes
Cooling Time 2 hours
Total: 3 hours 5 minutes
Servings 16 people
Calories 445 kcal
This old-fashioned buttermilk chocolate cake requires just one bowl and a whisk! You'll love the moist texture and the rich, fudgy icing.

Ingredients
  

FOR THE CAKE:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup whole buttermilk, shaken
  • 1 cup hot water

FOR THE CHOCOLATE BUTTERMILK ICING:

  • ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter
  • cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • cup whole buttermilk, shaken
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

BAKE THE CAKE:

  • Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour a 9 x 13-inch baking pan or line with parchment paper. Set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the eggs, oil and buttermilk; whisk well to combine. Add the hot water and whisk until the batter is smooth.
  • Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan. Tap gently on the counter to release air bubbles.
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

MAKE THE ICING:

  • Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in the cocoa powder, cook over low heat for 2 minutes (do not let it boil). Remove from the heat. Add the powdered sugar and buttermilk, whisking until smooth. Add the vanilla; whisk to combine. The icing should be a thick, spreadable consistency, so if you need to thin the icing, add extra buttermilk, one tablespoon at a time.
  • Spread the icing on the cool cake. Let the icing cool and set before slicing and serving.

Notes

  • While most cakes do best with cake flour, I recommend all-purpose flour for this recipe. That’s because the chocolate cake includes cocoa powder – which already has a soft, dry texture. The combination of both cake flour and cocoa powder can result in a flimsy cake. All-purpose flour has a higher protein content and is milled to a slightly coarser consistency, which keeps this cake nice and sturdy.
  • Use thick, full-fat buttermilk. This adds richness, moisture and flavor to the cake that you won’t get with low-fat varieties.
  • Make sure that all of your ingredients are at room temperature. This helps them blend together more easily and smoothly, and helps to avoid over-mixing (which can result in a dry, dense cake).
  • Sift the confectioners’ sugar to avoid any lumps in your frosting.
  • Do not over-bake the cake or it can become dry. Start checking for doneness by the 30-minute mark, since total baking times will vary depending on your personal oven and the pans that you use.
  • Make the cake about 1 day ahead of when you plan to serve it. The cake just gets better as it sits!

Nutrition

Serving: 1sliceCalories: 445kcalCarbohydrates: 64gProtein: 4gFat: 22gSaturated Fat: 16gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 38mgSodium: 292mgPotassium: 175mgFiber: 3gSugar: 48gVitamin A: 240IUCalcium: 50mgIron: 2mg
Keyword: best chocolate cake recipe, buttermilk chocolate cake, one bowl chocolate cake
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    this cake is transcendent. i use a mix of regular and black/onyx cocoa powder in the cake and frosting and it’s amazing.