baking cake

Chocolate Cake with Espresso Buttercream

Thursday, October 11, 2018

I’m not ashamed to admit I drink way too much coffee. I recently got an espresso machine, which has changed my life for the better (it was sent to me by Breville, but this isn’t a sales pitch: I’m in love with the thing). There is nothing like a freshly brewed, steaming hot Americano with a splash of cream to start a chilly October morning off right. And because the machine is conveniently located in my kitchen, I’m also finding myself adding espresso to many of my baked goods, much to my families dismay (my husband has never been a coffee drinker, alas). So espresso buttercream happened, of course! I’ve been putting coffee in my buttercreams for years, but espresso has a stronger and bolder flavor, which I appreciate. Pairing the espresso with chocolate is my favorite way to cake (I used my snack cake base), but white cake would work here as well.


“[W]hen you get a thing dead right and know it’s dead right, there’s no excitement like it. It’s marvellous. It makes you feel like God on the Seventh Day – for a bit, anyhow.”

“Well, that’s what I mean. You expend the trouble and you don’t make any mistake – and then you experience the ecstasy. But if there’s any subject in which you’re content with the second-rate, then it isn’t really your subject.”

“You’re dead right,” said Harriet, after a pause. “If one’s genuinely interested one knows to be patient, and let time pass, as Queen Elizabeth said. Perhaps that’s the meaning of the phrase about genius being eternal patience, which I always thought rather absurd. If you truly want a thing, you don’t snatch; if you snatch, you don’t really want it. Do you suppose that, if you find yourself taking pains about a thing, it’s proof of its importance to you?”

“I think it is, to a large extent. But the big proof is that the things comes right, without those fundamental errors. One always makes surface errors, of course. But a fundamental error is a sure sign of not caring. I wish one could teach people nowadays that the doctrine of snatching what one thinks one wants is unsound.”

“I saw six plays this winter in London,” said Harriet, “all preaching the doctrine of snatch. I agree that they left me with the feeling that none of the characters knew what they wanted.”

“No,” said Miss de Vine. “If you are once sure what you do want, you find that everything else goes down before it like grass under a roller.”
-Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night

I spent the summer re-reading Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, and finally finished them up this September. I’ve been thinking over the above lines the last few weeks, and the doctrine of snatch vs what I really want and care about. It’s been a good way to usher in the changing season – our summer ended abruptly (80 degrees one day, then 40 the next), and I’ve been trying to find my groove during the last few weeks of never-ending rain and gloom. While I spend my days baking and writing, I’ve found myself constantly pondering what I really want to invest my time and energy in, for myself, my family, and my community.

A few other things:
Register to Vote! It’s important; make your voice heard.

I’ve started a few more books. My husband gave me Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister, which is really well written. I’m also reading The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz, which is YA fiction told in the style of Canterbury Tales. I love it so far.

Some cookbooks to check out: Nik Sharma’s book Season is absolutely beautiful. For dinners, I’ve been loving Julia Turshen’s Now & Again and SkinnyTaste One and Done by Gina Homolka. I also just got Melissa’s Clarks latest Comfort in an Instant, and am excited to try some dinners from that one as well. Let’s Stay In by Ashley Rodriguez also looks great.

Chocolate Cake with Espresso Buttercream

The buttercream here calls for espresso, but you can substitute strong coffee. I recently got an espresso machine (this beauty here), and highly recommend it if you drink a lot of coffee. I’ve been using organic espresso beans from Alakef Coffee Roasters, which is located in Duluth Minnesota (I ordered the chocolate covered espresso beans from them as well). Alakef also owns City Girl Coffee, which is a sustainable and responsible coffee company who is working to bring awareness and equality to the women of the coffee industry. They are a great company. The Blue Heron Coffeehouse (where I used to work) has been ordering their beans for 20+ years.

I made this in two square pans, which makes a slightly bigger cake. You will have enough buttercream to cover the cake, but not enough left over to do any serious decorating or piping. I found the crushed chocolate espresso beans to be enough decoration. You could also skip cutting the layers in half to have a little extra buttercream. 8 or 9-inch circular pans will work fine, too.

3 ounces (85g) bittersweet chocolate
1 cup hot coffee (hot water works, too)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup canola oil
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups (284g) all-purpose flour
2 cups (396g) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (75g) Dutch process cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Espresso Buttercream
5 sticks (565g) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup espresso (two shots will equal about 1/4 cup. You can also substitute strong coffee), room temperature
4 cups (452g) confectioner’s sugar
Chocolate covered espresso bean, crushed, for decorating

For the cake
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour two 8 by 2-inch square cake pans (8 or 9-inch circular pans can also be used) and line the bottoms with parchment paper.

Put the bittersweet chocolate in a small bowl. Pour the hot water over it and cover with a piece of plastic wrap. In a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk the sour cream, milk, canola oil, eggs, and vanilla.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt on low until combined. With the mixer running on low, slowly add the sour cream mixture. Increase the speed to medium and beat until combined, 20-30 seconds.

Whisk the chocolate and hot water together until completely smooth. With the mixer running on low, slowly pour the chocolate mixture into the batter and mix until just combined. Using a spatula, give the batter a couple of turns to make sure it is fully mixed.

Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans. Bake 25-35 minutes, until a wooden skewer or toothpick comes out with the tiniest bit of crumb.

Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 30 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper, remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the cakes, and let the cakes cool completely upside-down (this will help deflate any doming). Once cool, the cakes can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated overnight or frosted (cakes can also be frozen unfrosted for up to one month).

For the espresso buttercream
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter on medium until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the vanilla, salt, and espresso. Mix on low until combined; increase the speed to medium and beat 1 minute. Turn the mixer back to low and slowly add the confectioners’ sugar, mixing until combined. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary, 6-8 minutes.

To assemble the cake
Cut each layer of cake in half horizontally, to make a total of four layers. Put one layer, cut side up, on a serving platter, and top with 1/2 cup of the espresso buttercream. Use an offset spatula to spread it evenly over the layer. Repeat with two more layers and then top the cake with the remaining layer, cut side down. Frost the cake, and decorate with crushed chocolate covered espresso beans.


  • Reply
    Sara @ Cake Over Steak
    Thursday, October 11, 2018 at 12:27 pm

    Omg so jealous of your espresso machine! This kind of cake is always my first choice if it’s an option somewhere. I can’t get enough of that chocolate/coffee combo.

  • Reply
    Friday, October 12, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    Love coffee in cakes and have a passion for Iced Coffee and I am sure this cake would be absolutely scrumptious. And it looks so invitingly dark too.

  • Reply
    Colin Matthews
    Sunday, October 14, 2018 at 7:56 am

    Ugh, multilayered cakes like this are my weakness. Look at these pictures you can just tell how moist and delicious it is… And hey if you’re in need of someone to eat all of your coffee-flavored desserts, since your husband doesn’t like coffee, I humbly volunteer myself to eat them all… 😛

  • Reply
    Sonja Overhiser
    Monday, October 15, 2018 at 11:12 am

    You had me at espresso buttercream! And love your cookbook lineup too 🙂

  • Reply
    Alexandra Phillips
    Saturday, October 20, 2018 at 1:48 am

    Chocolate cake with buttercream.. nice recipe and tasty recipe

  • Reply
    Saturday, October 27, 2018 at 2:57 pm

    I just made this cake on a cold and rainy day here in MA. I didn’t have 2 – 8×8 pans so bake it used 3 – 9″ round cake pans instead, and thereby eliminating the need to torte the cake. The cake is absolutely delicious! Definitely will make again. I liked the espresso flavor of the frosting but found the amount of butter to be overwhelming, both in consistency and flavor. For the next go around I would consider changing the butter to confectioners sugar ratio. Thanks for the recipe, I enjoy your blog.

  • Reply
    Link Love - marla young
    Sunday, October 28, 2018 at 8:45 am

    […]  Chocolate cake with espresso buttercream is the perfect cake for a coffee […]

  • Reply
    Sean Mahan
    Tuesday, November 6, 2018 at 7:56 am

    Sounds like the best dessert combo ever. Looking forward to make this!

  • Reply
    Chocolate Cake Bake Off, Part II - The Pancake Princess
    Thursday, June 27, 2019 at 9:25 am

    […] has a couple chocolate cake recipes on her site–this is her take on Ina’s recipe; this is a version that uses sour cream. I tested this version as it seemed like the closest take on […]

  • Reply
    Friday, July 12, 2019 at 2:53 pm

    I made this cake a couple of weeks ago and didn’t have any small pans to make it so I made a 9×13 and it was to dense and sunk in the middle. Still tasted delicious! I’m making again this weekend for a potluck and planning to make cupcakes and garnish each with a chocolate covered espresso bean and shaved chocolate if I have time. I think this recipe is heavenly, thanks for sharing!!!

    • Reply
      Friday, August 9, 2019 at 6:23 pm

      I am making this recipe for the 3rd time in a month today, my sweet little boy wants cupcakes for his birthday party, and he wants these. He’s the equivalent of the cookie monster when it comes to this recipe…and so is my husband. I think this is by far the best chocolate cake recipe I have ever made…it’s our new fav!!!!

  • Reply
    Frank Wilk
    Thursday, July 18, 2019 at 9:03 am

    It’s July 18, 2019 gloomy outside but also the opening round of the Open. So when I saw your Instagram post I had to get to the recipe knowing that I will be making this today. It was the photograph that had me.

  • Reply
    Monday, October 14, 2019 at 11:51 am

    My entire family is rooting for me to make this beautiful recipe, however; i was thinking about doing this cake as cupcakes! Do you have any tips for converting this recipe into cupcakes? Thank you!

    • Reply
      Friday, November 15, 2019 at 3:16 pm

      I’ve made cupcakes with it and I changed nothing in the recipe. I just googled cooking time and temp for cupcakes and they were amazing!!!

  • Reply
    Saturday, July 4, 2020 at 12:04 pm

    When you measure the espresso, do you take the measurement as soon as it exits the espresso machine, or you do you measure after it cools down. If you measure after it cools, we need to make sure to make more than what the recipe calls for, as it will be less after cooling.

    • Reply
      Thursday, July 16, 2020 at 8:24 am

      I measure my espresso as soon as it comes out of the machine and I’ve made this recipe many times and it’s always a hit.

      • Reply
        Friday, September 11, 2020 at 12:55 pm

        Thank you. I wasn’t sure if the crema disapating would be an issue.

  • Reply
    Júlia Caires
    Saturday, August 15, 2020 at 6:38 pm

    I find the regionalism of recipes so interesting. I’m Brazilian, here the buttercream is starting to be accepted as a cover, nothing more. And when it is used, it is most often the one made with meringue. We use it a lot as a brigadeiro filling, ganache, whipped cream, icing cream, etc. But never the buttercream. I thought it was an excellent idea to put coffee on the roof. Coffee goes well with chocolate. Hugs

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