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Ultimate Chocolate Cake

This deep, rich confection topped with fudgy frosting is ideal for special occasions or simply for chocolate lovers. Martha's uses Valrhona cocoa powder; for best results, use the highest-quality ingredients you can find. For an impressive presentation, let the layers cool completely before assembling, dust off any loose crumbs, and use the better layer for the top.

  • Yield: Makes two 8-inch layers
Ultimate Chocolate Cake

Source: Martha Stewart Living Television, May 1999


  • 1 cup Valrhona cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
  • 3/4 cup strong coffee, boiling
  • 1 cup milk, room temperature
  • 2 3/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • Ultimate Chocolate Frosting


  1. Place rack in middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-by-2-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment, and dust with cocoa powder; tap out excess. Sift cocoa; whisk in boiling coffee and milk. Let cool. Sift together cake flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

  2. Using a rubber spatula, mix the butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add sugar and vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Pour in the cooled cocoa mixture. Mix until fully incorporated.

  3. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture, stirring until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pans (about 4 cups in each pan). Bake for 20 minutes, rotate the pans, and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the center.

  4. Remove the cakes from the oven, and allow to cool in pans for 15 minutes on a cooling rack. Carefully run a small offset spatula around the edge of the cakes to loosen them from the pan. Remove cakes from pans, and invert onto a wire rack. Let cool completely, about 1 hour.

  5. To assemble, using a serrated knife, level the top surface of each cake layer. Place four strips of parchment paper around the perimeter of the cake stand. Spread with 3/4 cup of frosting. Top with the remaining layer, bottom side up. Using a swirling motion, cover the outside of cake with the remaining frosting. Remove parchment-paper strips.

Reviews (53)

  • speckledjersey 8 Jun, 2014

    I remember watching Martha make this cake over ten years ago on her first show, I made it immediately. This is truly the chocolate cake recipe that you look for, and when you find it, you don't stop making it. I find the cake is moist and the icing perfect, reminds of Grandma's house. The best part is the cake is even better the next day. I have to go now, I am making it for my friend's Birthday.

  • Ilhomecook5 28 Jan, 2014

    This recipe yielded too much batter for the 8 inch pans and the cake turned out dry.

  • chelseabuns 8 Jan, 2014

    Most fabulous chocolate cake I've ever made, this is now the 4th time. Used Lindt chocolate powder which is like the best in the world!!! Used half the frosting recipe as it is waaaayyyyy too much and such a waste of ingredients. Rate this recipe 5/5 thanks Martha, can never go wrong using your recipes :D

  • ilovebrooklyn 21 Dec, 2013

    This recipe is perfect! I frosted this cake with Martha's ''Dark-Chocolate Ganache'', (which is the easiest most amazing frosting I've ever made). The cake is so rich and moist. Make sure to not overbake, I baked for 35 minutes exactly.

  • OhMyHoneyBee 25 Oct, 2013

    Made this cake several times already and it turns out perfect every time. Cake flour isn't available in my country, so I use all purpose flour and replace 10 g per cup of it with cornstarch. I think that works just as fine.

  • Lori2009 23 Aug, 2013

    This will be my go to chocolate cake! Rich, decadent chocolate flavor. This is definitely a grown up cake. The crumb is so fine and delicate, be sure to use cake flour as directed, it has a lower protein count and that is what keeps this cake light and moist. I did cheat and use a hand mixer instead of beating by hand...shhh don't tell Martha.

  • Greencrazed 17 Aug, 2013

    I made this today as written, Valrhona cocoa and all. The cake was decent but not intense enough for me. I'm a chocolate fanatic and I was hoping for something "ultimate" from this cake, given its title. My kids disagreed with me on the cake not being chocolaty enough. I doubled the accompanying frosting recipe because I like frosting, and there was just barely enough. The cake was not bad, but it was not great either. I don't think I'll be making this again.

  • malzak 25 Jul, 2013

    Does anyone know where to get Valrhona cocoa? I googled it, and websites are listing it from $88-$110! Is it generally that expensive?

  • Jenny Trivedi 15 Jul, 2013

    I had just enough Valrhona cocoa left to make this very moist cake. I made cupcakes and used the same oven temp but left them in only 15 mins at a time. Made about 30. The first batch in was smaller (and only 10 mins) because I was worried about overflowing and filled a standard cupcake paper only half full. Next batches I did all the way full and they rose to a perfect height. Used a peanut butter frosting to finish.

  • Mozany_UAE 20 Apr, 2013

    Gonna bake it TODAY ! so excited. Wait for my review.

  • Cupcake Chick 28 Mar, 2013

    I am baking this cake right now and so far the batter looks great, smells wonderful and is rising appropriately. As bakers we need to remember if we substitute items it will change the results of the final product. I made no substitutions and this cake appears to be a winner so far. I will let you know if it turns out poorly but if I don't post again than no news is good news.

  • Crooked1 25 Oct, 2012

    I made this using normal high grade flour as I couldn't get cake flour, also subbed half the white sugar for brown. I followed the rest of the recipe exactly, using Cadbury cocoa and 5 small eggs. I was disappointed with the end result, it didn't taste any better than a 5 minute one bowl cake, I was expecting it to be outstanding. It's fairly rich and moist but not as much as I prefer, and seemed a waste of such a large amount of good ingredients and time. Won't bother making again.

  • haybay86 14 Jan, 2015

    Are you serious? Don't rate a recipe unless you follow it exactly. Using all purpose flour if going to give you a completely different result. SMH.

  • Maria M 24 Jul, 2012

    i absolutely love this recipe. very easy & has a great taste

  • oliviatauekistevens 21 Jul, 2012

    this was grouse, really loved it and easy, i did it in 3 layers beautiful cake,

  • saick- 10 Jul, 2012

    This cake was moist, rich, and delicious. I used Mexican chocolate instead of the more expensive European cocoas mentioned. You can use Chocolate Abuelita or other similar brands like Don Gustavo, they come in powder versions. If you do this, make sure to lower the sugar amount. I also put in a 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. For the frosting I used cream cheese frosting (cream cheese, confectioner's sugar, and 1/2 tsp vanilla) and drizzled Cajeta (Mexican caramel) on top.

  • katherinegibson 4 Jun, 2012

    this needs to be split up into 3 layers. my 2 layers took almost 20 minutes longer to bake than the recipe suggested, and they're ridiculously thick.

  • Sandra-lee Wolff 28 May, 2012

    Unbelievably good. VERY rich.

  • mohhh 23 May, 2012

    Can i use ganache instead of the ultimate frosting?

  • Renarde 10 Feb, 2012

    In the future, I will read the WHOLE recipe before attempting it. Mix by hand with a rubber spatula???? My grandmother used to but my arms are about dead now...hehehe I hope the taste equals or excedes the effort!

  • VanessasKitchen 3 Sep, 2011

    Oh, and by the way . . . I used a high quality cocoa rather than Valrhona cocoa. It turned out just fined. Just purchase the best quality cocoa available at your market.

  • VanessasKitchen 3 Sep, 2011

    I made this cake for my little brother's birthday. He adored it! This cake is so luscious and decadent and rich . . . the coffee is not overpowering, just a subtle flavor note that really deepens the flavor. Even though it is an ungodly amount of calories, don't hesitate to make this cake!

  • maritza1211 15 Aug, 2011

    It's the best chocolate cake I've ever had! Delicioso!

  • Jian16 24 May, 2011

    easy and yummy!

  • davisn719 14 May, 2011

    What a luscious cake! The earthiness of the cocoa, the richness of the batter and the moist and tender final product gets five stars from me!

  • ryanCooks 29 Jan, 2011

    I first saw this on TV and made it last night, it was great. The only thing I changed was I used 9 x 2 inch pans, and it still filled up 3/4ths of the way, which was perfect. My layers had to bake an extra 15 minutes because I used insulated pans. When I removed the first layer from the pan after 20 minutes of cooling, I was too confident and the layer split in half.....No worries though, it still turned out delicious. I also refridgerated the frosting over night. Delicious!!!

  • bootsystar 27 Dec, 2010

    i made this cake last night. delicious! i added a teaspoon each of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg to give it a bit of spice. tuned out really well.

  • sheshefoofoocards 24 Dec, 2010

    OUTSTANDING CAKE. I used Nestle cocoa. If you want it to taste like dark chocolate, use less powder sugar in the frosting. I can't say enough about this cake. It's also beautiful. The frosting is perfect.

  • sexyhungrycook 29 Nov, 2010

    I made this cake for Thanksgiving and it was a big hit! This cake was awesome, and I must say was quite a turn on. It is extremely decadent and rich, the coffee just enhanced the chocolate flavor. Will make this again in December for my Breakfast at Tiffany's party.

  • mobear 9 Oct, 2010

    Well, I made this cake for my daughter's first birthday and it was AWESOME!!!! Everyone loved it! Will absolutely make again! Sarah1..I used electric mixer.

  • KatanaRogue 13 Sep, 2010

    This is my go-to chocolate cake recipe! It's very good, but it makes a ton of batter. I typically use two 9" pans and still have enough for 6-7 cupcakes on the side. Never fill a pan more than 3/4 of the way up the sides FYI! I also use regular flour with it and it turns out just fine!

  • sarahk1 25 Aug, 2010

    HI, was just wondering, for those of you who have made this cake, did you mix both the cake recipe and the frosting recipe by hand or did you use an electric mixer? Thanks, really appreciate it:)

  • mobear 4 Aug, 2010

    I am making this cake in a couple of days for the first time and I can't find cake flour anywhere! Please help! I have read where you just subtract 1/4 cup if using all purpose and sift twice and then I found something that said you add corn starch. Any advice?? Also, since I am new to baking I am assuming when you sift flour you do so after measuring it out first?

  • cinnamonbear 31 Jul, 2010

    I made this cake and believe me, it didn't last long. It was light, delicious, and easy. The recipe calls for a 2 inch deep pan and all pans are not created equal. Check to be sure your pan is 2 inches deep, otherwise this may be why your cake overflowed. Any kind of dutch processed cocoa powder should be fine for this recipe. I used Droste, available from Amazon. It worked fine.

  • Delita 14 Jun, 2010

    My daughter made this cake for my granddaughter's 3rd Birthday, it was a real hit with the guests. The taste was unbelievable. It was the best chocolate cake I have tasted. But then again its Martha's and Martha only makes the best, Martha you are phenomenal.``````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````

  • liabc 31 Mar, 2010

    Just made this for my son's 17th birthday. I used 3 x 9" pans and followed the recipe to the letter and it turned out so well. It was so rich and delicious, the best chocolate I have made so far. The frosting is great! Thank you Martha :)

  • Razldazlrr 13 Jan, 2010

    I'm going to make this Saturday and put in a 11x7 pan for easier transport, I'll let you know how it goes!

  • madz 23 Mar, 2009

    I followed the directions, hand mixing, and Valrhona cocoa powder (from and had to bake an extra 10 minutes in 8" pans. The cake was dense and fudgy, but very moist. The frosting was exactly what you would expect in a chocolate frosting - smooth, chocolatey, sweet and delicious! Everyone loved the cake. I will definitely make this again, but next time will cream the butter and sugar with a kitchenaid stand mixer to try to get a lighter texture.

  • reely 18 Feb, 2009

    Used cake flour and Rademaker dutch processed unsweetened cocoa - cake had intense chocolate flavor. Had to bake an extra 20 minutes, and cake rose and almost ran over sides of 8" pans. Trimmed off hard edges and leveled cake. Cake was still moist despite overbaking - recommended frosting was almost too chocolatey and sweet. I think I overmixed the batter with portable hand mixer instead of hand mixing. But my husband loves the cake.

  • sjstanley 7 Feb, 2009

    Hi everyone who has made this cake, can you please ell me what went wrong. I followed the recipe to the letter, the cake are now in the oven. Now when I say that I really mean it, they are all over the oven they have spilled out of the pans, they have been in for almost an hour and not nearly done. This was suppose to be a tasting for my daughters wedding cake. YIKES!!!

  • ienas 12 Jan, 2009

    I made this cake for my husband's birthday. Since I don't like the frosting that need a lot of powdered sugars (too sweet for me), I substituted the frosting with another frosting from this site (it supposed to be used with devil's food cake, the one that need one pound of chocolate) and the cake turned out so good! Everybody loved it. Definitely a keeper. Thanks Martha!

  • cookergirl 3 Jan, 2009

    My daughter wanted a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting for her 9th birthday and does this cake deliver! I live in a small town and was unable to obtain high quality cocoa in time, so I used Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa. It turned out SO good. Rich, dark and VERY chocolaty.I found the baking time of 35 min to be just right.I recommend this recipe highly.

  • smg7 5 Oct, 2008

    This cake was deliciously rich! I'm just wondering why the cooking time given is so short? Thirty-five minutes was clearly not long enough.

  • NOELMARTINEZ 8 Jul, 2008

    i wish the editors could've included a link to the video segment. i don't use comcast, so unfortunately I can't see these using that selection, and it isn't even on itunes (believe me, im subscribed to the podcast). hopefully it's on this site somewhere, but its not on this page. =(

  • Philicia 2 Jun, 2008

    For my first time baking a cake, it was excellent. Everyone loved it, even my mother-inlaw. Recipe was easy and sooooo good. With the frosting that comes with the recipe, it was devine.

  • twoprincesses 11 Feb, 2008

    a stick of butter is 1/2 cup

  • jefila 9 Feb, 2008

    I made this cake for my daughter's seventh birthday. I would normally chose white cake over chocolate any day, but this is one of the best cakes I've ever eaten...dreamy texture and perfect chocolate flavor. (I used Ghardelli cocoa.) It was fun to make too. I might note that the amount of frosting is WAY more than I wanted to use. The remainder is in the freezer for later...

  • jefila 27 Jan, 2008

    In response to marjoncookie's question about cake flour: You can sift your flour (not the high gluten kind used for baking bread), then measure. For every cup of flour, remove 2 tablespoons. That will approximate cake flour if you don't have anything specifically called cake flour.

  • dufunny 22 Jan, 2008

    Can anyone tell me what the best substitute for Valrhona Cocoa powder... we live in Mississippi and don't have it around here.

  • alwiah 17 Jan, 2008

    I baked this cake for my son's 12th birthday and it was a hit with everyone! Very rich and moist! Although I used plain flour instead of the cake flour and Van Houten's cocoa powder instead of Valrhona, the cake turned out really well. I have only one 8-inch pan so I baked twice in a 180 degrees C pre-heated convection oven for 55 minutes. 1 stick of butter is equivalent to 125g or 8 tablespoon or 1/2 cup. Cake flour refers to superfine flour suitable for cake making. Worth trying!

  • alwiah 17 Jan, 2008

    I made this cake for my son's 12th birthday and it was a hit with everyone! Very rich and chocolatey! Although I used plain flour instead of the cake flour and Van Houten's cocoa powder instead of Valrhona, the cake turned out really well. I have only one 8-inch pan so I baked twice in a 180n n n n C pre-heated convection oven for 55 minutes. 1 stick of butter is equivalent to 125g or 8 tablespoon or 1/2 cup. Cake flour refers to superfine flour suitable for cake making. Worth trying!

  • marjoncookie 14 Jan, 2008

    Sorry I'm new to this... what does your "sticks"of butter weigh. I'm the aussie trying some new recipes.

  • marjoncookie 14 Jan, 2008

    I'm in Australia and wondering what cake flour is? we have self raising flour and plain flour. should I use the plain flour and the baking soda.? Please help.

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