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Old Fashioned Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake is the perfect, moist (I know people hate that word, but it’s a fact), super-dark, Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake. Fill it with buttercream, whipped cream or fruit fillings.

a slice of old fashioned chocolate cake on a plate

Really? ANOTHER chocolate cake recipe? Yep! Much as I love my Chocolate Butter Cake‘s melt-in-your-mouth texture and the super light and airy crumb of my Chocolate Genoise, there is also a place on our menu for this Buttermilk Chocolate Cake recipe.

I call this “Old Fashioned” Chocolate Buttermilk Cake because it has a very soft and moist crumb that is reminiscent of a cake made from a box-mix.

WHAT??? How dare I talk about cake mix in this everything-baked-from-scratch-all-the-time website. 

But wait, stay with me a minute. While I’m convinced that I can always spot a cake made from a mix because there is a certain artificial flavor that comes through, cake mixes do have one thing going for them. 

Cakes made from a mix have a the super soft, very fine crumb that many, many people think of as the quintessential old fashioned chocolate layer cake. It’s the kind of cake that I grew up with, and maybe you did too.

But we don’t have to resort to using cake mix.

Recipe Ingredients

  • Dutch process cocoa powder 
  • Baking soda
  • Boiling water
  • Cake flour 
  • Baking powder
  • Table salt
  • Vegetable oil 
  • Large eggs
  • Buttermilk 
  • Vanilla extract
  • Granulated sugar 

Why is Chocolate Buttermilk Cake so soft and tender?

  • There are two secret ingredients in this recipe that create the type of super-fine crumb you get from a cake mix — buttermilk and oil.
  • Buttermilk is acidic and acidic ingredients tenderize the cake crumb. Buttermilk has a lovely tangy flavor and helps moisturize the cake.
  • Oil stays liquid at room temperature, so cakes made with oil are softer than cakes made with butter. Oil has more water than butter, so the wet batter bakes up into a very moist (again, sorry it’s just the best description) cake. 
  • Because we don’t “cream” the batter as we do with a butter cake, the air in the batter comes from emulsifying the batter and from the leavening. This means we get lots and lots of tiny air bubbles in the batter. That translates to a very fine and even crumb with melts in your mouth.

How to make Chocolate Buttermilk Cake:

all the ingredients for making buttermilk chocolate cake
  • Combine the cocoa with boiling water.
  • Combine the wet ingredients and the dry ingredients separately. Once the ingredients are assembled, the cake comes together in minutes.
emulsified eggs and oil for making chocolate cake batter.
  • Emulsify the eggs, buttermilk and oil.
  • Add the cocoa and the dry ingredients.
pouring chocolate cake batter into a cake pan.
  • Pour the batter into 2 pans and bake until the center of the cake springs back when lightly pressed.
two chocolate cakes cooling on a rack.
  • Cool the cakes in the pans.
trimming the top off of a chocolate cake layer.
  • You can trim the top of the cakes to make them level. This step is optional.
splitting a chocolate cake layer into two smaller layers.
  • For a 4 layer cake, split each cake in two. Skip this step if you want a two layer cake.

What’s the perfect icing for this Old Fashioned Chocolate Buttermilk Cake? Why, Old Fashioned Chocolate Frosting, of course. 

I’ll even go so far as to suggest that you skip the pastry chef-y, smooth-icing technique and ice the cake with the “Betty Crocker swirls” that make it look like a cake from a 1960s TV commercial (and I mean that in a good way).

old fashioned chocolate layer cake
a slice of old fashioned chocolate cake on a plate with a fork

Since you’re a fan of old fashioned chocolate cake, you might also like my recipes for Classic German Chocolate Cake and Classic Black Forest Cake or Classic Sacher Torte.

If you love this recipe as much as I do, I’d really appreciate a 5-star review.

old fashioned chocolate cake
Print Recipe
4.59 from 56 reviews

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake Recipe

The is the perfect, moist, super-dark Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake. Fill it with buttercream, whipped cream or fruit fillings.
Prep Time25 minutes
Bake Time30 minutes
Total Time55 minutes
12 servings


  • 2 ounces Dutch process cocoa powder (½ cup)
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 ounces boiling water (½ cup)
  • 9 ounces cake flour (2 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon table salt
  • 8 ounces vegetable oil (1 cup)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 8 ounces buttermilk (1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 16 ounces granulated sugar (2 cups)


  • Preheat the oven to 350°F350 °F. Line the bottom of two 8" round cake pans with parchment paper, or butter and flour the bottom of the pans (don't butter/flour the sides).
  • Combine the cocoa and the baking soda in a small heat-proof bowl. Whisk the boiling water into the cocoa, it will foam up a bit from the baking soda. Set aside to cool while preparing the other ingredients.
    2 ounces Dutch process cocoa powder, ½ teaspoon baking soda, 4 ounces boiling water
  • Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt, set aside.
    9 ounces cake flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon table salt
  • Combine the oil, eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and sugar in a mixer bowl. Mix on medium speed to combine the ingredients, continue mixing for 2-3 minutes to emulsify the ingredients.
    8 ounces vegetable oil, 4 large eggs, 8 ounces buttermilk, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, 16 ounces granulated sugar
  • With the mixer running on low, add the flour and then add the cocoa mixture. Mix until completely incorporated.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Bake until the top springs back when lightly pressed or a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
  • Cool in the pan for 20 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before filling and icing.


My Book
KA Stand Mixer
Round Cake Pan, 8 x 3-Inch
Parchment Sheets
Cooling Rack
Revolving Cake Stand

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Serving: 12g | Calories: 436kcal | Carbohydrates: 57g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 22g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 11g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 57mg | Sodium: 220mg | Potassium: 141mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 39g | Vitamin A: 111IU | Calcium: 59mg | Iron: 1mg
Have you tried this recipe?Mention @eileen.bakingsense or tag #bakingsense!
Recipe Rating


Wednesday 22nd of February 2023

Wouldn’t whipping the whites Make it softer, can I do it for this cake?

Eileen Gray

Wednesday 22nd of February 2023

You could. But this cake is very soft as is since it's made with oil.


Tuesday 21st of February 2023

Would it make the cake more tender if I replaced one egg with 3 yolks, or would it make the cake structure too weak?

Eileen Gray

Wednesday 22nd of February 2023

Could make the cake too weak. This is an extremely soft cake with the oil and buttermilk.


Thursday 4th of August 2022

Oh sorry, I meant 9 x 13 cake pan

Eileen Gray

Thursday 4th of August 2022

Yes, I think that should work.


Thursday 4th of August 2022

Hi, this cake recipe looks amazing, but my family is partial to 1 layer cakes. (so crazy!!!) Can I bake it in a 9 x 10 cake pan?


Monday 14th of February 2022

Hai here u said butter milk that means have to add little lemon or vinegar to curdle the milk or butter milk made from curd. So many foreigners telling that butter milk but not giving clarity which one to Use.

Eileen Gray

Monday 14th of February 2022

I'm sorry, I'm not sure I understand your question. Buttermilk is a cultured milk product similar to yogurt. If you don't have buttermilk available you can add vinegar or lemon juice (1 tablespoon) to a cup of regular cow's milk to "sour" the milk. You can also use yogurt thinned out with a little water or milk.