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Old Fashioned Chocolate 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 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 blog. 

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.

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.

Scroll through the step by step photos to see how to make Old Fashioned Chocolate Buttermilk Cake:

all the ingredients for making buttermilk chocolate cake

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 for a very fine cake crumb.

pouring chocolate cake batter into a cake pan.

Because the batter is so wet, the cake is very moist.

two chocolate cakes cooling on a rack.

Cool the cakes in the pans.

trimming the top off of a chocolate cake layer.

I like to 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 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 cakea 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.

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

old fashioned chocolate cake

Old Fashioned Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Bake Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes

The is the perfect, moist, super-dark Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake. Fill it with buttercream, whipped cream or fruit fillings.


  • 1/2 cup (2 oz, 55 g) Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz, 125 ml) boiling water
  • 2 cups (9 oz, 255g) cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 1 cup (8 oz, 255 ml) vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup (8 oz, 240 ml) buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (16 oz, 448g) granulated sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°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).
  2. 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.
  3. Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt, set aside.
  4. 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.
  5. With the mixer running on low, add the flour and then add the cocoa mixture. Mix until completely incorporated.
  6. 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.
  7. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack.
  8. Cool completely before filling and icing.

Did you make this recipe?

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Thursday 8th of April 2021

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Eileen Gray

Thursday 8th of April 2021



Sunday 21st of March 2021

Hi Eileen, Can this cake be bake in a Bundt cake pan?

Eileen Gray

Monday 22nd of March 2021

I haven't tried it so I can't say for sure. It is a very wet batter which might not be able to maintain it's structure as the cake rises. If you try it, let me know if it works out.

Summer Britton

Wednesday 7th of October 2020

Hi Eileen :) How would I need to adjust this recipe for two 10 inch pans? I'm considering making two batches but I'm concerned letting the once batch stand whilst making the other one before pouring the batter into the pans...

Eileen Gray

Wednesday 7th of October 2020

Hi Summer. A 10" round pan has an area of 78.5" (1/2 the 10" radius squared x 3.14). An 8" round pan has an area of 50.24". 78.5/50.24=156%. So that means a 10" round pan has about 1 1/2 times the area of an 8" round pan. So you'll need to make 1 1/2 batches of this recipe to make a 10" cake. If your mixer can hold that size batch you can must mix it once and divide it between the two pans.


Saturday 3rd of October 2020

We love your cake and this frosting!! Although it always tastes delicious the coloring seems off. It’s always a little more gray/brown rather than a rich chocolate brown. Any idea why?

Eileen Gray

Saturday 3rd of October 2020

What kind of cocoa are you using?


Wednesday 30th of May 2018


My son wants a 2-layer half sheet cake for his birthday, one layer of this chocolate cake and one layer of a yellow or white cake. Would you recommend modifying this recipe at all for the chocolate layer (ie-doubling it), and what time would you check it at? My half sheet is approx 12x18 I think. Thanks so much!!


Wednesday 30th of May 2018

Hi Vanessa, are you using a deep 13x9 pan (like a brownie pan) or a shallow half sheet pan (like a cookie sheet with sides). If you're using a shallow half sheet pan, one batch of this recipe will fill the pan. It will be a fairly shallow layer (maybe 1.5" thick). If you bake this single batch in a half sheet pan it will bake pretty quickly, maybe 15-20 minutes. If you want a thicker layer you can try doubling the recipe. But I'll be honest and tell you I have tried baking this recipe in a deeper rectangle pan. Let me know if you try it how it works out.

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