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

Why this Chocolate Buttermilk Cake is so soft

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.

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.

  • 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 and when chilled, so cakes made with oil are softer than cakes made with butter.
  • 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.

Recipe Ingredients

ingredients for chocolate buttermilk cake in glass bowls.

How to make Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

See the recipe card for detailed measurements and instructions.

cocoa and water in a bowl. Flour in a sifter.
  • Combine the cocoa with boiling water.
  • Sift together the dry ingredients.
emulsified eggs and oil for making chocolate cake batter.
  • Emulsify the eggs, sugar, 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.

Recipe Tips

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).


The cake layers can be wrapped and stored at room temperature for 1-2 days or frozen for a month. Once the cake is filled and iced the filling and icing will determine how to store the cake.

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

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

old fashioned chocolate cake
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4.60 from 57 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
16 servings
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  • 2 ounces Dutch process cocoa powder (½ cup)
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 ounces boiling water (½ cup)
  • 9 ounces cake flour (2 cups, see note)
  • 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 °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 2 ounces Dutch process cocoa powder and ½ teaspoon baking soda in a small heat-proof bowl. Whisk 4 ounces boiling water into the cocoa, it will foam up a bit from the baking soda. Set aside to cool while preparing the other ingredients.
  • Sift 9 ounces cake flour with 1 teaspoon baking powder and ½ teaspoon table salt, set aside.
  • Combine 8 ounces vegetable oil, 4 large eggs, 8 ounces buttermilk,1 tablespoon vanilla extract and 16 ounces granulated sugar in a mixer bowl. Mix on medium speed to combine the ingredients, continue mixing for 2-3 minutes to emulsify the ingredients.
  • 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.

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If measuring the flour by volume use the “dip & sweep” method. That is, dip the measuring cup into the flour bin, overfill it, then sweep away the excess.


Serving: 12g | Calories: 327kcal | Carbohydrates: 43g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 8g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 42mg | Sodium: 166mg | Potassium: 106mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 29g | Vitamin A: 83IU | Calcium: 45mg | Iron: 1mg
Have you tried this recipe?Mention @eileen.bakingsense or tag #bakingsense!

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Recipe Rating


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

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. Can we make chocolate fudge buttercream using belgian dakr chocolate and not cocoa powder? If yes, whats the difference between fudge buttercream and chocolate buttercream? Can i get the recipe for 3 layers with 9 inch pan?

    1. 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.

  5. 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…

    1. 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.

  6. 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?

  7. Hello,

    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 12×18 I think. Thanks so much!!

    1. Hi Vanessa, are you using a deep 13×9 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.

  8. What do I do,, there’s no buttermilk anywhere in my country?
    Is there any substitute (equally as effective), or is there a way I can hack it cos some recipes recommend using warm milk instead?

    1. Hi Tobi. My first choice to substitute buttermilk is to use buttermilk powder. If you don’t have that available use 1 cup of regular milk and stir in a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar. Set it aside to thicken.

    2. All you have to do is to a cup of milk or cream is a teaspoon of vinegar and stir It up lettuce set go back 10 of 15 minute till it curl up all right de

  9. Thank you for this recipe. I love all your recipes, and I love learning new baking technique’s. And I have learned a lot from you. I am a much better baker and my cakes look more professional since following your instructions. So thanks again.