Favorite fudge birthday cake: it just doesn't get any better than this

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Are you a Designated Birthday Cake Baker (DBCB)?

The person who, every time someone in the office has a birthday, receives the “nomination” to make the cake?

Not only are you nominated – you run unopposed, right?

And that’s the way you like it. Baking is a pleasure for you, not a task. For most people, even going to the store and buying a boxed cake mix is too much trouble. But for you, it’s fun to pull out the butter and sugar, eggs and flour and vanilla.

And cocoa; let’s not forget that key ingredient. In my many years of experience as a DBCB, chocolate is the runaway favorite on the most-requested birthday cake list.

I do have a vanilla/berry Blitz Torte recipe ready, for those few-and-far-between who DON’T like chocolate. And my MIL needs her lemon cake every year.

But the vast majority demand chocolate – and fall into a state of blissful catatonia once they taste Favorite Fudge Birthday Cake.

Every DBCB needs their go-to cake, a sure-fire winner every time.

This one’s mine.

It’s one of the best-loved recipes on our site, with 43 glowing five-star reviews.

And for a four-layer cake, it isn’t nearly as fussy to make as you might think. It starts out as a standard two-layer cake; each layer is cut in half, iced with an easy filling, and stacked.

The result is a moist cake that keeps well without refrigeration; looks spectacular when cut, and tastes even better than it looks.

Are you a DBCB? Bookmark this: Favorite Fudge Birthday Cake.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place the following in a mixing bowl:

2 cups sugar
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 tablespoons Instant ClearJel® or cornstarch
3/4 cup Double-Dutch Dark Cocoa or Dutch-process cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons espresso powder*
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

*Don’t worry, the espresso powder (pictured above) doesn’t add any coffee flavor here; it simply enhances the flavor of the chocolate. I highly recommend it for all kinds of chocolate baking.

Stir to combine.

Add the following:

4 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups water

Beat until smooth.

Lightly grease and flour two 8″ x 2″ round cake pans.

Note: These pans need to be at least 2″ tall; if you have non-standard, shorter 8″ pans, substitute 9″ round pans.

Or grease the pans, then line with parchment, then grease the parchment; this provides extra insurance against sticking and/or crumbling.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

Bake the cakes for 35 to 38 minutes (a bit less if you use 9″ pans), until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

This is why your 8″ pans HAVE to be at least 2″ deep.

Measure before using; less expensive pans often skimp on height to save metal.

Run a table knife or spatula around the edges of the hot cakes, so they settle evenly.

Cool the cakes for 15 minutes, then turn them out of the pans, removing the parchment.

Cool completely on a rack.

Cut each layer in half horizontally. A long serrated knife works well here.

Now, what flavor should we make the filling?

Simple chocolate is fine, of course.

But this is also a great place to sample some of our extra-strong flavors.

We’re making a simple ganache here. Put the following in a microwave-safe bowl:

12 ounces semisweet chocolate
6 ounces cream (light, whipping, or heavy)*

*Hint: Between this filling, and the icing that follows, you’ll need 12 ounces of cream. If you want to limit yourself to buying just a single 8-ounce carton of cream, use 4 ounces cream + 2 ounces milk in this filling; and the carton’s remaining 4 ounces cream in the icing.

Heat until the cream is very hot, and the chocolate very soft.

Stir to melt the chocolate completely. At first, it’ll look like an uncooperative mess.

Just keep stirring, reheating very briefly if necessary, until the ganache is smooth.

Don’t forget to add about 1/4 teaspoon (to taste) of your favorite extra-strong flavor.

Or, for an “adults only” cake, flavor with liqueur. Use all one flavor, or use a different flavor for each layer of filling. For all one flavor, use 3 tablespoons of your favorite liqueur – Frangelico (hazelnut), Kahlua (coffee), or Framboise (raspberry) are all good choices. Or try 2 tablespoons rum.

To mix and match flavors, divide the filling into three parts, and flavor each differently to taste, with an extra-strong flavor; or with about 1 tablespoon liqueur each.

Place one layer on a serving plate.

See how I’ve laid strips of parchment under the cake? They’re there to catch any drips.

Spread with 1/3 of the filling. Don’t bring it right to the edge; the pressure of the succeeding layers will do that for you.

Add a second layer, with another 1/3 of the filling…

…and a third, with the remaining filling.

Top with the remaining layer.

The cake could be a little unstable at this point, with its hot filling. To prevent “slip-slidin’ away,” bamboo barbecue skewers are a great stabilizer.

Now for the icing. Place the following in a microwave-safe bowl:

8 ounces semisweet chocolate
4 ounces cream (light, whipping, or heavy)

Heat until the cream is very hot, and the chocolate very soft. Stir to melt the chocolate completely, reheating very briefly if necessary.

Pour and spread the icing over the top of the cake…

…letting it drip over the edges and down the sides.

Once it’s done dripping, you may smooth the sides with an icing spatula, if desired.

Kinda messy…

But pull out those parchment strips, and TA-DA! Clean as a whistle.

Allow the cake to rest, covered with a cake cover (or a big turned-over bowl) until the chocolate is set; overnight is good, though several hours are sufficient.

Cut and serve. Take a bow.

Couldn’t resist one final shot. And yes, this is as good as it looks!

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Favorite Fudge Birthday Cake.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. "Joey D in LA"

    The sad part is that as the DBCB in our family… I usually end up having to bake my own. And since my birthday is Tuesday, and Mom’s is Wednesday, and I was just looking for a new cake recipe, guess I have to give this one a whirl. Thanks PJ.

    Reply
  2. difrei

    “Not only are you nominated – you run unopposed, right? And that’s the way you like it.”

    I love it! It’s so true, I am a proud DBCB. Not all of the people I bake for are die-hard chocoholics (I know, crazy, right?), so I make all sort of cakes. But I’m definitely bookmarking this one for the next time someone wants lots of chocolate.

    Reply
  3. LinaBrooks

    This may be a silly question, but what is the difference between the “filling” and the “icing”? They both look like a two to one ratio of chocolate to cream – so why not make just one big batch and divide it if I want to flavor the “filling” differently?

    Not silly at all, Lina – You can certainly just make one big batch and leave some out for flavoring – or separate it into favored filling vs. icing. I liked having a precise amount to use for filling, and not having to weigh out and remove part for the icing… plus, I was afraid the icing would stiffen up while I was fooling around with the filling, and wouldn’t pour as nicely. Lots of little reasons – nothing very important! :) PJH

    Reply
  4. Christina

    Mmmm, this looks amazing. I already have a go-to chocolate cake recipe, but I will have to try this one too. Wouldn’t want to miss out on something even better!

    Reply
  5. Aaron Frank

    Cool. Almost looks like a giant, four layer whoopie pie before you put on on the icing!

    And with the chocolate icing on a chocolate cake you don’t seem to need a crumb coat.

    Thanks

    Reply
  6. Caroline

    It’s my husbands birthday next week and he said make a cake that is “moist”.This looks perfect! Thank you.

    Reply
  7. wjcumming

    Why not cake flour?
    Feel free to use cake flour if you would like. You may want to hold back on the amount of flour by about 1 tablespoon, though. ~Amy

    Reply
  8. MCDS

    Is there a secret to dividing the batter evenly between two pans? I would love to know if there is a better way than eyeballing the level.
    Using a scale is the best way to know how much to put in each pan. Weigh the batter, then divide it accordingly, whether it be 2, 3, or more pans! ~Jessica

    Reply
  9. erinhibshman

    I too agree with difrei in that I love being the DBCB! I enjoy using those times to try out new recipes for cakes and desserts. I have made this cake before, and LOVE it – it’s so moist and chocolatety. It has replaced my previous go to chocolate cake recipe. I used it with the 7 minute frosting (DELICIOUS!) and with peanut butter frosting, but never with the ganache – I will definitely be trying this for the next birthday bash. And I can’t say enough great things about the USA pans – I am slowly replacing my hand me downs with these study and well made pans – THEY ROCK!! :)

    Reply
  10. Tara

    I’m the DBCB in my office…and the intern, which is a problem because I’m moving halfway across the country next week for a real job. This recipe looks a lot like my favorite chocolate cake recipe, Hershey’s Black Magic cake. Delicious!

    Reply
  11. Heather

    My family doesn’t drink/use coffee as a religious tenant and I see so many yummy looking chocolate recipes that include coffee, do you have any suggestions about how I can get around the coffee?

    Easy, Heather – if it’s espresso powder, just leave it out – it’s there for flavor. If it’s brewed coffee, substitute water. Again, it’s there for flavor. In some instances the acid in the coffee might have upped the baking soda amount in the recipe, but when I’m adding espresso powder, I don’t adjust the leavening – so you should be just fine. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  12. Irene in TO

    I bake this frequently. DO NOT use cake flour here because the cocoa dilutes the gluten to just about the same final level. Starting with cake flour will make slices fall apart. To use up cake flour with this recipe, bake 3 or 4 layers and don’t try to slice.

    ALL kinds of cocoa work just fine. I get “red-red” cocoa from the bulk food store, it makes a perfect cake. I skip the clear-jel, just use flour.

    Line bottom of pans with baking parchment–greasing is a waste of time. That way the cake will bake more evenly up the sides of the pans. Loosen the sides about 10 minutes after baking.

    Chill layers before slicing–it becomes MUCH easier. From room temperature, chill 20 minutes.

    Chill filling briefly until it thickens up–that way the cake won’t slide apart. Stir it every 5 minutes to avoid hard lumps.

    Irene, I have a terrible time getting layers out of cake pans intact without greasing the pans. And I rely heavily on parchment as extra insurance… Thanks for your input and tips, as always. PJH

    Reply
  13. Jane Williams

    I was wondering what would happen if I reduce the amount of sugar to 1 cup?

    The sugar is a structural ingredient. A 50% reduction will result in a failure of this recipe. Sorry. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  14. Laurie

    Ninety percent of the time, my family requests the same yellow cake with chocolate fudge frosting. I have an occasional request for a chocolate cake like this one, so I am excited to give this a try for the next birthday at the end of this month. For myself, I prefer a non-chocolate cake, but rarely make one because my daughter’s birthday is the day before mine. I had to return to this post three times before reading it because I kept getting sidetracked by the delicious-sounding blitz torte and lemon cake! Thanks for all three recommendations.

    Reply
  15. Arti

    This one’s really yumm!!! And yes, I am a proud DBCB!!! But can’t get neat layers. Can anyone please tell me what is the secret of cutting the cake in nice and neat layers? Please please please….
    Cakes will cut more cleanly and be easier to handle if they are cold. I suggest placing your cakes in the refrigerator or freezer to firm up for cutting. If you have a lazy susan (turn-table), you can spin your cakes slowly while you cut the layers (keeping one hand on top of the cake for stability. This helps to cut them evenly. Please call our baker’s hotline if you have more questions. ~Amy

    Reply
  16. lillabit2001

    For Arti:
    Wilton (the cake decorating company) sells a tool called a cake leveler that can also be used for cutting layers. You can buy it at a Michael’s store, if you have one in your area, as they give Wilton classes. You can also buy it from Wilton online or Amazon.

    Reply
  17. Shannon

    Lovely cake… thinking of making it for Husband’s birthday. One question when you let the cake rest overnight do you leave it out on the counter or put it in the refrigerator?
    This cake will fare well right on your counter at room temperature to set. Enjoy! ~Jessica

    Reply
  18. lauried

    I made this cake for my son’s 17th birthday on Tuesday. Since my pans weren’t big enough for all the batter, I made a two layer cake and used the extra batter to make some cupcakes.
    Taking your advice, I baked the cake a day early so that the flavors could develop. Fantastic results. Thanks!

    Reply
  19. Irene in TO

    Hello PJ,

    I don’t have trouble getting cakes (any kind) out of pans (any kind) with just a piece of parchment on the bottom. I prefer very heavy duty aluminum, but I use all kinds including coated, glass, and ceramic.

    I bake layers at 325F (gas and electric). Loaf cakes get turned down to 300F after 20 minutes. There is less crusting before the middle bakes through. That might have something to do with getting them out OK.

    I also let the cake cool completely in the pan before running a knife around the egde. The cake has to feel stone cold to the touch to be at room temp–you are working in a significantly warmer kitchen, and your cakes may not get down to 60F. You might try chilling your cakes for 10 minutes to get them out of the pans in one piece.

    I like the chilling idea, Irene; thanks, I’ll give it a try. PJH

    Reply
  20. Sayantani

    I baked this cake today. while it smelled and tasted heavenly but it had huge cracks allover on the top. as my oven is a very small one so I divided the recipe and made the batter and baked it in 2 batches. could this be the reason?

    also when the first one developed cracks I used only 1 egg in the second one to avoid this. but that also broke from the sides.
    I am sorry your cakes developed cracks. Are you making any substitutions? Are you using natural cocoa rather than dutched cocoa? Are you using bread flour instead of all purpose? Be sure not to over mix the batter. The cake’s texture will more dense and less delicate if mixed too long. Is your oven preheated to the correct temperature? Maybe it runs hot (an oven thermometer helps greatly!). Perhaps you are baking the cake too long? The cake should begin pulling away from the sides of the pan and the top should bounce back when poked with your finger. This recipe is one of my personal favorites! It is my go-to for chocolate birthday cake in my house. Elisabeth

    Reply
  21. GirlG

    Can I use wax paper instead of parchment paper for the pans?

    No, don’t use was paper. The wax will melt into the cake layer. Just lightly grease and flour the pans. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  22. chinchillalover

    I made the cake and the filling and the frosting both turned out like WATER and the cake just plain looks ugly.There goes my birthday cake.
    I am so sorry to hear this. I hope you will call us on the baker’s hotline and see if we can resolve this with you. 802-649-3717. ~Amy

    Reply
  23. sheri

    Hi! I have two questions: 1) Could I substitute regular cocoa powder for the dutch processed cocoa powder? 2) Instead of the espresso powder could I use 1 1/4 cups freshly brewed coffee? Thanks so much!

    Sheri, you can definitely use coffee – and, since you’re adding acid with the coffee plus acid with the natural cocoa, you might want to increase the baking soda to 3/4 teaspoon Good luck- PJH

    Reply
  24. chizzy2

    I’m about to make this for my sister and nephew’s birthday — one the day before and one the day after Thanksgiving. So this will be part of the Thanksgiving festivities. In the interest of time and oven space — can I make the cake layers ahead of time and freeze them? I wouldn’t ice the cake until either the day before or the day of.
    Sure, freezing the cake layers is fine. You will love this recipe! ~Amy

    Reply
  25. karieeleison1

    Sadly, the cakes I made this evening did not rise much except in the middle, which are quite high, even peaked. I used thick 9″ x 2″ pans and ended up baking them for 32 minutes (tester clean). I’ll be putting them in the freezer before bed so the layer/slicing goes easier tomorrow evening. Because neither cake top is even close to being prettily domed, this will be a rather short cake after all is said and done. I will have to cut the tops off both, I think, or just a bit off the second and try to disguise it with frosting swirls or something.

    This sounds like your oven is running hot. The outside edges of the layers set first, then when the leavener was activated in the center and the batter expanded, it had nowhere to go but up, thus the peaks. It’s also possible that your baking powder has been around a while? Either or both of those things could cause the results you had…Susan at KAF

    Reply
  26. ColleenMI

    Just curious–what purpose does the clear-jel/cornstarch serve in this cake?

    As a starch, it helps retain moisture and keep the cake from staling too quickly; it also replaces a bit of the flour, thereby lowering the overall gluten content and “tenderizing” the cake. Good question, Colleen! PJH

    Reply
  27. Sophie

    This looks delish! What happens to the bamboo skewers though? Will they be left on the cake? or removed after icing? Oh and can I use this cake recipe and cover it with fondant? Will it hold up?

    Take the skewers out once the icing is set, Sophie. And yes, this cake is plenty sturdy enough to cover with fondant. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  28. sacorcoran

    I have made this cake a couple of times now, I have a question for something that has happened both times. I use the Wilton cake pans, not the non-stick ones, I greased the pans, but the cake curls over on the edges and cracks on top. Is this normal?

    I’m sorry to hear of the difficulty. This “curled edge” is an indication of too much grease on the pan surface. Try going lighter, or take a paper towel to gently wipe away any surplus. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  29. Brenda D

    My husband asked for a chocolate cake for his birthday. Everything I have tried from your site has been great, so I decided to try this recipe. He told me it was restaurant quality cake after he tasted it. (That is a major compliment.) The rest of the family couldn’t believe how great it looked and tasted.

    The hints in the blog and the reader comments help me know how to get great results. Great job on another wonderful recipe!
    How wonderful! We are glad we could be a part of the big day. We too have “restaurant good” as a compliment at our house. Keep up the great work. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  30. jillbennett

    NEED HELP FAST!

    Can I use the KA Cake Enhancer in this recipe?? I was wondering why it wasn’t included.

    Also, I don’t have Clear Jel, so I will be using cornstarch.

    Thanks!
    Absolutely! You can add 2-4 tablespoons of the cake enhancer to any of your favorite cake recipes. ~Amy

    Reply
  31. phylinnell

    I just took this cake out of the oven. I baked it in 2 KAF 8″ pans.
    Both pieces of the cake had cracks on the top of the cake. Never have I baked a cake that turned out with cracks on the top. So, I called KAF and they transferred me to one of the ladies who answers questions. When I told her what happened she asked me if I had creamed my oil and butter, etc. I told her no because the recipe said to put all my dry ingredients in first, mix, then add the sugar, etc. I didn’t like that idea but did it anyway just because the cake looked so good. This is for my son-in-law’s birthday and I planned to make it look like the picture. When I told her how I mixed it she said, Oh, that’s one of those recipes that we got from outside of our kitchen and you should mix it the way you normally do cakes. She was very disgruntled with how the recipe was written. She was so nice and said just cut off the cracked dome of the cake and it will be good. So that’s where I am now. Just wanted everyone to know not to mix this the way it states. I just don’t have time to redo the cake, besides I need to order more Double Dutch Cocoa powder. I’m a little skeptical about the filling now. Since the cakes have to cool completely I’ll look at some recipes for this that KAF might have.

    Reply
  32. phylinnell

    Me again, the cake turned out terrific and ever so yummy. My son-in-law loved it as well as everyone else. I did cut off the cracked domes, used the filling and icing recipe of this recipe and am so very pleased.

    Reply
  33. Yolbels

    Hello!
    I would love to bake this cake for my birthday next week. I have a question regarding the coffee… Do you use the coffee powder, from the grain or from the soluble (nescafe) coffee? Sorry, I dont really understand this. If I use brewed coffee, how much should I use? Thanks a lot! I love this site!

    Hi – we use espresso powder, which is VERY finely ground dark-roast espresso beans. You could use instant coffee – the kind that dissolved easily in water, without leaving any grit. or you could substitute 1 1/4 cups brewed coffee for the water in the recipe. Good luck – PJH

    Reply
  34. Audrey

    Made this for my mom’s b-day yesterday. Her request was for “something chocolatey.” This cake is outstanding. Definitely my new “go-to” chocolate cake!
    Woo-hoo! Hope Mom had a great day :) ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  35. icjc1118

    Hi,
    would like to know can I make cupcakes from this recipe? anything I need to adjust for the cupcake?
    Thank you!

    You can certainly make cupcakes! Just make sure to decrease the baking time to 20-25 minutes.-Jon

    Reply
  36. Mary S

    This looks delicious! I’m planning to make it for my son’s birthday party. Does this need to be refrigerated? Can it be left at room temperature for a few hours – 4 hours or so -during the party? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      This cake would need to be refrigerated if you plan on keeping it for longer than 24 hours or so. However, you can certainly keep it out for a party without a problem. Jon@KAF

  37. Luchie

    This looks promising! Can’t wait to try it and hopefully it’s the chocolate cake recipe that i have been searching for. Would be nice if there is Metric system conversion of this recipe for precision. Conversion of ingredients varies. Thank you for the recipe

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Heavy cream has 8 times the fat of whole milk, so it depends on where you’re choosing to make the substitution. In a cake, where the formula is already balanced between sugar and fat, it can skew things pretty dramatically. If you’re talking about adding a few tablespoons to a confectioner’s sugar frosting to adjust the consistency, it’s not that big a deal. For the ganache on this cake, it’s important for a smooth, shiny finished product. Susan

  38. Linda from Pittsford

    I don’t usually make layer cakes.
    Can I bake this cake in a 9″ x 13″ pan? If so, how long should I bake it? Any adjustment of oven temperature?
    I plan to use this recipe when I don’t have your “Deliciously Simple Chocolate Cake Mix” on hand.
    Thank you, Linda

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      A 9×13 pan will work fine for this much batter and the baking time will not differ a great deal. Maybe 40-45 minutes at 350. Jon@KAF

  39. Jennifer M

    I don’t have the KA all purpose flour. I have the white whole wheat. What is the amount to substitute the all purpose with the white whole wheat?

    Reply
  40. Doreen from Rockport, ME

    I made this cake for my husbands birthday and was the best chocolate cake recipe I have found! This is a winner!

    Reply
  41. Megan from VA

    Fabulous! Delicious, and so moist! My family can’t stop raving about it, ji just read the comment about refrigerating it if we want to keep it longer than 24 hours — my daughter said, ” that won’t be necessary! We can eat it all in 24 hours!” Thank you, KAF!

    Reply
  42. Molly Ann

    Made this cake for my parents anniversary and it was fabulous! It was perfectly chocolates! I was wondering if the cake could be made more moist by replacing the water with either milk of buttermilk?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We haven’t tried it with milk but it could work. Buttermilk is another acid and may cause some significant chemical changes in the cake as it reacts with the baking soda. If you’d like a moister cake, consider brushing each layer with simple syrup before filling it. Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  43. Elizabeth B

    Can I make this as cupcakes? My oven is very finnicky and I don’t trust it with such a delicious cake although it seems OK to make cupcakes. I’ve made this cake several times but was hoping to modify and make cupcakes instead.

    If so, please let me know the best time and if I need to modify the temp. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Most cakes can be successfully made into cupcakes. This one has actually been converted to cupcakes: bit.ly/1yGKBr2 Keep the oven at 350 and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until done. Happy baking! Laurie@KAf

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