Coffee and chocolate are a match made in heaven, which is probably why mocha drinks are so popular. Our mocha cake is inspired by that coffeeshop favorite. It features strongly brewed coffee intermingling with rich chocolate flavors running through the cake layers all the way to the frosting and garnishes.
Don’t let the thought of baking a layered cake intimidate you. Our mocha cake recipe is easy to bake, and it will taste incredible no matter how it looks!
Ingredients for Mocha Cake
- All-purpose flour: This is our favorite type of flour to use in cakes. All-purpose flour provides the best crumb structure while still being moist and tender.
- Baking cocoa: Our Test Kitchen pros found the best cocoa powder brands, from the easiest to find to the best brand to splurge on. Go with the one that calls to you!
- Brewed coffee: Before starting this recipe, make a batch of strongly brewed coffee. You’ll need it for the cake layers and the frosting, so be sure to brew enough and allow time for the coffee to cool.
- Sour cream: We love the tangy richness that sour cream adds to this mocha cake recipe. If you need a substitute for sour cream, use strained (Greek-style) yogurt!
- Cream cheese: Our Test Kitchen pros made a list of the best cream cheese brands you can find for your recipes, from the tangiest to the most affordable.
Step 1: Beat the butter mixture
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour three 9-inch round baking pans.
In a large bowl, use a hand mixer or stand mixer to cream the butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy, five to seven minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.
Step 2: Finish the batter
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and beat until everything is just incorporated. Pour in the coffee and sour cream, beating well. Dump in the rest of the flour mixture, beating just until no flour streaks remain.
Editor’s Tip: Do not overbeat once the flour mixture has been added to the butter mixture. Overbeating during this step can incorporate too much air into the batter, which may result in dense, flat cake layers.
Step 3: Bake the cake layers
Evenly distribute the batter among the three prepared pans. Use a mini offset spatula or the back of a spoon to smooth out the tops if need be.
Bake the cake layers until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool the cake layers for 10 minutes at room temperature. Remove the cake layers from their pans to wire racks to cool completely to room temperature.
Step 4: Whip up the frosting
In a large bowl, use a hand mixer or stand mixer to beat the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Beat in the chocolate, coffee and vanilla until blended. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar, starting off slow (so the sugar doesn’t fly everywhere!) and gradually increasing the speed.
Step 5: Assemble the cake
Plop a large dollop of frosting on the center of the first cake layer, and spread it evenly to the edges. Place the next cake layer on top, lining it up with the edges of the bottom cake layer. Spread on a layer of frosting. Repeat with the final cake layer. Spread the frosting all over the sides of the cake as well.
Editor’s Tip: One of our best tips on frosting cakes is to line pieces of parchment underneath the cake to prevent the serving dish from getting too messy from the frosting. Grab the serving dish you wish to present your cake on, and lay down the first cake layer. Cut about four pieces of parchment, and lay them down underneath each cake edge. No need to place the parchment all the way to the center underneath the cake—just underneath the cake’s edges is enough.
Step 6: Garnish
If desired, garnish with the chocolate-covered coffee beans and baking cocoa. Cover the cake, and refrigerate it until you’re ready to serve.
Editor’s Tip: Don’t worry if your cake doesn’t look picture-perfect. However, we do have a guide on how to frost a cake if you want to work on your technique. If you need some design inspo, learn how to decorate a cake like a pro with these cake designs.
- Add a filling: After spreading frosting on top of a cake layer, add some extras to make a flavorful, textured filling. Try cacao nibs for crunch, chocolate ganache for more chocolate flavor or chopped espresso beans for a bolder coffee flavor.
- Make a drip cake: Make a gorgeous drip cake with our chocolate ganache recipe! After frosting the entire cake, stick it in the fridge for 30 minutes while you make the ganache. Pour the ganache into a squeeze bottle (or use a spoon). Plop a small dollop of the ganache on one upper edge of the cake. Allow the drip to fall down the side. Repeat around the entire perimeter of the cake. Carefully fill in the middle of the cake top with the ganache, making sure it only fills in the center up to the perimeter and doesn’t create more drips down the sides. Use a mini offset spatula or the back of a spoon to smooth the ganache center.
- Finish with garnishes: Place chocolate frosting in a piping bag fitted with a star tip, and decorate the perimeter of the cake. Garnish the top of your mocha cake with chopped chocolate-covered espresso beans, mini chocolate chips or chocolate curls. Experiment with different kinds of chocolate to decorate the cake. White chocolate flakes or curls against the deep chocolate frosting would look striking!
How to Store Mocha Cake
Your mocha cake frosting contains cream cheese, so it’s best to keep the cake refrigerated. It should last for up to three days when tightly covered in a cake carrier or container. Be sure to press a folded piece of storage wrap against the cut surface of the cake to prevent it from drying out in the refrigerator’s cold air.
Can I freeze mocha cake?
You can freeze the mocha cake layers before assembling and serving the cake. Bake and cool the cake layers, then wrap them in storage wrap, and keep them in the freezer for up to one month. Once you’re ready to decorate, thaw the cakes at room temperature, then whip up the frosting and decorate.
Mocha Cake Tips
What kind of coffee should I use for this cake?
Use a strong, freshly brewed coffee for this mocha cake recipe. However, make sure the coffee is cooled to room temperature or chilled before using as to not scramble the eggs.
Can I use instant coffee or instant espresso to make this mocha cake recipe?
Yes, you can use either! Follow the instructions on the instant coffee or espresso packaging to make the equivalent of 1-1/2 cups brewed coffee for the cake, plus 6 tablespoons brewed coffee for the frosting. Keep in mind that instant espresso has a deeper, richer flavor than regular coffee, so you’ll really boost the coffee flavor with this swap. If this isn’t to your liking, decrease the amount of instant espresso a touch.
Why do people put coffee in chocolate cake?
Coffee is the secret ingredient for better chocolate desserts! Just little bit of it can boost chocolate’s flavors by a mile. Using a lot of coffee in a chocolate cake will impart a mocha flavor, which is exactly what we want here.