Wednesday Baking |Chocolate Cake (not from a box)

how to make a chocolate cake from scratch

This is a much-used recipe of mine…it’s my go-to recipe when I need to make a birthday cake.  It turns out a nice, basic chocolate cake, which I can then use to make whatever shape my kids happen to want for their cake.

I think it’s just as easy as a boxed cake mix, and it tastes a lot better. I know some people adore cakes made from a box, but I think a lot of them have an artificial flavor and odd texture, so I’m partial to the homemade kind.

homemade whale birthday cake

I’ve hardly ever used a cake mix, but I know that you have to dump the dry ingredients into a bowl and beat in eggs, and sometimes oil or water.

This recipe is almost as simple…the only extra step is measuring and mixing the dry ingredients (which takes all of about 3 minutes and that’s if you’re moving slowly).

In fact, this is all you need to make a cake:



My recipe calls for butter, which in my opinion makes almost everything taste better. However, you can substitute vegetable shortening if you like.

fish cake

The ingredients listed here make one 9-inch round cake…however, when I took these pictures I was making two cakes (I just didn’t want you to be confused when you saw two eggs and a whole stick of butter in the pictures!)

Quick and Easy Not-From-A-Box Chocolate Cake
Printable Chocolate Cake Recipe


1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter (softened) or vegetable shortening (I vote for butter!)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg

Before you begin making the cake, heat your oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour a 9 inch round cake pan(I use butter to grease my pans and that has worked much better for me than vegetable shortening ever did).

Mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a mixer.


Add milk, butter, and vanilla. Beat on low until combined, then beat on medium speed for two minutes.


Add egg and beat two minutes more.

Pour the batter into prepared cake pan. See, wasn’t that easy??

Mix the dry ingredients, beat in some wet ingredients, beat in the eggs, and your cake batter is ready to bake!

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

chocolate cake cooling in pan

Run a table knife around the edge of the cake pan to loosen the sides, and invert it onto a wire rack.

homemade chocolate layer cake

Let cool completely, frost with whatever frosting you wish (I use a simple buttercream frosting) and enjoy!




  1. says

    Hi Kristen~
    I have always wondered if it is cheaper to make a cake from scratch or use a mix. I can often get cake mixes on sale for $1, and it makes 2 9-inch cakes. I also use cake mixes to make cookies. I know that homemade tastes better.

  2. Kristen says

    Dana, as I was typing this up, I was thinking I should do a cost analysis to see if it’s cheaper than a boxed mix. I think it might be right around the same price, but I’d like to know!

    I do think the homemade tastes better, and I like being able to know exactly what’s going into it…no preservatives, no hydrogenated fats, and so on.

    I’ll try to do a cost analysis soon!

  3. says

    I have to admit I am a boxed cake mix girl. Since reading your blog, I was convinced that it is probably cheaper to make everything from scratch. I’ve started stocking up on all the flour now, buying them whenever they are on special. Lol…

    The cake mix here in Sydney is never that cheap. The cheapest that I have ever bought them for was probably about $3.50 a box. It will be interesting see the cost analysis result!

  4. says

    Oh ah, can someone share with me? Since I am pretty much the only wheat eater here I don’t want to make a whole cake but it looks soooo good. They need to make scratch-n-sniff or lick-n-taste screens.

  5. says

    I just want to chime in with my go-to chocolate cake recipe – it really only takes 7 minutes to whip it up (I timed it once) and comes in at less than a dollar per cake. (It doesn’t use eggs, butter or milk and I did the cost analysis.) It really should be be cut from the pan, so it’s not the prettiest cake meant for the most festive occasions, but trust me, it is a dark, rich, moist and delicious chocolate cake. And the best part is that I always have the ingredients on hand.

    Here’s the link:

    Also Kristen, is it just my monitor or does your icing look green? I remember that your daughter asked for mint chocolate chip ice cream for her birthday – so did you make a mint icing, too?

  6. Gail says

    I like the idea of a one layer, smaller cake! Just the right size for empty nesters. The icing looks “blue” on my monitor screen!

  7. says

    My go to Choc. cake recipe is Black Magic from Hershey’s. It does use oil, but its so supermoist. My sister mixes up the dry ingredients and keeps them in a ziplock bag. When she wants to make a cake, she just pulls out the bag and voila, its almost like a cake mix!!

  8. Shana says

    I have never, ever used a cake mix. Homemade cakes are just THAT much better. Especially when topped off with a homemade icing…. canned icings make me gag, as well. LOL.

  9. Kristen says

    Amanda, chocolate cake freezes well, you know. ;)

    Stacey-it’s actually blue icing! She wanted me to make a blue Peep bunny cake, and I did my best. I’ll post a picture of it sometime next week to go along with a post I have in mind.

    Gail-for lots of years a one layer cake was perfect for us! When there were just two adults and one or two kids here, two layers was way too much cake. Now I usually make two layers since I’m feeding six people.

  10. Julia says

    Stacey, this is very similar to a recipe I got from a vegan cookbook which I use all the time. So yummy! And two years ago, my son was going to a fancy private school (on scholarship, of course!) and I made the cake with extra fancy frosting and decorations and they sold it at their auction. I was too poor (and did not have a babysitter!) so I couldn’t go to the auction but I got a big kick out of thinking it’s probably the only homemade vegan cake those people have ever had…or ever will have, now that the crazy veg hippie mama’s kid is not at their school any more. I’m going to check out your blog because we are investigating unschooling and I see that’s one of your interests.
    Keep up the good work, Kristen. Since I made my first cake from scratch a few years ago, I’ve never made another one from a mix. I just can’t stand the thought of the artificial stuff and preservatives. Although sadly, I probably still could polish off an entire can of frosting if someone gave me a spoon. Frosting’s like crack to me. :-)

  11. Julia says

    Oh and Kristin, your comment in #9: “way too much cake”. I’m not getting that concept. No such thing as too much cake! :-)

  12. Michelle says

    Here’s our family’s all-time favorite chocolate cake recipe. It has wonderful flavor and is very moist. Again, it’s as easy as a mix, way yummier, and frugal to boot! (No eggs, milk, or butter)
    In mixer, combine: 3 cups flour, 2/3 cup cocoa powder, 2 tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp. salt, 2 cups sugar.
    Add: 5 Tb. oil, 2 Tb. vanilla, 2 Tb. white vinegar, 2 cups water.

    Pour into a 9×13 pan and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Or, you can use it to make layer cakes, cup cakes, or anything else that you would do with a box mix.

  13. says

    @Julia – I’d be happy to share my experiences with unschooling with you – my son will be 4 in May, so it’s not like school/unschool plays a large part of our lives right now, but my oldest,dearest friend (30+) years has always unschooled her (now) 11 and 9 yo daughters and they are a great testament to the joys of unschooling. :)

  14. EngineerMom says

    Amanda –

    Chocolate cake does freeze very well!

    When I was living alone, I used to make a recipe like this that only made a single 9″ layer, but instead of making it in one pan, I bought several 6″ cake pans and just made a small layer cake. You could do something similar, but freeze one or two of the layers (some recipes make enough for 3 6″ layers!).

    I’ve always been a from-scratch girl, too. I learned how to make a spice cake when I was about 8 or so, and that’s been my go-to cake recipe for a long time (I didn’t develop a taste for chocolate cake until after college!). I did a cost analysis one time, and if you use super-cheap ingredients (on-sale or bulk), making a cake from scratch is USUALLY cheaper. At $1/box for a box that makes 2 9″ cakes, however, I’m sure in that case the box mix is cheaper.

    Homemade frosting can be substantially cheaper if you buy the ingredients on sale.

  15. says

    I don’t care much for chocolate cake personally and I confess to using a cake mix now and then as well.

    One thing that did surprise me about this recipe is the use of AP flour. Wouldn’t there be too much protein (and thus gluten) in the final cake rendering it more chewy than the soft chiffon cakes we all know and love from BC and DH?

    I’ve made from scratch cakes before and I always found them a bit too heavy for my tastes. Perhaps that’s because I was raised on those oil based boxed cakes of my youth.

  16. Kristen says

    Battra, I’m more of a brownie/cookie/bar fan myself, which is why I usually only make cakes when the kids have a birthday!

    Cook’s Illustrated uses all-purpose flour in their chocolate layer cake recipe, and I figure that if cake flour was important, they’d have said so. I’ve never had a problem with this cake being chewy. Cake have such a high proportion of fat to flour, I think they’re far less prone to developing gluten(fat inhibits gluten development, as I’m sure you know).

    I like cakes to have some heft to them…I think boxed cakes are usually artificially fluffy and so I find a bite of them to be pretty unsatisfying. But like you said, it’s all in what you’re used to! I wasn’t raised on boxed cakes, so they’re not what I personally prefer.

  17. says

    That’s true (about the fat to flour) I just noticed that it has quite a bit less fat than say a pound cake and AP so I was curious was all. :)

    If you aren’t a boxed cake fan, the special flour in them actually works really well for making other recipes. I have this Duncan Hines recipe my mother gave me for raspberry oatmeal squares and it uses a cake mix in the recipe. Very good stuff!

  18. jen says

    This is an awesome recipe! I have never had luck with homemade cakes before this. I am so happy with the result! How can I make it a vanilla cake, just leave out the cocoa?
    And by the way, I love your blog! :)

  19. Kristen says

    Oh wow, Jen! You made it already? I’m impressed! lol

    I’ve never thought about how to make it vanilla…but I suppose that it would be fine to just leave the cocoa out. If you try it with good results, let me know!

  20. Kristen says

    Alison, I just have cheap, run-of-the-mill cake pans. They’re very light and are not non-stick, but they seem to work just fine.

  21. Michelle says

    Hi, just wondering if this cake comes out all moist like the box cake does?
    been making box cakes for my boyfriend for a while but its about time to learn the proper way

  22. Christina says

    I don’t know what I am doing wrong. I have made this 4 times now. (doubled each time – maybe that is my problem) I can not get the cake out of the pan without it falling apart. I have used butter to grease the pans, tried spray with flour, even tried the new Pam that works like magic on my muffin tins. But half my cake sticks to the bottom of the pan each time. Luckily, I can piece it back together (somewhat) and cover it with frosting so no one knows. Just wondering if you have ever encountered this problem. Should I bake it longer? I don’t want it to get dry. It is wonderfully moist and my family raves about it.

    • Kristen says

      Hmm. What type of pans are you using? I’ve never had trouble with this sticking to my pans. I grease them with butter and then flour them.

      Are you putting twice the batter into the pan? That could cause problems.

      • Christina Scarce says

        I am using 2 – 8 or 9 inch nonstick round pans. I have only tried flouring the pan once, and might have not used enough flour. I will make sure I am liberal with it next time.

  23. Ramona says

    I made this cake for my husband’s birthday last week,it’s delicious! I used the exact recipe,and it was nice to be able to bake a small cake that tastes so good!

    Do you have a similar recipe for a lemon cake?

    Thanks for sharing this great recipe!

  24. Vicky says

    Thanks for posting this recipe. It is a very good little cake – moist and fudgy. I am single with no family living nearby so, really I need half a layer…maybe I’ll freeze half…ok, so that’s not going to happen. :-) The only change I made was that I used almond milk because that is what I have on hand. I did just dump everything together in the bowl and beat with a mixer for two minutes. In reference to the sticking problem in an earlier post, mine did that as well, just a palm-sized, thin little bit stuck, but I ate it, so all is well. Thanks again!

  25. Ang says

    Just made this cake for a friend. I frosted with a simple ganache made with bittersweet chocolate and half-n-half. It was very good! In addition, I made this in the microwave as I didn’t want to heat up the house. 8 minutes and done. Thanks for a great recipe that has turned out to be incredibly versatile.

  26. Ang says

    Curious though – the picture shows two eggs and the recipe calls for one. Why is that? Did you add an extra egg? If so, do you recommend it?

    • Kristen says

      That probably is because I generally make a double recipe of this because I often make a two-layer cake.

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