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Three-layer chocolate birthday cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting on a green glass cake stand.

Chocolate Birthday Cake

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

5 from 11 reviews


This decadent, chocolate birthday cake is rich and moist with the perfect crumb. It features a luxurious chocolate-cream-cheese frosting. Enjoy this Matilda cake any time of year, or use the cake batter and frosting to make the best chocolate cupcakes.


Units Scale


  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder*
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons espresso instant coffee
  • 1 cup boiling water


  • 8 oz cream cheese (block-style, not from spreadable tub), softened
  • 3 sticks butter (1 1/2 cups), softened
  • 1 1/2 cups Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder*
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 (2-pound) bag powdered sugar – about 7 cups
  • 1/3 cup milk, or more if needed
  • 2 pinches kosher salt, or to taste

* 👉🏻 You’ll need to purchase 2 (8-ounce) containers of Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa in order to have enough of this ingredient for both the cake and the frosting.



RECIPE PREP: Prepare three 8-inch round cake pans (see recipe notes below). Preheat oven to 350°F.

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and sea salt. Mix on a low setting.
  2. In the meantime, prep the coffee: add espresso instant coffee to boiling water. Set it aside.
  3. With the mixer still on low, add vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla extract, and heavy whipping cream. Blend. Add the hot espresso/water mixture. Mix until smooth.
  4. Divide batter between the pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center of each cake. If it comes out mostly clean, it’s done. Don’t wait until the tester comes out completely dry, or the cakes will be over baked. We’re aiming for tender moist layers.

HOW TO COOL THE CAKES: After 10 minutes, remove the cakes from their pans. They may slightly deflate in the middle, but that’s okay. We’ll be trimming them later. Transfer each cake to a sheet of waxed paper. Let them shed heat on the counter for 15 minutes. Chill in the fridge 2 hours or overnight.


  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and butter together.
  2. With your mixer on a low-speed setting, add cocoa powder, vanilla extract, a pinch of salt and half the milk. Mix until blended.
  3. Slowly add in powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time. During this process, gradually add in more milk until the mixture reaches a desired consistency. Do a taste test. Add another pinch of salt if needed, and mix to combine. [Salt enhances the flavor of chocolate, and also tamps down the sweetness of the frosting.] For icing a chocolate cake, we want the frosting smooth and easily spreadable.


PREP WORK: Lay 3 to 4 strips of wax paper along edges of a serving plate, or cardboard cake round that’s 1 to 2 inches wider than the cake. The strips will keep the plate clean from frosting. Plop a dollop of frosting in the center of the plate. This will prevent cake from sliding around while frosted.

  1. With a long serrated knife, use a sawing motion to level the top of each cake. Layers should be the same height, as well as flat and even.
  2. Place first layer of cake in the center of plate with cut side facing down. It should sit partially on top of the paper strips. Brush away loose crumbs with a pastry brush. With an icing spatula or knife, spread an even layer of frosting on top, about 1/2 inch thick. Don’t frost the sides! Add second layer, with trimmed side facing down. Apply an even layer of frosting to the top, but not the sides.
  3. Add third layer. Brush away stray crumbs. Place a large scoop of icing in a small bowl. Thin it out with milk to make it super spreadable. It should be thinner than the rest of the frosting so it can glide right on with no resistance. Ice top and sides of cake with a very thin, even, smooth layer of frosting (1/16 of an inch thick). This is a “crumb coating.” Its job is to lock in the crumbs, preventing them from mixing with the final coat of frosting. Discard remaining icing from the small bowl, as it probably has crumbs. Chill cake in fridge for 1 hour or until coating has set.
  4. Now it’s time to frost the cake! Apply 1/2 inch of frosting to the top and sides. Remove and discard protective paper strips. Your chocolate birthday cake is ready to enjoy!


How to prepare the cake pans: Butter the bottom and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans.  Line each pan with a circle of parchment paper. Smooth it out to remove air bubbles and creases. Butter the paper. Dust one cake pan with a few tablespoons of cocoa powder. Shake and rotate the pan until the whole interior is fully coated. Turn the pan on its side and tilt it over the second pan. With the heal of your hand, firmly knock out the excess cocoa powder directly into the lined and buttered pan. Repeat the process.

Cupcakes: This cake recipe yields enough batter for 40 cupcakes. Line the wells of your cupcake pans with cupcake liners. Fill each well 1/2 full (3 tablespoons). Do not overfill – these cakes really rise! Bake at 350°F for about 19-20 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the tallest cupcakes come out clean or with just a few crumbs. This frosting recipe yields enough to frost 35 of the 40 cupcakes with tall elegant swirls, just like those from a bakery. 

  • Prep Time: 15 Minutes + 3 Hours in Fridge
  • Cook Time: 30 Minutes
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: American