How to Bake a Chocolate Cake

Setting Your Oven Temperature

Make sure your oven is fully pre-heated to 350 degrees F before you place your cakes in the oven. If your oven is too hot, your cake may burn or become dry. If it’s not hot enough, you could have a gooey center with overdone edges. If you’re unsure of your oven temperature, you can test it with an oven thermometer, just to be sure.

It’s also important to avoid putting your cakes in the oven as it’s preheating. When your oven is preheating, it heats up very quickly, so this rapid rise in temperature may cause your cake to burn. Just remember that, when it comes to baking, patience is a virtue.

Make Sure Your Pans are the Right Size

This chocolate cake recipe is specifically designed for a 9 x 2 in. round cake pan. Using a smaller pan can result in a cracked dome or under-baking, since there will most likely be too much batter in the pan. Using a larger pan will result in a thinner, flatter cake layer since the batter will be more spread out.

As a general rule of thumb, cake pans should be filled 2/3 full to prevent spilling. If you’re baking a smaller cake smaller than 9 in. and have leftover batter, you can always make cupcakes!

Prepare Your Cake Pans

To prevent your cake from sticking to the pan, spray your pan with baking spray or nonstick vegetable spray before filling with batter. You can also use a parchment paper circle in the bottom of the pan for easier removal (simply lay the parchment paper circle on top of the sprayed pan and fill with batter – the parchment paper does not need to be sprayed again).

Using a parchment paper circle is a great way to get a nice, smooth finish on your top cake layer. Simply peel the parchment from your cooled cake and you’re ready to go.

Chocolate Cake Ingredients

Using Room Temperature Ingredients

Before you get started mixing the batter, make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature. This will help prevent overmixing and will give you a lighter, more tender cake.

Take Care when Measuring Ingredients

For best results, use a liquid measuring cup to measure liquid ingredients and measuring cups and spoons to measure dry ingredients. Baking is a bit of a science, so any alteration of ingredients may affect the outcome of your cake. To learn more about how to properly measure your ingredients, check out our video on How to Measure Ingredients Correctly.

Don’t Over or Under-Mix Your Batter

When you’re incorporating your dry and wet ingredients, you just need to mix until the ingredients are incorporated (you shouldn’t see any flour in the batter and it should be nice and smooth). Once everything is incorporated, stop mixing. If you overbeat your batter, or cause gluten to develop, the cake may come out dense and flat.

How to Melt Chocolate

This chocolate cake recipe calls for 6 oz. of semi-sweet chocolate, which gives this cake that rich, chocolatey flavor! Melting the chocolate can be done in the microwave, as instructed, but you can also use a double boiler for better control.

If you decide to use a double boiler, take extra care that no moisture from the steam gets into your chocolate, as that may cause seizing (and you’ll have to start over).

Chocolate Cake Ingredients FAQs

Can I use cocoa powder instead of semi-sweet chocolate?

The short answer here is no. Since cocoa powder is a dry ingredient and semi-sweet chocolate (when melted) is a liquid ingredient, swapping one for the other will surely affect the outcome of your cake. Using melted chocolate not only adds delicious chocolate flavor, but it’s also higher in fat than cocoa powder, adding to that fluffy moist texture that makes this cake so tasty.

Can I use semi-sweet morsels instead of baking squares?

While morsels are often less expensive and easier to find than baking squares, we wouldn’t recommend using morsels for this recipe. Since the semi-sweet chocolate in this recipe needs to be melted, you want to use a chocolate that melts easily. Morsels have less cocoa butter than baking squares, so there’s a bigger chance of your chocolate clumping or burning when using morsels.

Morsels are also meant to melt slightly while still retaining their shape (that’s why they’re often used for chocolate chip cookie recipes). They may contain stabilizers or even wax to prevent them from losing their shape, so melting them down to a liquid state may be difficult.

 Baking squares, on the other hand, are meant to be melted. They have a high cocoa butter content, which helps them melt evenly and easily, so stick with baking squares for this chocolate cake recipe.

Baking Your Chocolate Cake

How to Divide Your Batter

The best way to get nice, even cake layers is to measure how much batter you put in each pan. For an easy reference, check out our Cake Baking and Serving Guide which will help you determine how much batter to use for your pan size.

Baking Your Cake

Before you bake your cakes, make sure your oven rack is in the center position and it’s fully preheated to 350 degrees F. Place both pans in the oven, leaving at least 1 in. between pans to allow for air flow and even baking.

As much as you may want to, resist the urge to open the oven door until the last 10 minutes of bake time. Opening the oven too soon will introduce a rush of cold air into the oven and can cause your cakes to collapse. Use the oven light to check your cake, if necessary.

How to Tell if a Cake is Done

There are couple ways to check if your cake is done baking. The easiest test is to insert a toothpick into the center of your cake. If it comes out clean (no wet batter on the toothpick), your cakes are done.

You can also lightly press down on the cake with your finger. If the cake springs back, it’s done. If your finger indents the cake, it needs more time.

Give Your Cake Time to Cool

When your cake layers are done, remove them from the oven and place them, still in the pan, on a cooling grid to cool for 15 minutes. Removing the cake from the pan when it’s still hot can cause your cake to stick or break.

Once your cake layers have cooled slightly, you can remove them from the pans. Let them cool completely on the cooling grid before decorating. It should take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes for your cakes to completely cool to room temperature.

Decorating Your Cake

Now comes the fun part, decorating! This recipe makes two 9 in. cake layers, so you can make two single-layer cakes or one two-layer cake. For a double chocolate treat, use our delicious Chocolate Buttercream Frosting to fill and ice your cake, or try one of our other tasty icing flavors:

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