The Best Basic Chocolate Cake Recipe In The Universe

There are a lot of chocolate cake recipes around. Lots of people have a favorite recipe, maybe one that was passed on to them by Leonardo Da Vinci, or hand-carried across the ocean from the mother land, or something. I don’t have a recipe like that.

Update: My mom has corrected me. This recipe probably did come over on a ship full o’ settlers some time before the American Revolution. The original recipe that my dad’s family used instructed the chef to bake the cake slowly over a fire. I apologize for leading you astray about the ancientness of the cake recipe.

However, my mom always made this particular cake, which she calls chocolate hot water cake, for my dad on his birthday. It makes a mean birthday cake, for sure. This chocolate cake is not too sweet. It’s a little creamy, thanks to the buttermilk. It’s moist but not gooey. It’s perfect with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. While it’s delicious on its own, you can also slap some buttercream frosting on it for what is, in my opinion, the absolute best birthday cake in the world. This is the cake of my childhood.

Chocolate Hot Water Cake Recipe -

Coincidentally, it’s also the cake of my kids’ childhoods.

Remember when those dome-shaped Wilton cake pans were popular, and you’d flip that puppy over, stick half a Barbie in the top, and it would be the most amazing Barbie-in-a-ball-gown birthday cake ever made? Yes, I had that half-Barbie cake every single year and I LOVED IT. Barbie’s skirt was chocolate hot water cake. Every time. If you’re of the younger generation and have not seen a half Barbie with a food-based bodice stuck in a dome-shaped cake that is on fire presented at a little girl’s birthday party, I guess this all sounds kind of weird. But it was cool. I promise. Barbie’s hair didn’t melt or anything. Usually.

Back to the cake! What you have here is a really delicious basic chocolate cake that is perfect for all occasions, whether there are Barbies involved or not. My oldest daughter, pictured above, made this cake to celebrate me sending my last car payment. Yes, sometimes we look for just about any reason to make cake.

Chocolate hot water cake doesn’t require any super fancy ingredients. You probably have what you need in the pantry right now. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, instructions are included for a vinegar and milk quick-fix. The only unusual thing is that the cake batter is very thin. Don’t worry about that!

Chocolate Hot Water Cake Recipe

Preheat oven to 350. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, start by preparing sour milk. Measure a Tablespoon of vinegar into a liquid measuring cup. Add milk to make 1 cup.

  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

Mix the above ingredients together in a mixer bowl. Make a hole in the middle of the dry ingredients. Add:

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 beaten eggs

Mix until smooth. Then add:

  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix well. The batter will be much thinner than most cake batters. Pour into a greased 9×13 cake pan, a Bundt pan, or 2 9-inch round cake pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until a knife inserted at center comes out clean.

Cool before frosting or serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Yummiest Ever Chocolate Hot Water Cake -

Maya melted some chocolate buttercream frosting to pour over her chocolate hot water cake.

Note to other recipe publishers – I know you can’t resist giving a yummy recipe your own twist and posting it on your blog. This is a very old family recipe, and as such, it’s special to me. If it inspires you, please link back here to the original. Thanks!

This entry was posted in food.


  1. Shara says:

    Well what do you know …I had everything on hand so in the midst of reviewing contracts, accepting an offer on our house, trying to find a rental, I thought why not bake a cake! Its all mixed up and in the oven. Can’t wait to have it!

  2. Michelle says:

    I made this for the Easter weekend – decorated with chocolate buttermilk icing – & it has been a massive hit. Thanks for the sour milk instructions, as buttermilk is hard to come by in the UK. Everything worked perfectly. YUM!

Tell Me What You Think!