Favorite fudge birthday cake: it just doesn't get any better than this

Are you a Designated Birthday Cake Baker (DBCB)?

The person who, every time someone in the office has a birthday, receives the “nomination” to make the cake?

Not only are you nominated – you run unopposed, right?

And that’s the way you like it. Baking is a pleasure for you, not a task. For most people, even going to the store and buying a boxed cake mix is too much trouble. But for you, it’s fun to pull out the butter and sugar, eggs and flour and vanilla.

And cocoa; let’s not forget that key ingredient. In my many years of experience as a DBCB, chocolate is the runaway favorite on the most-requested birthday cake list.

I do have a vanilla/berry Blitz Torte recipe ready, for those few-and-far-between who DON’T like chocolate. And my MIL needs her lemon cake every year.

But the vast majority demand chocolate – and fall into a state of blissful catatonia once they taste Favorite Fudge Birthday Cake.

Every DBCB needs their go-to cake, a sure-fire winner every time.

This one’s mine.

It’s one of the best-loved recipes on our site, with 43 glowing five-star reviews.

And for a four-layer cake, it isn’t nearly as fussy to make as you might think. It starts out as a standard two-layer cake; each layer is cut in half, iced with an easy filling, and stacked.

The result is a moist cake that keeps well without refrigeration; looks spectacular when cut, and tastes even better than it looks.

Are you a DBCB? Bookmark this: Favorite Fudge Birthday Cake.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place the following in a mixing bowl:

2 cups sugar
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 tablespoons Instant ClearJel® or cornstarch
3/4 cup Double-Dutch Dark Cocoa or Dutch-process cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons espresso powder*
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

*Don’t worry, the espresso powder (pictured above) doesn’t add any coffee flavor here; it simply enhances the flavor of the chocolate. I highly recommend it for all kinds of chocolate baking.

Stir to combine.

Add the following:

4 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups water

Beat until smooth.

Lightly grease and flour two 8″ x 2″ round cake pans.

Note: These pans need to be at least 2″ tall; if you have non-standard, shorter 8″ pans, substitute 9″ round pans.

Or grease the pans, then line with parchment, then grease the parchment; this provides extra insurance against sticking and/or crumbling.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

Bake the cakes for 35 to 38 minutes (a bit less if you use 9″ pans), until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

This is why your 8″ pans HAVE to be at least 2″ deep.

Measure before using; less expensive pans often skimp on height to save metal.

Run a table knife or spatula around the edges of the hot cakes, so they settle evenly.

Cool the cakes for 15 minutes, then turn them out of the pans, removing the parchment.

Cool completely on a rack.

Cut each layer in half horizontally. A long serrated knife works well here.

Now, what flavor should we make the filling?

Simple chocolate is fine, of course.

But this is also a great place to sample some of our extra-strong flavors.

We’re making a simple ganache here. Put the following in a microwave-safe bowl:

12 ounces semisweet chocolate
6 ounces cream (light, whipping, or heavy)*

*Hint: Between this filling, and the icing that follows, you’ll need 10 ounces of cream. If you want to limit yourself to buying just a single 8-ounce carton of cream, use 4 ounces cream + 2 ounces milk in this filling; and the carton’s remaining 4 ounces cream in the icing.

Heat until the cream is very hot, and the chocolate very soft.

Stir to melt the chocolate completely. At first, it’ll look like an uncooperative mess.

Just keep stirring, reheating very briefly if necessary, until the ganache is smooth.

Don’t forget to add about 1/4 teaspoon (to taste) of your favorite extra-strong flavor.

Or, for an “adults only” cake, flavor with liqueur. Use all one flavor, or use a different flavor for each layer of filling. For all one flavor, use 3 tablespoons of your favorite liqueur – Frangelico (hazelnut), Kahlua (coffee), or Framboise (raspberry) are all good choices. Or try 2 tablespoons rum.

To mix and match flavors, divide the filling into three parts, and flavor each differently to taste, with an extra-strong flavor; or with about 1 tablespoon liqueur each.

Place one layer on a serving plate.

See how I’ve laid strips of parchment under the cake? They’re there to catch any drips.

Spread with 1/3 of the filling. Don’t bring it right to the edge; the pressure of the succeeding layers will do that for you.

Add a second layer, with another 1/3 of the filling…

…and a third, with the remaining filling.

Top with the remaining layer.

The cake could be a little unstable at this point, with its hot filling. To prevent “slip-slidin’ away,” bamboo barbecue skewers are a great stabilizer.

Now for the icing. Place the following in a microwave-safe bowl:

8 ounces semisweet chocolate
4 ounces cream (light, whipping, or heavy)

Heat until the cream is very hot, and the chocolate very soft. Stir to melt the chocolate completely, reheating very briefly if necessary.

Pour and spread the icing over the top of the cake…

…letting it drip over the edges and down the sides.

Once it’s done dripping, you may smooth the sides with an icing spatula, if desired.

Kinda messy…

But pull out those parchment strips, and TA-DA! Clean as a whistle.

Allow the cake to rest, covered with a cake cover (or a big turned-over bowl) until the chocolate is set; overnight is good, though several hours are sufficient.

Cut and serve. Take a bow.

Couldn’t resist one final shot. And yes, this is as good as it looks!

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Favorite Fudge Birthday Cake.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. RENEE

    For best results,let each layer cool before spreading cooled ganache. Then, spread each layer with chocolate whipped topping (easily made if you purchased a quart of heavy cream 🙂 ); let each layer cool before assembling. This makes a much neater assembly!

  2. Lisa

    I made this cake in 9 inch pans using the measurements for flour, sugar, etc. in grams. My layers are about 1.5 inches – does this seem high enough to you? Your layers in the photo seem higher, but I know you used 8 inch pans. I did not use the espresso powder and substituted 1/2 of the water for milk, otherwise everything else was by the recipe. I just expected the layers to be higher.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Lisa. That does sound right to us. Believe it or not, a 9″ round pan holds about 1 extra cup of batter than an 8″, so 1 1/2″ high makes sense in a 9″. Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re glad you found what you were looking for, Carolyn! Just in case others are looking for the baking temperature, you should set the oven to 350°F. You can view the full instructions in the recipe here. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  3. Linda

    Can I use this recipe for an 18″ x 12″ pan? I want to make a double layer. How long would I bake it?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It can be challenging to split a 12″x18″ sheet cake into two layers, Linda, especially if it’s only 1″ deep like many of this size are (as opposed to the 2″ depth of typical cake pans). If it is, you’re probably going to need 3x this recipe to get two full sheet pans. We don’t generally recommend more than doubling any recipe, so you’d end up making two batches (one for each sheet tray), each 1.5x the original recipe. If your pan is 2″ deep, then you’ll need a grand total of 4x the original recipe, or two batches of 2x the recipe for each pan. Our posting “When more is better” more fully explains how we get to these conversions: http://bit.ly/1ZUrhRx. Either way, you’ll want to bake until a cake tester comes cleanly out of the center and the cake starts to pull away from the sides, as you would normally. Mollie@KAF

  4. Rebecca

    I am looking for a new chocolate cupcake recipe that uses dutch cocoa and cake flour. Can this recipe be made using cake flour and come out well? Should I use the cornstarch still?
    Is there another recipe you can recommend?

    P.S. I love the espresso powder, it makes a beautiful, tasty Swiss meringue espresso buttercream!


    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Rebecca, you can certainly use cake flour in this recipe for a bit of a lighter texture. Use 2 cups of cake flour and replace the cornstarch with 2 additional tablespoons of cake flour as it is a less absorbent flour than all purpose. We have come up cupcake-version of this recipe that you may want to check out for baking times and temperatures! Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Debbie, the regular clear jel is mostly used for canning purposes. I would recommend going with cornstarch if you don’t have instant clearjel. Barb@KAF

  5. Elizabeth B

    Can I make this as cupcakes? My oven is very finnicky and I don’t trust it with such a delicious cake although it seems OK to make cupcakes. I’ve made this cake several times but was hoping to modify and make cupcakes instead.

    If so, please let me know the best time and if I need to modify the temp. Thanks!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Most cakes can be successfully made into cupcakes. This one has actually been converted to cupcakes: bit.ly/1yGKBr2 Keep the oven at 350 and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until done. Happy baking! Laurie@KAf

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