Yield: 3 layer 8″ cake // Total Time: 1 hr. 45 min. // Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links. // This post is sponsored by Papanicholas. All opinions are my own.

The most delicious, spookiest Halloween cake.

black cocoa cake

If you’re looking for a halloween spin on a chocolate cake, you’ve come to the right place! This cake is ridiculously moist, fudgy, chocolatey delicious. To top it off is a velvety black cocoa buttercream and candy eye sprinkles – perfect for Halloween!

what is black cocoa powder?

Black cocoa powder is essentially dutch process cocoa powder that is further alkalized. Doing so gives the cocoa a deeper, richer chocolatey flavor. It also turns the cocoa powder black – which is super perfect for all your spooky Halloween baking desires! Here is the black cocoa powder that I use and love. Black cocoa powder is also a great way to

papanicholas coffee

I’ve partnered again with my all-time favorite coffee brand: papanicholas coffee for this black cocoa cake. I use their coffee beans every day and am so happy to be able to partner with them to spread the love of their coffee. In this recipe I used their swiss chocolate espresso which has a mellow milk chocolate flavor with a mild and sweet finish. I definitely highly recommend trying some of their coffee, they have so many delicious flavors and are always the coffee I use in my recipes (and for my daily caffeine dose!). You can find their website by clicking here. Also, if you do end up purchasing their coffee be sure to use code FRESH20 for 20% off your coffee order!

recipe tips

weigh your ingredients

Weighing your ingredients is important for getting the recipe perfect and getting consistent results. Not weighing your ingredients can lead to adding too much or too little of an ingredient. In a small batch recipe it is especially important to get those correct measurements because there is less room for error. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend purchasing a kitchen scale. This one is super cheap and worked well for me when I was starting out!

mix the batter carefully

It is super important to not overmix the cake batter. Overmixing the batter leads to more gluten development which will make the cake super tough and chewy. Only mix just until the last bit of flour is incorporated.

bloom your cocoa powder

The secret to getting more chocolate flavor into your chocolate cake? Bloom your cocoa powder! Blooming your cocoa powder just means that you’re mixing the cocoa with a hot liquid. In this cake, we’re using espresso because it also compliments the chocolate flavor (but you can use hot water instead if needed.) Doing so releases the cocoa powder particles from a very thin membrane on them, exposing cocoa solids and bringing out more flavor. It’s a super simple way to add more flavor into your chocolate bakes!

room temperature ingredients

It is important for the ingredients to be at room temperature so that they properly incorporate with each other. Take out the egg and sour cream at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hr 30 min. before starting the recipe. Here’s how to get room temperature ingredients FAST if you’re in a time crunch or forgot to take the ingredients out (like I often do):

  • Egg: place the egg in a bowl and run hot water over it for 1 continuous minute, or let it sit in a bowl of warm water for 5 minutes.
  • Sour cream: microwave in 5-second intervals until it is no longer cold, but is not warm (room temp!)

keep an eye on that cake!

Bakes like to go from under-baked to over-baked super quickly so it is important to keep a close eye on them. Start checking at just before 20 minutes with a toothpick. If the toothpick comes out wet, check them again in 2 minutes and so on until only a few moist crumbs stick to the toothpick.

ingredients and substitutions

For the black cocoa cake:

All purpose flour: the structure of the cake

Baking powder: for leavening and giving that “cakey” texture

Salt: for balancing and bringing out the sweetness

Black cocoa powder: gives the cake a deep, rich chocolate flavor and turns it black in color!

Espresso: a shot of hot espresso poured over the cocoa helps bring out that ultra chocolatey flavor. You can use freshly brewed espresso from a machine or instant espresso mixed with the appropriate amount of hot water. Hot coffee will also work well here too. If you are avoiding espresso or coffee, you can just use hot water or milk in its place!

Vegetable oil: tenderizes the cake. Any neutral oil, such as canola, will also work here.

Granulated sugar: sweetens the cake and helps lock in the moisture.

Egg: contributes moisture to the cake and helps bind the batter together

Sour cream: tenderizes and adds moisture to the cake. I recommend using full-fat sour cream for the best texture.

For the espresso ganache:

Espresso beans: we’ll crush some espresso beans and steep them in the heavy cream for a delicious, strong espresso flavor.

Heavy whipping cream: smooths out the ganache.

Semi-sweet chocolate: use your favorite chocolate here. Just note that there is no sugar added, and the overall taste will be a little less sweet than whichever chocolate you use. Chips or a baking bar will work.

For the black cocoa buttercream:

Unsalted butter: the base of the buttercream. Feel free to use salted butter here, just be sure to omit the extra salt if using!

Salt: helps balance and bring out the sweetness of the buttercream

Powdered sugar: sweetens and thickens up the buttercream. If you are looking for more of a melt-in-your-mouth texture, use organic powdered sugar!

Black cocoa powder: gives the buttercream a deep, rich chocolate flavor and turns it black in color!

Heavy cream: helps thin out the frosting to a pipeable consistency. Milk will also work well here!

Candy eye sprinkles: perfect for all-things Halloween!

how to make black cocoa cake

Here’s a little look into making this black cocoa halloween cake. The full recipe can be found at the end of this blog post!

  • Mix together the black cocoa and hot espresso – this will really bring out the chocolate flavor from the cocoa powder.
  • Whisk in the remaining wet ingredients, followed by the dry ingredients.
  • Divide the cake batter evenly between three 8″ cake pans and bake.
  • Make the espresso ganache – start by steeping some crushed espresso beans with the heavy cream.
  • Strain the hot espresso cream over the chocolate, and mix until smooth.
  • Make the black cocoa buttercream, then frost the cake!

black cocoa cake q&a

how to make the meringue ghosts

I just made a simple meringue (from this recipe) and piped little blobs of the meringue using a large round tip. For the eyes and mouth, I used a tiny paintbrush and black food coloring.

do I need to use espresso?

I highly recommend using espresso in the cake (especially papanicholas!) because it compliments the chocolate flavor. If for any reason you don’t want to or can’t use espresso in the cake, that is perfectly fine! Simply replace the hot espresso with an equal amount of hot water or milk. For the ganache, you’ll just heat up the cream and pour it over the chocolate.

can I make this into cupcakes?

If you’re looking for black cocoa cupcakes – here is my recipe for those!

can I make this cake ahead of time?

Definitely! You can make the cake and buttercream up to two days before frosting, just make sure they are wrapped tightly. I’d recommend waiting to make the ganache until the day you plan on assembling the cake.

how to store this cake

This cake can stay out at room temperature for 1 day. Any longer, and you’ll want to keep it stored in the fridge to avoid the ganache going bad.

why do you measure in grams?

My recipes are all written in grams because it is the most accurate way to bake. When you use a kitchen scale, you ensure that your baked goods turn out as close to the written recipe as possible. Plus, the cleanup is way easier when using a scale! I will provide standard cup measurements but please note that I have not tested the recipe using cup measurements and therefore can not guarantee your recipe will come out how mine did. Here is my favorite kitchen scale

a note on oven temperature

Ovens vary and fluctuate in temperature and aren’t always at the temperature they claim to be. I highly recommend getting an oven thermometer. They are super helpful for letting you know when your oven might be lying to you! I use this one.

tools and ingredients

You can find all my favorite tools and ingredients that I use on my Amazon Storefront page, here!

did you make this black cocoa cake?

If you made this black cocoa cake (which are perfect for halloween!) I would love to see and know your thoughts! Please leave a comment and review down below, and tag me on Instagram @freshbeanbakery. If you have any questions about the recipe I will gladly do my best to answer them in the comments below!

Black Cocoa Cake

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Moist, dense black cocoa cake coated in a black cocoa buttercream and filled with an espresso ganache.
Prep Time1 hour 20 minutes
Cook Time25 minutes
Total Time1 hour 45 minutes
Servings1 3 layer 8″ cake


Black Cocoa Cake

  • 270 g all purpose flour (2 ¼ c.)
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 96 g black cocoa powder (1 c.)
  • 180 g Papanicholas Swiss Chocolate Espresso (6 oz.)
  • 225 g vegetable oil (1 c. + 2 tbsp.)
  • 300 g granulated sugar (1 ½ c.)
  • 3 eggs room temperature
  • 270 g sour cream room temperature (1 c. + 3 tbsp.)

Espresso Ganache

  • 60 g Papanicholas Swiss Chocolate Espresso Beans (¼ c.)
  • 225 g heavy whipping cream (1 c.)
  • 225 g semi-sweet chocolate (1 ⅓ c.)

Black Cocoa Buttercream

  • 280 g unsalted butter (1 ¼ c.)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 450 g powdered sugar (3 ¾ c.)
  • 84 g black cocoa powder (¾ c. + 2 tbsp.)
  • 55 g heavy whipping cream (¼ c.)


Black Cocoa Cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F / 175°C. Butter three 8” circle pans, then coat them in sugar.
  • In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and freshly brewed espresso.
  • To the cocoa-espresso mixture, whisk in the vegetable oil, sugar, eggs, and sour cream until well combined.
  • Add in the flour mixture, and whisk together just until no flour streaks remain.
  • Distribute the cake batter evenly between the three cake pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean.
  • Allow the cakes to sit for 15-20 minutes, then transfer them out to a wire rack to cool.

Espresso Ganache

  • Place the chocolate into a small mixing bowl and set aside. Lightly crush the espresso beans.
  • Add the crushed espresso beans and heavy whipping cream to a small saucepan. Set the mixture over medium heat and bring it to a simmer. Once the mixture starts to simmer, turn off the heat and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes.
  • Put the cream back on medium heat and bring it to a simmer again. Once it’s simmering, pour the cream through a fine mesh sieve over the chocolate.
  • Whisk the cream and chocolate together until the ganache is smooth. Set the ganache aside to cool to room temperature before frosting.

Black Cocoa Buttercream*

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and salt for 1 minute.
  • Add in half of the powdered sugar and beat until combined, then beat in the rest of the powdered sugar.
  • Add in the cocoa powder and heavy cream. Beat on low speed for 2 minutes, or until the mixture is well combined.
  • Pipe a well of frosting around the edge of one of the cake layers, then fill the center with ⅓ of the ganache. Stack another layer on top and repeat, then add on the last layer of cake. Set the cake in the freezer for 10 minutes to firm up.
  • Frost the cake with the remaining buttercream, and pour the remaining ganache on top of the cake.
  • Garnish the cake with Halloween candy eye sprinkles and decorative meringue ghosts if desired, or any of your favorite Halloween toppings. Serve and enjoy


The buttercream makes a large amount, suitable for very generously frosting the layers, sides, and piping more decorations on top of the cake. If you’d like a smaller amount for a more “naked” cake look – similar to what I made – I’d recommend cutting the amount in half.

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