Buttermilk Chocolate Cake with Butterscotch Buttercream

I tend to place chocolate cakes into two categories: liquid fat and solid fat cakes. Liquid fat cakes contain either oil or melted butter and tend to have a more open crumb while solid fat cakes, with batter  that can hold tiny air bubbles, tend to have a finer more delicate crumb. This is a solid fat chocolate cake with a tender, fine crumb and rich chocolate flavor. A-cake-up-web A combination of bittersweet chocolate and cocoa strike a nice balance with the flavorful buttermilk.  Blooming the cocoa and chocolate in hot water also helps bring the chocolate flavors to the forefront. A-triple-cake-web   Using solid butter offers two advantages. First, it incorporates fine air pockets into the batter which leads to a finer crumb and second, it allows for thorough emulsification of the eggs.  A well emulsified egg-fat combination improves texture and fat distribution throughout the cake.A-cut-cake-webThis cake is fine and delicate enough to serve as a wedding cake, but its rich chocolate flavor makes it bold enough for casual gatherings as well. This cake is not very sweet which allows it to pair nicely with the rich Butterscotch Buttercream.A-close-slice-web

Happy baking!

Buttermilk Chocolate Cake with Butterscotch Buttercream


  • 2 ounces (57 grams) Dutch processed cocoa powder- ½ cup
  • 4 ounces (113 grams) bittersweet chocolate, broken (about 60% cocoa)
  • ¾ cup (180 milliliters) hot water
  • 14 ounces (397 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) buttermilk, cold
  • 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces (227 grams) unsalted butter softened-1 cup
  • 4 large eggs
  • 10 ounces (284 grams) all-purpose/plain flour-2 cups
  • 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon (3 milliliters) baking powder
  • For the Butterscotch Sauce:
  • 4 ounces (113 grams) unsalted butter- ½ cup
  • 8 ounces (226 grams) brown sugar-1 cup
  • 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) corn syrup
  • ¼ cup (60 milliliters) whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) vanilla extract
  • For the Butterscotch Buttercream:
  • 9 ounces (255 grams) Butterscotch Sauce
  • 4 ounces (113 grams) granulated sugar
  • 4 ounces (113 grams) brown sugar
  • 8 ounces (227 grams) egg whites
  • 16 ounces (454 grams) unsalted butter, cool room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F (177 C). Spray two 8-inch round cake pans* with Baker’s Joy or grease and flour.
  2. In a large, about 8-cup or 1.5 liter, microwave safe container heat cocoa powder, chocolate and hot water for 30 seconds and then whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Whisk in sugar and then buttermilk and vanilla until fully incorporated.
  3. In a mixer bowl beat butter for 30 seconds on medium high power to lighten and then add the eggs one at a time with the mixer on medium until they are incorporated. Sprinkle in flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder and mix with the with the flat beater until combined, about 30 seconds. With the mixer on low speed, gradually pour in the chocolate mixture. Once it is all added, beat on medium-high speed for 1 minute. Scrape the bottom of the bowl and beat for 30 seconds more until smooth.
  4. Pour into cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool in pans for 10 minutes and then turn out to a cooling rack to cool completely or wrap in plastic wrap until needed. Frost and fill with Butterscotch Buttercream or other icing and filling. Enjoy!
  5. For the Butterscotch Sauce:
  6. In a medium sauce pan heat butter, brown sugar and corn syrup until light and bubbly, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in whipping cream and vanilla. Use in Butterscotch Buttercream.
  7. For the Butterscotch Buttercream:
  8. Whisk Butterscotch Sauce, sugars and egg whites together in a microwave-safe bowl; Make sure the mixture is well mixed so the sugar can protect the eggs from cooking. Heat the mixture in the microwave for 2-4 minutes on high in 30 second intervals whisking well after each 30 second heating. Heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture reaches 160 f/72 C. (Alternatively this step can be carried out in a double boiler over simmering water). Pour the syrup into a cake pan or shallow metal bowl (straining the mixture if any lumps are present) and chill in the freezer for 15-20 minutes until it is quite cool.
  9. Meanwhile, beat the butter in a mixer for 2 minutes on high until the butter is lighter in color and aerated. Add the cooled syrup in two additions to the butter beating 1 minute after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat 30 seconds until smooth; use immediately or store.
  10. You can store this buttercream at room temperature for 2 days, in the refrigerator, tightly sealed, for 2 weeks or in the freezer for 2 months.

76 thoughts on “Buttermilk Chocolate Cake with Butterscotch Buttercream”

  1. Your recipes ask for pans to be greased with bakers joy or grease and flour. Can you cover cake tins with non stick paper instead?

    1. Absolutely! I just spray them because it is fast and easy and I really don’t like to take the time to line pans. But yes, it would work well if you prefer to use paper 🙂

  2. Seriously. I wish I could post pictures in the comments because I made this exact cake last month for my friend’s little girl. It was hello kitty themed and they likened the cake to a brownie! I only paired it with whipped buttercream, but that espresso buttercream would make it so delicious too!

    1. Yum! Yes, rich and brownie tasting but a very soft and delicate mouthfeel. I would love it with the Espresso Buttercream! I bet Hello Kitty was adorable 🙂

    1. This is probably not the best cake for cupcakes. It is too rich and delicate. They would probably be dense and flat. I have chocolate cupcakes coming soon though!

      1. What if I baked this recipe in a 9×13 pan, torted then filled. Wrapped and chilled overnight and then cut into mini cakes 2″x2″. I was thinking about wrapping them with chocolate collars. ??

          1. Great! I’ll let you know how it works out. Love, love your blog. May I request a marble cake recipe next, pretty please?

  3. I recently came across your website and am thrilled I did. I enjoy how you explain the “how”, “why” and “wherefore” of the recipes. Not to mention, your cakes all sound delicious! I usually don’t bake cakes because no recipe has jumped out at me lately. After reading the recipe for the ‘Raspberry Pinot Noir” cake I told a friend that I would bring a cake to her husband’s birthday party next month and this is going to be the one:-) My husband gets to be the guinea pig tso I can try it this weekend. This ‘Buttermilk Chocolate Cake w’ Butterscotch Buttercream will be the next one I try. Thanks for sharing the recipes and the information about each.

    1. I use a conventional oven but it does have a fan. My oven also has a convection setting but it adjusts temperature and I like being in control 🙂

  4. Hey Summer – I live in Perth Australia. It is really hard to get corn syrup here (I have to order it online). Any suggestions to substitute? Glucose syrup is available but much thicker than corn syrup. Cheers, love your blog 🙂 Kate

    1. Glucose syrup would work great. In this instance the difference in consistency will not affect the final product. 🙂

    1. No, when I have tested out natural vs. Dutched in the past they have converted quite well. I like Dutch processed because it gives a more pronounced, deeper chocolate flavor but if you prefer the taste or properties of natural go for it! Natural cocoa is a bit more acidic, so you may want to add a touch more baking soda (1/4 tsp) so it does not affect the cake’s structure.

    1. Thank you! My neighbors are probably starting to run at the sight of cake 😉 My sister lives across the street and thankfully has active teenagers that can afford to eat a few slices!

    1. Usually I don’t make a whole cake. I try to just make one layer and cut it into quarters to stack and make enough for two slices to photograph. I usually eat half a piece and share some with my kids and throw the rest of the piece away before it can all find it’s way into my mouth. The other piece goes to neighbors or nieces and nephews. My ex husband gets a lot of cake and will share it with the guys at work if there is excess. This cake was a whole one but it was just six inches so after having a couple of pieces I had the kids run it across the field to the neighbor’s house. I try to confine my cake eating to Saturdays but it doesn’t always work out as planned 🙂

      1. Love this comment – I have noticed American baking blogs favour the three tier cake – which looks magnificent but delivers so much cake I wondered how on earth it got eaten! In Australia our home baked cakes tend to be more in the Victoria sponge model of two layers. Suppose it’s the British heritage. Anyway, love the look of the mega cakes but have started downsizing US recipes to two layers to avoid groans about wastage and waistlines when I arrive bearing dessert yet again 🙂

        1. Haha Tessa! Yes, tall looks impressive but often equals too much cake. I generally try to go small and tall. Watch out, soon my cakes will all be four inches around and six layers high! Lol 🙂

  5. Do you happen to know how much buttercream the recipe makes? I’m making this cake for a coworker’s going away tomorrow… I made the cake last night (2 8″-round), and was planning on torting and filling and frosting tonight… 4 layers of cake, 3 layers of BC. Do you think I’ll have enough, or should I double it? I don’t mind having left-overs because I’m also going to make your essential vanilla cupcakes so I will use any leftover on those!!! 🙂

    1. I would double it. This recipe makes about 4 1/2 cups of buttercream but I always like to have a generous amount. There is nothing worse than scraping to get a cake covered! Good luck!

      1. I did double it! I have some leftover, too. My only mistake was that I forgot to add the vanilla in the final step of making the buttercream until after I had already stacked and filled the cake, but the crumb coat and final layer of frosting did have vanilla (I added half the amount needed since I had already used about half filling! duh!). Another thing that I did was use half-and-half for the butterscotch sauce… Only because I’m a dummy and didn’t realize that’s what I grabbed at the store. It still turned out well, I think. I’ve never made a buttercream with eggs before because I’m too scared, so this was a first. I did the double-boiler method with a candy thermometer. I may have cooled the mixture too much because there was a thick cold (frozen?) layer on top when I grabbed it out of the freezer, and the resultant buttercream was very, very thick (and super cold). I tried to wait it out to let it come back to room temp before filling/frosting, but it was already 10pm, so I put some in a small bowl and warmed in 5 second bursts in the microwave. It came out really well. The BC is a little greasy… normal? Not as “whipped” as when I do just butter and powdered sugar, vanilla and cream. Perhaps because it was so cold? Anyways, the bit I tasted last night was fantastic. Tomorrow is my ‘cheat’ meal day, so I’m going to have to cut a piece and save it for tomorrow… but let’s be honest, I’m going to take a bite or two today because it’s sitting here in my office, staring at me. 🙂
        THANKS AGAIN for the recipe and your response, and I am sorry for the super long comment!!! You’re opening up new worlds for me! I may have to try out your SMBC recipe next!

        1. I’m glad the buttercream worked out! Yes, the syrup will form a film sometimes in the freezer but it doesn’t hurt anything. I have made super cold buttercream many times myself, you can just keep beating it for a few minutes to warm it up too. Or just heat a small portion until slightly warm and add it to the rest in the bowl and beat well again. This type of buttercream can seems a bit greasy, especially if you are used to powdered sugar buttercream. Beating enough air in and using enough liquid will help it seem silkier and more melting. You could also beat in a little powdered sugar if you prefer the texture.

          I hope you enjoy a big slice of the cake on cheat day! My cheat day is Saturday so I am looking forward to sampling all manner of cakey goodies then 🙂 Hugs!

    1. I would store this in the fridge triple wrapped in plastic for up to 5 days. I would freeze it if longer than that to maintain maximum freshness. 🙂

  6. Perfect chocolate cake! Thank you, thank you! I doubled the recipe and I baked 3 layers in 3 10 in. round pans. I did have left over cake, so I guess it would be enough to just have used the recipe 1,5 times. They baked great! I didn’t notice anything wrong while they were in the oven and really loved the end result! Also it is not very sweet, so it paired very well with a white chocolate SMB I made!

  7. Tried this cake yesterday – buttercream was just delicious & I ate WAY too much while icing it. I like that it contains actual butterscotch, not flavouring oils. The cake surprised me by going from quite liquid to slightly overdone incredibly quickly, but the interior was still moist (added some simple syrup to hide crusty outsides!). It was dense, but not stodgy. Beating the eggs into the butter took me an absolute age though – was wishing then your blog included some interim pictures if your mix so I could see if I was on track. I also made the mistake of using my rubber edged paddle at that stage, which propelled a big egg whitey glob of butter out if the bowl and into my hair, but don’t think the recipe can be blamed!

    1. Hi Tessa! Did you mean beating the eggs and sugar into the butter for the buttercream? If so here are a few more pics from a post I did on The Cake Blog http://thecakeblog.com/2014/06/no-meringue-swiss-buttercream-recipe.html You can just dump half of them in and then beat and dump in the other half. It shouldn’t take much time. It’s a little ghetto, but I usually tape a paper towel to my mixer when beating on high speed to protect my clothes (and hair!) from flying butter. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any more questions. 🙂

      1. Actually it was incorporating the eggs into the butter for the cake. It just didn’t want to take , but got there eventually! Lord knows how people managed before stand mixers 🙂

  8. Thank you for such a great recipe! It’s a delicious cake and I loved the texture. I filled the cake with dulce de leche and frosted with Dulce de Leche Swiss Meringue Buttercream. It was wonderful.

  9. I noticed do there is no sugar in the cake recipe. Is this correct? If so, why not? Is the chocolate rich enough with the buttermilk that you don’t need sugar?

      1. I skip over ingredients all the time too! And it would not be totally out of character for me to forget something 😉 I hope you enjoy this!

  10. Two quick questions: How do you get your frosting to look so smooth/perfect? AND, I’ve heard coffee brings out the choc flavor in cakes. Could the hot water be replaced with coffee instead and, if so, would you recommend doing that or not?

    Thanks! Looks amazing!

    1. Hi Brooke, Here are the steps written out for the icing process: 1. Add a generous amount of buttercream to the top of your cake and spread it as evenly as possible to the edges and just slightly beyond. 2. Working in sections add a thick layer of buttercream to the side of the cake with a small offset spatula wiggling your wrist back and forth to adhere and even the icing. Repeat until you have worked your way all around the cake (use a turn table to get your icing smooth and even). 3. Use your spatula or bench scraper to smooth the icing evenly around the cake sides as you spin your turn table. 4. Feather in any ragged icing at the top border of the cake onto the top. 5. Chill the cake until the icing is firm and scrape the sides and top of the cake (cleaning your spatula frequently) to remove any minor imperfections.

      It might not make a ton of sense in writing. I will be working on getting up some icing tutorials as soon as my daughters birthday is over (the 21st eeek!).

      Yes, you can definitely replace the hot water with coffee or add some espresso powder to the hot water. I use coffee in the American Mud Cake and it is delicious! I usually vary the recipe depending on who I am serving it to. 🙂

      1. A tutorial would be awesome! I’ll keep an eye out – thanks! (have a fun bday…kids’ birthdays are the best!)

    2. Ok, so later when I was thinking about it, I realized that I used the upside-down icing technique on this post. I will add a how to on this later but you can search online for instructions on this technique too. For in-depth info on icing, check out Jessica Harris’s Craftsy class Clean and Simple Cake Design. She goes through all the basics with clear wonderful instructions. If you visit her facebook page you can get the class at half off. It is totally worth the cost!!

  11. Hi Summer, thank you for all your wonderful recps, can this cake and frosting be covered with Fondant have a family function comin up and this sounds jus like what everyone would love,,, also if I’m using a 7″ tin do you think il get 3 layers… Thanks in advance !!!!

    1. Yes, this will frost and fondant beautifully. I think you will be in good shape for three 7″ inch layers but they will not be overly thick layers. Use 1 1/4 recipes if you want layers thicker than 1″. 🙂

      1. Thank u Summer, for your response,,, will keep you posted on how tis turned out ,,, I’m pretty sure it wil n as yummmmmyyyy as all your other recps I’ve tried !!!!

  12. Is it dark brown sugar for the butterscotch? Also is the frosting using the “whites only”type of liqiud eggs’ or what brand do uou recommend?

  13. Hey Summer,
    Love all your recipes. Thank you so much. Just made this cake and it is Awesome. Thank you. But I have one question for you, my buttercream came out runny. Do you know what went wrong?

    1. Sorry for my slow response! I see you fixed the issue, but for a future heads up you can usually fix a runny buttercream by starting with a cool syrup and beating at a very high speed until it emulsifies. If that doesn’t seem to do the trick you can add a bit more cool butter to increase your emulsifier. 🙂

  14. I made this cake for my niece’s birthday this week as well as the caramel sauce. Since she loves peanut butter & chocolate combination, I made a cream cheese peanut butter filling using the butterscotch sauce to sweeten it. I frosted it with a mix of milk/dark chocolate ganache. It was soooo delicious. This chocolate cake may just be my go to recipe from now on. Next time I will make with the butterscotch buttercream. Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful recipes. I working my way thru all of them. Have made the Brown Sugar Penoche, American mud cake, marble cake, Tiramisu cake, Orange with Passion fruit buttercream, Raspberry Pinot noir and they have all been wonderful.

  15. I would like to thank you so much for your recipes. They’re are so wonderfully delicious and I only wish I have time to try all of them!!! But this Buttermilk Chocolate Cake and Butterscotch buttercream is simply a favorite with everyone who has trued them. Thanks So Much!

  16. Ok, I’m confused. This picture is not the “butterscotch buttercream” cake. the buttercream is brown. Also instead of actually tasting like butterscotch, it tastes like caramel. Caramel is amazing, but not what I was hoping to maake. I followed the recipe to the t, so it’s not a user error which i can admit I’ve done many times.

    1. Hi Lily, I understand what you are saying. True butterscotch is really just a caramel type sauce made from brown sugar instead of caramelizing sugar. It doesn’t have the same taste as a butterscotch candy per se, which is not easy to emulate in the kitchen without a flavoring. For that butterscotchy flavor you can add an extract or you could use a commercial butterscotch sauce in place of the sauce in this recipe. I think that will help you get the flavor you are looking for. I hope that helps!

  17. Hi, I have been enjoying your blog and have made a couple of you cakes. My husband requested chocolate cake for his birthday so I decided to try this cake out. I followed the recipe and even add 1/4 tsp extra baking soda, per your note because I used unsweetened cocoa powder. My cakes (2 in 8” pans) took a lot longer to bake but finally my center stopped jiggling and tooth pick came out clean. I tried your “bang method” for the first time and cooled them for 10 min becfore taking cakes out of the pan. My cake sides are very crumbly, did your cakes turn out that way as well or did I do something wrong? Thank you for your well informed blog!

  18. Love this recipe (and so do my customers), but I wonder how to mix the batter without creating lumps? I always end us pouring the batter through a sieve to ensure that the batter is smooth and without white lumps in the otherwise brown cake. Should I be pouring the sour cream mixture more slowly?

    1. Hi Chae! I’m glad you and your customers are enjoying this recipe. If you add the chocolate mixture very slowly you should not have problems with lumps. You can use the wire beater also to help with smooth incorporation. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl at each 1/3 addition of the chocolate mixture so you don’t end up with pockets of light batter that are not mixed in. Mixing the chocolate in slowly takes a little more time, but should save you the hassle of straining the batter later. I hope this method works for you and makes your baking process a little easier. Smiles!

  19. Hi Summer. Cakes are in the oven but I have a couple of questions. First, I had a heck of a time getting the butter and eggs to mix. Finally I took a stick emulsion blender to get the two incorporated. I am baking these as two 11×7” vs two 8” so did 50% more batter. Based on the Wilton guide, it should take about 3 minutes more than 8” sizing. Does that sound about right?

    1. Ok so the 11”x7” cakes took 38 minutes. I turned them out and they are VERY delicate. The edges are really crumbly. Not overcooked, just delicate. I was planning to tort these. I’m not sure if that is doable given the structure. I will freeze until Thursday then take out to fill and cover. Maybe if I tort when partially frozen? I don’t know if it will hold up

      1. Hi Lynne!
        Yes, this is a tender cake. I think you will be fine torting it as long as you do it partially frozen and use a board to transfer the torted layers. That is how I deal with my red velvet cake and other fragile layers. Best wishes!

        1. I made a third layer, just in case! I’m so used to serving torted cakes, if there’s less than 7 layers (4 cake, 3 filling) I feel ripped off . Is there a trick to mix the eggs and butter? I just gave up and added the dry ingredients. Can’t for the life of me figure out hos to emulsify the two!

          1. Better safe than sorry! I would just cream the sugar with the butter next time. Your eggs will mix in nicely then and I don’t think it will affect anything else. 🙂

  20. Follow up now the cake has been inhaled at work. This is one of my top 5 cakes I have ever baked and one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve ever tasted! Rich but not overwhelming so, sweet but not over the top.

    I DID end up being able to tort it but the cakes were partially frozen since they were very tender. I guess I overbaked a tad since some of the edges were kind of falling away. I just filled the 4 cake layers and trimmed up the edges. I also used a chocolate simple syrup to amp up the chocolate factor even more. It was SOOOO good

    Thank you for continuing to take the time to answer our questions Summer! This recipe is 5 years old but boom, there you were with input For others, just follow Summer’s advice and cream the sugar and butter together THEN add the eggs. That one tip will save you a ton of frustration!

  21. This cake is delicious, but the recipe layer number was wrong and it bubbles over in my oven causing burning and a great mess to clean up! YIKES! I re- read it twice. The pic is three 6 inch layers, but the recipe says TWO 8 inch pans or if you want three layers to make 1 and 1/2 times the recipe. It distinctly says TWO 8 inch pans when using the recipe straight as it is. So that’s what I did. I used two 8 inch cake pans. They filled up so full I almost added a third but decided to follow the recipe. I wish I had added a third pan. It was way too much batter for just two 8 inch cake pans. It poured all over my oven floor and burned and made a horrible mess. The cake is delicious, but next time I will definitely be using THREE 8 inch cake pans not TWO.

    1. Hi Julia, I’m not sure what was going on when I originally made this cake (it was quite a while ago!). But looking at ingedient volumes, it definitely looks like it is quantified for three 8-inch pans. So sorry for the mishap!

    1. I’m not sure why there are only two layers in the picture! It was too long ago to recall my thought process. But, the batter volume is enough for three 8-inch layers. Sorry for the confusion!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *