Hershey’s Cocoa Cake

By Ann Fulton

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Light, moist, and perfect for any celebration, this classic chocolate cake mixes up quickly in a single bowl with ingredients you likely have on hand. (And the gluten-free adaptation fools even the gluten-eaters!)


When it comes to chocolate cake, this tried-and-true recipe is, without a doubt, the best that I have found. It has been a birthday favorite in my family for years, and  I usually top it with an equally incredible homemade caramel frosting.  As if fabulous taste and perfect texture aren’t enough, this cake is so easy to make–it mixes up quickly in one bowl with basic pantry ingredients!

For our latest birthday celebration–February is a big birthday month in our family with three of them–I decided to revisit an even older frosting favorite, Foolproof Peanut Butter Frosting. I am such a big fan of chocolate cake with fluffy peanut butter frosting that I chose this combination for our wedding cake.  Though it wasn’t the pretty white cake that most brides select, it sure was delicious and most of the plates were crumb-less!

This light and moist chocolate cake is an old recipe from the Hershey’s cocoa canister.  For my son’s 12th birthday, I substituted my gluten-free flour blend, and the results were every bit as moist and delicious as the standard version with all-purpose flour.  Coincidently, my older son told us at dinner about a girl in his algebra class that had to go gluten-free recently.  She has said that so many of the store-bought products her mom has bought for her haven’t tasted very good.  My son decided she might like a piece of this cake, so we wrapped up a big piece and he brought it to math class the next day.  He said she was thrilled, which made us all happy.

My best tip with this cake is to monitor the baking time. The only way the cake will be dry is if it is overcooked. To be on the safe side, simply check a few minutes early since all ovens vary a little.

Greasing and lining the pans with a round of parchment paper makes removing the cakes especially easy. I like to trace the pan on the parchment paper and then cut, leaving a tab to help release the cake.

Want to know something funny? This is the exact same cake as the one pictured above. Because people like to see the inside of the cake–and because I only like to make what we can eat–I cut the piece and then stuck it back and frosted right over it after taking the picture! The color of the frosting looks a little different because this picture was taken at night with the overhead lights on. Click HERE for the creamy, mouthwatering, Foolproof Peanut Butter Frosting recipe.

For fun, I often decorate with miniature peanut butter cups to allude to the cake flavors. For the caramel frosting version below, I use caramel Hershey Kisses.

Hershey’s Cocoa Cake
Yield: 2 (9-inch round) cakes
This recipe for classic chocolate cake mixes up quickly in a single bowl with ingredients you likely have on hand. It's light, moist, and perfect for any celebration!
  • 2 cups (384g) granulated sugar
  • 1¾ cups (222g) all-purpose flour (I’ve used this gluten-free flour blend and the brands listed in the recipe notes with outstanding results*)
  • ¾ cups (60g) Hershey’s cocoa (regular, not Dutched)
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup (240ml) milk (I typically use 2%; a non-dairy milk may be used)
  • ½ cup (112ml) canola or safflower oil
  • 2 teaspoons (10ml) vanilla
  • 1 cup (227ml) boiling water**
  1. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. Beat with a hand or stand mixer until completely mixed, 30 seconds to one minute. Stir in the boiling water. The batter will be thin.
  2. Pour into two, well greased or parchment lined, 9-inch round cake pans. Bake at 350℉ for 25-30 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean. I always check a few minutes early but find 25 minutes is perfect in my oven. Keep in mind that dark-coated baking pans tend to cook a bit faster than light-colored pans. The trick to a perfect cake is to remove it from the oven when it is just cooked through, so check a few minutes early to avoid overcooking.
  3. Cool the cakes for 10-15 minutes in the pans, and then remove to baking racks and cool completely. Frost as desired.

*When baking gluten-free: More recently I have used King Arthur Flour and Bob’s Red Mill cup-for-cup gluten-free flours with excellent results. I always use the same weight as for standard all-purpose flour (some GF blends are heavier than others) and allow the mixture to rest in the cake pans for 5-10 minute before baking. Resting allows the flours to absorb some moisture prior to baking and is especially helpful when rice flour is an ingredient. By following those guidelines with this recipe, nobody ever can tell the difference between GF and regular!

**For a deeper, richer chocolatey flavor, hot brewed coffee may be used in place of the boiling water.

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Light, moist, and perfect for any celebration, this classic chocolate cake mixes up quickly in a single bowl with ingredients you likely have on hand. (And the gluten-free adaptation fools even the gluten-eaters!)

A older photo with homemade caramel frosting.

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  1. April

    Hi Ann, this Hershey ‘s Deep Dark cake recipe has been my go-to chocolate cake, for years! I am glad you are giving it a spotlight! It’s delicious and fast…can even make without a mixer, in a crunch. A bonus is, one recipe makes 2 1/2 doz cupcakes – for a busy mom! I often use buttermilk instead of sweet milk and the coffee instead of water…rich and delicious!

    1. Ann Post author

      Hi April, I love than you are a longtime fan of this cake as well. I too enjoy the coffee option but have yet to try buttermilk in this recipe. Thanks for the suggestion!

    1. Ann Post author

      I should really add that as an option, Elmer, because I’ve made the cake that way and it’s delicious. Thank you for mentioning!

  2. Cindy callahan

    you make it so easy to make a cake I can’t wait to make this because it looks delicious I’m waiting for my son’s birthday cuz he loves buttepeanut butter frosting

  3. Gina Adams

    My mom made this cake from, LittltBlackSambo, story book.She mixed the soda in the milk and often used buttermilk. But always with carmel frosting.So good no frosting needed, a dense cake. She’d bake a cake before she went to work, was on the table when I got up for school. Good memories.

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