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Nanny’s Black Midnight Cake

Nanny's Black Midnight Cake


We originally shared Nanny’s Black Midnight Cake here on A Family Feast almost five years ago. After making this cake again recently, we decided to take some new photos and re-share this delicious chocolate cake recipe. While the cake photos are new, the photos of the kids in our family are five years old, and those cute little kids are now a lot more grown up!

My husband Jack and his brothers and sisters all have very fond memories of their mother (Nanny to us) baking this delicious Black Midnight Cake – a dark, chocolate layer cake with a rich dark chocolate frosting.  It’s perfectly sweet and super moist and light, and if you are a chocolate lover – this is the cake for you!


Black Midnight Cake

Jack and his siblings (as well as a few cousins who had an uncanny knack of always showing up for dinner whenever Nanny made this cake for dessert) would fight over who got the biggest piece of cake – it’s so good!  Years later, the younger kids in our family all love this cake too.

In fact, a love of cooking seems to run in our family, and we have some budding chefs among most of Nanny’s grandchildren. This past weekend, some of the kids got together at our house to bake Nanny’s black midnight cake, and here are some of the photos from our cooking adventures:
















They did a fantastic job baking this cake – don’t you agree?  And Nanny loved the cake too – of course!


Black Midnight Cake

This black midnight cake recipe is adapted from one originally published in the Betty Crocker Cookbook many years ago with some updates of our own, as well as additional inspiration thanks to the cake recipe on the back of the can of Hershey’s cocoa. We’ve updated it to include some coffee as well as a pinch of cayenne in the batter – both ingredients really enhance the flavor of the chocolate.

Black Midnight Cake

P.S. Over the years, we’ve received an occasional reader comment that the cake came out dry when they made this recipe. We’re always sad when our readers don’t see good results from our recipes. And, this recipe in particular has us puzzled because other readers have said their cake is very moist, and our own experience making this recipe has yielded a moist cake as well.  Without knowing exactly where things went wrong for some of our readers, our advice is to:

  • Make sure that when you measure out the flour (and cocoa) scoop out the flour from your canister with a spoon and place it into your measuring cup. (Scooping out right from the canister can pack the flour down.)
  • Watch the baking time. Check after 20 to 25 minutes to see if your cake is done, especially if your oven runs hot, or you are using dark metal cake pans.


Black Midnight Cake

Nanny’s Black Midnight Cake

  • Prep Time: 15 mins
  • Cook Time: 40 mins
  • Total Time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: 8-10 servings


For the Cake:

  • 2/3 cup dark cocoa powder (we used Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder to get that deep dark color)
  • 1 cup hot strong brewed coffee
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Butter for greasing the pans
  • Two parchment circles, cut the size of the bottom of your cake pans
  • Cocoa for dusting the pans

For the Frosting:

  • 1 cup dark cocoa (we used Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa to get that deep dark color)
  • 4 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 ½ sticks butter, softened
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract


To Prepare the Cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a small bowl, dissolve cocoa powder and cayenne with hot brewed coffee and set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream oil and sugar until well combined.
  4. Add eggs and beat until light and creamy, about 1-2 minutes. This process beats air into the mixture. Scrape paddle and bowl and beat once.
  5. Slowly add in coffee/cocoa mixture, buttermilk and vanilla and beat until batter is smooth. Scrape paddle and bowl and beat once.
  6. In a separate bowl, sift flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add dry ingredients to wet and beat on low speed to incorporate. Scrape down bowl and mix just until all ingredients are combined, do not over mix once flour is in.
  7. Butter the bottom and sides of two 9-inch cake pans and place a round parchment circle in each. Butter the top of the parchment then sprinkle the whole inside of the parchment and pan with cocoa powder, shaking out excess. Pour batter evenly between two pans and place in center of oven. (note, aluminum baking pans are by far, the best for baking cakes. Non-stick and dark colored pans can change the cake by browning it more than it needs to)
  8. Bake 30-35 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Depending on your oven, you may need to rotate cake pans half way through. During our baking, one cake was done in 30 minutes and the second in 32 minutes. Do not over bake.
  9. Cool pans on wire racks for ten minutes then carefully invert out of pan onto rack to cool further.

To Prepare the Frosting;

  1. Sift cocoa powder with confectioner’s sugar in a large bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer or hand mixer, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and cocoa powder mixture along with buttermilk and vanilla and beat until smooth and creamy. Add additional buttermilk or whole milk if frosting is too thick.
  2. Place a small dollop of frosting on a cake dish to hold the cake from sliding and place one cake on the frosting. Frost the top of that layer. Place the second cake on the first and frost the entire cake, top and sides.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

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    Leave a Comment


  1. Cute pictures! The best part is always licking the spoon! This cake looks incredible Martha!

    • Thanks Tanya! The kids had a great time!

    • I really liked the beautiful presentation, but what I most enjoyed was seeing the involvement of the whole family. it brought back precious memories. Thanks again, Deborah

      • Thank you so much Deborah! We totally agree – those precious family memories are the best thing of all! Martha

  2. What an absolutely fun cake for the kids to make!!! I am dying over how deep and dark it is…I need this cake for sure!!!

  3. Fabulous cake and wonderful job by your bakers!

  4. Black delicious cake! I really like the picture of the baking process 🙂

  5. I wonder how this recipe would work in a 9×13 pan. Have you tried it?

  6. Just discovered your blog and I am thoroughly enjoying browsing! Love how dark this chocolate cake is–mmm…..

  7. This is the best chocolate cake recipe. It is so moist. This is a cake you might find at a 4 star restaurant. Very very good!

  8. Can you substitute something else for coffee? I don’t like the taste of coffee but recipe sounds good and looks delicious. Thank you for sharing

    • Hi Sherry – You really won’t taste the coffee as a standalone flavor in the cake – it just enhances the flavor of the chocolate. But if you’d rather leave it out, just replace it with water. The cake will still be very chocolatey. Hope you enjoy it!

  9. Andrea Anderson :

    Does this cake have to be refrigerated? I’m making it right now. 🙂

  10. Does this cake need to be kept refrigerated once made? It looks delicious. I think I will make it for a dinner at our church.

  11. This cake sounds delicious. I live in Denver. Is this recipe for high altitude? Thanks.

  12. Flavor was good, but the cake was dry as the Sahrara. Won’t make again.

  13. Hi, this looks absolutely delicious and I would like to try it sometime. I generally don’t use shortening in my cooking, do you have any tried and tested suggestions for shortening substitute for this recipe? Thanks!

  14. Patsey Ward :

    What a beautiful family activity. Just think someday they’ll do the same with their families. Generations of the past will live on in yours. Thank you for sharing. It’s truly a blessing.

  15. Hi. What’s the size of the cake pans??

  16. I love these recipes, so many recipes to choose, Ive got a sister thats asking me for a really nice Chocolate Cake recipe.
    I’m an average baker & decorator. So I trying Chocolate Cake recipes. I’ll make & present these Chocolate Cakes to my family, there in for treat of life time. All these Cakes are just incredible. Thankyou.

  17. This is the driest cake I’ve ever made and eaten in my life. I will not follow the instructions if I make it again. Add extra oil if you decide to give this recipe a try.

  18. This looks so good I want to try this and make a mousse to go in the middle of the cakes.

  19. OMG I didn’t realize that you use two 9 inch because I put it in a 1 go
    Because I think you’ll use smaller pan than I use and it looks thin when I divide into two.

  20. What size cake pans did you use?

  21. Made this cake just yesterday with my family for Christmas and it was a HIT! The cake had a delicious dark chocolate flavor and was complimented wonderfully by the frosting. Not sure how other’s attempts ended up dry, but I followed the recipe exactly and it couldn’t have been more moist. Will be making again, and again!

  22. This looks fantastic. Can coconut oil (melted) be substituted for the vegetable oil?

    • Hi Linda – We’ve never tried swapping in coconut oil in this recipe so I can’t say for sure. Just remember that when cooled, coconut oil is firm, while cooled vegetable oil remains liquid – so I suspect that the finished texture of the cake would be quite different. If you try it, please let us know how it comes out!


    Could you use Black Cocoa Powder instead of the dark cocoa powder?

    • Hi Anne – I’ve never used black cocoa powder – only the Hershey’s Special Dark which bakes up much darker than the regular cocoa powder. But I suspect it will work! (Maybe we’re talking about the same type of dark chocolate cocoa powder – just different names?)

  24. Thanks for this recipe! I made this cake last night for my husband’s birthday. He loves dark chocolate and it came out fantastic! All of kids loved it and even I (who does not enjoy dark chocolate) ate 2 pieces. I love the surprising blackish color of this cake when we cut into it… truly living up to it’s name. Besides loving this fantastic cake, I really enjoyed following your recipe instructions. They were very well written and I LOVED the tips you gave! Even after 13 years of marriage I learned new things to do for baking! Thank you so much!

  25. Drooling over pics – must try it asap. Could I use strong instant coffee instead of brewed?? Thanks!