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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Nanny's Black Midnight Cake - A delicious black midnight chocolate cake - an old family recipe that has been passed down through generations!

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  • Gaby wrote:


    I made this recipe last night and it was delicious! One of the moistest cakes I’ve ever made, and couldn’t taste the coffee or cayenne – just rich chocolate. One comment I have is that since I followed the instructions to the letter, I greased the pans AFTER mixing the dry and wet ingredients. This was pretty time consuming, and meant the cake sat out losing air, so I think it lost some volume. I think it might help us less seasoned bakers if that step were earlier in the recipe. Otherwise, perfect!!

    • Martha wrote:

      Great suggestion Gaby! Thank you for taking the time to write to us today.

  • M, Rose wrote:

    This revised version of the black midnight cake is 5 star. I had made your older version, and the measurements weren’t as easy as this new recipe, and the quantity of buttermilk in the frosting was twice what it should have been. Also, it is much better without the shortening (which had been an ingredient in the first recipe). Without the shortening, I can stay with my pledge to not buy palm oil, and thus not contribute to rainforest destruction.
    Thank you for making the corrections and changes . This one is a keeper.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thank you!

  • Barb wrote:

    Made this last weekend and it was a hit! Made it in a Bundt pan…It is so incredible it doesn’t even need the frosting! This will become a family favorite. Thank you so much!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Barb! Good to know that baking this in a budnt pan also works – we appreciate the info!

  • NAMRATA wrote:

    One request. If you could upload a video showing your recipe. I could exactly be able to get the idea of the texture of each and every step of making cake.

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi again – We don’t currently have plans to film a video of this recipe, but we will consider doing so in the future. Thanks for the suggestion. In the meantime, if you want to follow a recipe with a video, here is one to try: (I totally understand if you decide to make her recipe instead of ours!) Hope this helps!

  • NAMRATA wrote:

    Hey I am trying this recipe back and again, and still having a problem of rubbery texture of the cake. While making the cake along with following the recipe with minute details I have come across one more point I think that might solve my problem. Your recipe calls for “cream oil and sugar” which I am not able to, it turns into a big dollop and doesn’t turn creamy. So later I add buttermilk and melt the sugar, but as no aeration is form while mixing oil and sugar, so my cake turns rubbery. So my query is, does the oil and sugar really turn creamy while mixing?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Namrata – The term “creaming” in baking recipes simply means mixing until well blended – this article (with photos) may be helpful. (Note – the photos in this example are shown using butter, while our recipe calls for oil and sugar, so it may not exactly resemble those photos – you want it will mixed as well as possible.) I would also be careful not to overmix the batter once the dry ingredients are added – doing so can activate the gluten in the flour and that can also be the culprit in making your cake rubbery. Hope that helps!

  • Aidan wrote:

    So in the pics I see y’all are using cake flour but the recipe calls for all-purpose. Have you made it both ways?

    • Jack wrote:

      We tried it both ways but the finished cake didn’t seem to justify the cake flour.

  • Stephanie wrote:

    Hi there, just baked this cake. I followed exactly the measurements and the method but my texture of the batter was very runny and thin. Was in a doubt. But went on and baked it for 45minutes in 170c and the texture of the baked cake looks a little undone. Not sure where it went wrong or was it supposed to be like that. Leaving it to cool now and will be checking them tomorrow morning. Cheers.!

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Stephanie – It’s always so hard to troubleshoot what might have been the issue…every oven is different but as long as the toothpick inserted in the middle came out clean, it should be done. Fingers crossed!

  • Jacquetta Williamson wrote:

    Mine was little tough but I’m sure it’s because I over mixed a little. Other than that it was moist and delicious. I like this recipe and I will try it again soon. I just thought that the batter was too runny but I still kept to the recipe. I think I will use less buttermilk and coffee next time. though. Thank You for sharing this recipe!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Jacquetta!

  • Craig wrote:

    Seriously the best cake I’ve ever made. Absolutely perfect. Do be sure to check the cakes at the 23-25 minute mark, as they do seem to be done sooner than the recipe suggests.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Craig!

  • Joyce wrote:

    I recently discovered that better quality flour makes a big difference in all my baking. I’d had disappointing results and switching back to name-brand flour solved my problems.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Joyce! You may be on to something…we always use King Arthur!

  • Andrea wrote:

    Beautiful recipe I was wondering if I could also make this in a 9×13 pan?

  • Katie wrote:

    Can you taste the cayenne, I don’t like hot stuff,. so not sure if I should use it or not . Besides that it sounds awesome

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Katie – No – you can’t taste the cayenne – it just enhances the chocolate but so little is used you won’t taste it or feel the heat. (If you prefer, just leave it out.)

  • Namrata wrote:

    Thanks for sharing the recipe.. its just amazingly beautiful and tasty cake.. I have a slight query for this cake. I make the vegetarian version by using curd instead of eggs. And my query is that my cake turns a bit rubbery in texture. I have tried several times. But don’t know why it’s turning out that way.

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Namrata – We’ve only made this cake as written in the recipe and I’m not familiar with the curds you are swapping in for the eggs. I suspect those curds are interacting with one of the ingredients to give you that rubbery texture – but without doing some testing on our end, I’m afraid I’m not sure how to help you. Sorry I can’t be more help.

  • mamta wrote:

    am allergic to eggs. any substitute?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Mamta – We’ve only made the recipe as written so I can’t say for sure, but you could try aquafaba – the liquid from a can of unsalted chickpeas. Typically, 3 Tablespoons of the liquid equals one egg. If you try it, please let us know how it comes out!

  • Petal From the wonderful island of Trinidad wrote:

    ‘Super Moist’ and delicious cake. I used the Saco Buttermilk Blend and didn’t have vegetable oil so I used coconut oil and 11/2 cups of sugar instead. I followed the instructions to the letter and was very pleased with the result. Thanks for this recipe Martha.

    • Martha wrote:

      You’re very welcome Petal! So glad you enjoyed the recipe!

  • Avie wrote:

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

    • Martha wrote:

      Yes – brewing some strong instant coffee is definitely an easy swap. Enjoy!

  • Leah Arndt wrote:

    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!

    • Martha wrote:

      You’re very welcome Leah! So glad you enjoyed the recipe!

  • ANNE M KEATING wrote:

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

    • Martha wrote:

      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?)

  • Linda wrote:

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

    • Martha wrote:

      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!

  • Christie wrote:

    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!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thank you Christine!! So glad you enjoyed the recipe!

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