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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.


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Black Midnight Cake

Nanny’s Black Midnight Cake

  • Prep Time: 15 mins
  • Cook Time: 40 mins
  • Total Time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: 8-10 servings
  • Category: dessert
  • Method: baking
  • Cuisine: American


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.

Keywords: chocolate cake, Nanny's Black Midnight Cake

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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  • Marie wrote:

    Regarding your comment about some people having this cake turn out dry. I live in a higher altitude, but not quite at the level noted on the Betty Crocker boxes (for shame!) where you should adapt to a high altitude. Nevertheless, I do adapt, and find everyone comments on my moist cakes. Yes, I do use boxed cakes for bake sales. One as deliciously wonderful as this recipe is simply not leaving the house!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thank you for that information Marie – it’s entirely possible that was the cause. Glad you enjoyed the recipe and thanks again for your suggestion!

  • Mary Jean Jones wrote:

    I tried cupcakes instead let’s see what happens

    • Martha wrote:

      Hope they turned out well Mary Jean! I know we’ve had other readers do the same with good results.

  • DeboraHarv wrote:

    Delicious! You’ve created a chocolate cake recipe that tastes like chocolate without all the fuss.. Thank you!!

    • Martha wrote:

      So glad you enjoyed the recipe Debora!

  • pat wrote:

    I can’t wait to make Black Midnight cake

    • Martha wrote:

      Hope you love it Pat!

  • Sheila wrote:

    Happy to report my half cake was a big success…. it kind of sank in the middle, but I just piled on the icing. Everyone loved it! Thanks fora great recuse!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks for letting us know Sheila! Glad everyone enjoyed the cake!

  • Sheila wrote:

    Do you have any advice for cutting the recipe in half other than doing the math accurately? Want to make a snacking cake and this looks delicious. Really like the addition of the coffee and the cayenne pepper. Can’t wait to try it. Thank you!

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Sheila – No advice – if I were attempting a snacking cake, I’d cut the ingredients in half. The baking time will be less too so definitely watch it while it bakes in the oven.

  • Judy Vandersteen wrote:

    Made this black cocoa cake in a bundt pan. Was delicious, not too sweet.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Judy!

  • Rose wrote:

    Have you made this cake with a sugar alternative?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Rose – No…we’ve only made the recipe as written. If you try it with a sugar alternative, please let us know how it comes out!

  • Karen wrote:

    Looks delicious

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Karen – hope you’ll give the recipe a try!

  • Neeraj Sharma wrote:

    Hi Martha, I tried this recipe and it turns out delicious. Very thankful for sharing this recipe but will appreciate if you could also give measurements in gms as those are much convenient and accurate.
    Warm regards

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks for the suggestion Neeraj – we may add weight measurements and/or metric measurements in the future!

  • Beverly Sawyer wrote:

    Can you make Nannys black midnight cake into cupcakes. If so what temperature and how long.

  • Suzanne wrote:

    Best chocolate cake I’ve ever made!! Fantastic recipe made with all the ingredients you probably already have! Be sure to use Hershey Special Dark cocoa powder!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Suzanne! Glad you enjoyed the cake!

  • Dorothy Brohard wrote:

    Made the Black Midnight is great…

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Dorothy!

  • Della wrote:

    Can the Black Midnight cake be made in a 9×13 pan

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Della – We haven’t tried this in a 13×9 pan – but I’m guessing it would be fine! Let us know how it comes out!

  • Mark wrote:

    Delicious-I increased the cayenne to 1 tsp and added some chopped hazelnuts after it was frosted. A hit all around!!

    • Martha wrote:

      Sounds delicious Mark – glad you enjoyed the cake recipe!

  • Samantha wrote:

    I need this recipe for a 12×2 and a 10 x 2 cake please help me !!!!

    • Jack wrote:

      If I understand your question, you don’t own 9″ cake pans and want to bake the cakes in two different sized pans? Once baked, one would have to be trimmed to fit the 10″ size when stacked. But if you meant you are baking two layer cakes, one 12″ inch and one 10″, the recipe wouldn’t change much except that since the pans are wider (which means the batter is spread out more), they would bake in less time by a few minutes. I would do the toothpick test at 25 minutes. If I have misunderstood your question, I apologize. Elaborate further and I will do my best to answer.

  • Zayna wrote:

    My son searched the Internet for the most deep dark chocolate cake, for his birthday, and chose this recipe. It was very simple to make and tasted delicious. I heeded your advice and closely watched my oven; which I know runs hot. The cake was so moist!

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Zayna – I’m so glad you all enjoyed the cake recipe! Happy Birthday to your son!

  • Danielle Brillhart wrote:

    This is the best chocolate cake! I have made 3 times now, and am making again this week for my sons birthday party. Thank you for sharing the recipe.

    • Martha wrote:

      You’re very welcome Danielle! So glad you are enjoying the recipe as much as we do!

  • Korre Woods wrote:

    This was the best cake I have ever made.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thank you Korre!

  • Rosalie wrote:

    I don’t have a stand mixer. Are there any changes in the instructions if I were to use a hand mixer? Hopefully one day soon I’ll have a stand mixer. Can’t wait to try this recipe.

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Rosalie – No changes needed – it’s fine to use a hand mixer! We hope you love the cake!

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