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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.


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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  • Marcy Miller wrote:

    OMG! This cake was moist, soft and delicious! I love dark chocolate and this was my dream. My husband loved it too! I will be saving this one! Thank you!

    • Martha wrote:

      You’re welcome Marcy – so glad you enjoyed the cake!

  • Gryphonisle wrote:

    Made this as per the recipe for the cake, finished with a ganache from elsewhere. Wonderfully moist and flavorful but I wonder if the chocolate would be even more pronounced with a regular cocoa as black/dark cocoa is more for color than taste?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi – We’ve only made the recipe as written, but it’s possible! If you try it with a regular cocoa, please let us know!

  • Oly Smith wrote:

    Please can you give metric weights.
    Thank you

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Oly – We write our recipes based on how we cook and measure ingredients in our own kitchen and in this case, how the recipe was handed down to us. Since we don’t bake using metric measurements, we don’t list them in our recipes. This might be a helpful link to reference, but I can’t guarantee the success of the recipe baked on their metric calculations: Hope this helps.

  • Susan Paschen wrote:

    I made Nanny’s black midnight cake for my husband’s birthday. It was amazing! He wanted a cake he remembered his grandmother making from his childhood with coffee in it. I added an extra egg so it was really moist. Our grocery store was out of buttermilk so I substituted vinegar with milk. The icing was so creamy and the best I’ve ever made! I highly recommend this cake for true chocolate lovers!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Susan – So glad you enjoyed the cake, and happy birthday to your husband!

  • Dana wrote:

    I loved this recipe! I made a bailey’s buttercream frosting instead of the listed one with the recipe. I can only imagine those that felt the cake was too dry over baked it because it truly is fantastic.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Dana – love the idea of a Bailey’s buttercream!!

  • DORIS wrote:


  • Deb wrote:

    My husband said this cake is definitely 5star !!!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thank Deb!!

  • Briana wrote:

    Hi! I absolutely LOVE this recipe. It is by far the best chocolate cake I have ever had. With that being said, I am interested in using this same recipe for cupcakes instead of a cake. Are there any adjustments I need to make with this recipe, do you have any tips for me for turning these into cupcakes? Thank you so much!

  • Mette wrote:

    This cake is SOOOO good ❤️ it’s a winner every single time so Thank you for sharing ❤️

    • Martha wrote:

      You’re very welcome Mette – so glad you enjoyed the cake as much as we do! <3

  • Tracey Overton wrote:

    Perfect cake!
    Does it freeze well once frosted?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Tracey – We’ve never tried freezing this cake. Like any food, you’ll want to wrap it tightly so I do suspect that the frosting will get smudged off as you do that. If that doesn’t bother you, I suspect the cake would freeze and thaw nicely.

  • Danielle Brillhart wrote:

    Such a great chocolate cake! I have made this recipe 4 different times now.

    • Martha wrote:

      So glad you are enjoying the recipe as much as we do Danielle!

  • mel wrote:

    hi there. how much can u reduce the sugar for the cake n frosting? and, can u use butter instead of oil?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Mel – We’ve only made the recipe as written so without some testing, I don’t have specific advice for you on reducing the sugar. In terms of swapping in butter for oil – generally, that won’t work. Butter is a solid when at room temp, while oil is a liquid. Swapping will definitely impact the texture of the finished baked cake. Sorry I can’t be more help…baking is a fairly exact science so it’s not really easy to guess at changes and if it will work without testing on our end.

  • Michelle wrote:

    This cake is divine and so sinful. I find myself thinking about this cake regularly and have to force myself to try new things instead of remaking this over and over. BUT it is so hard because I have literally found cake perfection!!! Thank you Nanny for sharing this recipe with your loved ones who have shared it with the world. Everyone who has tried this cake cannot stop the complements. And every time I make something different, they say oh that chocolate cake you make with the coffee is still the best and it is regularly mentioned in everyday conversations, lol.

    • Martha wrote:

      So glad you are all enjoying the recipe as much as we are! <3

  • Amy Meravi wrote:

    I kobe this cake, but I don’t remember the batter getting frothy? and then clumps of white in it?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Amy – I’m sorry – are you seeing that written in the recipe someplace or experiencing it today when you make it?

  • Kristine Boydstun wrote:

    Have you ever made this cake as a bundt cake? Just wondering if it would work in a bundt pan. Thank you!

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Kristine – I’m sorry – we haven’t tried this in a bundt pan ourselves. If you try it, please let us know how it comes out!

  • Teresa wrote:

    When you say “strong brewed coffee”, how strong do you mean?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Teresa – Coffee brewed at double strength (more or less).

  • L wrote:

    Hi, I’m your recipe you say to use all purpose flour, but I noticed in your photos a box of cake flour. Which do you prefer? Thanks!

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi L – Either can be used. We’ve made it both ways and using the more expensive cake flour really didn’t make much of a difference, so we updated the recipe to just state all-purpose.

  • Rosaleighanne wrote:

    Wow! I was looking for a while for a dark chocolate cake to make for my father’s birthday, and after some time on Pinterest, I came across yours. I made it today, whilst my husband barbecued, and everyone was seriously impressed!
    My husband and I are not dark chocolate lovers, but even we were super impressed. It was so moist and delicious, and the frosting was perfect as well.
    The only things I did differently were adding vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla extract in the cake. I accidentally forgot to add the vanilla into the frosting (honestly, it was delicious without it though). I added more buttermilk into the frosting as well, just little bits at a time until it was perfectly spreadable (but not runny). And lastly, I took a 78% cocoa dark chocolate bar, and added shavings on top of the frosted cake. Perfection. Thank you so much for this recipe, it was an absolute hit!

    • Martha wrote:

      You’re very welcome – so glad you all enjoyed the recipe! Love the idea of adding chocolate shavings to the top!

  • Jackie wrote:

    My husband loves this cake! Thank you sooo much!

    • Martha wrote:

      You’re very welcome Jackie! So glad you are enjoying the recipe!

  • Beth wrote:

    Made this for my husbands’s birthday today. So many compliments from our guests. Great recipe…thank you for sharing this. Will definitely make this one again. 🙂

    • Martha wrote:

      So glad you enjoyed the cake Beth!

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