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Nanny’s Black Midnight Cake

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

In honor of Mother’s Day this coming weekend, we’re sharing this family recipe for Nanny’s Black Midnight Cake! My husband Jack and his brothers and sisters all have really fond memories of their mother (Nanny to us) baking this delicious 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!

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 Nanny’s grandchildren! This past weekend, some of the kids got together at our house to bake Nanny’s black midnight cake for an early Mother’s Day lunch and here are some of the photos from our cooking adventures: cake_process0
















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

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

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 this recipe from Hershey’s.  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 - A Family Feast

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

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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. Hi,
    Can you confirm that the frosting ingredients are correct – 1 Cup of buttermilk? My daughter followed the recipe and the frosting was very runny?

    • Hi Natalie – Thank you for your question and my apologies for the delay in responding. We went back to our notes and confirmed the one cup – BUT – we also just remade the frosting….and you’re right – it’s too runny! We are so sorry for the error in our recipe. We believe it should be 1/2 the amount of buttermilk and with 5 kids baking in our kitchen that day, I think we wrote down the wrong amount in our notes. Not to make excuses – we’re deeply sorry for the error and we will make sure the recipe gets fixed right away! Thank you again for taking the time to write to us. Martha & Jack

  15. 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.

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

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. This cake is the worst. I purchased the items exactly like recipe. and it was dry and taste was non existent. So sorry but, this is horrible.

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

  21. 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.

  22. I made this cake before reading the comments … BIG MISTAKE! While waiting for the cakes to cool, I read a couple of comments about it being DRY, which peaked my interest to keep reading. Now believe me, I wanted everyone to be wrong since I just spent 2 hrs measuring, mixing and baking this cake and now have the frosting also completed and ready to spread, BUT … they are ALL CORRECT!!! This is the driest cake I’ve ever been a part of! This recipe needs removed from this sight, or corrected. I made it exactly as written and I’ve now also wasted my time frosting the cake and waiting all day to let the cake absorb some moisture from the frosting (just in case the comments are correct). This is probably the most time I’ve ever put into something that I’m throwing out as soon as I’m done typing this comment. Sorry Nanny, THIS CAKE WAS A FAIL!!

    • Sorry you weren’t happy with the recipe Sammie – We appreciate the feedback. We will retest this recipe – we don’t find the cake to be dry but it is possible that our ovens run hotter/colder so perhaps the baking time is off.

  23. What size cake pans did you use?