Nana's Simple Chocolate Cake with chocolate frosting
Nana’s Simple Chocolate Cake
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A 3-layer chocolate cake with chocolate fudge frosting, this is for all the chocolate lovers out there. As one Swans Down customer told us, “Best chocolate cake ever! And I’ve been baking for 70 years.”
  • 3 oz. – unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • 1 stick – unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 c. – light brown sugar, packed
  • 3 – eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp. – vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. – baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. – salt
  • 2 1/4 c. – sifted Swans Down® Cake Flour
  • 1 c. – sour cream
  • 1 c. – boiling water

Chocolate Fudge Frosting

  • 5 (1 oz.) squares semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
  • 1 c. unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)
  • 2 T. milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 7 1/2 c. confectioners sugar (2 boxes @ 3 3/4 c. each)

PREHEAT oven to 350˚. Butter and lightly flour 3 – 8 inch layer pans. (Easy removal: butter pans, line pan bottoms with parchment paper, butter top of paper and lightly flour, shake out excess flour)

SIFT Swans Down once, measure; set aside.

MELT unsweetened chocolate in small microwave-safe bowl; stirring at 30 second intervals until melted (no longer than 1 minute). Stir until smooth; set aside to cool.

CREAM butter until smooth in large bowl. Add brown sugar and eggs. Beat with mixer till light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla extract and chocolate, then baking soda and salt.

ADD flour alternately with sour cream, beating until smooth. Pour in boiling water next, stirring with spoon till blended. (batter will be very thin)

POUR into 3 – 8 inch layer prepared pans.

BAKE about 20 – 25 minutes or until tester inserted in center comes out clean.

COOL in pans approximately 10 – 15 minutes. Remove cake layers and place on rack to complete cooling.

TIP: Select the 2 layers that are the most level to be the bottom 2 layers. If domed, carefully slice off dome part.

Chocolate Fudge Frosting

PLACE chocolate and heavy whipping cream in small microwavable bowl, microwave on high for 30-second intervals, stirring well after each interval (approximately 1 minute total cooking time). Let cool for 30 minutes.

BEAT butter and chocolate mixture with mixer until smooth in large bowl. Add vanilla extract and milk. Gradually add sugar, beating well until all is blended. If needed, add more milk to achieve correct spreading consistency. Once smooth, do not continue to beat.

FROST cake immediately.

  • Dee Johnson says:

    My hubby and I had a chocolate cake craving. I went searching for a box mix in our pantry and only had about 2 cups of Swans Cake Flour and regular flour. I saw the recipe on the back, and thought, this isn’t going to be the decadent cake we saw earlier at the stores. But, wow! We absolutely loved it.. and the frosting! Yes, others say it’s quite nostalgic, and we agree. I accidentally threw away the empty box and had to come find this website to save the recipe. This WILL be made again and again. Cool thing, is all the ingredients are most likely in every household. I ended up grabbing leftover Christmas chocolate minis vs unsweetened as in the recipe.

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Dee! Thanks for the awesome feedback. Nana’s Simple Chocolate Cake is definitely a Swans Down favorite, and Simple to put together! Happy baking!

  • Sylvia Mungia says:

    I’d like too try w mayo?

  • Lillian Juaune Clemons says:

    My mother used to make this cake all the time for me and my siblings birthdays, holidays or just because. She had a recipe from the 60’s or early 70’s that she cut from the back of the Swan’s Down Cake Flour Box that was called an ” Elegant Chocolate Cake” that didn’t have sour cream in it, she used milk and she used Hershey’s chocolate powder instead of the unsweetened chocolate. It did infact have brown sugar in it. She had the original recipe
    for years that she had cut out from off the box of the box of Swan’s Down Cake Flour. The recipe was lost. I would like to have that original recipe.

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Lillian, Thanks for sharing your story! We’ve forwarded your info on to our Consumer Affairs Department. Someone should be reaching out with information. Happy baking!

  • Jennifer says:

    This is a delicious chocolate cake recipe. I have made it many times. Can you bake this cake in a Bundt pan?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Jennifer! We agree, Nana’s Simple Chocolate Cake is simply, delicious! You can bake it in a Bundt pan. Make sure to not fill the pan more than 2/3rds of the way full, then bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes or until a tester inserted in center comes out clean. Happy baking!

  • Patty Smith says:

    Are there any high altitude adjustments I should make when making this cake? I live at 7,500 feet. Thank you!

  • Danette M. says:

    Can you substitute sour cream with buttermilk?

    Thank you,

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Daniette, You can substitue the cour cream with buttermilk. Because of the thinner consistency you may want to use about 3/4 of a cup buttermilk for every 1 cup of sour cream called for in a recipe. Happy baking!

  • Karen Brooks says:

    Love the cake. Have made many times – little cakes, full three layer cakes, and cupcakes. Used a less-sweet frosting though; the listed one seemed too sweet even with a touch of salt.

  • Nancy says:

    Made this for the first time and it was delicious!! Best chocolate cake I have ever had!! You have to FOLLOW the directions CLOSELY and do not over mix it!! I had my husband helping and we had fun making the cake and then making the frosting!

  • Jan says:

    Love this cake❣️
    Do you have a recipe for a marshmallow frosting?
    This cake reminds me of something I had as a child. My friend’s German grandmother made a cake just like this but with a marshmallow frosting and I was in love with it!

  • Samiya says:

    How long do you bake the chocolate cake at 350 degree for cup cakes? I tried this recipe in the 9×13 pan and it was really good!

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Samiya, For this recipe you would bake cupcakes approximately 18 minutes. Nana’s Simple Chocolate Cake is definitely a favorite! Happy baking!

  • Samiya Siddiqui says:

    I would like to bake this chocolate cake in a 9×13 pan at 350 degree. How long should I bake the cake?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Samiya, Spread batter evenly in pan and test for doneness at approximately 30 to 35 minutes or until tester inserted into cake comes out clean.

  • Ms. Mal says:

    Can you replace the chocolate bar for how much chocolate powder?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Ms. Mal, Yes you can replace the chocolate bar with Chocolate powder. Here’s what we recommend:

      To sub unsweetened cocoa powder for unsweetened chocolate you will also have to add in some extra fat to make up for the cocoa butter that’s in the chocolate.
      – 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate can be subbed with 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder + 1 tablespoon of fat (butter, shortening, oil)
      For this recipe: use 9 tablespoons of cocoa powder + 3 tablespoons of fat.
      Also cocoa powder in the hot water.
      Happy baking!

  • Amanda B. says:

    This has become my signature cake and it’s a crowd pleaser with any topping (plain with a dusting of icing sugar, buttercream icing, or a dark chocolate ganache! Something that’s helped me is to make sure my eggs, butter, and sour cream are room temperature. I also melt the chocolate in a bain marie (double boiler) because I tend to burn things in a microwave. I bake for longer at 325, rather than 350. I used dark brown sugar by mistake, but I like it better that way.
    I’ve had the best luck using two 8″ round baking pans, but this also makes great cupcakes.
    Happy baking!

  • Storm says:

    Can I use freshly brewed coffee over water?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Storm, Yes you can use freshly brewed hot coffee in place of the boiling water. Cpme back and let us know how you like it. Happy baking!

  • Uyvonne Scott says:

    Ah ha I got it. It didnt rise that’s it omg i feel crazy

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Uyvonne, Thanks for coming back with an update on your Nana’s Simple Chocolate Cake trial. May we suggest, that you check the expiration date and measurement on the baking soda and sour cream. Also were your ingredients at room temperature. There are a lot of factors that can cause a cake not to rise.

  • Uyvonne Scott says:

    Hello I tried it again it came out again like the first time I dont know what went wrong.?. I will try one more time. I followed recipe and still

  • Uyvonne Scott says:

    Hello, I’m 55 and when I was younger my father would make this cake & it was delicious. I was in market yesterday & thought I would try it. Now as a previous comment stated the box says 2layers & I followed recipe to letter & it came out pretty but the inside was like a thick I dont know,. So I came to find the actual recipe & had I followed my 1st mind I would’ve used 3 pans. But I’m going to store to try it again. And for the negative feedback this isn’t a terrible it’s delicious and I’m trying again

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Uyvonne, We welcome all feedback on Swans Down Cake Flour. This recipe does bake up nicely in 3 – 8 inch pans. We’re happy to hear that you thought the cake was delicious. Happy baking!

  • Vera Jones says:

    Can you use milk instead of water?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Vera, Yes you can substitute the hot water with hot milk. Just be careful not to scorch the milk when warming. Happy baking!

  • Sandra Cox says:

    the nana’s frosting calls for 5 (1)oz squares semi sweet chocolate. the chocolate comes 4 (1)oz. is it ok to only put 4 pieces of 1 oz
    ? or am i reading this wrong

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Sandra, Yes, this recipe call for 5 oz of semi sweet chocolate. If you decide to only use 4 you may need to also slightly reduce the amount of cream used. Happy Baking!

  • Carmen says:

    Can this be made in a 9×15 Pyrex also I would like to add raisins to the mix.

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Carmen, A 9 x 15 dish may result in a fairly thin cake, but you can certainly use it. Make sure to test for doneness at 20 minutes as it will bake quicker. Happy Baking!

  • Kathy says:

    I know this recipe it’s great, just follow the instructions

  • Jen says:

    This is a great cake. Made a variation of this for years. If it is not rising for you it’s because you are over mixing. This recipe does require a bit of experience. I think that’s why they called it “Nana’s” cake.

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Jen, We love receiving input from loyal Swans Down consumers. This is most certainly a great cake, moist and delicious. And yes, Nana has all the baking experience, that’s why its named after her! Happy Baking!

  • Donna says:

    can you use dark brown sugar instead of the light brown for the simple chocolate cake

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Donna, You can substitute dark brown sugar for the light brown sugar. It will give your final product a more robust molasses taste and slightly different color. You can also try a combinations of 2/3 cup dark brown sugar and 1/3 cup white granulated sugar for every packed cup of light sugar needed. Come back and let us know if you try it. Happy Baking!

  • Gethzaida Andino Colon says:

    Excellent Recipe.

    Am student, all the time use this flour and recipes. The best. Nana, yesterday I did it for my husband. I have a photo. I would like to post for you.

  • Mary Heleniak says:

    Love this recipe I found on the back of the box years ago. It’s a favorite-but the frosting recipe on the box is different from that above. Love your cake flour!

  • KaPar says:

    This was a terrible recipe. The cake did not rise at all. Fell flat. And didn’t have a good taste either. Was a complete waste of ingredients and I had to throw the whole lot away. Very disappointing. Please double check your recipes and ensure they work before putting on the box. I’m an experienced baker and this was one of the worst recipes I’ve encountered.

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Ka, We’ve forwarded your information on to our Consumer Affairs Dept. Someone will be reaching out.

  • Chi says:

    Can I use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Chi, Greek yogurt can certainly be a substitute for the sour cream. We recommend using full fat and to strain it through cheese cloth if the consistency is much thinner than sour cream. Happy Baking!

  • Aerial says:

    The cake looks delicious. Can you use a a sheet cake pan or another type of pan??

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Aerial, This recipe would fit nicely in a 11 x 15in sheet pan. It yields approximately 12 cups of batter. Happy Baking!

  • Marilyn Horner says:

    Can you substitute regular self-rising flour and use cocoa powder?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Marilyn, Yes you can substitute regular Cake Flour with Self-Rising Flour. We would recommend that you contact the Self-Rising Flour manufacturer for the conversion, as they are familiar with the component ratios of their products.
      To substitute the unsweetened chocolate you would have to add extra fat to make up for the cocoa butter that’s in the chocolate. 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate can be subbed with 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder + 1 tablespoon of fat (butter, shortening, oil). For this recipe use 9 tablespoons of cocoa powder + 3 tablespoons of fat. You should also dissolve the cocoa powder in the hot water. Do not add it dry.
      Hope this helps and Happy Baking!

  • Donovan says:

    This recipe did not fill 3 pans and the cake does not rise. It really doesn’t look anything like the picture but it tastes good. Can someone explain?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Donovan, We’ve forwarded your information on to our Consumer Affairs Department. Someone will be in touch.

  • Amy Bolin says:

    Made this cake for Christmas and it was absolutely delicious !!!

  • Yazmin says:

    Would you use this same recipe for cupcakes?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Yazmin, Yes you can use cake batter per the recipe for cupcakes. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Lower baking time to 15 – 20 minutes and enjoy!

  • Diana says:

    This is the first cake I’ve made completely from scratch and I am happy with the results! The cake came out nice and moist and fluffy with a more complex flavor than a typical cake mix. The frosting complemented the cake perfectly. I made a slight modification in using 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate to replace one of the ounces of semisweet in the frosting so I didn’t have to open another package of chocolate. Also… This same recipe is on the four box but as a two layer cake with half the frosting. Thia recipe makes a large amount of frosting and most of it is necessary to frost three layers.

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Diana, thanks for sharing your great results! Hearing that a cake turned out moist and fluffy is music to our ears. 🙂

  • E L See says:

    Best chocolate cake ever! And I’ve been baking for 70 years. Never fails IF you follow directions.

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  • Cecilia says:

    Can you tell me how many cups of flour and all ingredients for a 12 in x 18 in sheet pan. Please

  • Cecilia says:

    Hello, I am making a chocolate cake for my grandson 2nd birthday. Im using a 15 x 11 in sheet pan. Do you have a recipe for this size pan please. and Thank you,

  • ricky albanese says:

    how about makeing swans down fully cooked ready to eat pizza. it would be sold in stores.

  • SusyPR says:

    It would be nice to print only the recipe omitting the frivolous info before the recipe and the Leave a Review stuff as well. What purpose does that service in the recipe?

  • Wilma says:

    The chocolate hardened in the process even after adding d boiling water; choc bits settled at d bottom of pan after baking, & color of cake looked like mocha.
    Pls give me measurement if I hv to use cocoa powder instead of choc squares.

  • Bill Wood says:

    This is such a delicious, moist cake! First time I made it was when I was having the neighbors in for dinner: they absolutely raved about it. And — it really is as easy to make as the name says! Please try it … you will love it!

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