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Foolproof High Altitude Chocolate Layer Cake

Vespa's recipes have appeared in "Midwest Living" and "Taste of Home." She belongs to Cook's Recipe Testers for "Cook's Illustrated."

This no-fail high altitude chocolate cake is delicious!

This no-fail high altitude chocolate cake is delicious!

Easy High Altitude Cake

If you've ever struggled with high altitude baking, you know the obstacles we face. Drier, thinner air means cakes are often drier than their sea-level counterparts. Leavening must be reduced or the cake will rise quickly and collapse or, even worse, explode like an overinflated balloon.

Of course, all baked goods are more difficult to produce at high altitude. But as an avid baker, I can say that cakes are my biggest challenge. I have baked for many years at 12,000 and 9,000 feet, so you can imagine the failures I've experienced.

I'm happy and proud to share my go-to chocolate cake recipe with you. It rises nicely and is fluffy and moist, thanks to yogurt and whole milk. The cake uses regular, not cake flour, which means the ingredients are probably stored in your kitchen pantry. I enjoy this cake frosted with chocolate cream cheese frosting or Bailey's buttercream frosting, but it is also delicious served with whipped cream or a dusting of confectioners' sugar. Enjoy a big slice with a mug of hot coffee or a glass of cold milk. As with any chocolate cake, the flavors will develop overnight so serve it the next day if you have the restraint to wait that long. This cake has been tested at 7,500 feet.

Why Use Hot Coffee?

Hot coffee releases the cocoa's chocolate flavor. Be sure it's nice and hot when you mix it with the cocoa then let it cool. Your cake will burst with chocolate flavor thanks to this technique!

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

10 min

35 min

45 min

9-inch, 2-layer cake


  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups hot coffee
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 3/4 cups raw sugar
  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Cake batter

Cake batter

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For the No-Frosting Crowd

Prepare the cake pans by greasing them and dusting them with cocoa instead of flour. Your cakes will be free of white flour residue when removed from the pans. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
  2. Measure the cocoa and dump it into a bowl. Pour the hot coffee over the cocoa, stir and allow it to cool.
  3. In a large mixing bowl beat the yogurt, milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla and oil with a hand or stand mixer until well combined.
  4. Measure the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl. Whisk these dry ingredients until they're lump free.
  5. Mix the dry and wet ingredients together. Beat until just combined.
  6. Now stir the cocoa/coffee mixture into the batter. Pour into the prepared cake pans.
  7. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until a toothpick tests clean. The center should spring back lightly when touched but the center will still look slightly wet.
  8. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Invert cakes onto the rack and cool them completely before frosting. Enjoy!
Cakes in the oven

Cakes in the oven

Try Olive Oil in Your Cake

You can use olive oil for the amount of vegetable oil required in this recipe. Although this idea might be new to many Americans, olive oil has been a popular ingredient in cakes in Europe for hundreds of years.

Choose any olive oil you enjoy eating. Olive oil's fruity flavor will give this chocolate cake even more depth and complexity. Your friends and family will beg for more!

Frosting Ideas

After the cake has cooled, you have many frosting options. Whip up a Bailey's buttercream frosting flavored with a dash of the famous Irish liqueur. Speaking of liqueurs, most liqueurs make a delicious accompaniment to this cake. Spike chocolate frosting with Grand Marnier for delicious chocolate-orange flavor. Try Chambord for raspberry flavor and decorate the cake top with a few fresh raspberries for extra flair. Kahlua adds mocha flavor to this cake.

I enjoy flavoring vanilla cream cheese frosting with a vanilla bean. Just scrape the seeds into the frosting and whip until fluffy. Not only is the flavor of natural vanilla amazing, but the flecks of vanilla seeds throughout the frosting is an elegant sight to behold.

You can also flavor frosting with the many natural flavorings on the market. Watkins brand has been around for decades and offers many pure extracts with clean flavor. Watkins lemon extract is at the top of my list.

Only one slice left!

Only one slice left!

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