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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

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!

More High Altitude Cakes


Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on February 08, 2016:

Thank you for your comment breathing.

TANJIM ARAFAT SAJIB from Bangladesh on February 07, 2016:

I’m very much fond of cakes and especially chocolate cakes. So I find this post as a great one for fulfilling my appetite. High altitude cakes are really tasty but its preparing is also a time consuming matter. With this hub, you can get a clear cut concept about the steps of preparing a high altitude cake.

Also I highly appreciate the idea of using olive oil in the cake. This gives the cake a unique taste. Aldo the frosting ideas are great. You can choose the most suitable one among different options. In one word, a great post for the chocolate cake lovers.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on October 06, 2015:

Thank you moonlake! Nice to hear from you.

moonlake from America on October 06, 2015:

This cake looks really good. Thanks for sharing. Adding to my cake board on Pinterest.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on February 08, 2015:

Thanks Glimmer!

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on February 07, 2015:

The photos make me almost able to taste this cake.....almost.

Claudia Mitchell on February 07, 2015:

Hi vespawoolf - I don't have the high altitude problem, but your cake looks absolutely delicious. Love the addition of the coffee!

Pro Shell from Vereinigten Staaten on January 26, 2015:

I like cake, but I don't think I'll be worried about chocolate when I'm mountaineering.

Susan from India on January 17, 2015:

Wow.. This looks so yummy. Thanks for sharing.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on January 16, 2015:

Thanks for your support DDE!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on January 16, 2015:

FlourishAnyway, high altitude baking is a challenge! At sea level I love to experiment with recipes. At high altitude, I am more likely to stick to my go-to cake recipes and experiment with the frosting.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on January 16, 2015:

Thanks Suzanne Day!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 16, 2015:

I like the images and this chocolate cake is unique to me. The recip is easy and you always share such valuable recipes.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 15, 2015:

Looks and sounds delicious. Thanks for describing what happens to cakes at high altitudes for those of us who live near the coast. Your description makes me totally get why this recipe is important.

Suzanne Day from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on January 15, 2015:

This looks so delicious and chocolatey, I'm just gonna have to try it! Thank you for sharing this cake recipe and voted awesome!

frank nyikos from 8374 E State Rd 45 Unionville IN 47468 on January 15, 2015:

My mouth is watering. . . do you deliver?

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on January 15, 2015:

Peggy W, it´s probably better that you´re not a fan of frostings since they´re full of sugar and fat! But frosted cakes are a delicious treat now and then, and the liqueur spiked frostings are extra delicious. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 15, 2015:

This sounds wonderful. We rarely keep any other kinds of oil in the house except the different olive oils. I am not a big fan of frosting but those spiked with some liqueur are probably good. Nice photos!

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on January 15, 2015:


Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on January 15, 2015:

Thanks for your comment AliciaC!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 15, 2015:

My favourite type of cake is chocolate cake, especially when it's moist. I love the sound of this one - especially with a flavourful liqueur added to the frosting! Thanks for sharing the recipe, vespawoolf.

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