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  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour your choice of pans: one 9" x 13" pan, two 9" round pans, or three 8" round pans. (To make a four-layer cake, use two 9" round pans; the layers will each be split in half.) 

  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cocoa, and sugar into a large mixing bowl.

  3. Add the butter and mix at low speed for 1 minute. With the mixer running, add the oil and continue mixing until the mixture looks sandy, about 30 seconds more.

  4. In a large measuring cup, combine the vanilla with the milk and coffee (or water), and add all at once to the dry ingredients. Mix for 1 minute at low speed, stop and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, then mix for 30 seconds more.

  5. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well at medium-high speed between additions.

  6. Scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl, and mix for 30 seconds more. The batter will be thin.

  7. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan(s) of your choice. Smooth out the tops of the layers with an offset spatula.

  8. Bake for 34 minutes for a 9" x 13" pan, 28 to 30 minutes for 9" layers, and 24 to 26 minutes for 8" layers.

  9. The cake is done when the top springs back when very lightly touched in the center, and the edges just begin to pull away from the edge of the pan. A toothpick or paring knife inserted in the center will come out clean.

  10. Remove the cake from the oven and let cool completely in the pan(s) on a rack. Cake layers can be wrapped and frozen for up to a month before frosting.

  11. Frost the 9" x 13" cake directly in the pan once cool. For the layer cakes, turn them out of the pan once cool. To make a 4-layer cake, split the 9" rounds in half horizontally with a large serrated knife. (Leave the three 8" layers whole.) Frost the top of one layer, then top with the second layer and repeat until all layers are used. Finally, frost the top and sides of the cake. See our blog post, How to assemble and frost a layer cake, for details.

  12. Refrigerate the cake for about an hour to help the frosting set up and make slicing easier. Serve slices of cake cold or at room temperature.

  13. Refrigerate any leftovers, well wrapped, for a day or so; freeze for longer storage.

Tips from our Bakers

  • The volume of this batter is 5 3/4 cups. It will rise quite a bit during baking. The weight of the batter is 3 pounds, 1 ounce. If you're weighing out layers, put 1 pound, 8 1/2 ounces in each 9" layer, or 1 pound in each 8" layer.
  • We've tested this cake with natural unsweetened cocoa, and with Dutch-process; both work well. The Dutch-process cake will be darker in color and slightly less sweet.
  • Try frosting this cake with Seven-Minute Frosting as shown here.

    Chocolate Cake
  • The butter in this recipe needs to be very soft. If you can leave a dent in the butter with a gentle touch, it's ready to use.