Today I'm spilling the cocoa beans on my all-time favorite classic chocolate pound cake recipe. It's velvety, moist, and decadent, with simple ingredients like unsweetened cocoa powder, whole milk, brown sugar, and sour cream (!!!) for extra tenderness.
It bakes in a standard sized loaf pan and the chocolate flavor is so rich and dreamy there's no frosting needed — just a simple dusting of powdered sugar to finish and your chocolate pound cake is ready to serve.
Serve this chocolate pound cake with a scoop of homemade ice cream and chocolate sauce or with a dollop of whipped cream and fresh berries to be fancy!
If you like this cake but need something that's a bit more of a showstopper, check out my Oreo Bundt Cake recipe which uses black cocoa powder and has whole Oreo cookies hidden inside!
- About This Recipe // Notes from Recipe Testing
- Ingredient Notes
- 🍽 Mise en place (aka "the setup")
- Instructions - Blooming the Cocoa Powder
- Instructions - Making the Cake Batter
- Suggested Equipment
- Substitutions and Variations
- Storage Notes & Freezing
- Practical Tips and Recipe Notes
- Why Temperatures Matter
- Recipe FAQ
- 📖 Recipe
- 💬 Comments
About This Recipe // Notes from Recipe Testing
Of course the next logical step was to complete the trio of classic Neapolitan flavors and develop a chocolate pound cake too!
Besides, chocolate is my favorite dessert flavor, it was getting embarrassing being a baking blogger and not having a simple chocolate cake recipe to share! (If you're looking for a more complicated, show stopper chocolate cake, check out my mocha hazelnut naked layer cake.)
Personally, I find that the chocolate flavor in chocolate cakes often comes from a rich chocolate ganache or buttercream frosting, rather than from the chocolate flavor of the cake itself. Chocolate cake on its own without chocolate frosting, quite frankly, can be kind of boring!
So my top priority was to make a chocolate cake that could absolutely stand alone — no frosting needed. I did not want this to be a boring chocolate cake.
I dug into my pastry school notes and the science of chocolate and well, you'll find no boring chocolate cakes here.
We're using simple, easily accessible ingredients to make a loaf of chocolate pound cake is rich and moist with a dense, velvety, almost fudgy crumb and an intensely, unforgettably chocolate flavor.
While this chocolate pound cake uses my old fashioned vanilla pound cake as a base, changing a recipe from vanilla to chocolate is more complicated than you might think.
Cocoa powder is naturally very drying. Simply adding it or replacing some of the flour with it and making no another adjustments produces a cake that has an unpleasantly chalky texture. It needs more liquid to hydrate the cocoa powder.
So while I did replace some of the flour with cocoa powder, I added it with the wet ingredients — in this case, whole milk and full fat sour cream which add lots of moisture and tenderness to the cake crumb.
This process of "blooming" the cocoa powder in whole milk hydrates the cocoa powder and gives it a richer, more intense flavor. Mixing the bloomed cocoa powder with sour cream provides extra fat, which makes the chocolate cake moist, soft, and tender.
Finally, I replaced some of the white sugar with a dark brown sugar, which has molasses in it, adding even more moisture and flavor to the chocolate pound cake batter. It does mean you won't get quite as tall of a cake as if you used all white sugar, but the trade off is worth it for that soft, moist chocolate cake texture!
Here are the ingredients that you'll need to make this chocolate pound cake recipe! See recipe card for quantities.
- Unsalted Butter - This recipe uses unsalted American-style butter (e.g. not European butter like Kerrygold). If using a salted butter, cut the amount of salt in the recipe in half.
- Sugar - Plain old regular granulated white sugar.
- Brown sugar - I use dark brown sugar which has more molasses in it for extra flavor and moisture, but light brown sugar will also work.
- Eggs - This recipe uses large eggs, which weigh about 48 grams per egg.
- Whole Milk - For blooming the cocoa powder.
- Cocoa Powder - This recipe uses unsweetened natural cocoa powder like the classic box of Hershey's you can find in most grocery stores. Dark cocoa powder or Dutch process cocoa powders will also work here.
- Sour Cream - Full fat sour cream works best here — you really need the fat to make the chocolate cake tender and moist. You won't get the same results with low fat options.
- Flour - Regular all purpose flour. Gluten free cup-for-cup all purpose flours should also work, but I haven't personally tested them.
- Salt - I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt which half as salty as other brands. If measuring by weight, it doesn't matter what brand of salt you use. But if you're measuring by volume and using a different brand of salt, even a different brand of kosher salt, cut the amount of salt in half.
- Baking Powder - This helps the cake rise. The air whipped into the butter by the sugar will provide a lot of the cake's rise, but since we're adding quite a bit of liquids and fats to this cake, adding baking powder will help ensure the cake rises nicely in the oven.
- Powdered Sugar - Also called "confectioner's sugar" this is needed only for topping the cake.
🍽 Mise en place (aka "the setup")
Mise en place is a French culinary term that literally translates to "putting in place."
It basically means: Measure all your ingredients and make sure you have all the right tools and equipment ready to go when you need them before you start working.
This can make a huge difference in a) how enjoyable you find the baking and cooking process and b) the success of your recipe!
Here's the mise en place you'll need before you begin this recipe:
- Bring the butter to room temperature. Let the butter sit out at room temperature (70°F) for a couple hours. If you need to speed this process up, microwave the wrapped sticks of cold butter for about 4 seconds per side. The butter should still feel slightly cool to the touch but and soft enough to press a finger into, but not so soft that it's greasy or melty — you're looking for a temperature of about 65°F.
- Bring the eggs to room temperature. Submerge the eggs in hot water for about 10-15 minutes prior to mixing. This helps them emulsify into the butter and sugar. If they're cold, they'll cool down the butter, and the batter will break and separate.
- Mix the dry ingredients together (NOT including cocoa powder). Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.
- Sift cocoa powder. I wouldn't tell you to sift something if it wasn't important. Cocoa powder is naturally very lumpy and if you don't sift it, those lumps will end up in your final cake.
Instructions - Blooming the Cocoa Powder
The first step is to bloom the cocoa powder. To do this, we're going to warm a pot of whole milk on the stove to "scald" it — which basically means bringing it to a temperature below boiling.
Milk boils at 212°F, scalded milk is somewhere around 170°-180°F.
To scald milk, whether you have a thermometer or not, swirl the milk in the pot over low-medium heat until small bubbles form around the edges; when you tilt the pan you should see lots of tiny active bubbles on the bottom of the pot.
Turn off the heat and add the sifted cocoa powder all at once, whisking until a thick paste forms.
Then whisk the bloomed cocoa powder into the sour cream until well combined and set it aside until later.
It's important to do this step first so the chocolate mixture has time to cool slightly before you add it to the cake.
Instructions - Making the Cake Batter
To make this chocolate pound cake batter, we're using the creaming method of mixing, which I wrote about in my vanilla pound cake recipe. You can read more about it in detail in that post because it's basically the same process here up until we add the chocolate sour cream mixture.
The Creaming Method is characterized by the use of a solid, soft, room temperature fat (shortening, butter, etc.) that is aerated with sugar.
- Cream the butter and sugar together until aerated.
- Add the room temperature eggs one at a time along with any extracts.
- On low speed, alternate adding the remaining dry ingredients and wet ingredients, mixing just until combined.
Cut the butter into chunks and beat them a bit in the bowl to soften them up. Then add the white and brown sugar and increase the speed to medium. Grab a spatula and don't walk away.
It can take 3-5 minutes, sometimes even 7 minutes for the butter and sugar to reach the right texture. Pause and scrape down the bowl and beater at least 3 times while it mixes.
When properly creamed together, the butter and sugar mixture will be light brown and look fluffy. If you rub it between your fingers the sugar granules should be almost entirely dissolved but still feel slightly gritty.
Scraping down the bowl and beater helps keep any sneaky bits of butter or sugar from getting trapped on the beater or in places the beater can't reach.
The next step is to add the eggs. And the goal is to add them in a way that won't break or collapse all the air we just worked into the butter.
So we're going to add them one at a time. This will give each egg plenty of time to emulsify into the butter and sugar before adding the next one.
You can probably guess what comes next: Scrape down the bowl and beater before and after adding each egg.
Then, add one third of the dry ingredients. Wait for it to incorporate, then scrape down the bowl and beater.
Next, you're going to add approximately half of the bloomed cocoa and sour cream mixture.
Alternating adding the dry and wet ingredients on low speed and scraping down the bowl between additions helps prevent over mixing. An over mixed cake will be dense and tough, we don't want that!
Don't be overwhelmed by this alternating process. I know it sounds like a lot.
But it's very straightforward, and you can be approximate with what "one third" or "one half" is. It's more important that you're alternating the additions and mixing on slow speed, just until combined.
Here's the order: One third of the dry ingredients, one half of the wet ingredients, one third of the dry ingredients, one half of the wet ingredients, one third of the dry ingredients.
When the last bit of dry ingredients has been added and a few streaks of flour in the batter and the walls of the bowl remain, stop mixing with the mixer and switch to a spatula. Finish mixing the batter by hand.
Mixing by hand to finish is is the best way to get any last bits of flour incorporated. Scrape to the very bottom of the bowl as you mix to make sure there's nothing hiding that still needs to be mixed in.
Again, this prevents over mixing and will help keep your chocolate pound cake soft and tender.
You'll end up with a luscious, thick, and fluffy chocolate cake batter that has a texture almost like a whipped chocolate frosting. Super dreamy and super smooth.
Spray an 8x4" loaf pan with non-stick spray, then line it with a parchment paper sling.
Use a mini offset spatula to press the batter down into all the corners and edges of the pan then smooth it out across the top.
Cut a ⅛" sliver off the end of a cold stick of butter and slice it into thin sticks. Arrange them in a line down the center of the pan.
This line of butter step is technically optional but will help control how the top of your chocolate pound cake bakes. It will ensure the top of the cake cracks open in the middle.
Bake the cake at 350°F for 60-65 minutes, until a toothpick or small knife inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs (not wet batter) clinging to it.
It's hard to tell when a chocolate cake is done because you can't see any browning. So a few crumbs on the cake tester is the best way to know. You really don't want to over bake a pound cake or it will come out dry.
Some carryover cooking will happen in the pan, so err on the side of pulling it out a minute or two too soon rather than over baking it.
Let the chocolate pound cake cool in the loaf pan on a cooling rack for about 15-20 minutes.
Then use a knife to make sure the cake isn't stuck to the pan at the top or bottom (where there's no parchment paper) and use the parchment sling to lift it out and onto a cooling rack to finish cooling completely.
The chocolate pound cake will be very tall and domed when it first comes out of the oven, but will flatten out on top a bit as it cools.
NOTE: The cake must be completely cool before you add the powdered sugar topping or it will melt into the cake.
Dusting your chocolate pound cake with powdered sugar is optional, but I really like the way it looks. The sweetness is also really nice with the richness of the chocolate cake!
Here's the equipment I use to make this chocolate loaf cake. You don't need to have all of these same tools, but they may make the process easier!
- Electric Mixer - I use a KitchenAid stand mixer with the paddle attachment. An electric hand mixer will also work — the creaming stage may just take a little longer.
- 1 Pound Loaf Pan - A "1 pound" loaf pan is approximately 8 inches long, 4 inches wide, and 3 inches tall. A 1.25 pound loaf pan (9x5) will also work but your cake may not have the same height that mine does in these photos as there's more room for the batter to spread out. Metal pans work best for getting that golden brown crust. You may need to adjust baking time and temperature if using a glass pan (King Arthur Baking recommends lowering the temperature by 25°F and adding 10 minutes to the bake time).
- Quarter Pan Pre-Cut Parchment Sheets - I use these pre-cut parchment sheets to create a parchment sling that lines the pan to make the pound cake easier to remove. You'll have to trim about an inch off one of the long sides for it to fit, but they work very nicely!
- Metal Binder Clips - To secure the parchment paper in place so it doesn't fold in on top of the cake in the oven. Do not use plastic binder clips in the oven. I repeat, no plastic in the oven.
- Mini Offset Spatula - For smoothing out the cake batter in the pan. Trust me, you'll think a regular spatula or a knife can do the same job, but once you try using a mini offset spatula, there's no going back.
Substitutions and Variations
Don't have the exact ingredients this recipe calls for? Here are some swaps and variations you can make. Avoid swapping any full fat ingredients for low fat alternatives — the fat is crucial for giving the cake a soft, tender texture.
- Natural Cocoa Powder - Dutch process cocoa powders will also work here.
- Sour Cream - Instead of sour cream, full fat plain Greek yogurt will work.
- Whole Milk - Instead of whole milk, you can use whole fat buttermilk.
- Dark Brown Sugar - Light brown sugar will also work.
- 8x4" (1 lb) Loaf Pan - A 9x5" loaf pan will also work, your cake will just be a bit shorter. A small 9x4" pullman pan will also work, giving your cake dramatic height and straight, vertical sides.
- Icing Glaze - Whisk together 60 grams of powdered sugar with 2 teaspoons milk to glaze the top of the cake.
- Powdered Sugar - Instead of a powdered sugar topping, dust the top of the cake with 1-2 tablespoons granulated sugar before baking. It will give you a crackly, flaky, crunchy top, but your cake may not rise as high. Skip the line of butter down the middle if you go this route.
Storage Notes & Freezing
This loaf of chocolate pound cake can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for 4-5 days. You can also refrigerate it in an airtight container for up to a week.
The chocolate pound cake itself can be frozen for up to 3 months without powdered sugar on top. Defrost in the fridge, then dust with powdered sugar and let come to room temperature for serving.
Practical Tips and Recipe Notes
- If the mixture begins to look split or curdled as you're adding the eggs, don't sweat it too much. It will come back together when you add the flour.
- When in doubt, SCRAPE DOWN THE BOWL. If it feels like you're stopping too often to scrape down the bowl, that means you're doing it right. You don't want any ingredients to go unincorporated or you'll end up with large air bubbles or clumps in your final cake.
- I use metal binder clips to help hold the parchment paper in place on the pan. The binder clips are optional, but keep the paper from folding in on top of the cake in the oven. Use metal binder clips only for this. Do not use plastic clips. I repeat, no plastic in the oven!!!
- Mixing the dry ingredients on the lowest possible speed and stopping as soon as they're all combined is super important. The goal is to avoid developing gluten in the cake batter, which would make your old fashioned vanilla pound cake dense and tough, with lots of trapped tunnels of air bubbles inside.
- Make sure your baking powder is fresh! If you aren't sure, it's probably not. Baking powder is good for about 6 months, after that it loses its potency. To check if it's still good, Epicurious recommends mixing 1 cup very hot tap water with 2 teaspoons baking powder: "If there’s an immediate fizzing reaction that dissipates all of the powder, you’ll know it still works. If there’s no bubbling, the baking powder is no longer potent and needs to be swapped out."
- If you do the line of butter down the center of the cake, you may notice some white yellow coloring around the crack in the top of the cake — the powdered sugar dusting helps hide this!
Why Temperatures Matter
Pay attention to the temperature directions in this chocolate pound cake recipe as they can dramatically affect the way your cake turns out.
- If your butter is too warm, it won't be able to incorporate enough air. If the butter is too cold, it will take much longer to cream properly.
- If you use cold eggs, they will cause the butter to firm up in the mixer and you risk it curdling or splitting, resulting in a flat, tough cake.
- If your oven runs hot or runs cold, this can affect the cake's rise, the thickness of the crust, the texture, and the baking time. I recommend using an oven thermometer to make sure you're baking it at the right temperature!
A kitchen scale is more accurate than cup measurements and will give you the right ratio of dry and liquid ingredients so that the cake batter behaves the way we want it to. The name of this cake is literally pound cake — it's super important that you have equal amounts of flour, butter, and sugar by weight to get the best results.
I tested and developed this recipe using weight measurements. If I were to convert it to volume measurements, I would be using an online conversion calculator — just like you would. There's no set standard for how much "1 cup" of flour weighs (I use 120 grams, like King Arthur Baking does, but other recipe developers use as much as 150 grams as "1 cup"), which means this will produce wildly varying results. Use a kitchen scale for best results!
No. Almond flour is just ground almonds. It will definitely change the texture and rise of the cake. I recommend finding a pound cake recipe designed to use almond flour if that's all you've got.
You can, but they all conduct heat differently than metal does and this can affect the way your cake bakes. You may need to adjust the baking time or temperature if using a different pan. Use a metal pan for best results.
Grease the pan well and hope for the best. You can dust the greased pan with a bit of cocoa powder or flour to help the cake release cleanly, but they may leave a residue on the outside of the cake.
Moist Chocolate Pound Cake in a Loaf Pan
- 1 pound loaf pan (8x4 inch)
- Small pot
- 227 grams unsalted butter (65°F, softened)
- 225 grams sugar
- 50 grams dark brown sugar
- 2 large eggs (room temperature)
- 186 grams all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon diamond crystal kosher salt (use half as much of any other brand)
- 125 grams whole milk
- 40 grams cocoa powder
- 50 grams full fat sour cream
- 1 tablespoon powdered sugar (for topping)
- Mise en Place. Bring butter and eggs to room temperature (the butter should be cool but soft to the touch, not melty or greasy). Measure both sugars into one container. In another container, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. Sift cocoa powder. Grease an 8x4" loaf pan and line with a parchment paper sling. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Bloom cocoa powder. Scald milk in a small pot over low-medium heat on the stove, swirling the pot frequently until small bubbles form around the edges. When you tilt the pot there will be lots of active little bubbles on the bottom of the pot. You're aiming for a temperature of 170°-180°F. Do not boil the milk. Remove from heat and add the sifted cocoa powder all at once. Whisk well until no clumps remain, then add sour cream and whisk until smooth and combined. Set aside.
- Cream butter and sugar. Cut the butter into large chunks and place in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed to soften, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add both sugars. Beat on medium-low speed until there's no loose sugar in the bowl, then increase speed to medium and continue creaming for 3-7 minutes, pausing to scrape down the bowl and the beater at least 3 times. Properly creamed, the butter and sugar will be pale brown and have a fluffy, airy, and paste-like texture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Add eggs. One at a time, crack an egg into a small bowl (to avoid getting shells in your cake!) then dump the egg into the mixer bowl, beating on medium speed for at least 60 seconds and scraping down the bowl again before adding the next egg. Scrape down the bowl and beater again at the end.
- Alternate adding dry and wet ingredients. With the mixer running on the lowest possible speed, alternate adding one third of the dry ingredients with one half of the wet ingredients, starting and ending with the dry ingredients (dry —> wet —> dry —> wet —> dry). Pause the mixer and scrape down the bowl and beater between each addition. Stop the mixer when the batter is mostly combined and just a few streaks of flour are visible. Use a spatula to mix in any final bits of dry ingredients from the sides of the bowl or beater, making sure to scrape and stir all the way to the bottom of the bowl where sneaky bits of butter and sugar may be hiding.
- Bake. Scrape the batter into the parchment lined loaf pan. Use a mini offset spatula to smooth out the batter, pressing it down into the corners and sides of the pan so that there aren't any trapped air bubbles. Cut a ⅛-inch thin slice of a stick of butter into small sticks and arrange them in a line down the middle length of the pan to help control the crack in the top of the loaf as it bakes. Bake in the center of a 350°F oven for 70-75 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it.
- Cool. Remove the pan to a cooling rack. Let cool 15-20 minutes, then use the parchment sling to lift the cake out of the pan to finish cooling. Let cool completely before adding icing.
- Powdered sugar. When the cake is completely cool, sift powdered sugar over top to serve.
- Pay close attention to the temperature cues given in the recipe — they're very important to how the final loaf turns out!
- 227 grams = 8 ounces = half a pound.
- If you do the line of butter down the center of the cake, you may notice some white yellow coloring around the crack in the top of the cake — the powdered sugar dusting helps hide this!
- Dutch process cocoa powder will also work here.