Even if you don't typically go for fruit and chocolate together, you are going to adore this Chocolate Orange Cake. Chocolate and orange lovers unite over this decadent, deeply chocolatey cake that's bursting with natural orange flavor.
This cake starts off with an incredibly moist chocolate cake and a classic creamy fudge frosting. Orange is infused in the cake batter, cake soak, and frosting for a burst of zesty flavor in each bite.
Stacked into a small layer cake but easy enough to throw together without too much fuss, this orange chocolate cake recipe is the perfect celebration cake for birthdays to afternoon chocolate cravings.
Chocolate Orange Cake without Orange Extract
This chocolate cake is so rich and fudgy, but you'll be surprised just how much of the real orange flavor shines through. So much of the essence of oranges is in the zest. Grating fresh oranges and massaging the orange zest into granulated sugar releases all of the citrus oils and flavor.
Using both the orange zest and freshly squeezed orange juice in all parts of the cake gives it enough flavor that you won't even need to track down orange extract.
Ingredients at a Glance
- All-purpose flour
- Unsweetened Cocoa - grab the Dutch processed!
- Baking powder and Baking soda - they perform similar roles in helping the cake rise, but are not interchangeable
- Kosher salt - I recommend Diamond Crystal. Reduce by half if using Morton's table salt or similar.
- Granulated sugar
- Neutral oil - pick an oil with a mild taste like avocado, vegetable, or canola
- Eggs - they should be large and at room temperature
- Buttermilk - this tangy dairy will add flavor to the cake and keep it extra tender
- Oranges - fresh orange juice and orange zest are need for all that orange flavor!
- Unsalted Butter - it should be soft and creamy, not melted, for smooth fudge frosting
- Powder sugar - sifted, as needed
Tools and Equipment
This orange and chocolate cake comes together fairly easily. While you can surely stir the batter by hand, you will need an electric mixer for the fudge frosting (a hand mixer will work just fine). You will also need:
- Citrus zester or microplane
- Three, 6-inch cake pans
- Offset spatula for icing the cake
- General kitchen tools (spatulas, measuring spoons, etc.)
There are three parts to this recipe: the chocolate and orange cake, orange simple syrup, and a chocolate orange buttercream frosting.
Mix the batter - stir the recipe by hand with a large rubber spatula or use an electric mixer to combine the ingredients.
Bake the cake - the cake batter bakes in three, 6-inch cake pans.
Make the syrup - while the cake cools, make the orange simple syrup by simmering orange juice, water, and sugar.
Mix the frosting - next, use an electric mixer to blend the butter until creamy then slowly add in the powdered sugar and unsweetened cocoa powder. Add fresh orange juice until it is smooth and spreadable.
Assemble - brush the cooled cake layers with orange syrup and stack with the chocolate orange frosting.
Eat! - Lastly, serve the cake at room temperature.
Brush the tops of each layer with orange simple syrup.
Spread the orange fudge frosting between the layers until smooth.
Stack the cake then crumb coat with a thin layer of frosting and chill.
Fully ice the cake with fudge frosting and decorate as desired.
How to Decorate a Cake with a Star Tip
Using a large star piping tip, like a Wilton 1B, is a simple yet effective way to bring some texture and fun to any cake.
To pipe, hold the filled piping bag straight down and hover the tip a half inch from the surface of the cake. Give the bag a gentle squeeze. Keep going until a frilly dollop of frosting piles on itself.
When done, completely stop all pressure on the piping then pull up on the tip.
Gluten-Free: Try a one-for-one gluten free flour in place of the all-purpose flour.
Buttermilk: Use half sour cream and half regular milk instead of buttermilk. Alternatively, make your own soured milk by mixing a tablespoon of lemon or vinegar into 1 cup of buttermilk. Stir and let sit 5 minutes before using.
Serving and Storage
Serve the cake at room temperature. It can be stored in a cake box over night in a cool room. Keep leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
To freeze the cake layers, wait until they are completely cool then wrap well in plastic wrap. Freeze in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw frozen cake layers in the refrigerator overnight before use.
Chocolate Orange Cake Recipe FAQs
Bake cakes in aluminum cake pans that have sides that are at least 2-inch high.
You can bake this chocolate orange cake recipe in two 8 or 9-inch cake pans. They will need additional baking time.
Absolutely! Using fresh orange versus imitation or extract is preferred. The citrus oils are sharp enough to cut through decadent chocolate while staying balanced.
Chocolate Orange Cake
For the Chocolate Orange Cake
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ⅔ cup unsweetened cocoa powder Dutch Processed
- 1 ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
- 1 ½ tablespoon fresh orange zest
- ½ cup neutral oil avocado, vegetable, or canola
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
For the Orange Syrup
- ¼ cup fresh orange juice
- 2 tablespoon water
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
For the Orange Fudge Frosting
- 1 ½ cups unsalted butter softened
- 3 to 4 cups powdered sugar sifted as needed
- ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder Dutch processed
- 2 teaspoon fresh orange zest
- 2 tablespoon fresh orange juice
To Make the Chocolate Orange Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour three 6-inch cake pans and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In a separate mixing bowl, add the sugar and orange zest. Rub between your fingertips until it smells very fragrant and zesty. Add the oil and eggs then whisk together until smooth. Whisk in the buttermilk and orange juice to combine.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and stir until combined.
- Evenly distribute the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 25 to 28 minutes minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Cool the cakes in their pans for 10 to 20 minutes before removing them from their pans. Continue to cool the cakes on a wire rack before storing, slicing, or frosting.
To Make the Orange Simple Syrup
- Combine the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Reduce to low and gently cook just until the sugar dissolves. It will be a thin syrup. Remove from the heat to cool before using.
To Make the Orange Fudge Frosting
- Using a hand or stand mixer, cream the butter until soft and smooth. Stop the mixer and add in 3 cups of powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Turn the mixer back on low speed and mix until the dry ingredients are incorporated.
- Add the orange zest and orange juice. Continue to mix until smooth and combined. Add more powdered sugar if the frosting is too soft to spread.
- After the cakes are cool, trim the tops with a serrated knife until flat. Brush cut-side (tops) of each cake generously with the orange syrup.
- Place one layer of cake on a cake board or serving dish. Dollop about ¾ cup of fudge frosting on top and spread with an offset spatula until even.
- Place the next layer of cake on top and repeat. Spread a thin layer of frosting on the side and top of the cake to create a crumb coat then refrigerate for 15 mintues.
- Smoothly frost the cake with fudge frosting.
- To decorate, fill a piping bag fitted with a 1B star tip with the remaining fudge frosting. Pipe drop stars around the top of the cake by simply holding the piping bag straight down and giving a little squeeze util a frilly dollop of frosting appears.
- Decorate with slices of fresh orange before serving.