Whole Grain Chocolate Cake

Don’t underestimate the pure deliciousness of whole grain desserts!

Vertical image of a two-layered cocoa dessert with frosting on a white surface next to a fork, with text on the top and bottom of the image.

I brought over dinner for my friend the other night, and as I was handing her containers of soup, veggies, and cookies, I found myself prefacing each item with an explanation-turned-apology:

Look, I’m trying to eat more unprocessed foods now, and these are healthier recipes that I’m testing, so don’t expect much, and I’m so so so sorry if you don’t like them…

And on and on it went.

Vertical image of a whole circular dessert topped with frosting with a slice removed from it next to a serving knife.

Do any of you do this? I am desperate to stop with these ho-hum excuses.

And it’s going to stop with this recipe for whole grain chocolate cake.

You won’t have to issue a formal apology to anyone you serve this to. Let those tiresome explanations-turned-apologies disappear entirely.

While a little healthier than a classic chocolate cake, it still tastes amazing!

Vertical close-up image of the side of a 2-layered cocoa dessert with thick frosting.

This chocolate dessert recipe uses whole wheat pastry flour instead of bleached white all-purpose, vegetable oil instead of butter, and cacao powder instead of more processed cocoa.

The crumb is slightly denser due to the less processed type of flour we use for the batter, but that actually works in its favor – it tastes fudgy, decedent, and indulgent!

Have fun with the icing. You can mingle in the same realm of healthier options by using our recipes for vegan date fudge or avocado fudge frosting.

Vertical close-up image of a fork taking a piece of a chocolate cake with fudge frosting on a white plate.

But if one healthy recipe is enough for one day, sneak over to our recipes for old fashioned cocoa fudge frosting or American-style buttercream instead.

If you’d like a slice, I will try to hand it to you, without any caveats or excuses, and you can tell me what you think!

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Horizontal image of a slice of cocoa cake on a white plate.

Whole Grain Chocolate Cake

  • Author: Nikki Cervone
  • Total Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
  • Yield: 12 servings (One 2-layer 8-inch cake) 1x


Looking for an easy way to incorporate healthier ingredients in your baked goods? Our whole grain chocolate cake is a great place to start.


  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 cup cacao powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup freshly brewed coffee, warm


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly spray two 8-inch round cake pans with cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper, and lightly spray again.
  2. Sift together the sugar, flour, cacao powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, buttermilk, vegetable oil, and vanilla.
  4. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients. With the paddle attachment, mix the ingredients together on medium speed until a thick batter forms. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, and briefly mix again.
  5. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly add the warm coffee to the batter. Increase the speed to medium, and continue mixing for another 2-3 minutes to create a thin, smooth batter.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean with a few crumbs attached.
  7. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes. Turn the cake out of the pans onto a cooling rack, remove the parchment paper, turn right side up, and allow to cool completely.
  8. Decorate and serve!
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: Dessert

Keywords: whole wheat flour, whole grain, chocolate

Cooking by the Numbers…

Step 1 – Prep

After setting the oven to 350°F, lightly spray two 8-inch cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper, and lightly spray again. Set aside.

You can trace the bottom of the pans onto parchment paper before cutting it out with scissors to get a good fit.

Horizontal image of measured dry and wet ingredients in white bowls on a dark surface.

Brew the coffee. Measure out all of the ingredients.

Step 2 – Sift Together Dry Ingredients

Horizontal image of sifting dry ingredients over a bowl.

Sift together the sugar, flour, cacao powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer.

Step 3 – Combine Wet and Dry Ingredients

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, vegetable oil, and vanilla until fully incorporated.

Horizontal image of a thick brown batter in a bowl with a paddle attachment.

Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients. Mix the ingredients together with the paddle attachment on medium speed until a thick paste forms. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, and briefly mix again.

The mixture will be thick and pasty, but it will thin out once you add the warm coffee in the next step.

Step 4 – Slowly Add the Coffee

With the mixer running on low speed, slowly add the warm coffee to the batter. Increase the speed to medium, and continue mixing for another 2 to 3 minutes to create a thin, smooth batter.

Horizontal image of a thin brown batter in a metal bowl.

Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and briefly mix again.

You can choose to use whatever type of coffee you would like for this step (including decaf), but avoid flavored coffee varieties. The coffee is an ingredient that subtly enhances the chocolate flavor, without providing a strong flavor of its own.

Step 5 – Bake

Horizontal image of brown batter in two circular metal pans.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly.

Horizontal image of baked cocoa dessert still in the pans.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean with just a few crumbs attached.

Step 6 – Cool and Decorate

Cool in the pans for 30 minutes. Turn the cake out of the pans onto a cooling rack, remove the parchment paper, turn right side up, and allow to cool completely.

Horizontal image of a two-layered cake with cocoa frosting

Decorate as you wish, and serve! If you need a pep talk in decorating cake, read our tutorial.

Use the Right Type of Whole Wheat Flour!

It’s an easy and very understandable mistake to make if you accidentally grab regular whole wheat flour instead of whole wheat pastry flour.

Is there really a big difference, though?

Yes, there is!

As with processed white flours, there are also differences among whole wheat varieties.

Horizontal image of a slice of cocoa cake on a white plate.

Whole wheat pastry flour involves milling a softer wheat berry compared to the harder wheat berry used to make regular whole wheat flour, meaning the protein content of the flour will be lower with the pastry variety.

Though denser than processed white pastry flour, a cake that uses whole wheat pastry flour will be more delicate and less chewy than it would be if you used regular whole wheat flour.

Have you experimented with this type of flour? What are your favorite desserts to make using this less processed ingredient? Let’s chat in the comment section below!

If you have a chocolate craving that can’t be satiated with just one recipe, you’ll love baking these cake recipes with an alternative twist next:

Photos by Nikki Cervone, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Shanna Mallon on January 14, 2010. Last updated on August 3, 2021.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

About Nikki Cervone

Nikki Cervone is a full-time cheesemonger and specialty foods buyer living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

20 thoughts on “Whole Grain Chocolate Cake”

  1. Chocolate and I get along great. I would absolutely love to try this cake, it looks fabulous. And, I like Dutch-process cocoa, a lot, maybe even best. I don’t care if it is less healthy. Ooh, I’m living dangerously now. 😉

  2. I think apologizing comes with being a foodie — it is almost like we are obsessed with perfection. We must remember that food is love and we don’t apologize for love, right?
    PS I will take a piece of that cake!

  3. I do the same…..apologize when in fact your friend was probably just thrilled to have some actual home cooking! (and the cake looks delicious!)

  4. I find myself doing this too – in my case because most things I cook in my home are vegan, and I always worry I’ll offend my omnivorous dinner-dates with my simple fare. But I don’t! And it’s really so much nicer when they don’t have to reassure me that things taste okay.

    That cake? Please don’t apologize, because it looks absolutely delicious, and I want to crumble some over coconut milk ice cream – immediately. At 10:00 in the morning. 🙂

  5. I totally identify with apologizing over the food. I had a friend over for dinner the other night to try out a new recipe with us (Veggie Moussaka). Since this was the first time I had cooked this recipe or used eggplant, I felt compelled to assure my friend & my husband if it was gross they didn’t have to eat it. I even promised to order pizza – numerous times. Even as they were asking for seconds I was saying don’t eat it if you don’t like it. Grr… just to learn to be quiet – what a gift that would be! 🙂
    Your cake looks super yum. Great job at continuing to try out new things!

  6. I’m always blabbering on about whatever I did to make the recipe imperfect, even when it’s completely fine and no one would notice except for me. I have told myself recently that I was going to try to wait until after people took a bite. Just to see. If their faces screw up in horror, then I am allowed to apologize. Hopefully the rant lasts 30 seconds or less, but I won’t be timing it. But if no adverse reaction appears, I am simply going to let it all go.

    My goal is to receive genuine responses from here on out. We shall see.

  7. It’s cooking… therefore it’s always going have space for tweaks and improvements. So, there is no need to apologise then, right?
    At least that’s what I keep telling myself….

  8. I totally do the same thing! Lovely blog, by the way. I just found you today and will be reading often. 🙂

  9. I completely identify with you about the apologizing. Many times when I make something I find myself saying I’m sorry when there is no need. A huge part of it comes from me being a perfectionist (I blame culinary school) and if what I make doesn’t exactly come out the way I want it I feel the need to apologize. Thing is my friends and family don’t care. They think whatever it is I made is delicious and they don’t care that it doesn’t look like it popped off a cookbook page. I am very excited to try this cake recipe. I’ve been looking for something just like it since I’m making some healthy changes in my life. I’m really glad I stumbled across your blog tonight.

  10. I am so guilty of apologizing this way! I was cringing reading your recount. Glad it all turned out great! I concur with the others, the cake looks delicious.

  11. I read this recalling the number of times I apologized too! It’s a terrible habit that’s only cured by more cooking, baking and kitchen failures. =)

  12. Oh, gosh, I’m SO THERE with you. How often have I spent time on a meal and apologised because everything didn’t come out “just so.” It’s terrible what we put ourselves through for the sake of some crazy perfection (that really… if we’re honest… doesn’t even exist). We should definitely be better at embracing what we create in the NOW.

    I must confess, that chocolate cake looks just divine — even if it takes a bit of getting used to… would love to have a “go to” cake for weeknights that I don’t need to feel guilty over!

  13. Lo, I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I wrote this post, and you’re right about pursuing a perfection that isn’t even possible. Why do we do that? Pride I guess? We should be better at embracing the steps along the way. Yes.

  14. I love your site, I just discovered it. Your pictures make me hungry! Just wanted to say I do the same thing when I make food for other people. I am always apologizing and am really hard on myself about my own food. From the looks of it, you don’t need to apologize! Everything looks delicious 🙂

  15. I made this cake minus the granulated sugar which I replaced with canderel sweetener for my sons 6th birthday Wednesday. I used double cream for the inside and made three layers as I had to decorate it for him with icing. It was a great hit with the family. Will be using this recipe again for sure.

  16. I made this cake and it was delicious. My family did not suspect it was made with whole wheat pastry flour. We ate the whole cake in a few days.

    • YES, we fooled them all! I love being able to seamlessly incorporate healthier ingredients in traditional sweet treats. So glad you enjoyed the cake!


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