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Chocolate espresso cake with coffee buttercream and chocolate curls.

High Altitude Chocolate Espresso Cake with Chocolate Curls

Heather Smoke
Moist and soft dark chocolate cake spiced with espresso powder, with fluffy coffee buttercream, and beautiful homemade chocolate curls.

All recipes on Curly Girl Kitchen are developed for high altitude at 5,280 feet.

5 from 11 votes
Prep Time 45 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 1 hr 15 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American


  • Stand Mixer


Chocolate Cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder, preferably Drost or Rodelle
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp coarse Kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream, room temperature
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp instant espresso powder

Coffee Buttercream

  • 2 cups unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp meringue powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup whole milk or cream
  • 2-3 tbsp instant espresso powder

Chocolate Curls

  • 3 oz good-quality chocolate, chopped (I used Chocolove Dark Chocolate)
  • 1 tbsp vegetable shortening



  • Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray the bottoms of three 8-inch round cake pans with non-stick spray.
  • In a bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt, then whisk until completely combined.
  • In another large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, sour cream, oil, vanilla and espresso powder until smooth.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and whisk for about 30 seconds until well combined and mostly free of lumps.
  • Divide the batter between the pans.  Tap the pans lightly on the counter a few times to pop any large air bubbles.  Bake the cakes on the center rack for about 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean or with moist crumbs clinging to it, and the tops spring back when gently touched.
  • Set the pans on a cooling rack, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and cool completely before frosting.


  • In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for one minute until smooth.
  • With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar and meringue powder, mixing to combine.
  • Separately, stir together the vanilla, cream and espresso powder, until the espresso is completely dissolved, then add to the mixing bowl.
  • Whip the buttercream on medium speed for 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally, until very light and fluffy.
  • Stack and fill the cooled cakes with the buttercream, then frost all over with a thin crumb coat of buttercream.  Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, then finish frosting the cake with a final layer of buttercream.

Chocolate Curls

  • Use a double boiler (a heatproof bowl set on top of a saucepan of simmering water), to melt the chocolate and shortening, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat.
  • Pour the melted chocolate and shortening onto the bottom side of a 9x13 glass baking dish. Use an offset spatula to spread the chocolate out into a thin layer, near the edges.
  • Set the pan in the refrigerator and chill for several minutes, just until the chocolate is firm, and you don't see any wet patches in the center.
  • Remove the pan from the refrigerator. Using a putty knife or bench scraper, hold it at a 45 degree angle and push the chocolate away from you, letting it curl up. You can make the curls as wide or as narrow as you like; I made mine about 1/4-1/2 inch wide.
  • If the chocolate flakes instead of curling, then it's too cold; wait 20-30 seconds and try again. If the chocolate doesn't curly, and just pushes up in sheets, then it's too warm. Place the pan back in the refrigerator for 45-60 seconds, and try again.
  • You will need to work quickly, but be patient, You'll likely need to return the pan to the refrigerator several times throughout the process.
  • As you make your curls, use tweezers to transfer them to a container. Cover and refrigerate until needed, then use tweezers to place them on your cake (the heat of your fingers can quickly melt the curls).


  • Make in Advance.
    • The baked cakes can be wrapped individually in plastic wrap and frozen until needed.  Let thaw overnight at room temperature before frosting your cake.
    • Buttercream also freezes very well, if you need to make it in advance.  Freeze in a plastic freezer bag, thaw in the refrigerator overnight, then let come to room temperature to frost your cake.
    • The chocolate curls should be kept refrigerated until you're ready to place them on your cake.
  • Leftover cake should be stored in an airtight container or cake carrier, at room temperature, for up to 5 days.
Keyword Chocolate Cake, Coffee, Espresso, High Altitude
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