UPDATE 2023: I recently discovered a way to make black buttercream with ZERO food color gel and it’s my new favorite recipe because it won’t turn your mouth black and tastes like Oreo cookie butter! I updated the buttercream portion of the recipe to make this entire cake dye-free. If you’d prefer the original black frosting recipe (which uses minimal food color gel), you’ll find it here.
In honor of the spookiest season of all, I’ve whipped up a cake recipe that’s sure to satisfy all the Halloween lovers: black velvet. The cake layers are pitch black, super moist and decadent, naturally colored, and taste just like the delicious shell of an Oreo cookie! Paired with my favorite dye-free black buttercream recipe and lambeth piping, this black velvet cake is a real stunner. It’s elegant and a little eerie all at the same time, which makes it the perfect Halloween party cake!
You’ve probably heard of red velvet cake (which could also be a very cool Halloween-themed cake depending on how you decorate it!), but you don’t really see black velvet cake any other time of year. It’s so delicious that I would totally eat this cake year round. I’m actually planning on using it in an Oreo-inspired cake recipe since it tastes so much like the cookie part! The color and the flavor both come from black cocoa powder, which I’ll explain more about below.
First, look at how stunning these cake layers are with this black buttercream. The whole thing together tastes like if you sandwiched chocolate buttercream between Oreo cookie shells instead of creme filling. If you’re a chocolate lover like I am, you are going to love this black velvet cake.
What is Black Cocoa Powder?
Black cocoa powder is basically an ultra Dutched cocoa powder, meaning it’s been treated with an alkaline solution to reduce its acidity. It’s very dark in color and while it isn’t as chocolatey as regular cocoa powder, it does have amazing flavor. It’s the main ingredient in Oreo cookie shells, and that’s basically what the cake layers end up tasting like. The best part about black cocoa powder is it gives the cake layers a rich black color without having to add any additional food coloring! That means it won’t turn your mouth crazy colors.
I use this extra dark black cocoa powder in the frosting portion of this recipe, which makes it possible to create black buttercream without adding food color gel. The frosting ends up being a super dark brown color after you mix it up, but after 24 hours it darkens to a rich black color like magic! It won’t stain your mouth or kick off any startling bathroom experiences, plus it tastes like Oreo cookie butter so I’m in love.
Where to Find Black Cocoa Powder
You probably won’t be able to buy black cocoa powder at your local grocery store, but you might have some luck at a dedicated cake decorating supply shop. There aren’t many of those around me, so I get my black cocoa powder on Amazon. If you don’t want to get it online, you can substitute it with an equal amount of Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder, which can be found at most grocery stores. It’ll make the cake batter dark brown, so if you’re going for a black colored cake you’ll need to add a squirt of black food color gel to take it all the way.
What Makes it a Velvet Cake?
The term “velvet cake” dates back to the 1800’s. The term was used to describe the soft, delicate texture of the cakes served at fancy dessert parties. Today, there are recipes for virtually every color of velvet cake – red velvet and white velvet being the most popular. The common denominator between all of the velvet cake recipes of today is the use of buttermilk. This ingredient helps give the cakes their velvety texture.
How to Make a Lambeth Cake
After making these cake layers, I couldn’t stop imagining black lambeth piping as the final decoration. Turns out that lambeth was the perfect choice to turn this black velvet cake into a spooky showstopper. The thing about lambeth is you can add as many layers of piping as you want, so feel free to go overboard. Here’s how I decorated mine:
I used the black buttercream to fill and stack the cake, crumb coat it, and frost it with a smooth buttercream finish. After chilling the cake until the frosting was firm, I made a template for the garlands using this same parchment paper technique from my cherry chip cake recipe. Then, I used the following piping tips to decorate:
- Wilton Tip 6B for the shell border around the bottom + top edges
- Wilton Tip 4B for the shell border above the bottom 6B shell
- Wilton Tip 104 for the ruffle garlands
- Wilton Tip 32 for the overlapping shells below the garlands
My cherry chip cake recipe shows these piping techniques in more detail. I finished the look by placing a few round black sprinkles to accent the ruffle garlands and overlapping shells. However you decide to decorate, this cake is so much fun to make and completely delicious. It’s the perfect cake for this scary season and I hope you love it as much as I do!
Black Velvet Cake
Black Velvet Cake
- 2 Cups (265g) all purpose flour
- 1 2/3 Cups (340g) granulated sugar
- 2/3 Cup (80g) black cocoa powder
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 Cup (120ml) vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 Cup (240ml) full-fat buttermilk*, room temperature DIY recipe in notes
- 1 Cup (240ml) hot coffee or hot water
Dye-Free Black Buttercream
- 2 Cups (452g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 5 Cups (600g) powdered sugar
- 1 Cup (112g) black cocoa powder**
- 4 Tbsp whole milk, room temperature
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp salt, or to taste
Make the Black Velvet Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF and prepare three 6-inch or two 8-inch cake pans by spraying the sides with cooking spray and fitting the bottoms with a wax paper or parchment cake circle.
- Place all of the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer and stir on low for 30 seconds to fully combine them. Add the vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk and mix on low until just combined. With the mixer still on low, add the hot water in a slow stream, then turn the mixer to medium and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. The batter will be very thin.
- Pour into prepared cake pans no more than 2/3 full and bake for 32-36 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.
Make the Black Buttercream
- In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whip the butter on medium speed until creamy and light in color, about 4 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and paddle, then add half of the powdered sugar. Mix on low speed until just incorporated, then add the rest of the powdered sugar. With the mixer still in the off position, sift in the black cocoa powder and add the vanilla, milk, and salt. Mix on low until all ingredients are thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl and paddle as needed.
- The buttercream will look dark brown at this point, but the color will darken significantly over the next several hours. See the recipe notes for storage instructions if you're not planning on frosting the cake the same day.
- To create the design pictured, use the black buttercream to create a smooth finish on the cake, then refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Use the rest of the black buttercream to create lambeth piping (feel free to use this tutorial as guidance). Accent the lambeth piping with round black sprinkles where desired.
- The Black Velvet Cake layers can be made ahead and stored at room temperature, covered tightly in plastic wrap, for up to two days. Alternatively, you can cover with plastic wrap and store in the freezer for up to two months before thawing to room temperature.
- The Black Buttercream can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day. Alternatively, you can store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When you’re ready to use it, bring it back to room temperature and rewhip with your stand mixer to bring back to frosting consistency.
This black velvet cake recipe is so perfect for any Halloween gathering! I hope you love it as much as I do. Let me know what you think in the comments below and feel free to tag @sugarandsparrowco on Instagram if you post a pic! I love to see what you create.