Introduction: Double Espresso Cake Hack

About: Former high school French and Spanish teacher, currently an Art Gallery Director and Technical Director of Theatre at Millsaps College

Recently, I've been trying to step up my "dessert game", mainly because I love to cook, but I hardly ever make desserts. Also, I love baked goods and coffee. Especially cakes. However, as much as I like making things entirely from scratch, I will fully admit to being a little lazy and looking for shortcuts here and there...hence my Double Espresso Cake Hack ("double" because there is espresso in the cake and the frosting).

For this recipe, I used a store-bought, boxed cake mix as my starting point and did everything I could to bring a more homemade flavor and texture to it. I would love to take credit for being the one to have invented all of the ideas in my recipe, but in all honesty, I did a lot of online research for ways to jazz up a cake mix. I saw SO MANY ideas and I picked and chose according to the ingredients I already had and knew I could get easily (and inexpensively) at my local grocery store.

I've made the cake a few times now and tried several different methods and add-ins, which I will explain later in the appropriate steps by giving you options for altering my basic procedure - feel free to should be as much fun to make as it is to eat!!

Step 1: Ingredients

  • 1 box of chocolate cake mix (I used Betty Crocker - first, I tried a devil's food, then a triple chocolate deluxe supreme something or other....both were good)
  • 4 room temperature eggs
  • 1 stick of butter, melted and cooled (I prefer salted)
  • 3/4 - 1 cup of cooled espresso (or very strong coffee)
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup of buttermilk (regular milk will work but buttermilk adds fat and that creates a great texture)
    • 1 box of instant chocolate pudding
    • 1/2 cup of sour cream
    • Instant espresso powder


  • 3 1/2 cups of powdered (confectioner's) sugar
  • 1 stick of butter (softened, not melted)
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of softened cream cheese (or heavy cream)
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of cold espresso (or very strong coffee)
  • 1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract

Step 2: Making the Cake

  1. Preheat your oven to 350.
  2. Read and then ignore the instructions on the cake mix.
  3. Prepare your pan according to your final goal:
    • If you want a rectangular cake that you just serve out of the pan (like I did for the pictures), then cooking spray is sufficient.
    • If you want to remove your cake from the pan (like I did for my second one, not pictured), I highly recommend buttering the pan and dusting it with flour. Rub the entire inside surface with butter (be generous, but avoid adding so much that you can't even see the surface of the pan) and then add a few tablespoons of flour to the pan and shake it around until there is a an even coating stuck to all the butter, then dump out any excess flour.
  4. Begin by beating your room temperature eggs.
    • Most old-fashioned recipes tell you to beat them one at a time, waiting to add the next egg until the previous egg is completely beaten. This helps with the final texture.
    • You might also notice that I elected to add one egg more than the recipe called for - this also helps with the cake's texture by adding more fat.
  5. Once all the eggs are beaten, begin adding the rest of your wet ingredients, making sure all are at room temperature or cooler before adding them (so you don't cook the eggs).
    • The amount of espresso + the amount of buttermilk (or milk) should (approximately) equal the original cake mix's water. For mine, the mix called for 1 1/4 cups of water and I made about 3/4 cup of espresso, so I added 1/2 cup of buttermilk. If your mix calls for
    • If you want a nice, dense cake, also add sour cream to the wet ingredients. This makes the cake incredibly moist and dense and sumptuous....but it's not strictly necessary
  6. **OPTIONAL STEP** If you would like to make your cake sinfully moist and delicious by adding instant pudding, you must stir it into the dry cake mix in a separate bowl at this point. This is an optional step, but worth it if you have the pudding!
  7. While the beater is running, add the dry cake mix to the wet ingredients. Allow the mix to fully incorporate into the wet ingredients, then scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat again. It doesn't need to be perfectly smooth, but you want to avoid any large pockets of dry mix.
  8. Pour your batter into the prepared pan and put it into the oven. Follow the time guide that is given on the box, according to the pan or pans you're using. I start checking mine a few minutes before the minimum time, but that's mainly due to baking paranoia. Check it with a toothpick (when the toothpick comes out clean, it's done).
  9. Let the cake cool in the pan for at least ten minutes before you remove it from the pan, if you are removing it. Either way, allow it to cool completely before you even think about frosting it.

Step 3: Making the Frosting

  • **Remember that you need your butter (and cream cheese, if you're using it) to be softened (room temperature is fine) before you begin.**

  1. Beat your butter and cream cheese (or heavy cream) at a moderately high speed for several minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times. It's important to beat it for awhile to incorporate air into it, so it ends up with a nice, smooth consistency.
  2. Once your mixture is creamy, slow the mixer down a little and add the cold espresso (or coffee) and the vanilla. Your mixture will likely look awful at this point and you may doubt that you did it right, but don't panic! Everything will be alright, just increase the speed a little and give it a minute or two. It will still look weird and unappetizing during this step, but it will smooth out in the next step!
  3. Lower the speed of your mixer to medium and begin adding the powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Allow each cup to fully incorporate, then scrape the bowl, then mix again BEFORE adding the next cup. Once you have three full cups mixed in, check your consistency. If it feels smooth and not-too-wet, you can stop there. If it's still a too thin, add the additional cup of powdered sugar in small (1/4 cup) increments until you have a nice, spreadable consistency.
  4. If your cake is completely cooled, you can frost it now. If not, refrigerate the frosting until your cake is ready - just be sure to bring it back to room temperature before you frost it, or else it is stiff and will likely rip chunks out of the cake.

Step 4: Other Tips, Ideas, Add-ons

Here are a few things I've added/tried/imagined while playing with this recipe/hack:

  • If you want to fancy the cake up a little bit, crush some Oreos (minus the cream filling) and sprinkle them on the top.
  • If you want a bigger coffee flavor, crush some Oreos (minus the cream filling) and mix them with a small amount of finely ground coffee and sprinkle the top. This is also a great thing to add to the center if you make two layers.
  • Press chocolate covered espresso beans into the frosting. I'd suggest only adding a single ring, so the crunchy beans don't take over the whole cake.
  • Before frosting the cake, brush (or spray) the cake with Kahlua or espresso - just go easy so you don't make the cake soggy!
  • Use a microplane grater or a veggie peeler to add chocolate shavings to the top of the cake - be sure to use a good, dark chocolate to complement the coffee flavors.

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