The BEST moist yellow cake recipe I’ve ever had, probably because there is one unusual ingredient: brown sugar. It makes the cake less traditional but a lot more MOIST. (Hallelujah!) I’m in love with this brown sugar yellow cake and the ridiculous amount of chocolate frosting that goes with it. 

brown sugar yellow cake

So as a food blogger, I get a lot of questions from people making my recipes. Most of them are just your average clarification on the recipe, but sometimes you get a question that makes you scratch your head. Recently someone asked if they could make The Best Chocolate Cake I’ve Ever Had…without chocolate. “I want a yellow cake. Can I make this without the chocolate?” Ummm…

Well. Actually. It turns out you can. I would be eating a real piece of Humble Pie right now if I weren’t so busy stuffing my face with this amazing brown sugar yellow cake. It has the exact same texture and insane moistness as my favorite chocolate cake, minus the chocolate. (Pass the Pie. I was thinking you were a little crazy, Shannon, Lover of Yellow Cake, but I’ve been fully converted.)

moist yellow cake

I looked up a couple other yellow cake recipes just to see what kind of disaster Shannon was in for when she tried to omit the cocoa from my chocolate cake. And I was shocked to find that my chocolate cake recipe is almost identical to several yellow cakes I found–same butter amount, same liquid amount, same flour, etc. But instead of using all white sugar, my cake has half white sugar and half brown sugar. When is brown sugar EVER a bad idea??

brown sugar yellow cake

(Vanilla bean paste: also never a bad idea.)

How to make Brown Sugar Yellow Cake

The method for this brown sugar yellow cake is different from your average yellow cake. First you boil some water and butter together (that’s part of what gives it that fudgy texture). Then you stir together the dry ingredients, and add the baking soda and baking powder to the eggs. It’s a little odd, but the result is a brown sugar flavored yellow cake that is incredibly moist. As I say about the original chocolate cake, the edges are almost brownie like, but somehow still manage to be cake. There are no dry edges.

slice of brown sugar yellow cake

There’s a reason I’m including a photo of the non-frosted underside of this cake. The edges are unreal, even when they don’t have frosting on them.

brown sugar cake with chocolate frosting

I maintain that the amount of frosting called for in this recipe is the proper amount, although Eric, my brother Nathan, and even the kids said it was a bit excessive. But I have a strict No Bite Left Behind Policy. I need EVERY SINGLE BITE of my cake to have frosting on it. That means lots of frosting. My friend Melissa took a slice of this brown sugar cake home with her after visiting one day, and I texted her later, “Everyone says the cake has too much frosting…is that even a thing??” and she said, “Not if you’re me! If you don’t like frosting, don’t eat cake.” I like your style Melissa. (We know she has good taste. She’s the one who gave me this 30 Minute Pesto Penne with Chicken.)

how to spread chocolate frosting

how to frost a layer cake

(Can you tell I’m not into crumb coats? My strategy is to pile on more and more frosting…)

yellow cake with chocolate frosting

Do you guys have any weekend plans? We’ll just be doing the usual, yard work and church on Sunday. Sometimes I love having no plans for the weekend. We just got back from a kid-free 2 week vacation in Australia, so we’ve been spoiled anyway. (And yes, it was so fun!!) I hope you get to make this Chocolate Free Chocolate Cake soon!

brown sugar yellow cake

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One year ago: Chewy Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
Four years ago: Raspberry Nocciolata Grilled Sandwiches
Six years ago: Mud Hen Bars < meringue. It’s so good!


Brown Sugar Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting

5 from 5 votes
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 35 minutes
Total: 55 minutes
Servings: 12 Servings
The BEST yellow cake recipe I've ever had, probably because there is one unusual ingredient: brown sugar. It makes the cake less traditional but a lot more MOIST. (Hallelujah!) I'm in love with this brown sugar cake and the ridiculous amount of chocolate frosting that goes with it. 


For the cake

  • 1 cup salted butter, 2 sticks
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted, spooned & leveled
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste, *
  • 1 cup brown sugar, I like dark brown
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

For the frosting

  • 1 & 1/2 cups salted butter, 3 sticks, softened
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • 4-5 cups powdered sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream


For the cake:

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease 2  9-inch cake pans with butter or nonstick spray, then coat with a small amount of flour, tapping out the excess over your sink. Then trace the bottom of the cake pans onto parchment paper, cut out the circles, and put them in the bottom of the pan.
  • In a medium saucepan, melt 1 cup butter over medium heat. Stir in the water and whisk until combined. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for about 30 seconds. Remove pot from heat and let sit aside to cool.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the white sugar, flour, and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt.
  • In another medium bowl, whisk together 2 eggs. Slowly sprinkle baking soda and baking powder over the top while you whisk. Beat until there are no lumps. The mixture may foam, and that's ok!
  • Stir in 1 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste and 1 cup brown sugar.
  • When the butter mixture in the pot has cooled enough to handle, stir it into the flour mixture. Then add the egg mixture. Each time mix only until combined.
  • Lastly, fold in the sour cream. DON'T over mix!!
  • Divide the batter evenly between the 2 prepared pans (I use a scale to make sure they were even). Drop the cakes on the counter from a few inches above to get out some of the air bubbles.
  • Bake at 325 for about 34-40 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Remove from the oven when a toothpick comes out of the center clean.
  • Let cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then carefully loosen edges with a knife and invert onto a cooling wrack. Let cakes cool completely.
  • Wrap the cakes securely in plastic wrap and freeze for about an hour or 2. (This is only so that it's easy to frost the cake. If you are in a hurry and presentation isn't an issue, frost as soon as they are cool!)

For frosting and assembly:

  • In a large bowl or stand mixer, use the whisk attachment to cream the butter for 2 minutes, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the cocoa and 4 cups of powdered sugar in increments, adding the cream in between. Beat well after each addition, scraping the sides of the bowl often.
  • Add 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste. Beat well.
  • Add the 5th cup of powdered sugar if you like. Frosting consistency is kind of a personal preference, and sometimes it depends on my mood!
  • Smear a bit of frosting on the bottom of a cake plate. Place 1 cake on top, then cover the top with about 1 cup of frosting (I like to use an offset spatula).
  • Place the other cake on top, then frost the outside and edges. If you don't want your cake plate to get frosting all over it, line the bottom cake with strips of parchment paper that you can pull out when the cake is completely frosted.


*You can use regular vanilla extract in place of the vanilla bean paste. It will still taste great! 


Serving: 1slice | Calories: 806kcal | Carbohydrates: 96g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 47g | Saturated Fat: 30g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 13g | Trans Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 154mg | Sodium: 770mg | Potassium: 176mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 75g | Vitamin A: 1500IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 72mg | Iron: 2mg
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Calories: 806
Keyword: Brown Sugar, chocolate frosting, yellow cake
Did you make this? I'd love to see it!Mention @thefoodcharlatan or tag #thefoodcharlatan!

More cake recipes you need to try!

The Best Chocolate Cake I’ve Ever Had << I still make this claim. It’s almost exactly today’s recipe, except with chocolate. It’s so moist it’s brownie-like, while still being cake.

The Best Chocolate Cake I've Ever Had from The Food Charlatan


Peach Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting << this cake is delicious and uses frozen peaches!

Peach Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting from The Food Charlatan


Upside Down Almond Crunch Cupcakes << why are we still frosting the tops of cupcakes? Turn those babies upside down for triple the frosting.

Upside Down Almond Crunch Cupcakes from The Food Charlatan


The Best Homemade White Cake Recipe of Your Life!! << no joke


More yellow cake to love from other bloggers!

Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting from Well Plated
Perfect Yellow Cake Recipe with Chocolate Buttercream from That Skinny Chick Can Bake
Yellow Birthday Cake with Fluffy Ganache Frosting from Eats Well with Others
3 Layer Yellow Cake Recipe from Pint Sized Baker

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  1. 5 stars
    THIS is what I have been looking for! Thank you! I had this texture and moisture level and colour imagined but could not get a recipe which delivered it. I think it’s the brown sugar and water which makes this recipe pop. Thank you once again- after doing probably 20 different vanilla cake recipes, this one settles my search for perfection 😊

    1. Ah hooray Eugenie! So glad you finally found the one. I just made this cake last week for my father-in-law’s birthday, it never disappoints! Thanks so much for taking the time to review!

    1. Hi Bree! Yes, 1 tablespoon for the vanilla bean paste or extract. I know it sounds like a lot but it creates amazing vanilla flavor :-)

  2. I have made this cake 5 or 6 times since I found it, (exactly as written) and we two LOVE it. I have made the layers in the past and want to know if I can do it in a 9 by 13 — just feeling a bit lazy and would love to be able to dump it in one pan. Would the cooking time change if I can use the 9 by 13 pan? ———— My husband does not have my sweet tooth and some cakes have gone stale before being finish and tossed. I can’t eat a whole cake and my hips don’t need it. But Not this one– I could not believe how fast he put this one away. New dinner recipes I’ve tried he’s raved about but not desserts, until this one.. He did rave about this one! He really wanted to know how the cake was made, what was in it. It was so different tasting and he’s crazy about it. The frosting too, so light and smooth. Thank you for sharing a grand recipe.

    1. Charlaine, I’m so happy you guys love it so much! That is awesome. You can totally bake this in a 9×13! You will have to adjust the bake times. I would start with about 20-25 minutes and check with a toothpick. Enjoy!

  3. I didn’t have much white sugar, so I looked up a recipe that used brown sugar and this came into my search. I had to make a couple of adjustments. I used a cup of buttermilk and a half a cup of water instead of sour cream and 1 and half cups of brown sugar and a half cup of white sugar.  I also didn’t do any of that melting or any other of those steps that involved having to cool the products. I just took the rest of the ingredients as they were and put them together like it was a regular cake. I used a strawberry jam in the middle. It turned out excellent. I love the frosting. Will too much frosting for me. Next time I will just make less. Otherwise, great recipe.

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