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. Originally published June 1, 2018.

brown sugar yellow cake
Table of Contents
  1. This Brown Sugar Cake Recipe will rock your world
  2. Why you’ll love this Recipe for Yellow Cake with Brown Sugar
  3. What does brown sugar do to a cake?
  4. Brown Sugar Cake Ingredients
  5. How to make Yellow Cake (with Brown Sugar)
  6. Homemade Yellow Cake with Chocolate Icing variations
  7. Brown Sugar Cake Recipe Tips
  8. Serving Yellow Cake
  9. Storing Homemade Yellow Cake with Chocolate Icing
  10. More cake recipes you need to try!
  11. Brown Sugar Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting Recipe

This Brown Sugar Cake Recipe will rock your world

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.)

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moist yellow cake with chocolate frosting and a fork.

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??

cake frosted with chocolate buttercream.

Why you’ll love this Recipe for Yellow Cake with Brown Sugar

I hate dry cake. I refuse to eat it – it’s just not worth it! That’s why I love this cake. The brown sugar makes it soooo moist and tender, which can be hard to get in a yellow cake. Even the edges are a little like a brownie, not dry at all. I love frosting it with chocolate buttercream but you could use any kind of frosting you like.

What does brown sugar do to a cake?

If you use brown sugar in a cake instead of the usual white sugar, you’ll notice that it’s more tender and moist and is darker in color. You can see from the photos that this definitely isn’t a “white cake.” Not apologizing. The flavor is absolutely amazing.

Brown Sugar Cake Ingredients

Here’s a list of everything you’ll need to make this brown sugar cake and chocolate frosting to ice it. Scroll down to the recipe card for more ingredient details! 

  • Salted butter
  • White sugar
  • All-purpose flour
  • Kosher salt
  • Eggs
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
  • Brown sugar (I like dark brown, light is also fine!)
  • Sour cream
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Powdered sugar
  • Heavy cream
adding vanilla bean paste to eggs, then adding brown sugar.
(Vanilla bean paste: also never a bad idea.)

How to make Yellow Cake (with Brown Sugar)

The method for this brown sugar yellow cake is different from your average yellow cake.

  1. First you boil some water and butter together (that’s part of what gives it that fudgy texture).
  2. 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.

the bottom of a chocolate frosted 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 on a cake.
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…)

Homemade Yellow Cake with Chocolate Icing variations

Want to switch things up? I’m ok with that. Here are some ideas:

  • Skip the chocolate. I have to admit, I’m not sure why you would, but there are other frostings. Some of my favorites include Maple Frosting with Pecans, Buttercream Frosting, and Cream Cheese Frosting
  • No vanilla bean paste, no problem. Use vanilla extract instead – it will still taste great! Feel free to substitute some of the vanilla extract with almond or coconut extract. 
  • Use less frosting. I’m a little frosting obsessed; you may not be. You can frost the cake with less frosting than this recipe calls for and refrigerate the rest for another time.
yellow cake with chocolate frosting.

Brown Sugar Cake Recipe Tips

This cake is one of my absolute favorites. Here are a few tips to make sure it turns out perfectly!

  • Help the layers release easily from the pans. After greasing and flouring the cake pans, trace the bottom of the cake pans onto parchment paper, cut out the circles, and put them in the bottom of the pan.
  • Remove air bubbles from the unbaked layers.  Before baking, drop the cakes on the counter from a few inches above to get out some of the air bubbles.
  • Make the cake easier to frost. After baking and cooling to room temperature, wrap the cakes securely in plastic wrap and freeze for about an hour or 2.
  • Keep your cake plate clean. 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.

Serving Yellow Cake

Make sure you have plenty of milk on hand, or ice cream. Cake is rich and you need something cold and creamy to go with it!

Storing Homemade Yellow Cake with Chocolate Icing

This cake can be kept on the counter for 3-4 days. I don’t imagine it’ll last much longer than that, but you can freeze individual slices! Wrap them well in plastic wrap and store in a ziplock bag. Voila, you can have your cake and eat it later too.

brown sugar 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!

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.

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

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

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

Cherry Garcia Cake from Kitchen Fun with My Three Sons

Lemon Pistachio Cake from Scientifically Sweet

Hawaiian Sunset Cake from Momma Lew

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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!

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  1. This was delicious! I made this cake for my daughter’s 30th birthday and it was a big hit! I am now making it for my other daughter’s 29th birthday with a couple of modifications. I am adding cinnamon and reducing the brown sugar to a half a cup and a half a cup white sugar. I am making the frosting with cinnamon instead of cocoa. She wanted a “cinnabon” flavor. This is a great and solid recipe! The second one was easier than the first because I’ve gotten used to the new way of boiling the water and butter together, mixing the baking soda and baking powder with the eggs, etc. I used coconut oil to grease the pans because I didn’t have cooking spray or shortening. It worked great! I never heard of vanilla bean paste, I love it!

  2. The cake itself is ok. Texture is slightly chewy. I missed by hand so it’s not overmixed. Cake recipe says 1/2 tsp salt but 3/4 tsp in recipe directions. I used 1/2.

    The frosting was very salty. I think 1/2 tsp salt was too much. Ended up scraping it off the cake. Kids didn’t like it either. Was a shame to waste 3 sticks of butter on frosting that’s in the trash.

    I’m pretty disappointed in this recipe. Won’t be making it again.

  3. Made this cake last night. Was skeptical of the amount of liquid and that was confirmed with a cake that had little structure, just collapsed and fell apart. Next time I’ll reduce the water by at least half.

  4. It was absolutely DELIOCIOUS!!!!!! Loved it!! It was a big hit with everyone. Will definitely make it again. Thank you.

  5. I baked this cake a month or so ago and it was so delicious. It came out very moist and had a very distinct flavor that only brown sugar can give; which I love so much. We all enjoyed it very much. I’ll be baking this one again real soon. Thanks for sharing so many delicious recipes.

    Michelle B

  6. I followed the recipe exactly, down to the vanilla paste. I love frosting but even I thought it was too much. It was good , it was just overwhelming the cake. Maybe if there was more cake (mine turned out a little bit on the slim side) the frosting would have balanced out better. The cake itself was good too, very moist, a nice flavor but not yellow – I would describe it as leaning toward caramel but not quite. A nice rich flavor. I ended up scaping off most of the frosting, warming the cake slightly in the microwave (I had to refrigerate the cake as I am a one person household). Very tasty and comforting. The cake would be good plain, sort of a coffee cake without topping – very rich flavor. Thanks for the recipe!

  7. Sadly did not turn out like the photo except for the icing.  I followed the recipe exactly, trying hard not to over mix.  It had great flavour but was too dense, not fluffy and definitely not golden which I suspect came from the dark brown sugar I used.  
    My guests liked the flavour but just so.  Definitely disappointed.

  8. Do you have to add the baking soda and baking powder to the eggs? Will the recipe work ok with it added to the flour instead?

    1. Hi Paula! I would say this cake has a pretty average batter consistency. How did your cake turn out?

  9. I just saw that lovely cake, and tried to PIN it, but like someone else in the comments, I couldn’t either.

  10. I can’t wait to make your “Brown Sugar Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting.” It’s pretty hot here in Maryland 89-90 degrees, so this Cake will have to wait until the Fall. I have a strict rule:
    If the A/C is on the Oven is off. This is going to be the first item going in my Oven when the A/C is turned off.

    You can never have to much Frosting, especially if it’s Chocolate. My Husband and Son say I get too carried away with the Frosting, so I tell them, don’t eat it.

    I love Vanilla Bean Paste, I discovered it a few years ago & have no less than 3 Jars on hand at all times.

    I love reading your Blog, it puts a smile on my face, many times I start laughing. Thanks for the Great Recipes, I’m sure I’ll be making many of them.

    1. Thank you so much for reading Melinda, I’m so happy to have you here! And I like your style, if you think it’s too much frosting, don’t eat it :) I hope it has cooled off enough that you are ready to make this cake soon! It’s a winner!

  11. I am looking for a brown sugar/yellow cake that I can use for whoopie pies. Do you think the texture of this cake would survive as a “cookie” to be used with ice cream in the middle?

    1. Hi Donna! I’m not really sure what you mean? Are you thinking of baking the cake and then cutting it into cookie shape? The cake is quite moist and I’m not sure how it would hold up.

  12. I just made this cake. I filled it with a light fluffy homemade caramel cream cheese buttercream, and frosted it with chocolate frosting. My family said this cake is at THE TOP OF THE LIST. I can’t believe how soft, moist and flavorful this cake was. THANK YOU.

    1. Caramel cream cheese buttercream!!! That sounds totally epic Susie!! I’m so glad the cake was moist and delicious. Thanks for the comment and review!

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