The Chocolate Cake and Frosting Bake Off: Hershey’s Vs. Barefoot Contessa & Martha Stewart

In one corner we have the Hershey’s Chocolate Cake with Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Frosting.

In the other corner we have the Barefoot Contessa’s Chocolate Cake paired with Martha Stewart’s Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting.

And the winner is…


….both, really.

So sorry I can’t give you a clear winner. Out of 20 birthday guests enjoying these cakes for my nephew’s party, the crowd’s favorites were evenly split! I was really hoping for an identifiable winner, but alas, that was not to be had.

What I can offer you, though, are my observations and taste reactions:

I’ve tried several of Ina Garten of the Barefoot Contessa food show’s recipes and all have ranked successful. This cake ranks, too.

The Hershey’s recipe came out a winner on several blogger’s sites as well.

Both cake recipes are nearly identical. One uses milk; the other buttermilk. One uses 1 1/2 tsp. each of baking soda and baking powder; the other uses 2 tsp. and 1 tsp. One uses a bit more vanilla extract. One uses coffee, too. And those are the only differences. Both tasted moist, sweet, and had plentiful chocolate flavor.

I found the Hershey’s recipe to be less crumbly than Ina’s cake after baking, which was beneficial when coating it with frosting. I didn’t even need a crumb coating to frost that one, but I did for Ina’s cake (definitely check out Zoe Bakes for her tutorials on how to frost cakes).

The Hershey’s frosting is composed of A LOT of powdered sugar–3 cups–making it ultra sweet. And the cocoa makes it ultra chocolate-y. It spread easily.  I liked that I didn’t need to refrigerate the cake after frosting it with this recipe. And it mixes up dark, so it actually looks like chocolate. No need to use a mixer on this one–just melt and mix in one pot! That’s a big plus. And it takes only minutes…very quick.

The Swiss Meringue Buttercream frosting is ultra smooth and silky and creamy. The sweet factor is subtle, making this one suitable if you aren’t a big fan of overly sugary frosting. It uses 4 sticks of butter! But that is why it comes out so silky and creamy. Melted chocolate is added at the end, but the ton of butter makes the brown coloring very light, and I think it isn’t nearly as stunning as the dark color of the Hershey’s frosting. It does pipe nicely, though, for decorations. And if you are masterful at frosting a cake (which I’m still working on), this one can be made super smooth. Cakes frosted with this recipe need refrigeration (otherwise the butter in the frosting gets all melty and goopy), and you need to take it out of the fridge about 30+ minutes prior to serving; if not, the frosting will be cold and slightly hard. It does take awhile to mix it all up but the final frosting is worth the effort.

Although both cakes and both frostings have pluses, my personal favorites are the Hershey’s recipes. I love the ease, the sweetness, the strong chocolate flavor, the dark color. This one is a true chocolate lover’s cake. And if you check out the website with the recipe, it says you can bake this up as cupcakes, in a 13x9x2 pan cake, or in a bundt pan. Very versatile.

These two cakes were only my 4th and 5th attempts at layered cakes with frosting. I’m so excited to just have the cakes come out of the pan in one piece. My secret is the Wilton’s Cake Release product, which can be found at Michael’s. Prior to that discovery, to my dismay the cakes always broke into pieces and I wasn’t able to frost and layer. Sooooooo agravating!

And I finally invested in a cake spatula and a rotating cake stand. Both of those make frosting the cakes much much easier. At not too much expense, either–especially if you use Michael’s coupons.

Hershey’s Chocolate Cake and Frosting

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  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup Hershey’s cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water


(I increased the original recipe by half since I wanted a thicker layer of frosting between the cake layers and around the whole cake)

  • 1 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarin
  • 1 cup Hershey’s cocoa (I used 1/2 regular and 1/2 dark)
  • 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 7 tbsp. milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract



  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans (or use Wilton’s Cake Release; I found it at Michael’s).
  2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.
  3. Add milk, oil, eggs, and vanilla; beat on medium speed with mixer for 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in boiling water. Batter will be thin. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  5. Bake 30-35 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire cooling racks. Cool completely.
  6. Frost and decorate as desired.
  7. Store at room temperature until ready to serve.


  1. Melt butter.
  2. Sift cocoa to eliminate lumps, then stir into butter.
  3. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, mixing to a spreading consistency. Add a small amount of additional milk if needed.
  4. Stir in vanilla.

Yield: About 2 cups frosting.

SOURCE: adapted from but originally found on Brown-Eyed Baker

Ina Garten’s Chocolate Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

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  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra large eggs, room temperature (I used 3 large eggs; you can place eggs from fridge in hot water for a couple minutes to get them to room temp)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot coffee or 1 cup boiling water + 1 tsp. espresso powder


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two 8 inch x 2 inch round cake pans (I used 9 inch): line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans (or use Wilton’s Cake Release; I found it at Michael’s).
  2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined.
  3. In another bowl or large measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla; gently whisk.
  4. With mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine. Use a spatula to scrape sides and bottom of bowl to catch any pesky flour mixture hiding below. Batter will be thin.
  5. Pour batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack to completely cool.
  6. When cooled, frost cake.

SOURCE: Cake: (Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa food show)

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

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  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp. sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • for chocolate buttercream: 4 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled (use a high-quality brand, such as Callebut or Scharfenberger, for maximum flavor; I found Scharfenberger at Whole Foods)


  1. Combine eggs whites, sugar, and salt in the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).
  2. Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 8-10 minutes.
  3. With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter two tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. If frosting looks soupy or curdled, that’s okay; just keep mixing and it will come together.
  4. Once all butter has been added, whisk in vanilla. If making a chocolate variation, fold in 4 1/2 ounces melted and cooled semisweet chocolate along with vanilla. Switch to the paddle attachment and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 3-5 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula; continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth.
  5. Optional: To tint buttercream, first reserve some for toning down the color, if necessary. Add gel paste a drop at a time to the remaining buttercream (Americolor is my favorite brand and I buy it at Classic Cake Decorations in Garden Grove or Cookin’ Stuff in Torrance, but Michael’s sells another brand as well). Blend after each addition with the mixer using the paddle attachment or a flexible spatula until desired shade is achieved.
  6. Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to three days or freeze up to one month. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed again, about 5 minutes (expect the soupy, curdled look again–keep mixing and it will soon smooth out).

Yield: about 5 cups

SOURCE: Martha Stewart and Annie’s Eats

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6 thoughts on “The Chocolate Cake and Frosting Bake Off: Hershey’s Vs. Barefoot Contessa & Martha Stewart

  1. Ina’s cake is definately the best. Easy to make andsuper moirt. The frosting needs a bit of work but its mild sweetness is perfect. It does not overpower the cake.

  2. Maria, thanks for joining the cake extravaganza – I am simply blown away by all the fantastic cakes – and extremely hungry! Cheers

  3. This is my first time making the Hershey’s Chocolate cake. My sister in law makes this cake from time to time and I love it so easy to make & Simply delicious ! Turned out great , didn’t know if I should refrigerate it right away , but I stumbled on your website and low and behold u made the same cake and said that there is no need to refrigerate it right away ! I have it out right now at room temp will refrigerate it in a couple of days if it’s not all gone !!!

  4. I have made the Hershey’s cake for years. But I substitute hot coffee instead of the water. It makes the cake taste much better. Try it.

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