Old-Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake

CATEGORIES: Cakes and Cupcakes, Sara

I don’t need to do a lot of explaining today since I sang my chocolate cake praises in my last post.  If you missed it, this is the cake recipe that goes with this chocolate frosting that I could eat plain from a bowl. The cake was on the cover of the “All-Time Best Recipes” Collector’s Edition from Cook’s Illustrated.  My one piece of advice is that you take the time to follow all of the steps as written.  What I’ve found with Cook’s Illustrated is that every minute step and process has a very specific purpose.  These people try a recipe 428 different ways in order to get the best result- so I try not to stray too much- especially when it comes to baking!   This is just a great, basic, perfectly chocolaty, moist, delicious old-fashioned cake.  I say we just get right to it, don’t you?  Oh, one tip first:  When I’m embarking on a big project like this (not that a cake is a huge project, but it does take time.  And lots of dishes.)  I often make the cakes one day in advance.  When completely cooled, wrap well with plastic wrap and then place in an airtight container.  Either store overnight, or pop in the freezer for a few days (or weeks).  Totally cuts down on time and dishes the day you will be making and eating your delicious cake!

Alrighty then.  Unsweetened chocolate.  If you are like me, this will instantly take you back to your childhood when you sneaked into the pantry and assumed it was semi-sweet.  Mean Mom, very mean.

Use a small glass or metal bowl to create a double boiler.  This pudding-like mixture is one of the tricks to the great texture of the cake.  We’ve got the melted chocolate in there, as well as some cocoa powder and hot water.

It will start to thicken, and if you let it- it becomes quite thick.
But then you add some sugar

And it magically becomes soft and smooth and glossy.
I love magic of the chocolate variety.

Set that aside to cool and you’ll whisk up some eggs until they’re nice and frothy.  The recipe calls for a stand mixer,
but you can certainly make this with a hand mixer as well.

In goes more sugar, because, well, we’re making a cake here people.

And then that chocolate pudding-ish stuff

And then some very soft butter.  Seriously, soft.  Not melted, just super duper soft.  Apparently I have no pictures of super soft butter, but trust me.  It’s in there.

Mix up those dry ingredients

and alternate them with the buttermilk + vanilla.  Yes, it’s important to alternate!  I have a hunch there’s people who ignore that step in baking, and it definitely affects the outcome.
If you dump everything in at once, you’re just making a big chocolate muffin 🙂

In the batter goes to the pan and then onto the oven.  Here’s a trick:  When you are inverting a warm cake to a cooling rack, place a paper towel down first.  It will still let the air circulate, but it prevents the cake from sticking to the rack.

Once those babies are cooled you can frost.  Place your first layer on your serving platter or cake plate and slather some frosting on top.

Place the other layer on top and try to pretend it’s not just a huge whoopie pie wanting to be eaten right then and there.

From there, I don’t try to be pretty, I just start slathering.  Place a large amount on top so that you always have something to spread around.
This way you don’t really need a crumb layer.

Try to get everything evenly coated- seriously, doesn’t have to be pretty yet!  It’s more important that the frosting is evenly distributed.  See?  Messy cake.

Once you are to that point, you can use an off-set spatula to gently smooth out the sides.  It helps to run the spatula under very hot water first and dry it off before spreading.

For the top, I just use a spatula, or even a spoon, and make sort of a figure eight pattern to swirl it around.  We’re going for sort of a casual elegance here.  Shabby-Chic.   Casual Friday, but with heels.  Catch my drift?

Then you can cut into that sucker…

And I will not judge you for making moaning sounds when taking your first bite.
And possibly every bite thereafter.


THE Best Chocolate Cake you'll ever eat


  1. I always have trouble making a from scratch cake because of altitude. Do I need to change anything for my cake to look like yours when I make it in Denver?

  2. What is the trick to not getting a cake to fall? I have never been able to make a cake that didn’t fall- not even the box kind with the high altitude directions. Any ideas? I do live in Utah, so I’m at a high altitude. But, I think my cakes fell in Texas, too.

    1. One thing I can think of is don’t open the oven within the first 20 minutes of baking – or really, at all, if possible, until you are close to the end of the baking time. When cooler air hits the part that is not done (usually the middle), it causes it to deflate. You may also want to try turning your oven off for the last 10 minutes or so of baking and letting it cool down slowly. That is totally off the top of my head, so you may want to double check it with the great encyclopedia of google :).

    2. You must never open the oven door during the critical baking time. That will cause a cake to fall EVERY time. Only open the oven door to perform the toothpick check at the END of the baking time. Hope this helps:)

  3. This looks divine…I will definitely be making it for a group of friends that we get together with every weekend. Question, though. Do you have any tricks to getting a cake out of the pan in one piece? I usually spray my pans with Pam and then dust with flour, and I still sometimes have trouble. Does butter work better than Pam?

    1. I’m totally cheap and not fancy at all, but I’ve found that buying some parchment paper and taking the time to cut out a circle (trace the pan) and put it in the bottom (I usually put some spray down, then the paper…it helps it stick, plus it’s extra lube, which can’t hurt) is worth the effort and money. That way you can run a knife around the sides before you turn it out and have extra insurance that the top (bottom?) won’t stick. Double non-stick insurance!

      1. A trick I learned from a friend who bakes cakes professionally…and I’ve NEVER had a problem since… mix together equal parts vegetable or canola oil, flour, and regular Crisco in an airtight container. Use a pastry brush to apply to the bottom and sides of any cake pan, bread pan, or brownie pan before adding the batter or dough. With cakes, you can also add the parchment circle on the bottom, if you’d like. Store in a cool, dry place. (Pantry) No need to refrigerate. It’s like baking magic!

    2. Yes Jen- generally butter and flour work a lot better than cooking spray and flour, or cooking spray alone. I also really like the cooking spray with flour in it- I use “Bakers Joy” and it works awesome.

    3. Jen-

      I use Pam For Baking and it works great. No need to flour or anything as it’s supposed to have flour in it. I have used it several times for cake and it is awesome and sooooo much easier!

    4. well usually what i do is just take the butter wrapper, n just wipe off the extra butter on the package itself onto the cake container.works fine

  4. Looks divine! I’m super curious to learn more about the alternating dry and wet ingredients. I see that in all sorts of recipes and I’ll admit I don’t often follow the rule. It all gets mixed together anyway. Why do you really need to alternate? . . . texture, taste- I don’t have a clue what the end result difference would be. Can you explain in more detail sometime?! Thanks!

    1. Yes Daisha, there’s a reason to alternate and it does in fact affect the texture of the finished product. That’s why in cakes you alternate and in muffins and quick breads you don’t. Always follow the directions in a recipe for best results!

  5. Um. Wow. My husband is a HUGE chocolate cake fan, especially that huge chocolate cake you get at Costco? Yeah, we have those often for birthdays around here. I may have to surprise the heck out of him and make THIS one for his birthday instead this year!

  6. Am I really the first comment? cRazY! This cake looks sooo good. My hubs only like chocolate cake and I’m always on the look out for a out-of-this-world chocolate cake. Can’t wait to try it out!

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