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. OMG! I’m dying here. Pretty much just drowned in a puddle of my own drool. Must. Make. CAKE! There must be something to celebrate…Heck, chocolate cake does not need a special day…

  2. Maybe I shouldn’t even be asking this question … lol. Would it totally ruin it to make cupcakes with this recipe? Is it just better as a cake? My 3 year wants a chocolate cake for his birthday and I’d love to try this, but when it comes to kids birthdays, I’m more inclined to make cupcakes for the mess factor.

    1. Guess what- I’ll be totally honest and tell you I cheated and didn’t use dutch-process 🙂 I used Hershey’s Special Dark, and the flavor was great!

      1. If you want to order some really high quality spices and baking ingredients, try penzeys.com! Or, see if they have a retail outlet near you. I order from them about 2-3 times a year and stock up on stuff like cocoa powder, cinnamon, whole nutmegs, garam masala, and a bunch of other things. Their Dutch process cocoa is amazing in baking.

    2. Hershey’s Special Dark is a mixture of natural and Dutch-processed cocoa so Sara didn’t completely cheat. I have made many CI recipes that called for Dutch-processed cocoa, and mine always turned out great just using the Dutch-processed cocoa that is available in the bulk bins at Winco.

  3. I’m having guests for dinner tomorrow. This would be perfect! By the way, what size round pans did you use Sara?

    Thank for posting this!

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