Chocolate Cake – my first attempt at making a layer cake “from scratch”

Chocolate Cake – my first attempt at making a layer cake “from scratch”

Homemade Chocolate Layer Cake with Marshmallow FrostingI’ve made croissants, cookies, macarons, caneles, pies, tarte tatin, and many other sweet treats, but can you believe that until today I had never made a cake from scratch?

For the entirety of my life, if I wanted to bake a cake, I used a box mix. Honestly, I didn’t mind, because I rarely, if ever, craved cake. After all these years, I figured it was time to shed the box mix and make a from scratch cake. You know what? I enjoyed it. A lot. I may bake cakes more often. There is a sense of celebration when you make and frost a cake, a sense of community too, since cakes seem to come with the implication of serving/sharing with a group.

For this first attempt, I wanted my favorite cake, chocolate. But, in general, I hate frosting. I find it too much, too sweet, too rich. Imagine my excitement when I thumbed through Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my home to yours, and came across her Devil’s Food White-Out Cake. Here was an intense chocolate cake with a billowy, marshmallow frosting, perfect right? But as I read the description of the cake, I came across the description of the texture as more of a super-fudgy brownie, and I realized that for this first attempt, this wasn’t the cake for me. I wanted a classic American styled tender cake, so kept the frosting recipe and used it with the Cocoa-Buttermilk Birthday Cake out of the same book. Oh Dorie! You do know your cake!

Chocolate Cake with Marshmallow Frosting
Both recipes adapted from  Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my home to yours

For the Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

Start by preheating your oven to 350 F and prepping your cake pans. Dorie specifies 9×2-inch round cake pans, which I had. Butter the pans, dust them with flour, then line the bottoms with parchment paper and place on a baking sheet.

I was feeling good at this point. I had pans prepped and was ready to get baking. First, you whisk the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, and salt in a separate bowl. Then, in the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the butter with the paddle attachment on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for about two minutes, getting it fully blended into the butter. Then add your eggs/yolks, one at a time, beating for about a minute after each addition and scraping down as needed. Then beat in the vanilla. Turn the speed down and add 1/3 of the dry mixture, as soon as it is incorporated, add half the buttermilk. Again, once it is blended in, add the dry, then the buttermilk, then the last of the dry. Each time make sure it is incorporated before you add the next wet or dry. Now it’s time to turn off the mixer and turn to a spatula. Fold in the melted chocolate and divide the batter between the cake pans.

Folding in the melted chocolate.
Bake the cakes for 26 to 30 minutes, until the cakes feel springy and starts to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Lovely baked chocolate cakes
Here is where I ran into trouble. Dorie says to put the pan on a rack to cool for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge, unmold, pull off the parchment liner then invert and cool to room temperature.
Since I hadn’t ever baked a cake before. I followed those instructions, and was horrified when this happened…

The cakes were still much too warm to mess with. It unmolded fine, but as soon as I took off the parchment, it cracked and shattered. Which left me to go back and make another new cake. Fortunately this time, I waited until the cake was almost cool to unmold it. Much better results.

For the Frosting: If you’ve made an Italian meringue or Swiss Buttercream, you’ll recognize the process.
1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 large – I used the two left over from the cake and added store bought pasteurized egg whites, it worked out great.)
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup water
1 tblsp vanilla extract

Put the egg whites in your mixer bowl. Put the water, sugar and cream of tartar into a small pot, stir to combine, then bring to a boil, cover for 3 minutes, then uncover and allow it to continue to boil until the syrup is 242 F. While you are making the syrup, beat those egg whites and get them to firm peaks.

When the syrup is up to temp, keep the mixer going on medium speed and slowly add the hot syrup to the egg whites being mixed. Congratulations, you’ve just made an Italian meringue. Then add the vanilla and continue to mix until the the frosting is almost room temperature. It should look lovely and marshmallowy.

You can use the frosting immediately or pop it in the fridge until you are ready to frost the cakes.

Dorie tells you to cut each cake in half horizontally. That will give you three cake layers, and one layer to crumble for crumbs/decoration. Since I already had crumbs from my shattered cake, I kept it as two layers. Frost the cake using the frosting as filling between layers then sprinkle/press crumbs on the top and sides. I skipped the sides, since I was worried about my ability for neatness. Refrigerate the cake for one hour before serving.

I kept crumbs mostly on top, although you can press them all the way around.


And the flavor? The intensity of the cocoa (I used Valhrona) and melted bittersweet makes this cake very intensely chocolaty without being too sweet or dense. It is moist with a delicate crumb, and the frosting is light, airy, and a perfect match.