Chocolate Layer Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting


The Sweet Life

Published by Bulfinch Press

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

This is a classic American chocolate cake: moist, chocolatey, light, yet sumptuously buttery. It is great for birthdays and also wonderful baked as cupcakes.

NotesStorage: This cake will keep, covered and at room temperature, for 4 days. If it is very hot in your kitchen, store the cake, covered, in the refrigerator but serve it at room temperature.

Room-Temperature Eggs:

In most of my recipes I call for room-temperature eggs. There are two reasons for this.

First, room-temperature eggs potentially have more denatured proteins, which are more likely to interconnect with their neighboring proteins to form egg gels. These gels make a stronger batter.

Second, the emulsifiers in egg yolks, such as lecithin, are more effective in the cake or cookie batter at room temperature. Eggs are generally added to a batter after the butter has been whipped and aerated with sugar. Warm or room-temperature eggs, as opposed to cold eggs, are more likely to incorporate into the whipped butter, yielding a shiny, smooth mixture.

Emulsifiers are similar to fats and oils in molecular structure but are nonetheless defined differently. Lecithin, and all of the important emulsifiers in yolks, are phospholipids- they have two fatty acids attached to glycerol, and instead of a third fatty acid (as fats and oils have) they have a phosphate group. This phosphate group, unlike fatty acids (which are attracted to other fatty acids), is attracted to water. Emulsifiers such as lecithin function in cake batters by binding to both fat-based and water-based ingredients, mixing these otherwise unmixable molecules.

Emulsifiers encourage fat globules to mix with water-based ingredients (as opposed to conglomerating together, which fat tends to do which is why your salad dressing always separates) and intersperse more evenly in a batter. Warm, agitated fat globules are smaller than cold ones, which in turn makes them easier to intersperse in a batter. If the liquid substance of egg yolks adds subtle heat to a batter as opposed to cooling a batter, the batter will have smaller fat globules, and emulsifiers will be better able to do their job binding the otherwise unmixable fat globules and water in the batter together. The result is a shinier, stronger, more emulsified batter. (Get the batter too hot, though, and emulsifiers don’t work at all.)

Cooking Methodbaking


Total Timeunder 4 hours

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Coursedessert

Dietary Considerationhalal, kosher, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free, vegetarian

Equipmentelectric mixer

Mealdinner, tea


Taste and Texturebuttery, chocolatey, creamy, light, rich

Type of Dishcake, chocolate cake, chocolate dessert, dessert


  • 2 ounces chocolate (61 to 70 percent cocoa solids)
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 16 tablespoons (8 ounces) butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 3 whole eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 10 ounces milk chocolate
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • 16 tablespoons (8 ounces) butter, slightly chilled (around 60°F)
  • Stand mixer
  • Bain-marie (see Notes)
  • Two 9 × 2-inch round cake pans or 16 muffin tins


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and position the rack in the center of the oven. Grease and lightly flour two 9-inch cake pans or 16 muffin tins.

  2. Make a chocolate and cocoa syrup (see the Note on chocolate and water):

  3. Chop the chocolate into ½-inch pieces and combine with the cocoa in a medium-sized bowl. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil and gently whisk half of the hot water into the chopped chocolate. (The chocolate will begin to seize a bit.) Whisk in the remaining hot water and continue whisking until you have a shiny, thick, smooth chocolate syrup, 2 minutes. Add the vanilla extract. Set the syrup aside and allow it to come to room temperature.

  4. Cream the butter and incorporate the eggs (see the Note on creaming butter and "Room-temperature eggs" in the Notes section, below):

  5. Place the butter in the bowl of the stand mixer with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat on medium-high speed until the mixture becomes fluffy and almost white in color, 6 to 8 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the whole eggs one at a time, and continue to beat until they are fully incorporated. Add the egg yolk and beat until the batter looks smooth and glossy, 30 seconds.

  6. Assemble the dry ingredients.

  7. In a dry bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.

  8. Combine the flour and the chocolate syrup:

  9. With the mixer on slow speed, add half the dry mixture and beat until the flour is just incorporated. Add all the chocolate syrup and continue mixing on slow speed. Add the second half of the dry ingredients and beat until the batter is thoroughly combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula and briefly beat the batter on medium speed for 20 seconds.

  10. Bake the cake:

  11. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, evening out the batter with a rubber spatula. Run a paring knife in a single circular motion through the batter, 1 inch from the edge of the pan. This will help the cake to rise evenly. Bake the cakes until the center is set and a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, approximately 25 to 30 minutes. If you are making cupcakes, bake them for 20 to 25 minutes.

  12. Allow the cakes to cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes. Run a paring knife around the outer sides of the pan and invert the cakes onto cooling racks. Allow the cake layers to cool to room temperature.

  13. Make the frosting:

  14. In the bowl of a bain-marie, melt the chocolate. Remove the bowl from the heat. Heat the cream in a small saucepan. Add the hot cream to the melted chocolate, whisking continuously, to make a shiny, smooth ganache. Place the bowl of ganache in the refrigerator, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula every 5 minutes, until the ganache is slightly chilled, around 60°F.

  15. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, whisk the slightly chilled ganache together with the salt, powdered sugar, and the slightly chilled butter on medium speed for 4 to 6 minutes. The icing should hold the lines of a whisk, increase in volume, and become a much lighter shade of brown.

  16. Fill and ice the cake:

  17. If the individual cake layers domed a bit too much, use a long serrated knife to trim the peaked tops to even out the tops. Place the bottom layer on a decorative serving plate. Cut a 12-inch-long piece of wax paper into 4 equal strips. Place each strip under an edge of the cake to cover the rim of the plate, to prevent it from becoming coated with icing (see illustration, page 50). Using an offset spatula, smear a generous layer of icing over the bottom cake layer, making sure to smear an equal amount of icing around the outer edge of the layer. Place the second cake layer on top. Evenly ice the whole cake with the remaining icing. Once you have smoothed out all the rough edges, remove the wax paper strips from underneath the cake to reveal a spotless serving platter beneath your finished cake.

  18. Serving Suggestions:

  19. Serve this cake at room temperature with a glass of milk or a cup of tea. It needs no accompaniment. I also recommend using the Cinnamon Caramel Mousse--Karen Waltuck’s favorite--and the Sesame Milk Chocolate Mousse as delicious, lighter alternatives to the ganache filling.

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