Three Layer Chocolate Cake
Mess Level: High
Yield: 12 Servings
Prep Time: 2 hr
Cook Time: 35 min
For the Dry:
- 3 Cups Cake Flour
- 3 Cups Sugar
- 1 ½ Cup Cocoa Powder
- 1 Tablespoon Baking Soda
- 1 ½ teaspoons Baking Powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons Coarse, Kosher Salt
For the Wet:
- 3 Eggs at Room Temp
- 1 ½ Cups Sour Cream or Plain Greek Yogurt
- 2 Cups Hot Coffee or Water
- 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
- ½ Cup Grapeseed or Vegetable Oil
For the Buttercream:
- 1 ½ Cups (3 Sticks) Softened Butter
- 8 oz Softened Cream Cheese
- 1 ½ Cups Cocoa Powder
- 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
- ½ teaspoon Coarse, Kosher Salt
- 6 Cups Powdered Sugar
Note: See the "Shit You Should Know" section below the recipe for how to make your own cake flour.
Note: Pro tip - keep a large, damp kitchen towel handy to cover the mixer with when beating in dry ingredients. It keeps the mess in the mixer and you can use it to wipe the counter after.
- Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients together and sift 2-3 times.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer add the sour cream and beat in the eggs till well combined. Beat in the vanilla extract and oil.
- Add about ¼ of your dry ingredients (to the wet mixture), cover the mixer with a towel, and beat on low speed till combined. Then add about ¼ of your hot coffee and beat till combined.
- Repeat until all the dry ingredients and the coffee is mixed in. Scrape the sides if necessary.
- Grease the bottom and sides of three, 9-inch cake pans with butter or cooking spray. Cut out rounds of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan and then grease the top of the parchment as well. This makes for an easy, cake removal.
- Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake for 27-35 minutes or until the tops are springy and a toothpick comes out clean, or with a few crumbs. Don’t overbake or your cake will be dry!
- Allow the cakes to cool on a cooling rack for 30 minutes. Then, one at a time, run a knife around the edges and invert the cake onto a plate, peel off the parchment and flip it back over onto the cooling rack. Repeat with the other two layers and allow the cakes to cool completely.
- Meanwhile, make the buttercream. Combine your butter, cream cheese, salt and vanilla in the clean bowl of the stand mixer. Beat until combined, then beat in the cocoa powder. Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time and cover the mixer with a damp towel when beating it in.
- If it’s too thick you can add 2-4 Tablespoons of cream or milk to thin it. Taste and adjust as needed. Leave the buttercream at room temperature or it will be too firm to spread.
- To frost the cake use a cardboard round or pick the final destination you want the cake to sit on. Keep in mind you’ll want it to fit in the fridge. Dab a quarter-sized bit of frosting in the middle to hold your bottom cake round in place.
- Cut the tops off the cake rounds until they are all level, then place one down on the quarter-sized frosting dot.
- Grab a second bowl and scoop a few cups of frosting into it. This will be used to do your crumb coat so we don’t get crumbs in the final frosting batch.
- Pipe, or spread frosting almost to the edges of the first layer. Set down the second round and repeat, then repeat with the 3rd round. Frost the whole cake with a very thin layer that you can almost see through. Then chill the cake for 30 minutes or until the frosting is firm.
- Using your clean frosting, frost the whole cake again with a generous coating this time. You can use an offset spatula, a piping bag, or just a table knife. Best served at room temperature! Enjoy!
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How do I make my own cake flour?
- It's not corny to make your own cake flour...
Start with all purpose flour. For every cup of flour you need, remove two tablespoons. Replace with two Tablespoons of cornstarch. Sift the mixture several times. Tada! Cake flour!
Why do the eggs need to be at room temperature?
- Little did you know eggs are finicky beasts!
It helps you get a better cake texture! To warm them quickly, place the eggs in warm water for 15 minutes. P.S the world will still go round if you use cold eggs.
Is the hot coffee really necessary?
- Is coffee ever not necessary?
Adding a hot liquid helps “bloom” the cocoa powder, giving you a richer flavor. This is why I have you alternate the dry ingredients with the hot coffee! It blooms the cocoa powder but you won’t scramble your eggs because the flour is a buffer.
Why does my baking powder need to be fresh?
- Don't break the cake!
If it’s not, it won’t cause any leavening and your cake will probably fall. To test if your baking powder is fresh put a small amount in a bowl and add boiling water. It should bubble immediately. If it doesn’t, throw it out and buy fresh.
Can I substitute anything in this recipe?
- Did you not read about my previous cake disasters?
I would find a different recipe that uses the ingredients you want instead of trying to make this one work for it. After all, if you’re going to all the work of making a cake you want it to turn out!
Ramblings of a Line Cook
Over the years I’ve had a few interesting experiences trying to make chocolate cakes. I grew up on the Best Choice boxed mix that you stirred eggs, oil, and water into and poured into a glass casserole dish. This concoction was the go-to for birthdays, holidays, or just when the random need for chocolate cake struck you.
I never got into the cake decorating frenzy that seems to strike so many kids at a young age. I always considered myself more of a cook than a baker and embraced the “I can’t bake, I’m too impatient” attitude for many a year.
Occasionally I would try to make a cake, like the one time my older sister Sadie and I had just moved into a new apartment in Colorado, and I found Pioneer Woman’s recipe for chocolate sheet cakes, but I didn’t’ exactly follow the recipe and decided it’d probably be fine baked in a deeper cake dish. It was not fine. In fact, the cake never set, it bubbled up and over the dish and into the bottom of the oven in a sticky, gooey, lava-like mess.
Maybe it’s been all the time spent scrubbing cake batter out of ovens but over time my disregard for the rules of cake-making has grown much less. So this past week, when the weather hit 80 degrees and I had the notion that I’d like to sit on my patio and have a slice of chocolate cake and a glass of champagne, I went to work.
I researched different recipes, studying the effects of yogurt vs buttermilk, adding hot water or not, using cake flour vs all purpose, and if I really needed to have my eggs at room temperature. And my, oh my… This cake is worth every second of effort. The crumb is moist, the flavor is deep and rich, and the buttercream is so good I ate it for breakfast.