perfect chocolate cake.

Happy Birthday to…


Yes, me.

Meaning, yes, of course I made my own birthday cake!

I mean, helllllo, I’m not going to just let someone buy me some store-bought cake, no sir-ee.

It was my birthday and I wanted chocolate and I wanted it the same way as I remember it from childhood.

Hey, at least I’m a girl who knows what she wants.

I’ve actually been dying to make this cake ever since my mom shipped me a HUGE package of super-nice Lindt chocolate bars in the mail to use for baking.

She believes all other chocolate has no integrity, so I don’t fight with her.

I mean, this chocolate cake is serious business.

We’re talking three (yes, 3) layers of chocolate cake filled with a traditional whipped cream filling and smothered all over in a chocolate buttercream frosting.

In. My. Mouth.

My mom has been making this cake for my siblings’ birthdays our entire life, so it was really special to see my niece and nephew enjoying it as well.

According to my niece, this cake was the best part of our dinner.

I think I’d agree with her!

Give it a try for your next dinner party or birthday celebration for a friend or family member.

Or, you can be like me and make it for your OWN birthday.

More power to you.

I left mine perfectly plain, but feel free to get creative with the decorations.

If you want to write out “Happy Birthday …” in letters, just make extra whipped cream filling and pipe it out with a pastry bag fit with a narrow icing tip. And practice first before you pipe! 😉

peaches & cake

Perfect Chocolate Cake
Recipe from my mom.
Original recipe slightly adapted from McCall’s Cooking School Cookbook by Mary Eckley and Mary J. Norton, 1976
Cake decoration ideas from Chocolate from the Cake Mix Doctor, by Anne Byrn, 2001
Serves 12-14

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Notes on your mise en place: Take eggs and salted butter out to room temperature before starting and sift the flour before measuring.



1        cup unsifted unsweetened cocoa (Hershey’s, packed)
2       cups boiling water
2 ¾ cups sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
2       teaspoons baking soda
½     teaspoon salt
½     teaspoon baking powder
1        cup butter (salted Land O’ Lakes is best), room temperature
2 ½ cups granulated sugar
4       eggs, room temperature
1 ½  teaspoons vanilla extract

FILLING *Make extra filling if you wish to decorate the cake with a message.

1        cup heavy cream, chilled
¼     cup unsifted confectioners’ sugar
1        teaspoon vanilla extract


6       oz good-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces* (*Lindt White Label Swiss Bittersweet Chocolate is best. Good chocolate is key in this recipe. You’ll need to buy two of the 3.5 oz bars. Try looking for the Lindt White Label at more upscale grocery stores, or buy online on Amazon. Callebaut Dark is a good substitute.)
½     cup half-and-half
1        cup butter, room temperature
2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted


Preheat oven to 350°F.

In medium bowl, combine cocoa with boiling water, mixing with wire whisk until smooth.  Let cool completely.

Sift the flour and then measure it out. Sift the flour again with the soda, salt, and baking powder.

Trace and cut out three 9” circles of parchment paper. Grease three 9-by-1½-inch layer-cake pans and line each with parchment paper. Grease the paper and lightly flour the bottom and edges of each pan. Shake off excess flour.

In large bowl of electric mixer cream the butter and sugar together at high speed. Add in eggs, one at a time, and then vanilla, scraping bowl occasionally, until light—about 4 minutes or until creamy.  At low speed, beat in flour mixture (in fourths), alternately with cocoa mixture (in thirds), beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Do not overbeat.

Divide evenly into pans; smooth top.  Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until surface springs back when gently pressed with fingertip and a toothpick inserted 1-2 inches from the edge comes out clean.  Cool in pans 10 minutes.  Carefully loosen sides with a spatula; invert to a wire rack and remove from pans; remove parchment paper; let cool completely on racks.

At this point, if desired, the cake rounds may be carefully wrapped in plastic wrap and placed in the freezer until ready to frost. It is actually much easier to frost a frozen cake than it is to frost a freshly-baked cake.

Mix cream with sugar and vanilla with a hand mixer or stand mixer; refrigerate. *Make extra filling if you wish to decorate the cake with a message.

Sift the confectioners’ sugar; set aside.

In a medium high-quality saucepan or double boiler, combine chocolate pieces, half and half, and butter; stir over medium heat until smooth. Be careful not to burn. Remove from heat.

Transfer chocolate mixture to the bowl of a mixer. Using a wire whisk attachment, add confectioners’ sugar incrementally in stages until all mixed (this makes it less bubbly and lumpy). Cool the frosting for a few minutes in the refrigerator before icing or until it can hold its own shape. (If you don’t do this, the frosting will just goop down the side of the cake. But don’t refrigerate too long, or it will firm up too much.)

To assemble cake: On cake plate, place a layer, top side down; spread with half of the cream filling.  Place second layer, top side down; spread with rest of cream filling.  Place third layer, top side up. 

To frost: With spatula or wide frosting knife, frost sides first, covering the whipped cream filling; use the rest of frosting on top, swirling decoratively.  Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

To decorate:

  • Spell it out: Pipe on a “Happy Birthday” greeting by making extra whipping cream filling and applying with a pastry bag fitted with a narrow tip. Don’t own a pastry bag? Place icing in a clean Ziploc bag. Seal, snip off a tiny corner, and squeeze out the frosting. Practice writing first on a piece of waxed paper. Add birthday candles in a decorative fashion around the letters.
  • Decorative pastry bag frosting: Make extra chocolate frosting.  Using a pastry bag fitted with a star or flower tip, pipe dots of frosting in a circle around the base and top of the cake.
  • Fluffy frosting: Fluffy looks more festive than the sleek silky glaze. Apply it first with a metal icing spatula, then create a decorative effect by spreading more frosting on in circles with the spatula, as though you were waxing a car. Or, for a different effect, spread on more frosting and with the back of a teaspoon make small indentations or grooves in the frosting.
  • Fresh flowers: Surround the base of the cake with a necklace of blossoms or rose petals, or poke a small hole in the top of the cake and stick a single stem or a cluster of sweetheart roses, hibiscus, honeysuckle, day lilies, pansies, lilacs, roses, tulips, peonies, or violets.
  • Add more chocolate: Grate chocolate with a cheese slicer or make chocolate curls with a vegetable peeler.

To serve: Let cake sit out at room temperature for at least 1 hour before serving. To cut, use a thin-edged sharp knife; slice with a sawing motion.

To store: Store this cake in a cake saver or lightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.


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