The girls in our house have always grown up knowing how to bake and cook. We could tackle any of your basic desserts and snacks, but didn’t really venture too far into the unknown. And for me, that included cakes.
Now, I know my mom made us cakes for our birthdays, but I never EVER remember watching her doing it (save for a photo I have of us mixing cake batter together when I was, I think, 5?) or even doing it myself. This has always been a mystery to me, and has left me feeling completely inadequate in regards to cake baking (side note – I’ve seen cakes my mom makes now, and I am reminded just how awesome they are – maybe she wanted me to figure it out on my own? :D).
When our kids were old enough to appreciate having cakes for their birthdays, I started baking cupcakes – hence the cupcake craze I started in our family. But this year, for my 5 year olds’ birthday, he didn’t want cupcakes. No, no no no no, he wanted a cake. A chocolate cake. Gulp.
This was a problem because I’ve only ever made cakes from a mix (IE Duncan or Betty) and they always, ALWAYS flopped. I am still in the dark as to why. But they never worked. So I knew I wasn’t going to go that route, even if it was simpler. Plan B – cake from scratch. Even scarier. However, I had a good recipe that I knew was relatively fail-proof, so I decided to give it a shot!
To quell the fears of anyone else out there who may be struggling with cake making or leery of giving it a try because it seems too daunting of a task, let me put your mind at ease. Given the right recipe, a little bit of time and some good information, YOU CAN DO IT TOO! Follow along with me as I walk you through the basics of making an easy, gorgeous chocolate cake.
Died and Gone to Heaven Chocolate Layer Cake
(this is the cake recipe I used – it is a nice, deep chocolate, not too sweet or rich, but you could of course use any cake recipe you want!)
- 3 cups sugar
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
- 1 cup strong brewed coffee, cooled
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 4 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting Filling
(my go-to chocolate cream cheese recipe from Glorious Treats)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick, 8 tbsp) butter, set at room temp for 10 minutes, but still cool
- 8 oz cream cheese, straight from the fridge
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 4 cups powdered icing (confectioners’) sugar
- 1-4 tbsp heavy cream, whipping cream or milk
Use at once or keep refrigerated. (This frosting will keep well in the refrigerator for several days, but you may need to re-beat it for the best texture.)
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
(I do not generally like buttercream frosting, but THIS one from Savory Sweet Life is UH-MAY-ZING! not too sweet, not too granular, just right)
- 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks or 1/2 pound), softened (but not melted!)
- 3 1/2 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 4 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
After the cake has cooled, it’s time to level it. This is the part that always freaked me out a bit, but once you do it, it really isn’t that difficult! Take a bread knife and lay it flat against the top of your cake.
Lightly pressing the flattened knife down into the cake, keep your other hand on top of the cake (just imagine it’s there and not holding the camera :D). Start cutting into the cake, cutting straight across. Keep trimming slightly until you have a nice, flat surface (or relatively flat, depending on how perfectionist you want to go). Repeat with the other layers.
To fill the cake, stack the bottom layer onto a nice cake plate. Put a nice big glob of filling on top, and using a spreader (or in my case, a butter knife :D) move the frosting around to a nice, even layer – however much or little you want to put on is fine. Just remember it’s a 3-layer cake!
If it turns out your layers aren’t as level as you thought, don’t panic! Just leave the gap alone or fill it with a little more filling at the edges. (As you can see, mine isn’t exactly perfect. But it works!)
Repeat with the other 2 layers. Once the cake is filled, it’s time to do the crumb coat!
One of the most difficult parts of making a decorated cake is the icing. The crumbs end up getting stuck in the icing on top and making it look pretty awful if you ask me! The trick to avoiding this is doing a crumb coat. And it’s just what it sounds like – you want to coat the crumbs so they stick to the cake, and not your knife or icing!
Put a glob (I love that word :D) of frosting on top of your cake. Spread it around in a VERY THIN layer to just cover the cake, top and sides. Take care to ensure you don’t scrape crumbs into the bowl of frosting – put more icing on with a separate spatula.
Once the cake sets, you can proceed to finish frosting the cake.
…until the surface is covered with no patches and is relatively smooth.
Now comes a neat little trick I learned! You can certainly skip this if you’d rather not, but I thought it was neat. Put your cake back into the fridge or cold storage to set again – about 20 minutes, or until the icing does not come off on your finger when you touch it.
It actually ended up with more of a pattern than I wanted, but everyone thought it looked pretty cool in the end.
Decorate the top of your cake however you would like – stars, flowers, roses, writing.
Then slice and serve!