This is not a chocolate cake for the faint of heart.
It’s best if you don’t think about the amount of butter in this chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream from Valerie Gordon’s Sweet. No one wants to know that the secret to the incredibly delicate and tender cake crumb stems from the full-fat trinity of butter, sour cream, and heavy cream. In combination with a hefty dose of good bittersweet chocolate, Dutch-process cocoa, and strong coffee that serves to deepen the chocolate flavor (you can’t actually taste the coffee), this is the chocolate cake for anyone who really loves chocolate.
Making Valerie’s chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream is actually pretty simple. It’s true, you need small amounts of sour cream and heavy cream, you must chop quite a bit of chocolate (or spend extra to get the chips), and you need to brew strong coffee, but none of that is especially time-consuming. From start to in the oven, this cake took me about 25 minutes, which is around the same amount of time cookies take.
There’s no need for a stand-mixer here, as this is a whisk-then-fold style cake. You’ll melt your chocolate and butter together, then once that mixture has cooled, you’ll whisk in the remaining liquids: eggs, sour cream, and heavy cream (pre-whisked together). Once these are fully incorporated, you add the wet ingredients to the pre-sifted dry ingredients, and gently fold until everything is just combined.
I’m normally not a sifter, and I didn’t sift my dry ingredients when I made this cake. I regretted that choice. Because of the way this cake is made, I wound up with quite a few chunks of dry ingredients in my batter that didn’t fold in. Learn from my mistakes and take the time to sift first.
I find it easiest to weigh my bowl before starting a cake recipe and then at the end, then I divide the batter weight evenly into my cake pans. In this case, I had 455 grams in 2 8-inch cake pans and 375 grams in the third 8-inch cake pan (this is because I only had 2 8-inch cake pans, so I baked layer three after layers one and two). While I expected the cakes to take longer to cook based on Valerie’s instructions being for a 9-inch layer cake and specifying a 27-30 minute bake time, my layers were all done after 20 minutes in the oven.
It will take the cake layers several hours to cool in the pans. Don’t hurry the process, otherwise you’ll melt your buttercream! As buttercreams go, this chocolate buttercream is really simple. It is also incredibly rich and not overly butter-y tasting. Melt your chocolate, beat confectioners’ sugar into the butter, add some corn syrup for a beautiful glossy shine, plus a little salt and vanilla, then finally the melted (cooled) chocolate. That’s it. No fussing with Swiss or Italian or Ermine buttercream.
Even with the corn syrup (there’s just a little bit), Valerie’s chocolate butttercream is not overly sweet. With the hefty dose of bittersweet chocolate, the frosting successfully walks the line of barely sweetened at all. The Kosher salt helps to amplify the chocolate flavor; at about 1.5-2x the amount usually present in frostings, you can certainly taste that there’s salt in this frosting, but it’s not overly salty. In spite of the quantity of butter in the frosting, the butter doesn’t dominant the flavor of the frosting either. I guess what I’m saying is – this buttercream is amazingly well-balanced. Plus, this frosting is exceptionally easy to spread; it’s supple, soft, and doesn’t pull at the cake.
While the recipe in Sweet states that the chocolate buttercream recipe yields 5 cups and you only need 3 cups to frost your cake, I found I needed all of the buttercream and I still didn’t frost the sides of my cake. I was a little surprised by this, since my cake size was smaller than the one used in the book and at first I thought the buttercream yield was huge. Not a big deal. It’s true that my buttercream layers were reasonably thick, nor did I miss having frosting on the cake sides since I didn’t buy the crunchy chocolate pearls to press into the sides.
I love a good chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream, but I usually tend towards more flavor variety within my cake. If I had to eat an all-chocolate cake though, this is the one I would eat. Super rich, boldly chocolately, not overly sweet, incredibly tender, easy to make… just don’t tell anyone about the butter.
Barely adapted from: Sweet
Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Buttercream
- 1 1/4 cups (6.75 ounces) 61% bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
- 2 sticks unsalted butter cut into chunks
- 1/2 cup strong coffee at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups (175 grams/6.25 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/3 cups (220 grams/7.75 ounces) light brown sugar not packed
- scant 2/3 cup (130 grams/4.7 ounces) granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon (37 grams/1.3 ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- 3 tablespoons (45 grams) sour cream
- 3 tablespoons (25 grams) heavy cream
Chocolate Buttercream (makes about 4-5 cups)
- 4 sticks unsalted butter softened
- 1 cup (130 grams/4.5 ounces) confectioner's sugar sifted
- 2 teaspoons vanilla bean extract or paste
- 3 tablespoons (2 ounces) light corn syrup
- 2 cups (11 ounces) 61% bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate melted and cooled
- 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 2 cups (10.8 ounces) Valrhone Crunchy Dark Chocolate Pearls
Position your oven racks just above and just below the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Coat the bottom and sides of three 9-by-2 or 8-by-2 inch round cake pans with butter (or nonstick baking spray), then line with parchment paper.
In a double boiler or heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter together, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from the heat, stir in the room temperature strong coffee, and set aside to cool (about 10 minutes).
Sift* together the flour, sugars, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda into a large bowl.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs together with the sour cream and heavy cream until combined. Whisk while you stream in the cooled chocolate mixture. Next, slowly pour then gently fold the chocolate-egg mixture into the dry ingredients.
You should have about 1285 grams of cake batter. Divide this between your 3 cake pans for about 429 grams of batter to each. Bake for 17-27 minutes, rotating after 10 minutes. When done, the cakes will appear firm on top, the sides will begin to pull away from the pan, and a toothpick inserted into the middle will come out clean. My 8-inch cakes took only 20 minutes.
Place the cake pans on a cooling rack and let them cool completely before removing the cake from the pan. Invert the fully cooled cakes onto cooling racks and remove the parchment paper from the bottom. If you aren't using the cakes right away, wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate (or freeze) until ready.
Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer and large bowl), beat the butter at medium speed until fluffy and lighter in color, about 2 minutes. Add the sifted confectioners' sugar, pulse a few times to avoid spraying the sugar everywhere, then continue beating until frosting is smooth. Add the vanilla and the corn syrup, then beat on medium for 1 minute.
Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Turn the mixer on low speed and slowly stream in the cooled melted bittersweet chocolate. Mix until the color is uniform. Add the salt and beat on medium-high speed for 30 seconds. The buttercream can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 4 weeks or in the freezer for 3 months.
Transfer a cooled layer of cake to your serving plate. Spread about 3/4 cup of buttercream over the top of the layer. Place the second layer top side down, and evenly spread another 3/4 cup of buttercream over the layer. Place the third and final layer on top, and frost the top (and sides, if desired) with the remaining buttercream.
If using the optional chocolate pearls (toasted puffed cereal coated in bittersweet chocolate), press a handful of pearls at a time into the frosted sides of the cake until the sides are fully covered. Chill the cake until the frosting is firm and the pearls are set.
This cake can be stored, with a light cover, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
*Don't be lazy and skip this step, otherwise you will wind up with chunks of brown sugar and/or flour and cocoa in the cake batter as well as the final baked cake, which is both unsightly and a little off-putting.