Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dark Chocolate Cake with Mocha Buttercream

I have been on a roller coaster of emotions these past few weeks.  If you've been keeping up with my posts, you know that life has had some ups and downs lately.  And these ups and downs have pulled me out of the kitchen and into real life.  This weekend I got to spend hours in the kitchen baking and decorating a cake for a friend's birthday and at the end of it I felt revived and renewed.  After spending hours on my feet I felt energized and truly alive for the first time in weeks.  I feel so fortunate to have something in my life that brings me (and others, for that matter) such joy.  I am breathing in gratefulness this week.  Life is good.  Oh is it good.

And so was this cake.  Actually, this cake was beyond skyrocketed right past good, great, excellent and amazing, and fell unscathed into the lap of perfect.  This cake was all sorts of intense.  Four layers of dark chocolate cake....with layers of bittersweet espresso ganache...and mocha buttercream...topped with toffee and chocolate curls. 

I had an obscene amount of fun making this cake.  I love being challenged with a new recipe.  I love finding recipes with an absurd amount of steps that would have a  non-baker running away in terror.  I love when the end product looks and tastes as amazing as the amount of time I put into it.  Let's just say, this cake fulfilled the baking nerd in me.

I also got to try my hand at making chocolate curls which filled me an irrational amount of giddiness.  The tutorial for the chocolate curls can be found here.  Such a fun easy way to gussy up a cake.

This was a conglomeration of several recipes.  The cake came from my all-time favorite baking book flour by Joanne Chang, the frosting and ganache were adapted from Southern Living and the idea for toffee and chocolate curls came from this little brain of mine.   This is definitely a special occasion cake because it takes some time, but believe me, it is worth every second you put into it. 


Dark Chocolate Cake with Mocha Buttercream & Toffee

Dark Chocolate Cake

Note: The cake can be made up to a week ahead of time.  Bake, allow to cool and then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze.  Remove from the freezer about an hour before you are going to frost it.

1/2 cup (60 grams) dutch-processed cocoa
1 ounce (28 grams) unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup boiling water
1 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (225 grams) cake flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup (60 grams) creme fraiche
2 eggs
2 egg yolks

Preheat oven to 350F.  Butter, flour and line the bottoms with parchment paper of two 9-inch cake pans.

Combine cocoa powder and unsweetened chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl.  Pour the boiling water on top and whisk until completely smooth.  Place in the fridge for 45 minutes, whisking every 15 minutes,  until cooled to room temperature.

Combine flour, salt, baking soda and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, and mix until combined.  Add the butter and beat on low speed for 30-40 seconds, or until the mixture resembles a dough and is thoroughly combined.

Whisk the creme fraiche, eggs and yolks in a small bowl.  With the mixer on low, slowly pour the creme fraiche mixture into the dough until thoroughly combined.  Turn the mixer up to medium high and beat for 2 minutes until light and fluffy.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl, then return the mixer speed to low.  Slowly pour in the cooled chocolate mixture.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl, then mix on medium for 30-40 seconds until the chocolate is completely incorporated and evenly distributed in the batter. 

Pour the batter into the prepared pans.  Bake 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with just a few crumbs sticking to it.  Allow cakes to cool completely on a wire rack in the pan.  Once cooled, invert the pan on a flat surface and peel off the parchment paper.

Meanwhile....while you are waiting for your cakes to cool.

Mocha Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 Tablespoons instant espresso powder
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, whisk together flour, cocoa, espresso powder and half-and-half.  Whisk constantly over medium heat for approximately 5 minutes or until thickened (it will resemble a pudding).  Transfer to a small bowl and cover the surface with plastic wrap to avoid forming a skin.  Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature, about 45 minutes.

When the mixture has cooled, beat butter and powdered sugar in a stand mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Slowly add the cooled cocoa mixture on low speed until thoroughly combined.  Add vanilla and beat on low for 20 seconds to combine. At this point the mixture should resemble whipped cream (dreamy creamy mocha whipped cream!).

While you're waiting for the buttercream to cool do this...

Dark Chocolate Espresso Ganache

2 tablespoons espresso powder
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup hot water
12 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter

In a small bowl, combine the espresso powder and sugar.  Add hot water and stir to combine.  Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat until just boiling, then quickly remove from the heat.  Pour the cream over the chocolate in a bowl and whisk until smooth and no chocolate chunks remain.  Stir in the butter and 3 tablespoons of the espresso mixture.  (The rest of the espresso mixture can be discarded.)

Allow ganache to stand at room temperature for 1 hour or until it is thick enough to spread.


2 Heath bars, coarsley chopped
Chocolate Curls


Simple Syrup - boil 1/2 cup sugar & 1/2 cup water for 2 minutes (the simple syrup isn't completely necessary, but I find it adds a lot of moisture to my cakes and is a simple way to really amp up the cake)

Note on cutting cake layers: There are definitely different camps on this, but I like to freeze my cakes for 20 minutes before cutting them.  Because the cake is firmer, I find it easier to work with and much easier to cut into layers. 

Cut each cake in half lengthwise so that you have 4 layers.  Put your first layer on a cake stand and brush generously with simple syrup.  And add enough ganache to thinly cover the top of the cake.  Next add 1/3 of the mocha buttercream on top of the ganache and gently spread to cover the top of the cake.  Repeat these steps two more times and end with an unfrosted cake layer on top, brushed with simple syrup.

Add several large dollops of the remaining ganache to the top of the cake and spread with an offset spatula on the top and down the sides of the cake.  Continue adding small dollops of ganache to the cake until the top and sides are completely covered with ganache.

Now, this next part is up to you and how perfectionistic you are.  Smooth the sides of the cake with an offset spatula until desired smoothness is acheived.  You can spend a lot of time on this, so get it as smooth as you can tolerate, and then move on.  See Exhibit A...not perfect, but it'll do.

This is Exhibit A.

Now, toss a bunch of Heath on the top and wherever else you want to put it (try to stop yourself from putting it in your mouth, you'll get plenty of that later!).  Decorate with chocolate curls and get to...

Eat it!!!


  1. Oh my!! This looks and sounds amazing! I don't think it would be a good thing if I made this, at least not if I were by myself! ;)

  2. I hope your life calms down soon. But this cake--so gorgeous! Beautifully decorated and presented.

  3. If there is anything to relax life, it is cake like - towering powerful gorgeous and delicious to the boot :D

    Choc Chip Uru

  4. Holy yum, batman! Great job on the beautiful cake.

  5. I hope you get more ups than down in the coming months! This might just be the prettiest cake I've ever seen! Great job :)

  6. all that ingredients have to put in that cake are super tempting, chocolate and espresso are the best to combine, super delicious


  7. O.M.G. This looks absolutely amazing and DELICIOUS!! I love, love, love Heath bars--what a beautiful cake! So happy to hear that baking brought you is often my salvation, too. Lots of happiness, Maggie.

  8. Well I do beg to differ with you on exhibit A-it looks fabulous! Not sure what you had pictured in your mind better looking but I can't imagine it.
    Baking and cooking can be great therapy! Glad you are back up to your cheery self.
    You really have mastered the art of layering a cake, I still have issues. Anyhow, if this is even half as delicious as it looks, I would be happy to have it-yum!

  9. Oh, Maggie! This cake is just beautiful! And so delicious looking - YUM! I am so glad to have you as a foodie friend ( no, I am not biased because of this cake :) ). Hugs for you and Anna! xoxo

  10. Oh wow, Maggie, this cake is beautiful! And you say I'm the creative one? What a perfect combination of flavors you've created! I'm quite impressed...I don't know if I could tackle this impressive cake (unless "tackle" means eat).

  11. Dark choc and mocha...oh sweet bliss! So glad you are back in the kitchen and life is good :)

  12. HOLY moley. I need this cake in my life!!

  13. wow, this cake is pure awesome! looks and sounds absolutely fabulous!

  14. What a beautiful cake! So glad you are back, and enjoying your time in the kitchen!

  15. What a gorgeous cake, this looks amazing! :)

  16. Oh Maggie...this cake is just SPECTACULAR!!!! So nice to see you happy and baking again. You must have felt so satisfied when this was finished! Chocolate and coffee and toffee ....oh my! : )

  17. Om, nom nom nom.

    Let me tell you how much I loved this cake...

    I was at work and because of whatever security settings they have, I couldn't comment on this blog this morning when I first looked at it. So, I e-mailed myself the link at home so I could make sure to come back and tell you, "GORGEOUS! Beautiful! Great job!"

    And nummy.

  18. Holy fudge this looks amazing!! I would die for a slice right now! All the different components of the cake come together to create a monster of a cake! And your presentation is fabulous, I love it :) You did an amazing job!

  19. I love how some time in the kitchen can make you feel brand new again! Glad this cake did that for you. It's really pretty and sounds great. I'm sure it meant a lot to your friend too. Hope you're having nice week!

  20. What a gorgeous looking cake! dark chocolate and coffee are just meant to be together.

  21. Awesome cake! It looks really beautiful!

  22. That cake is absolutely gorgeous. Great job!!!

    I also wanted to let you know I've nominated you for The Versatile Blogger Award! :) You can check here for more details:

  23. Wow, this looks heavenly...dark chocolate AND mocha buttercream, such a visually appealing cake...look forward to your how-to post for chocolate curls!

  24. WOW! Just gorgeous!!! With the upcoming birthdays, I think I've found a new chocolate cake to bake...and I can't wait for your chocolate curl advice :)

  25. This cake looks just wonderful. Anything with Heath bars on the top has to be amazing!

  26. I hope things keep looking up for you, Maggie! This cake looks INCREDIBLE!!

  27. Maggie!! This cake is so, SO gorgeous. I just want to reach into the screen and stick my face in it. Dang!!! I love the Heath crumbles on top especially. I also wanted to mention how very sorry I was to hear about Gretta. From one animal and pet lover to another, I'm sure that your house feels emptier, but we are so lucky to have fuller lives because of souls as special as Gretta. You can, and should, have an extra piece of cake today for her. :)

  28. Look at that cake!! Truly impressive. I wish I could do something like that!

  29. Oh so wonderful layers...I've gotta try this sometime!

  30. That is stunning!

    I do hope things slow down for you and that more joys than sorrows will find their way to you :)

  31. OMG!!! This cake looks amazing. I want to make it asap!!! Sorry about the ups and downs. Hope everything gets better. :)

  32. This looks just divine! Great work!

  33. I'm glad it sounds like things may be calming for you a bit.

    This cake looks ridiculously good! Certainly worth the extra time. I actually find a long "making" process to be relaxing. something about the process is feels calming. :)

  34. What an absolutely stunning cake, Maggie! You should be so proud for tackling this beauty of a dessert. It looks delicious! Thanks for sharing. Also, I’m having a great giveaway today with four potential prize winners, so you should enter!

  35. this cake looks incredible!! jaw-dropping really. I'd like to dive right in. please + thank you!

  36. This is gorgeous. I could just dive right in! Congrats on being in the top 9. I live in Havre - it's always nice to find another MT food blogger! I'll be back :)

  37. Oh my gracious, that cake looks like a million dollars! Fabulous, delicious job!!

  38. Congratulations on Top9, Sweet Maggie! xoxo

  39. Delicious... oh yum, yum, yum! I could eat the whole cake or maybe a very large slice ;-)

  40. I love Flour - it's one of my favorite cookbooks! All of the recipes I've tried from it have been fabulous, but I especially love her pound cake. I'll have to give this one a try. Congrats on taking it to the top 9!

  41. I am stunned. I am in shock and awe. Thank you all for voting me into the Top 9 on FoodBuzz. And thank you sooo much for all your awesome comments. I am overwhelmed and full of joy. You all rock.

  42. Holy moly. This cake. No matter how you feel, I'm sure baking up this cake made you into Wonder Woman.

  43. wow can you say death by chocolate :) Yum! I love your chocolate curls, the cake looks like it belongs in the window of a bakery. I can't wait for someone else's birthday to arrive so I have an excuse to make this cake...congrats on Top 9!

  44. Oh this cake! I can't believe I didn't comment on it sooner, but it is everything I could ever want out of a cake!

  45. Wow, this cake is absolutely stunning!! It looks and sounds like a mountain of a task but you did it so beautifully. Well done!! x

  46. Hi, I hope things are going a little more smoothly and that you are finding time to not only bake but rest! Your little girl is a cutie-mine grew up baking with me and as adults still do.
    I am wanting to use this amazing looking cake as the wedding cake I've been asked to bake for a good friend's wedding in November but feel a little nervous about how to multiply the recipe so it serves 60. She wants 2 tiers and nothing too fancy. I've done 5 wedding cakes over the years. This is exactly the recipe she wants! Can you help?? Thanks so much!


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