How to Make the Chocolate Layer Cake of Your Dreams

How to Make the Chocolate Layer Cake of Your Dreams photo
May 5, 2015 /
Written by Claire Saffitz Photographed by Alex Lau

Welcome to Baking 1-2-3, by associate food editor Claire Saffitz. Each month, she’ll guide you through a three-step baking process. The first recipe is for the beginners out there, the second for intermediate-level bakers, and the third recipe is for the experts. Today…chocolate cake!

You’ve already mastered the basic chocolate cake, so now let’s get into the advance stuff. Here are tips and tricks on how to build a multi-layer cake:

Get your tort on by splitting the cake lengthwise.

1. Torting the Layers
Torting means to split cake layers horizontally, which makes extra space for adding fillings and building height. Make sure your layers are completely cooled for this step (a still-warm cake will make crumbs). You can use a fancy cake splitting tool for this, but a long serrated knife works just fine. Place one hand on top of the cake and start sawing slowly in long even strokes through the layer, peeking at the sides all the way around as your work to make sure the knife is positioned in the center. The layers are delicate, but if you work quickly and confidently, you should be able to lift off the top and move it to the side of your work area. Keep the split layers on a wire rack for easy transfer.

2. The Setup
Place your bottom layer on a cake stand or serving plate lined with parchment paper to keep the plate neat. If you want to be able to move the iced cake (for transportation purposes, for example), place the cake on a cardboard cake round. Hold the layer in place with a dab of icing.

Filling the Layers
An offset spatula is your friend when filling the layers.

3. Filling the Layers
Use a small offset spatula to spread the filling evenly across the layers just to the edges. If you have four layers, use a third of the filling each time (dividing the filling evenly makes pro-looking slices). Don’t overwork the filling to avoid lifting any crumbs off the cut surface of the cake. This is a sturdy filling that will stay put and not ooze. Continue stacking the layers and filling.

The Frosting
Don’t be shy with the frosting.

4. The Frosting
Start with more frosting than you’ll think you’ll need. It’s actually easier to take off frosting than put more on. Dollop a heap of frosting over the top of the cake. Using an offset spatula, work the frosting across the top of the cake past the edges, letting it cascade down the sides.

It’s always better to have too much frosting rather than too little.

5. Finishing the Cake
Once the top is smooth and even, work the excess frosting down the sides. A perfectly smooth cake is difficult to achieve—that’s a different tutorial—but this buttercream looks most appealing with a bit of texture. Use a small offset to make decorative swirls and swooshes down the sides and across the top. I don’t like a too-perfect cake. You want people to know it came from your kitchen and not the cake case in the bakery aisle.

Birthday Cake Main Shot
You did it! You made a really stunning chocolate cake!

6. Serving
Chill the cake for at least an hour before serving so the filling has time to set and firm up. This will give you those really neat slices. The buttercream is best closer to room temperature, so remove the cake from the fridge and let it sit 15 or 20 minutes before serving. The entire cake can be iced one day ahead.

Get the recipe: Four-Layer Chocolate Birthday Cake with Milk Chocolate Ganache and Nutella Buttercream