There are some people who don’t like chocolate. Well, they won’t say they “don’t like” chocolate. They say that they “don’t prefer” chocolate, or that they’re “not a big fan” of chocolate. Those who don’t like chocolate know to tread lightly when breaking that news…BECAUSE THE REST OF THE WORLD HAS NO IDEA WHAT IS WRONG WITH THEM. For my oldest son, James, this is the ultimate birthday cake: Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Buttercream.
My not-so-little guy just turned eleven last week (ELEVEN!!!!!). Now, he’s always wanted chocolate cake for his birthday, but when he was younger the frosting on his birthday cakes would be vanilla to allow for the creation of the Star Wars/Spider-Man/mad scientist cake that he requested. Now, he just wants it to have as much chocolate as possible. That’s my boy. This year I also got a “I dunno, you could put some Legos on it” with a tween shrug added for good measure.
Let’s be clear that I’m no cake decorator. When people learn that I bake, they automatically believe that I can make the twelve-tier wedding cake of their dreams or a giant labradoodle cake complete with wagging tail. Nope. Not me. I make three decorated cakes per year: one for each of my kids’ birthdays, because I love them and they’re super cute. I make lots of cakes with sprinkles and almost-too-big swirls of buttercream on top, but I do not enjoy making cakes with a giant Dora head on top or covered in buttercream dinosaurs. They stress me out, and that’s the *opposite* of the reason that I’m in the kitchen.
Back to this cake: this chocolate cake is easy and awesome. You don’t even need to soften butter or use a mixer. I love that the batter has melted chocolate added to it, not just cocoa powder. The cake ends up with a deep, rich chocolate flavor due to the melted chocolate, the addition of coffee, and the chocolate extract.
If you “don’t prefer” coffee (WHAT??), I swear you can’t taste it. The coffee only helps to bring out the flavor of the chocolate. If you really want to substitute, you can add hot water instead and it will turn out just fine.
I highly recommend using the chocolate extract! This (sometimes overlooked) extract lends an amazing depth of flavor to chocolate baked goods! If you can’t find it in your local grocery store, you can find some [here]. Even better, makes yourself some [Homemade Chocolate Extract] for next time!
The addition of vinegar might seem suspect, but again, you don’t taste it at all. The vinegar and baking soda react (SCIENCE!!), helping your cake to have a lighter texture.
To help ensure even layers, I weigh the cake batter with my kitchen scale (link [here]) so that there’s an equal amount of batter in each pan. I bake my cake layers with cake strips around the edge of the pan. Once wet and affixed to the outside of the pans, they help your cake layers to bake up with a flatter top, so you cut less away when you level your cakes after baking. If you don’t have any, you can find them [here].
Now, this Italian meringue buttercream is To. Die. For. It’s worth the extra effort. You may never want an American buttercream ever again. Honestly, you wouldn’t know by looking at it how chocolatey it is. It’s light in color, but BIG on chocolate flavor, because:
Dude. There’s a full pound of melted chocolate in this buttercream.
It occurred to me recently that when you’re from the Midwest (Michigan, to be exact), “dude” is something you say prior to something of mild importance. Such as: “Dude, I thought you were going to tell me you don’t prefer chocolate.” In the south, they use “y’all” in this same fashion. Let me try again for my Texas friends:
Y’all. There’s a full pound of melted chocolate in this buttercream.
Whichever of those two statements you prefer, trust me on this: this buttercream is amazing. The flavor is out of this world and the smooth, creamy consistency is heaven. Make this cake immediately. If you *don’t prefer* chocolate, just wait until my daughter’s birthday, when I make vanilla everything. Why is it my kids always have to be polar opposites?
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Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Italian Buttercream
- 6 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 2/3 cup dutch process unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 cups hot coffee (see note)
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 4 eggs
- 4 tsp white vinegar (see note)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp chocolate extract (see note)
- 1 lb bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 4 egg whites (see note)
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 lb unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1/2" dice (4 sticks)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp chocolate extract (see note)
- Preheat oven to 350F (see note). Spray two 8" cake pans with nonstick spray (or, if making cupcakes, line muffin pans with cupcake liners).
- In a medium heatproof bowl, combine chopped chocolate and cocoa powder. Pout hot coffee over the top (see note) and whisk until smooth. Refrigerate chocolate mixture for 20 minutes.
- Combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Set aside.
- After chilling 20 minutes, remove chocolate mixture from the refrigerator. Add oil, eggs, vinegar (see note), vanilla extract, and chocolate extract, whisking until smooth.
- Add chocolate mixture to flour mixture and whisk until smooth.
- Divide batter between prepared cake pans (see note). Affix wet jackets to the outsides of the pans, if using (see note). Bake 35-38 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Turn/rotate cake pans halfway through baking to help ensure an even bake.(If making cupcakes, divide batter among 24 muffin cups. Each will be about 3/4 full. Bake 15-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.)
- Cool cakes 10 minutes in the pans, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.
- Melt chocolate in microwave on 30-second bursts, stirring in-between bursts, until chocolate is melted and smooth. Set aside to cool.
- Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer (see note).
- In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and water. Over low heat, stir gently to dissolve the sugar.
- Once sugar is dissolved, stop stirring and bring the syrup to a boil over medium-high heat. If sugar begins to crystallize on the sides of the pan, use a wet pastry brush to brush the sides of the pan, dissolving the crystallized sugar.
- Once sugar syrup reaches 130F, begin to whip egg whites on medium-high speed using the whisk attachment.
- Beat egg whites to soft peaks and boil syrup to 240F (the hope is that the egg whites reach soft peaks and syrup reaches 240F at the same time).
- With mixer on low, pour the syrup in with the egg whites in a slow, steady stream (see note), Whip on medium-high speed until the bowl is barely warm to the touch and the meringue is thick and glossy.
- Once meringue is thick, glossy, and cooled, gradually add the butter. Allow each addition to completely incorporate before adding the next.
- Add vanilla and chocolate extracts and melted chocolate and mix to combine. If buttercream is too soft to properly frost/pipe onto the cake, place the bowl in the refrigerator for a few minutes until the desired consistency is achieved.