Everyone needs a go-to chocolate cake recipe. A versatile cake that you can put with anything, serve anytime, and will hold up each time.
This is mine. It’s the one I used on The Great Canadian Baking Show, and it’s the one that makes it into most of my layer cakes. It’s intensely chocolatey, not too sweet (which gives you more options for sweet icing) and sturdy enough to be cut, layered and handled without falling apart.
For Keith’s birthday, I layered the cake with espresso swiss meringue buttercream and homemade salted caramel. After a crumb coat around the outside, it got this sweet mirror glaze poured over top.
This was my first attempt at a mirror glaze, and I think it was a pretty great success. The most fascinating thing was seeing it completely change from when it was poured until it set. The photo at the top was taken right after I finished pouring the glaze, and the others were taken after it had dripped and gravity had done its thing.
I’m not going to lie, the mirror glaze takes quite a bit of time. But it looks super impressive, and is a much less gross way than fondant of getting a showstopping cake (fondant is gross, fyi).
The various parts of this recipe can be repurposed for any chocolate-based cake. Replace the coffee in the buttercream for any other flavourings, omit the caramel or replace it with something else (jam, for example), and use the glaze, with or without colours, or omit it and make another batch of the buttercream. The only limit is your imagination!
I’ve included some important tips for this cake at the bottom of the recipe. Be sure to check them out!
The Litibaker’s Go-To Chocolate Cake, with Espresso Buttercream, Salted Caramel and Mirror Glaze
Serves 12 generous slices, 20+ small slices | Active time: 2 hours | Best Practice: Bake cakes and make caramel on Day 1, decorate on Day 2. Fully decorated cake will stay delicious, uncovered in the fridge, for two days.
437g AP flour
2 cup valrhona cocoa powder
4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cup buttermilk
2 cup strong brewed coffee
1 cup vegetable oil
4 teaspoons vanilla paste
- Heat oven to 350°F. Grease three 9″ round cake pans (with butter) and dust sides of pans with cocoa powder. Insert parchment rounds into bottom.
- In your stand mixer whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Mix on low speed until dry ingredients are thoroughly combined.
- Switch to the paddle: Add eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil and vanilla. Beat on medium speed for about two minutes, until completely combined.
- Put one cake pan on your kitchen scale and tare to zero (reset the weight so it weighs the pan as zero). Pour 800g cake batter through a fine mesh sieve into the prepared pan.
- Repeat with the remaining pans. If there is any batter leftover, divide evenly between the three pans.
- (If you don’t have a kitchen scale, get one. In the meantime, do your best to eyeball evenly filling the three pans).
- Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Rotate at 20 mins. The cakes are done when a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out with just a few moist crumbs stuck to it.
- Cool in the pans for 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Allow to cool completely. Once cool, triple wrap in plastic wrap.
- Chill cakes at least half an hour, or up to 48 hours. I usually make my cakes the night before so there’s no rush.
Espresso Swiss Buttercream – Filling
180g Egg whites (approx 6 eggs)
300g granulated sugar
397g butter (room temp) cut into small chunks
1/4 cup & 2 tbsp strong brewed coffee
- Prepare pot with water on med-high for double boiler.
- Separate egg whites into mixer bowl, add sugar.
- Whisk constantly over double boiler until 150-160f
- Transfer to mixer and beat until bowl is cool (stiff peaks, glossy)
- While meringue is beating, add chocolate bowl to the boiling pot and stir as it melts. Once 75% melted, remove from pot and mix until fully melted. Set aside.
- On lowest speed, add butter slowly. Continue mixing until fully emulsified.
- Add half the coffee, mix on medium-low speed until incorporated. Add the other half to taste, and mix until incorporated.
200g granulated sugar
90g salted butter, room temperature cut up into 6 pieces
1/2 cup (120ml) heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
- Heat granulated sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly with a high heat resistant rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Sugar will form clumps and eventually melt into a thick brown, amber-colored liquid as you continue to stir.
- Once sugar is completely melted, immediately add the butter. Be careful in this step because the caramel will bubble rapidly when the butter is added. Stir the butter into the caramel until it is completely melted, about 2-3 minutes. A whisk helps if you find the butter is separating from the sugar.
- Very slowly, drizzle in 1/2 cup of heavy cream while stirring. Since the heavy cream is colder than the caramel, the mixture will rapidly bubble and/or splatter when added.
- Allow the mixture to boil for 1 minute. It will rise in the pan as it boils.
- Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon of salt. Allow to cool down before using.
- Trim the tops of the cakes so that they’re very level.
- Cut a cake board so it’s exactly the same size as the cakes (you can use the bottom of the cake pan as a guide). The idea is that the cake will be supported, but that the dripping glaze isn’t going to pool on the board.
- Assemble the cakes, spray them with a simple syrup to thoroughly moisten, but not soak the cakes, before icing them. (you can make a coffee simple syrup if you want by heating equal parts coffee and sugar until the sugar dissolves, but this cake is pretty coffee-y enough as is).
- Between layers 1/2 and 2/3, spread a layer of SMBC, then pipe a ring around the rim of the cake (to hold in the caramel), and spread cooled caramel inside the ring.
- Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
- Spread a very smooth crumb coat around the outside.
- Chill in the fridge for 10-15 minutes.
- Heat your pallet knife under hot water, dry it, and use it to completely smooth the top and sides of the cake.
- Chill the cake until the mirror glaze is ready (at least an hour)
2 tbsp Agar Agar
1/2 cup water + 2/3 cup water
1 cup Glucose
300 grams Sugar
200 grams or 1 cup Condensed Milk
300 grams White Chocolate
- Have all your ingredients ready. This is time-sensitive, so you don’t want to be scrambling later.
- Pour 1/2 cup water into the agar agar and stir quickly to make sure the agar is evenly moistened.
- In a saucepan, add glucose, sugar, condensed milk and remaining water
- Let come to a boil on low to medium heat. Once all the sugar has dissolved – and the mixture has come to a nice slow boil.
- Take the pot off the heat – Add the agar agar liquid. When that has dissolved add the white chocolate.
- Using the immersion blender, blend until smooth. Keep the blades under the surface to reduce bubbles.
- Strain the mixture into four bowls with more in one bowl than the others.
- Colour each bowl, and let come to room temperature (95f). Stir occasionally so they don’t form a skin.
- Set the cake on a cooling rack placed inside a rimmed baking sheet (to catch the drippings)
- Pour over well chilled and iced cake in a design of your choice.
- EXTREMELY LIGHTLY, run your large pallette knife over the top of the cake in a single smooth, straight motion order to incorporate all the colours.
- You’re going to want to leave the cake where it is for a few hours now, until the dripping has completely stopped.
- Don’t skip either of the two sieve steps. For the cake batter, this is a trick I picked up from Julian on GCBS (much to Bruno and Rochelle’s chagrin, who were very nervous about the technique!). It eliminates air bubbles and flour clumps in the batter, ensuring an even-textured cake. It does the same thing with the mirror glaze, eliminating agar and white chocolate debris, as well as unsightly bubbles.
- For the coffee in the cake, I usually brew 2 cups of coffee with 40g of freshly ground coffee beans. The coffee in the cake itself doesn’t give you coffee flavour – it brings out the chocolate flavour. If you want the cake to be slightly more sweet, you could up to half as much coffee grounds (20g).
- The quality of the cocoa powder you use in the cake will make a huge difference. You want to use a high-fat cocoa. I use Valrhona and you should too, if you can get your hands on it. Valrhona cocoa powder is about 21% fat, compared to the regular stuff which is usually around 10%-12%. If you can’t get Valrhona, Bulk Barn sells a “red” cocoa which has a similar fat content and will produce similar results.
- The mirror glaze can be done in any number and combination of colours. You could do one solid colour, two colours, three, etc, etc. It’s totally up to your imagination, and there are hundreds of pictures and videos online for you to tinspiration from.