It’s a classic for an annual rite of passage: The high-rise chocolate birthday cake lit up with fancy candles. No processed, store-bought cakes for your special birthday person — instead, make this tall, dark and handsome dessert — inspired by a recipe from the Pioneer Woman herself, Ree Drummond — to show your love.
Big and bold in presentation, this birthday cake boasts four — yes, four! — full-size layers of chocolate cake generously frosted with a whipped chocolate frosting that starts with a ganache. This is the dessert your family and friends will come to know as your specialty.
Making a four-layer cake takes more effort than picking up one a mass-produced supermarket cake slathered in vegetable-shortening frosting, but we assure you: baking this chocolate cake will be worth every extra minute.
It begins with, of course, the cake itself… but if your cake-baking skills haven’t advanced past the boxed-cake level yet, take heart! This recipe is quite easy to master, and will convince you to walk away from mixes forever.
You want a great cake, right? Then follow the recipe below without waver — no slacking, no substitutions.
Take note: Cocoa powder is the quintessential ingredient for a light and fluffy cake with deep chocolate flavor. Melted chocolate can deliver this flavor, too, but it would produce a denser cake.
Get the whole step-by-step how-to below, and when everything’s stirred and baked and cooked and whipped, pull out your favorite cake stand and start prepping this baby, generously loading frosting filling in between the layers. Frost the top and sides, pop in a few birthday candles, and your big chocolate birthday cake is ready to serve!
Whisk liquid ingredients together for your big chocolate cake
Combine buttermilk, baking soda, vanilla and eggs in a bowl and beat. Did you notice that the baking soda goes along with the wet ingredients? Baking soda is a leavening agent that needs an acidic ingredient — enter buttermilk — to activate its magic. Buttermilk is a key here to making a moist, tender cake.
Add butter, cocoa and boiling water to saucepan to combine
Melt that pound of unsalted butter on medium heat on the stovetop. Yes, a pound. Remember this is a big chocolate birthday cake (and calories don’t count on birthdays, anyway).
Stir cocoa powder into the melted butter, then add the boiling water. The boiling water is crucial here: It brings out the full chocolate flavor of the cocoa powder. Don’t use cold or room-temperature water. You’ve got hot butter in the pan, and cool water will make the butter harden up around the cocoa.
Add cocoa mixture to flour mixture in mixing bowl
Add buttermilk mixture to cocoa mixture in mixing bowl
Time to marry all of your cake ingredients together. Pour the cocoa mixture over the dry ingredients. Add the buttermilk mixture and stir. Presto! Your batter’s ready for baking.
Combine thoroughly to create the cake batter
Dust the greased cake pans with cocoa powder
Generously butter four cake pans and then dust liberally with cocoa powder. Don’t be tempted to forgo the dusting: It will help the cakes release from the pans and will add to the chocolate flavor.
Cover pan completely with cocoa
Pour Ree Drummond’s big chocolate birthday cake batter into pans
Begin making the frosting by heating heavy cream
To make the heavenly chocolate frosting, start with a ganache. A ganache is simply cream and chocolate melted into a rich chocolate sauce. Once this ganache mixture is cooled, stir in vanilla. If you stir in the vanilla when the ganache is piping hot, you’ll lose a lot of the vanilla flavor.
Slowly incorporate chocolate into cream
Stirring until smooth and fully melted
Pour frosting into bowl and place in refrigerator to cool
Add vanilla and beat until light and airy
When you’re ready to assemble your massive chocolate cake, whip the cooled chocolate ganache into a light and fluffy chocolate buttercream frosting.
Frost each cake layer evenly
Once the cakes are baked, let them cool completely before frosting them. For even better results, refrigerate them for easier frosting.
Stack each cake layer on the previously frosted one and repeat
Finish off this chocolate cake by frosting the top and sides