Photos: Vic Chin, Video: Vic Chin and Peter Ruocco
For me, a chocolate layer cake is the best and quintessential chocolate dessert. It seems simple in concept, but a tall cake with mouthwatering frosting is a thing of beauty. Don’t save this recipe just for birthday celebrations — it’s too good to only make once a year. Plus, the combination of chocolate and peanut butter shouldn’t be limited to candy. I prefer the flavor of preservative-free and no-sugar natural peanut butter — the kind that has just peanuts and salt. If you use Skippy or Jif, decrease the sugar in this recipe from 2 1/4 cups to 1 3/4 cups.
The sides of the cake are not frosted so you can see the peanut butter filling between the layers. If you want to frost the sides, double the recipe. The addition of honeyed nuts sprinkled over the top give the perfect amount of crunch to each slice.
To work the cake baking around a busy schedule, bake the cakes on the first day and store them at room temperature in the pans wrapped in plastic wrap. Make the frosting and assemble the cake the next day. The easiest way to store the finished cake is to invert a large bowl over the cake and store at room temperature. This protects the cake and makes sure the frosting doesn’t get smashed. Once you cut into the cake, simply put plastic wrap against the cut part of the cake. The frosting protects the rest of the cake from drying out.
I prefer whipped cream to accompany my cake. Ice cream is too cold and makes the cake taste drier, but whipped cream pairs with the intense chocolate perfectly and makes you dive in immediately for another bite.
Chocolate Layer Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
Makes one 9-inch double-layer cake
- ¾ cup cocoa powder
- ¾ cup water
- 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped or broken into small pieces
- 2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 5 large eggs
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup honey-roasted peanuts
- Peanut butter frosting (see recipe below)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottoms and sides of two, 9-inch cake pans and line the bottom of each with a circle of parchment paper.
- In a small bowl, stir together the cocoa powder and water to make a paste. Set aside.
- Melt the chocolate by putting it in a heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the bowl does not touch the water. (You can use a double boiler if you have one.) Stir until smooth and evenly melted. Cool to room temperature.
- Using a sifter or fine strainer, sift the flour, baking soda and salt together over a bowl or piece of parchment paper.
- Using a stand mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar together until smooth. (Alternatively, you can use a handheld mixer.) Scrape down the side of the bowl with a spatula. Continuing on medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until combined. On low speed, add the cocoa paste then the melted chocolate and mix until thoroughly combined.
- On low speed, add one third of the sifted flour, mixing thoroughly, then one third of the milk. Repeat with the remaining flour and then the milk, mixing well. Scrape down the side and bottom of the bowl to make sure all is combined.
- Divide the batter between the pans and spread evenly. Bake the cakes on the middle rack of the oven until a bamboo skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. If you put the cake pans on 2 different racks in the oven, switch the pans halfway through baking so they’ll bake evenly.
- Cool the cakes in their pans. Run a small knife around the inside edges. Place a large plate or platter on top of each cake and invert the cake and plate. Remove the pans. Cool the cakes completely.
- Place one of the cake layers, bottom-side up, on the cake plate or platter. Spread the top with half of the frosting, making sure to frost all the way to the edge but not over. Place the other cake layer, also bottom-side up, on top of the frosting. Spread the remaining frosting over the top of the cake, again making sure to frost all the way to edge but not over.
- Sprinkle the honey-roasted peanuts over the top of the cake and serve.
Peanut Butter Frosting
- 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
- 2 ¼ cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1 cup natural peanut butter
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Using a stand mixer, first on low speed and then gradually increasing the speed to medium, beat the cream cheese and sugar together until smooth. (Alternatively, you can use a handheld mixer and medium bowl.) Scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
- Add the peanut butter, butter, and vanilla and, on medium speed, mix until creamy and spreadable.