Chocolate Birthday Cake with Frosting

Simon's 14th bday cake

This was Simon’s birthday cake this year. I got the recipe from Crystal Gromer who had made it for my birthday the year before. She had copied the recipe years ago from one of her sister Winifred’s cookbooks onto a scrap of yellow, lined paper. I discovered recently that it is almost, but not quite, the same recipe as appears on the back of the Hersey’s Cocoa tin. Whatever its provenance, it’s a wonderful cake for a birthday, darkly chocolate, racy with coffee, and rich without being overly heavy. It’s so moist it keeps well for days. The creamy icing forms a delicate “crust” that helps protect the cake.

Makes a 2-layer cake and about 3 cups chocolate frosting


Ingredients for cake

  • 1 ¾ cup (8.75 oz) all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup (2.4 oz/60g) cocoa
  • 2 cups (14 oz) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (8 oz) cooled coffee
  • 1 cup (8 oz) buttermilk or 23g buttermilk powder and 1 cup water
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Ingredients for frosting

  • 4 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped into pieces
  • 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 box (4 cups/1 pound) powdered sugar


  1. Process for cake: Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour cake pans, line with parchment paper.
  2. 2. Sift dry ingredients together into a large mixing bowl.
  3. 3. Add eggs, coffee, buttermilk, vegetable oil and vanilla.
  4. 4. Mix on low until ingredients are blended, and then beat for two minutes at medium speed.
  5. 5. Divide evenly between the prepared cake pans.
  6. Rotate pans after 20 minutes.
  7. 6. Bake for a total of 35 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean, and then cool on a rack.
  8. Process for frosting: Melt chocolate and butter together over low heat or in a microwave, and then cool.
  9. Sift sugar and salt into a large bowl.
  10. Add evaporated milk and vanilla; whisk until incorporated.
  11. Whisk in chocolate-butter mixture; icing will take just a few minutes to set up. You can microwave it briefly to soften, if necessary.
  12. Trim the crusts from the layers, use about ¼ of icing between layers, and then spread a thin crumb coat on the layers and let it harden. Then spread the remainder evenly over top and sides.

Quick Notes

You can bake this in 8- by 2-inch or 9- by 1 ½-inch round layer pans. The 8-inch will give you thicker layers, a very nice thing. You will need to bake these a few minutes longer. If you use the 9-inch pans, you have a “bigger” cake. Also a very nice thing.


For a sophisticated presentation and flavor, before icing the cake, spread a layer of raspberry jam on the bottom layer and ring the top of the finished cake with fresh raspberries. Mix the jam with a splash of cassis if you like.

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About Penni

Over 30 years as a food and wine professional, writer, and editor.

Cookbook author including:
'The Tra Vigne Cookbook' for Michael Chiarello,
'The Basque Kitchen' for Gerald Hirigoyen
and 'BurgerBar' for Hubert Keller.

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