30 August 2010

The Perfect Birthday Chocolate Cake

I promised I would share the recipe for the Despicable Me Birthday Cake I made for Sugababe 1.

This is also my go-to recipe for all my 3D birthday cakes. There are 3 very good reasons for this:

Firstly, chocolate cake is a real crowd pleaser.  I'm sure I don't have to tell you that the rate of consumption for chocolate cakes is about 3 times faster than for any other type of cake.  Or that people seem to have a separate stomach for chocolate that makes them go back for seconds.  My 3D birthday cakes tend to be pretty big, and if I want to avoid having leftover birthday cake for days after the event, chocolate cake it will have to be. 

Secondly, this recipe makes a large enough cake for me to construct a proper-sized 3D cake diorama. And allows me to fit all those cartoon characters that my Sugababes are so fond of requesting for their birthdays.  Also, this is the largest-sized cake that can still fit on the largest foil-wrapped cake board (and cake box) that is sold here. 

Thirdly, this is a buttermilk recipe.  You may already know how much I adore the tangy flavour of buttermilk cakes.  The other thing to love about buttermilk recipes like this one is how easy and failproof it is. No creaming of butter till 'pale and fluffy' or beating of egg whites to 'stiff but not dry'.  Not that I am doubting your ability to do those well.  But if you are like me, cakes have a cruel way of failing on me on the eve of big events.  I kid you not - I once had to throw out 24 cupcakes I was doing for a birthday.  I almost cried, not just because they were so flat, oily and ugly.  But from the sheer shame of it all.  I mean, cupcakes???  Not only were these very BASIC cupcakes, I had also baked from this recipe umpteen times without incident.  No matter how much I think I have improved in my baking skills, tragic events like these keep me humble.

So. If you have to bake a big birthday cake (which is really the size of TWO birthday cakes - think how painful it would be to have to redo that).  And do not want to discover that it is possible to suddenly lose your butter-creaming prowess because of Murphy's law.  Or if you have more important  things to stress over (like what expressions to give Gru's naughty little minions). This chocolate cake recipe will serve you well.
There are so many ways to fill, frost and serve up a good chocolate cake. 

For the Despicable Me cake, the basic recipe was transformed into a Coco-Nana Chocolate Cake.  Imagine dark, rich and moist chocolate cake layers with a hint of espresso.  Separated by generous chunks of sweet pisang mas ('golden bananas'), embedded in rich whipped chocolate. And frosted all over with a layer of fragrant coconut buttercream.  That combination of dark chocolate, sweet bananas and salted coconut .... I can't tell you how delicious it was.  I hope you try it and find out!

This was definitely one birthday cake I wish I had more left over.

Recipe for Coco-Nana Chocolate Cake

Basic Dark Chocolate Buttermilk Cake
(adapted from Melissa McKinney's recipe, Portland Monthly Magazine) 

Once you pour the hot coffee into the batter, don’t be alarmed by its thinness. “It’s definitely the thinnest cake batter I’ve ever worked with,” McKinney says. 

3 cups (375g) unbleached all-purpose flour
2.5 cups (562.5g) caster sugar
1 tbsp and 1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (75g) unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
70g semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup (187.5ml) canola oil
1/2 cup (115g) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups (375ml) buttermilk
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) freshly-brewed, extra-strong hot coffee
1tsp pure vanilla extract 

1. Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line two 10" by 7" inch rectangular cake pans with parchment paper.

2. Place flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder in a large mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, mix on low to combine.

3. Melt chocolate chips in a microwave (taking care not to burn) or double boiler.  Whisk in the oil to combine.

4. Keeping the mixer on low, add softened butter, the oil and chocolate mixture, buttermilk, then eggs one at a time. Add hot coffee in a thin stream, pouring down side of bowl. Add vanilla and mix until batter is smooth. Divide into pans and bake until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs, about 30-35 minutes. Let cool in pans for at least 20 minutes.

5. Remove cakes from pans. Trim the tops off with a serrated knife to make it even.  Split each cake into 2 layers.  

Coconut Buttercream Frosting

200g unsalted butter, room temperature
140g shortening
125 ml coconut cream (I used Kara brand)
2 teaspoons vanilla
480g icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel (or 1/4 teaspoon salt)

In a large bowl, cream butter and shortening with electric mixer. Add vanilla and then salt. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add coconut cream and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. 

Chocolate Buttercream Filling

85g butter, room temperature
370g icing sugar
60g unsweetened cocoa powder
80ml heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Cream together butter and cocoa powder with electric mixer.  Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl as necessary. Add vanilla then salt.  Gradually add icing sugar and whipping cream. Beat until thick and of spreadable consistency.


Bananas (in 1 cm thick slices)*

The quantity depends on the type of bananas used.  I used a bunch of pisang mas, which are very small.  Do avoid Del Monte if you can - they taste so bland! 

You should have 4 cake layers (each cake having been split into 2 layers)

Arrange two cake layers side by side on foil-wrapped cake board (with the trimmed-off tops face down). This will basically form the base for a cake that is double the size of your cake pan. Set aside the other 2 cake layers.

Spread half the amount of Chocolate Buttercream onto both cake layers which are on the cake board, and press banana slices into the frosting. Cover evenly over bananas with the remaining Chocolate Buttercream. Place the other 2 cake layers which were set aside, side-by-side on top of the filling (with the smooth untrimmed sides facing up).  Using a long palette knife, frost top and sides with Coconut Buttercream.


  1. I love the idea of a 3D cake! And the filling in this sounds divine. Want to plan my next birthday party? :P

  2. They do look incredibly rich and moist! Looks amazing!

  3. ooo this looks very moist and chocolate-y. i've made a chocolate cake before that has roughly the same ingredients (diff proportions though) and the flavour was amaaaazing. i reckon this would have been just as good, looking at the picture above. and omg the despicable me cake is so cute! lucky daughters. (:

  4. You're so right about baking keep us "humble"! But....I believe you will probably agree that "challenges" like these will always keep us moving, experimenting and learning, and I Think baking is all about that - Pure Joy and Pain, that is!

    I must try this recipe, it does sound very delicious!

    Thanks for posting and for sharing!

  5. Mmmmm, yum! This sounds similar to a mocha cake I make with buttermilk..you just can't go wrong with buttermilk in baked goods..or anything else for that matter.

    Maybe you are like me and keep a 1 litre of buttermilk in the fridge at all times...it's not that weird, but everyone looks at me funny...:)

  6. oh wow that is so delicious! i love the flavours!

  7. @Elizabeth: Oh my goodness, when did you look in my fridge??! Haha. I think we are definitely in the great-minds-think-alike-camp when it comes to buttermilk ;)

  8. wow that looks delicious! love buttermilk cakes! and chocolate :)

  9. This cake sounds super delicious. I don't think I have any 10 x 7" pans. Do you think it would be too much cake batter for two 9-inch round pans?

    Thanks :)

  10. @Anonymous: Yes it will definitely work in 2 round, 9-inch pans! If you are making it for your own consumption (as in not a birthday party for 40 pax, LOL) then you don't need to bother splitting each cake into layers. Just layer one cake on top of the other to get 1 very tall 9-inch cake.

  11. Hi, wanted to check if there was a typing error on the amount of baking soda used. What about the use of any baking powder in this recipe? Will definitely try out this recipe after these clarifications.
    Thank you.

  12. Hi Anon@6.22AM

    Thanks for pointing that out. The amount of baking soda should be 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon. Which still looks like an awful lot I know, but it's correct. I've corrected the typo in my post accordingly. And no, there is no baking powder in the recipe.

  13. I've been seaching for a moist chocolate cake and your cake sounds promising! Is the coffee flavor too pronounced in this cake, if so I'm not much of a coffee tasting cake, what can I substitute for it or can I make it half coffee and half hot water? Just asking, thanks! By the way I don't have that size of pan what other sizes can I use and how many?

  14. Hi Anon@8:15AM

    The coffee taste wasn't overpowering in this cake. I suppose if you are worried you could make your coffee medium strength instead of full strength, water it down a bit. I haven't tried substituting the coffee with hot water although I don't see why it wouldn't work, I suppose the effect would be equivalent to watering down the coffee if you do as you suggested. If you are worried about diluting the taste another thing you might want to try is to make it with half coffee and half a cup of cocoa. As for pan size, you can try making it in 2 9-inch round pans.

  15. i just baked this and it turned out good. thanks for sharing.

  16. is there a missing step, you say .....remove cakes from pans. Trim the tops off with a serrated knife to make it even. Split each cake into 2 layers. Trim the top off the other layer and place the untrimmed side down on top of the frosted layer, pressing gently. Spoon more ganache on top and smooth it around the sides, adding more ganache as needed to cover. If you need to apply a second coat of ganache, put the cake in the refrigerator for no more than 15 minutes to set before adding a second coat. - what frosted layer, you haven't told us about frosting???

    1. Thanks for this - I reread my post and realised my instructions are misleading (*blush*). I've amended it and hopefully it makes more sense now. Please take a look at the assembly instructions at the end. Basically this recipe combines two cakes to make a BIGGER cake, meaning it is 2x (9" by 13"). After being assembled, the cake should have two chocolate cake layers sandwiching the chocolate buttercream filling in the middle, and the entire cake is frosted top and sides with the coconut buttercream frosting. If preferred, you could also substitute the coconut buttercream for a chocolate ganache instead.

    2. I should also clarify that my original erroneous instructions contained references to ganache (which is not used here) because I usually use a simple ganache frosting for this cake. The mistake probably arose when I cut and paste my usual recipe to draft out this one. Apologies :)

  17. Hi
    Just completed the minions now onto the cake (brill instructions by the way!!), please can I check is the amount of sugar right, as I'm not used to using cups as a measurement, and if 3 cups is (375g) is it correct that 2.5 cups = (562.5g) caster sugar. Thanks so much oh and one last Q I can't find canola oil in UK can I substitute? Thanks again Debbie

  18. Hi Debbie, yes the weight measurements are correct, as caster sugar is more dense and heavier than flour. 1 cup of flour=110g whereas 1 cup of caster sugar = 225g. As for the oil, it's fine to substitute with any light flavoured oil e.g. sunflower or olive.



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