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Two-tier celebration cake

September 28, 2010

Last weekend was my little sister’s 21st birthday. This cake represented a bit of a milestone, since I’ve tended in the past to care mainly about taste / novelty as opposed to looks. However with May’s future wedding cake not *that* far away, it was time to step up the baking stakes a bit and try something trickier. 

This is a very dense, dark chocolate cake, filled with dark chocolate swiss buttercream and iced with white chocolate swiss buttercream. The recipe for the cake comes from, whilst the buttercream recipes are found at I went for swiss meringue buttercream since by most accounts it is a very versatile frosting: it doesn’t go hard, spreads really well, and can be flavoured or coloured. I wasn’t disappointed! The only criticisms I have is that I think it tasted too buttery, and will reduce the amount later. The cake was extraordinarily rich; almost dessert/brownie in nature, and you could imagine it being perfect for a wedding as it’d be impossible to eat more than a few inches. It also cut beautifully, none of this falling apart in crumbs business. I wish I’d had a good slice photo. I’m wondering if it’s the use of “cake flour” (7/8th plain flour, 1/8th cornflour), which I might try substituting into other cake recipes. To be tested later…


For the cake:

 (makes 2 x 9” cakes and 2 x 7” cakes / 3 x 7” sandwich tins)

  • 4 cup “cake flour” (make from 3 ½ cup plain flour and ½ cup corn flour) 
  • 4 cup sugar
  • 2 cup cocoa
  • 5 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 lb (454 g) butter, room temperature
  • 2 cup (500 ml) buttermilk
  • 4 eggs + ¾ egg yolk        
  • 2 cups (500 ml) brewed coffee, cooled to room temp


For the dark and white chocolate buttercream:

 (8 cups – enough to fill and ice the 2-tier cake pictured, and a bit spare for piping)

  • 6 +2/3 egg whites
  • 1 2/3 cups castor sugar
  • 2 2/3 cups (600 g) butter, at room temperature
  • (1/2 cup icing sugar) * see note


  • 8 oz (230 g) white chocolate, melted and kept warm
  • 4 0z (115 g) dark chocolate, as above


Making the cake:

Preheat the oven to 180 oC/ 350 oF/ Gas 4. Grease and line two 9” and two 7” loose bottom tins /or three 7” sandwich tins (which are more shallow). Grease the paper also.  Make the mixture in two batches (I didn’t and unless you are making the cake in a bucket you will also have far too much mixture). I had to keep transferring mixture from one bowl to another to give my poor Tesco Value electrix mixer even a hope of rotating. Sift all the dry ingredients and sugar into a large bowl. Add the softened butter and buttermilk and mix with the electric mixer for 2-3 mins till light and fluffy. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and coffee together, then mix into the rest of the ingredients in three goes. Continue to mix until well combined, and scrape mixture from the sides into the bowl regularly. Pour into the lined tins and bake for 50-55 mins (the sandwich tins may be done quicker) until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean and the cakes spring back gently in the centre when pressed. Cool in the tins on a wire rack, then remove when cold. The cold cakes can be wrapped well in cling film then tin foil, and frozen for several weeks. (They must be defrosted in their wrappers to stop condensation forming on the actual sponge).

Making the buttercream:

Swiss meringue buttercream can be daunting apparently, and can turn curdled-looking and liquidy before firming up again into what looks a bit like strongly-whipped cream. Mine went to the right stage without a distaster. I was scared making it nevertheless. I wonder if it depends on the butter temperature. Keep whipping and it’ll come back!

Combine the sugar and egg whites in a large bowl and place over a pan of simmering water. Whisk by hand under this gentle heat until the sugar dissolves (and you can’t feel grains between your fingertips). Take bowl off heat and beat with an electric whisk until white, opaque, and doubled in size. Add the softened butter a bit at a time, and keep whisking until the mixture looks like whipped cream. Split the mixture into ¾ for the white choc (approx 6 cups) and ¼ dark (approx 2 cups), and add the portion of melted chocolate to each. Mix again till combined.

This buttercream can be kept covered in the fridge for a day or two. Use the dark chocolate to fill the cakes then assemble each layer on top of one another. Keep the tiers separate at this point. To frost with the white chocolate, first apply a crumb coat, meaning spread the entire cake with a thin layer of buttercream, to stick to all the crumbs. Then leave to set for a few hours / overnight. When done, you can ice the cakes properly with more buttercream, which will go on much more smoothly as a result.

[Exciting hint of the day: I didn’t have a special smoothing tool for the icing yet. A palette knife in one hand and a decorating scraper in the other (procured gratefully from one’s father)  works miracles. Ignore the fact you feel like you’re actually plastering a wall as opposed to a cake and all’s dandy].

To assemble, stack the top cake on a piece of cardboard resting on 4 pieces of dowelling that has been cut to the right height and inserted into the larger cake (see pic). Then use ribbon, extra buttercream piped round the edge, or flowers to even the seam and decorate. I also made a stencil to sprinkle dark chocolate in the shape of 21. Voila!

*Note: I thought this buttercream tasted too buttery, so added approx ½ cup icing sugar to the finished mix (white choc only) I’ve left the recipe here as is, though. Taste yourself and choose whether to alter, or perhaps make it with less butter.

Get a printable version here


8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 28, 2010 4:49 pm

    Er wow. But did you really use 4 whole cups of sugar in the cake? No wonder it was rich!

    • September 28, 2010 4:58 pm

      Yup. S’what le recipe said! Don’t forget it was for 5 cakes/layers worth. Same vol flour to sugar ratio. The 1 lb butter scared me more…

  2. September 28, 2010 5:23 pm

    Wow just wow that looks amazing, my mouth is watering.

    good job its fair trade right ?

    • September 28, 2010 6:06 pm

      Thanks 🙂 It was fair trade where possible (including over 300g of fairtrade cocoa!)…

  3. michael percharde permalink
    September 28, 2010 11:02 pm

    It was a wonderful cake – but ever so rich and moist … calorie counting is not recommended for this cake!! Very good first attempt and btw I like butter …


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