7 Unbelievably Delectable Upgrades to Give Your Chocolate Cake

Chocolate cake is great. Full stop. No matter what form it’s in or function it has, chocolate cake is great.

Sometimes, though, you’re feeling a little fancy. Your chocolate cake needs a little something extra to really make it stand out. Maybe it’s a new ingredient adding a little more flavor to that chocolate cake base, an outrageous frosting, or a special little topping to coat your favorite frosting. Or maybe it’s a filling between many layers. You’re not wary of making many layered cakes, are you? They’re easy and impressive; all you need is a serrated bread knife and a good filling.

These 7 recipes give new life to your chocolate cake. There’s a time and a place for an easy-going, busy day, one-layer cake with a pile of frosting or whipped cream dumped on top. These cakes are for the times and places when your chocolate cake needs an upgrade, whether it’s for a special occasion or just because you’re feeling a little fancy.

1. Chocolate Strawberry Layer Cake

chocolate cake

Chocolate cake | Source: iStock

Taking inspiration from chocolate-covered strawberries, this three-layer cake from Sophisticated Gourmet is incredibly simple for how decadent it is. The cake base itself is pretty standard, but the strawberry jam adds a sweetness and a new texture that instantly upgrades the cake as a whole. To make this cake even more stunning, grab a block of white chocolate and a vegetable peeler to create white chocolate curls to pile on top. To really go pro, an actual chocolate covered strawberry or two won’t go amiss.

Note: Don’t use Dutch processed or alkalized cocoa powder for this recipe. Find the natural, unprocessed stuff. The combination of baking soda and alkalized cocoa can make your cake taste a bit soapy.

Ingredients:

Cake

  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • ¾ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup strawberry jam

Frosting

  • 1½ sticks unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ⅓ cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
  • 4½ cups powdered sugar
  • ½ tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup

Directions: In a small bowl, whisk together the boiling water and cocoa powder. Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round piece of parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, the cocoa paste you created, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract.

Add the egg mixture into the flour mixture; beat on medium speed for one minute. Pour into prepared pans.

Bake 17 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean.

Once the cakes are out of the oven, with a clean oven mitt, gently press down onto the cakes, to make them level. This is Kamran’s technique for skipping the step of trimming the cakes. If you have an unsteady knife hand or trouble with maintaining level lines, this may be the cake trick you’ve been waiting for.

Cool cakes for 15 minutes in the freezer. Meanwhile, make the frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the melted butter and cocoa powder powder. Alternatively mix in the milk and powdered sugar, beating on medium speed to spreading consistency. Add a tablespoon of milk, if needed. Mix in vanilla and light corn syrup.

Remove cakes from pans, and place on wire racks. Place one cake on a cake stand bottom side up and spread half of the strawberry jam, leaving at least a half inch margin. Place the second cake on top of the first, bottom side up, and spread the remaining half of the jam onto the cake. Place the third cake on top, bottom side up.

Place the cake in the freezer for 10 minutes — this will make frosting the cake much easier.

Using an off-set spatula, spread a thin layer of frosting over the top and sides of the layer cake. This is called a crumb coat and it will help when you frost the cake for real. Let the frosting set in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes; then, spread a thick coat over the base coat.

2. Chocolate Blackout Cake

chocolate blackout cake

Chocolate blackout cake | Source: iStock

This cake takes the idea of a “crumb coat” in a whole new direction. The intense chocolate custard of the filling doubles as an adhesive “frosting” for a thick coat of cake crumbs. It’s a clever way of using the unattractive tops of the cake that you level out with your serrated bread knife to create even layers, and it’s an unusually stunning way to present your cake. When you need a serious chocolate cake that’s a little bit different, make this blackout cake from Food & Wine. The secret here is to not rush the cooling times. If you try to do anything while it’s still too warm, it’ll run and gush and ooze in ways that won’t look good. Give it plenty of time.

Ingredients:

Cake

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
  • 2¼ cups cake flour, plus more for dusting
  • ¼ cup solid vegetable shortening
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk

Filling

  • 3 cups water
  • 2½ cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1½ cups unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • ⅔ cup cornstarch
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Directions: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and coat lightly with flour. Line the bottoms with parchment paper. In a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk, beat the 1 stick of butter with the shortening until creamy. Add the sugar and beat at medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between additions. Add the vanilla. At very low speed, beat in the cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the 2¼ cups of cake flour and the milk in 3 separate alternating batches, scraping down the side and bottom of the bowl occasionally.

Divide the cake batter between the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake in the center of the oven for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Let the cakes cool for 15 minutes, then invert them onto a rack and let cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a large saucepan, combine 2½ cups of the water with the sugar, corn syrup, and cocoa powder and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. In a bowl, whisk the cornstarch with the remaining ½ cup of water until smooth; whisk into the cocoa mixture. Cook over moderately high heat, whisking constantly, until very thick, 3 minutes. Off the heat, whisk in the butter, vanilla and salt. Scrape the filling into a bowl and press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the filling. You should have about 5 cups. Let cool, then refrigerate until firm, 45 minutes.

Using a serrated knife, halve each cake layer horizontally. Break up the less attractive top cake layer and transfer to a food processor; pulse into crumbs. Reserve the two cake bottoms and one smoother top.

Set one of the cake bottoms on a cake plate and spread with 1½ cups of the filling. Top with the second bottom layer and another 1½ cups of filling. Cover with the cake top and spread the remaining filling all over the top and side. Pat the crumbs all over the cake. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

3. Salted Caramel Six-Layer Chocolate Cake

Layered chocolate cake

Layered chocolate cake | Source: iStock

Six. Layers. You can do it. This cake from Martha Stewart doesn’t joke around, but it’s no harder than a 2-layer cake. For almost the same amount of time and effort, you can have a tall, towering cake of decadent chocolate layers divided by salted caramel. The salt in the caramel and the caramel in the dark chocolate cake keeps the balance of sweetness just right. Give the caramel ample time to cool before setting up your cake, or you could have some trouble getting the layers to stay where you want them. If you’re particularly worried about the layers slipping and sliding, either stab a few skewers or a dowel through the cake to give it some support or refrigerate the caramel a bit before spreading it. For a really appealing finish, use a big, flaky sea salt like Maldon.

Ingredients:

Cake

  • Unsalted butter, room temperature, for pans
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1½ cups unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • Coarse salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1½ cups low-fat buttermilk
  • 1½ cups warm water
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons safflower oil
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Caramel

  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • Coarse salt
  • 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

Frosting

  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped, melted, and cooled
  • Garnish: flaked sea salt, such as Maldon

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Make the cake: Butter three 9-inch round cake pans, and dust with flour, tapping out excess. Sift flour, granulated sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and 1½ teaspoons coarse salt into the bowl of a mixer. Beat on low speed until just combined. Raise speed to medium, and add eggs, buttermilk, 1½ cups warm water, oil, and vanilla. Beat until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Divide batter among pans. Bake until cakes are set and a toothpick inserted into the center of each comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cool in pans set on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks, and let cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the caramel. Combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, and ¼ cup water in a saucepan larger than you think you’ll need over high heat. Cook, without stirring, until mixture is dark amber, about 14 minutes. Remove from heat, and carefully pour in cream because the mixture will bubble and spatter; stir until smooth. Return to heat, and cook until a candy thermometer reaches 238 degrees Fahrenheit, about 2 minutes. Pour caramel into a medium bowl, stir in 1 teaspoon coarse salt, and let cool slightly, about 15 minutes. Stir in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Let cool completely.

While the caramel is cooling, Whisk together cocoa and ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water in a bowl until cocoa dissolves. Beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, and a generous pinch of coarse salt in a clean bowl with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in melted chocolate and then cocoa mixture until combined. Let stand for 30 minutes before using.

Trim tops of cakes using a serrated knife to create a level surface. Cut each in half horizontally to form 2 layers. Transfer 1 layer to a serving platter, and spread ¾ cup caramel over top. Top with another cake layer, and repeat with remaining caramel and cake layers, leaving top uncovered. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour.

Frost top and sides of cake in a swirling motion. Sprinkle with sea salt. For tips on creating a pretty, swoopy finish with your frosting, watch this video.

4. Triple Malt Chocolate Cake

whoppers

Whoppers | Source: iStock

Grab a big bag of Whoppers, because those malted milk balls are the inspiration and decorative element for this cake from Chow. Few of us have real experience with malted milk shakes made by a great soda jerk, but this cake does its best to emulate that malted milk flavor. Look for malted milk powder, a natural sweetener made from barley malt, wheat, and milk, near the powdered chocolate milk (think Ovaltine) in your grocery store.

This is a fun cake. It’s impressive, but it’s still a really good time. Make this when you’re looking for an excuse to rake in some cake-making glory and make someone laugh. Who doesn’t love a Whopper?

Ingredients:

Cake

  • 2 cups malted milk powder
  • 1⅔ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for coating the cake pans
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon fine salt
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1⅓ cups granulated sugar
  • ⅔ cup vegetable oil, plus more for coating the cake pans
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1⅓ cups whole milk
  • 1 cup malted milk balls, coarsely chopped

Vanilla Malt Frosting

  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups powdered sugar
  • ¾ cup malted milk powder
  • ½ cup whole milk, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Directions: Heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and arrange a rack in the middle. Coat two 8-inch cake pans with oil and flour, and tap out any excess flour. Set aside.

Combine the malted milk powder, measured flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl and whisk to aerate and break up any lumps. Set aside.

Combine the eggs, sugar, measured oil, and vanilla in a separate large bowl and whisk until combined and smooth. Add a third of the flour mixture and whisk until just incorporated. Add half of the milk and whisk until smooth. Continue with the remaining flour mixture and milk, alternating between each and whisking until all of the ingredients are just incorporated and smooth.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean and the cakes start pulling away from the sides of the pans, about 45 to 50 minutes.

Remove the cakes from the oven and transfer them to a wire rack to cool, about 15 minutes. Run a knife around the perimeter of each and turn the cakes out onto the rack to cool completely.

While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting. Combine butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, and beat on low speed until sugar is incorporated.

Increase speed to medium high and beat until mixture is light and whipped, about 3 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.

Add remaining ingredients and return to low speed until ingredients are incorporated. Increase speed to medium high and continue whipping until frosting is evenly combined and light, about 3 minutes.

To frost the cake, place a layer on an 8-inch cardboard round, a tart-pan bottom, or a cake plate. Evenly spread about a third of the frosting over the top of the layer. Stack the second layer and evenly spread another third of the frosting over the top and sides of the whole cake. Don’t worry about looks at this point — this is just a base coat, or crumb layer, and it will be covered up later.Place in the refrigerator until the frosting is set up and slightly hard, about 15 minutes.

Remove from the refrigerator and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake, ensuring it’s as even as possible. Press the malt balls into the frosting around the sides of the cake and serve.

5. Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake

peanut butter chocolate cake

Peanut butter chocolate cake | Source: iStock

This chocolate cake is another riff on grown-up expressions of nostalgia. Not only does this cake from Serious Eats have a thick coat of chocolate peanut butter ganache, it’s also filled with plenty of light, creamy peanut butter mousse. It’s like Drake’s Funny Bones, the little snack cakes filled with peanut butter, but so much better.

Ingredients:

Cake

  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • ¾ cup hot coffee
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 7 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup cocoa
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder

Peanut Butter Mousse

  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup cream peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Ganache 

  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

Directions: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans and line bottoms with parchment paper.

In medium bowl, stir chocolate into coffee and set aside. In large bowl, whisk sugar, buttermilk, egg, yolk, oil, salt, and vanilla until combined. In small bowl, whisk flour, cocoa, baking soda, and baking powder until combined. Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet until combined. Whisk in the coffee mixture until smooth.

Pour ⅓ batter in one pan and the remaining ⅔ in the other pan. Bake until just firm, about 20 to 25 minutes, respectively. Let cake cool in pans for 15 minutes, then invert cakes onto wire rack to cool completely before assembling cake.

While the cakes are cooling, make the mousse. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese with sugar, peanut butter, vanilla, and salt on medium speed until creamy and light, about 5 minutes. Transfer to large bowl. Switch to whip attachment and beat cream on high speed to stiff but not dry peaks. Fold cream into peanut butter mixture. Keep chilled until ready to use.

Using the microwave or in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water, heat the chocolate and cream until melted and smooth. Gently whisk in peanut butter. Chill until just firm enough to frost, about 30 minutes.

Slice the larger of the two cakes into two layers. Place on serving plate and stack cake layers with peanut butter mousse. If necessary, keep chilled until ganache is ready to use. Frost cake and serve.

6. Chocolate Roulade

making frosting

Making frosting | Source: iStock

This cake from Food52 takes a little more creativity and style than any old chocolate cake, but it has a really big impact when that first slice is removed. Food52 Test Kitchen manager Erin McDowell has literally turned the classic roulade on its head, rolling it not into a long log but a short, fat, more cake-like tube with vertical layers. Yes. Vertical layers. It’s awesome. It’s a cake perfect for a small group of people; with gravity and deflating whipped cream working against you, it should be eaten all at once.

McDowell recommends getting your mise en place down pat before starting to help the process go quickly and smoothly. This means getting your pans and ingredients ready before you start cooking. Trust that it will be worth it in the end. If you’re a visual learner, see this article on assembling your vertical chocolate roulade.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces water
  • ¾ ounce cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 5 ounces sugar, divided
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1⅛ ounces cake flour, sifted onto parchment
  • Cocoa powder, for dusting
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a very flat 12- by 17-inch baking sheet with butter or nonstick spray. Line the baking sheet with parchment, cutting slits in the paper at the corners to prevent bunching of excess paper and grease the parchment.

In a small pot, bring the water to a boil. Pour the boiling water over the cocoa powder in a small, heat-safe bowl. Bring to room temperature or refrigerate for 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, combine the 2 whole eggs and 3 egg yolks with 2½ ounces of the sugar. In another medium bowl, place the 3 egg whites with the cream of tartar, reserving the remaining sugar.

Using an electric mixer, whip the whole eggs and yolks to ribbon stage, or until the mixture is pale yellow and thick, 3 to 5 minutes. Gently fold the cocoa mixture into the whole egg mixture. Sprinkle the flour into the whole egg mixture as you fold it gently, until fully incorporated.

With clean beaters, whip the egg whites with an electric mixer until frothy, about 1 minute. Gradually add the remaining 2½ ounces sugar and continue to whip to stiff peaks, 4 to 5 minutes.

Temper the whole egg mixture with 20% of the egg whites, mixing somewhat vigorously to combine. Gently fold in the remaining whites in two additions, mixing until just combined.

Gently pour the batter into the prepared pan and use an offset spatula to smooth the batter into an even layer in the pan. Bake until the cake springs back slightly when touched, 10 to 12 minutes. Do not overbake.

When the cake comes out of the oven, sift an even layer of cocoa powder all over the surface. Use a paring knife to loosen the cake and parchment from the edges of the pan, then roll up the cake tightly, using the parchment to assist you if the cake is too hot to touch easily. For a vertical roulade, roll from the shorter side. Cool completely in the parchment paper cocoon.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla to medium peaks.

To make a vertical roulade, unroll the roulade, and use a ruler to help divide it into three even strips about 3¾ inches wide. Cut the strips with a pastry wheel. Use a pastry bag to pipe the whipped cream onto each strip or dollop and spread.

Starting with one strip, roll it up tightly into a roulade starting on the shorter side. Place that roulade at the end of the next strip, and continue rolling. Place the roll at the end of the final strip, and continue rolling. Turn the entire roulade on its flat side to create a cake with vertical layers. Frost the outside of the cake with whipped cream and chill until ready to serve.

7. Espresso Mascarpone Chocolate Bourbon Cake

mixing ingredients for chocolate cake

Mixing ingredients | Source: iStock

So your chocolate cake needs an upgrade? How about a shot of espresso and a shot of bourbon? Sometimes, your cake doesn’t need pretty frosting or fancy decorations. Sometimes, your cake needs a kick in the batter. This recipe from The Spice Train does just that. It also uses two 5-inch cake pans to create an adorable smaller-than-average cake. If you’re using two 9-inch cake pans, double all measurements.

Ingredients:

Cake

  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more to dust the pans
  • ¾ cup brewed coffee or ½ teaspoon instant espresso powder and ¾ cup of water
  • ¼ cup bourbon
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla

Frosting

  • 1 cup mascarpone, softened
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1½ teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • Roasted coffee beans or chocolate covered espresso beans, optional as garnish

Directions: Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two 5-inch round pie cake pans, dust with cocoa powder and shake out the excess. Set aside.

Heat coffee, whiskey, butter, and remaining cup cocoa powder in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, whisking, until butter is melted. Remove from heat, then add sugar and whisk until dissolved, about 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and cool 5 minutes.

While chocolate mixture cools, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together eggs and vanilla in a small bowl, then whisk into cooled chocolate mixture until combined well. Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined; batter will be thin and bubbly. Divide batter among cake pans and bake 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool cake completely in pan on a rack, about 2 hours.

Make the frosting while the cake is cooling by whipping all ingredients together.

To frost the cake, spread a layer of frosting between the two layers of cake and on top of the top layer. Don’t bother frosting the sides. Garnish with coffee beans, if desired.

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