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Chocolate Layer Cake with Creamy Vanilla Frosting

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When it comes to layer cakes (birthday cakes in particular), white icing on a black cake creates a great contrast. Not only does it look good, but the white makes a great background for decorations (you can see what I put on the top of this cake here) because everything “pops” against it.

For the cake to be used in a layer cake, I look for two primary qualities: moistness and sturdiness. Moistness is obviously a desirable quality because nobody likes a dry cake. Sturdiness allows you to move the cake layers around without them crumbling into pieces, which makes the whole cake assembly process a heck of a lot easier, especially if you’re working with a cake that needs to be split into layers.

The cake in question here is an easy-to-use eggless chocolate cake recipe. Also called “wacky cake” because it uses vinegar and baking soda to cause it to rise. It is moist and easy to work with, with a very chocolaty taste. It makes an excellent single-layer cake (just halve the recipe), but works beautifully in a layer cake because it gets even more tender after a day encased in icing. It also happens to be vegan, so it can be used for veg friends, as well.

Getting back to the frosting, I must admit that I have a bias for white frosting. As a kid, I felt that the chocolate was just too heavy (or, in some cases, too artificial) for my tastes, so not only was the color appealing, but the texture. This icing is just what I always hoped to get as a kid. It is light and creamy and cooks up in a few minutes. It does not have the overtly buttery taste of buttercream, which can sometimes detract from the cake itself, but is still rich and satisfying. The only thing bad I can say about it is that it will provide a fairly thin layer of frosting, so double it if you like yours to be piled on thickly (or if you’re planning a batch of cupcakes in a couple of days and don’t mind the extra sitting in the fridge in the meantime).

bite of cake

Easy Chocolate Layer Cake with Creamy Vanilla Frosting
(a.k.a. “Wacky Cake”)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tbsp vinegar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups cold water
1 tbsp coffee powder

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, line with circles of parchment paper, and grease again.
In a large mixing bowl, mix flour, sugar, cocoa, soda and salt. Make three wells in the flour mixture. In one put vanilla; in another the vinegar, and in the third the oil. Dissolve the coffee powder in the cold water (or just use cold coffee for a slightly more mocha taste) and pour the water over the mixture. Stir until smooth. Divide evenly into prepared pans.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool in pans on wire racks for 15 minutes. Turn cakes out of pans onto a plate (or another rack), remove parchment paper, and reinvert onto racks to cool completely before frosting.
If storing overnight before frosting (they can be made a day ahead), just wrap completely in plastic wrap and keep at room temperature.

Creamy Vanilla Frosting
1 1/3 cups milk (low fat is fine)
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine milk, flour and salt in medium saucepan with the heat turned off. Whisk until smooth. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking, until mixture thickens and comes to a boil (about 5-7 min.). Boil for 1 minute then remove from heat. Strain into a medium bowl and cover surface with plastic food wrap to prevent a pudding-like “skin” from forming. Cool to room temperature (about 1 1/2 hours).

When flour mixture is cool, beat together sugar, butter and vanilla in large bowl until light and creamy. Adding a dollop at a time, beat in the cooled flour mixture until frosting is creamy and light. Frost cake, putting a thin layer in the center, as well as on the top and sides.

(Makes enough for one layer cake)

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22 Comments
  • May
    May 17, 2007

    You did not say what to do with the coffee powder?

  • silverblue
    May 18, 2007

    May — “Dissolve the coffee powder in the cold water (or just use cold coffee for a slightly more mocha taste) and pour the water over the mixture.”

  • pat
    July 27, 2007

    in your wacky cake recipe, does cold water mean from the tap or from ref?

  • Sophia
    May 17, 2008

    Yum! I’m making this for a birthday party.

  • Sophia
    May 17, 2008

    This was so good.

  • les
    October 8, 2008

    i’ve been itching to try this cake and finally did so last night. turned out great! super chocolatey and moist. though i did notice that the outer “shell” (i.e. bottom, top and sides) were a bit hard. i baked at the recommended temp and time. what could this be?

  • pinkleaf_
    December 11, 2008

    Hello I’ve been visiting your blog for a long time, just like to say I tried your frosting recipe today and it was very good, much less “oiler” than the buttercream, I’ll use it from now on. Substituted half of it with butter flavored shortening to increase its stability (pretty hot now) I had A LOT though.. there’s still enough to frost one mini 3 layered cake lol. Thanks for sharing this!

  • roweena
    February 5, 2009

    Just made this cake tonight and it was FABULOUS! I can’t believe how fudgy and moist it turned out! My hubby doesn’t like a frosting that is too rich or sweet, so I topped it with a cool whip cream cheese frosting with toasted coconut. This turned out to be a very decadent and rich tasting cake, but NOT in the “overly sweet” sense, like so many cake out there are. Just try it, you’ll love it!

  • mess
    June 26, 2009

    This is a modified red velvet cake. In fact, my family has been making red velvet cake with this exact frosting on top for many years. It is the best!

  • Jennifer
    July 1, 2009

    My kids and I just made this. Wow! This is the best cake I have ever eaten! We wanted coconut frosting so we used coconut extract as well as vanilla and it’s just like a mounds bar! We also used an eight inch pie plate and an eleven inch pie plate, both Fire King. It looks like a volcano. Both original recipes worked fine. Plenty of frosting. We wish you could see it. Thank you for having such a wonderful site.

  • Bea
    November 18, 2009

    Hi! Will be trying the Creamy Vanilla Frosting Recipe later. I just want to know if the sugar in the recipe is granulated or powdered?

    Thank you very much!

  • Mana
    June 3, 2010

    hi ! i was going to try the creamy vanilla frosting recipe and i was wondering if its granulated sugar or powdered?
    thanks so much 🙂

  • eve
    July 29, 2010

    This was awesome! And so easy to make!!
    Thanks for the recipe!!

  • katy
    August 25, 2010

    @Mana – the sugar is granulated. This is a “cooked flour frosting”, as some people call it. Much better than straight-up buttercream, IMHO!

  • Zoe Gillenwater
    September 1, 2011

    Just wanted to say that I’ve been making this cake (just the cake, not the frosting) for years now and it’s now my go-to chocolate cake recipe. Perfect flavor, texture, heaviness, and moistness. Thanks for the recipe!

    (BTW, I don’t consume coffee so I leave that out, and it always tastes great.)

  • tanushree
    November 4, 2011

    how to add a dollop ??????/
    i didn’t understand that

  • Christine
    March 19, 2012

    Can I use this without any coffee powder?

  • Gina
    May 14, 2012

    I made this wacky cake into a cupcake bouquet for my mom for mothers day because she’s allergic to eggs. The cake was super moist, its my new favorite chocolate cupcake, I even like it better than martha’s one bowl. Its super super easy and quick to make and very moist and chocolatety! I also made a coffee frosting that made my buttercream rose cupcakes smell delicious! check them out at
    http://cookingwith-gina.blogspot.com/2012/05/mocha-bouquet.html

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