There is nothing quite like the look of a big, tall layer cake to symbolize decadent desserts, especially when the cake has been sliced to reveal stacks of cake and ribbons of frosting. There are times when I want a layer cake, but don’t really need something so big. Whether I only want to have enough cake to feed a few, or I simply don’t want to have to wash multiple cake pans, it’s good to have an alternative to a classic layer cake. This layer cake starts out with a rich chocolate loaf cake, which is sliced into three layers before being frosted and stacked back up. It doesn’t quite have the profile of a towering, round layer cake, but it is very elegant as a whole and when sliced for serving.
The chocolate loaf cake is a variation on one of my favorite eggless chocolate cake recipes. It uses cocoa powder, melted chocolate and strongly brewed coffee to give it and intensely chocolaty flavor. It also has a tight crumb and a moist, tender texture. The cake uses a combination of vinegar and baking soda to provide most of its leavening, and uses melted butter instead of relying on softened butter creamed into the batter. This means that it takes only a few minutes to put the batter together before baking.
Loaf cakes tend to take a couple of hours to cool completely, longer than your typical round cakes because they are quite a bit thicker. Once cooled, the cake is easy to slice and the pieces are sturdy enough that you shouldn’t have to worry about breaking them as you stack them up. If your loaf pan has slanted sides, rather than straight ones, you might need to trim a bit off the top of the cake to ensure that your finished cake has layers that are all the same size.
The frosting uses melted butter, melted chocolate, cocoa powder and buttermilk for flavoring, and as it has a fairly intense flavor on its own, I like to stir in some vanilla and a pinch of salt to give it a more rounded flavor. The frosting is neither fluffy, like a buttercream, nor runny, like a glaze, and it is easy to spread and work with. I put the majority of the frosting on the three layers (two interior, one on top) and only very, very lightly run my offset spatula over the sides to give the cake a clean, polished look.
Chocolate Loaf Layer Cake with Buttermilk Chocolate Frosting
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter
2-oz dark or semisweet chocolate
1 cup strong coffee, cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a lightly-greased 9×5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper (either just the bottom or the bottom and sides).
In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda and salt.
In a small, microwave-safe bowl, melt together butter and dark chocolate. Stir until smooth and let cool slightly.
Pour coffee, vanilla, apple cider vinegar and melted chocolate mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until batter is smooth and no streaks of flour remain.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool in pan for about 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
When cake has cooled, slice horizontally into three even layers. Level the top layer with a sharp knife if it is not fairly flat. Place one layer on a cake stand and top with approximately 1/3 of the buttermilk chocolate frosting (recipe below). Spread frosting just to the sides of the layer and place second cake layer on top. Repeat with remaining frosting and final cake layer.
Run a knife or offset spatula lightly over the sides of the finished cake to smooth out any frosting that has leaked out between the layers. Sides of cake should not be frosted, but should still have a clean look to them.
Serves about 10.
Buttermilk Chocolate Frosting
1/2 cup butter
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, divided
5 tbsp buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
In a small, microwave safe bowl, melt together butter and unsweetened chocolate. Heat in 30-45 second intervals, stirring frequently, until mixture is smooth. Cool for about 5 minutes, or until mixture is close to room temperature.
Transfer butter mixture to a larger bowl. Beat in cocoa powder, 2 cups confectioners sugar, buttermilk, vanilla and salt, beating until frosting is smooth and slightly fluffy. Add additional confectioners’ sugar to thicken, if needed. Frosting should be at room temperature before using.