How to Make a $150 Chocolate Cake for $20

Last Spring I went to a kids birthday party and had the best. cake. ever. It was rich chocolate with chocolate mousse filling and what really took it over the top were these little crunchy chocolate balls in the filling. It was all about the flavor, the frosting design was just a simple rainbow. For fun I called the bakery to find out how much a basic, no frills (no fondant) monster truck cake would cost. My answer? $150, one hundred and fifty dollars, people! No way, not gonna happen. Sooo, I made a copycat version and everyone at my four year old’s party was freaking out. They were in awe of the size and once bites were taken, a hush fell over the party. Guests began asking how I made this cake and what were the crunchy balls. My neighbor called me supermom. I’m no supermom and to prove it and the fact that anyone can make this cake, she and I made another mini version a week later. She was shocked at how easy such an amazing cake is to make. Check out my step by step guide with recipes.

  • $150 Chocolate Cake 1 of 16

    All you need to do is pick your shape and think tall, in this case, my cake is a giant monster truck. I usually make two batches that will make four 9 inch rounds for a tall round cake with four layers. This time I made three 9 x 13 cakes and after it baked and cooled, I cut off 3 inches to make the cake 6 x 13, more of a vehicle size. I stacked three layers and used the strips I cut off to create the cab of the truck or a forth layer on 2/3 of the cake. My son loves Grave Digger, but the truck is black with purple and bright green accents. So this is my version of Grave Digger. It's much more happy and fun.

  • Trim The Excess 2 of 16

    Up to two weeks ahead of time, make your chocolate cake. There are tons of chocolate cake recipes, but I like the Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake. I make it for every birthday and always get rave reviews, but it does need some slight tweaking. First, add coffee, either replace the cup of hot water with a cup of hot coffee or add 1  and 1/2 teaspoons of espresso powder. While searching for a mousse filling I found an easy recipe on Food For The Hungry Soul where I also found an her slightly adapted version of the chocolate cake so I gave it a try and I like it. Make sure to line your cake pan with parchment paper for easy release.


  • Level The Top 3 of 16

    One of the three cakes ballooned up. Crazy. I've heard that you can wrap a wet towel around your pan while the cake is baking, but I'm not sure how this would work with a 9 x 13 cake pan. All you have to do is cut the uneven top of the cake off. I use a large serrated bread knife, start at one end and saw across to remove the excess. I don't worry about cutting it perfectly. Sure there's still some sloping on the side, but I will fill that with mousse. A bakery would cut the top off making it perfectly flat, but so much cake is wasted which I find tragic. After trimming I eat what I cut off (maybe I should cut more off).

  • Wrap Each Piece 4 of 16

    *Important step to add* after cutting the tops of the cake to make them level and cutting to shape, wrap each piece individually with plastic wrap, twice. Making sure there are not any air pockets. Now stick them in the freezer. This is important, trust me. The cake will not only turn out better (yes, cake is better after freezing), it's more moist and dense and delicious, but it will also help with the crumb coat and mousse filling.

    This is one of the pieces I cut off and used later to form the 4th layer.

  • All Wrapped Up 5 of 16

    Now freeze your cake for up to two weeks before the party. Some say you can freeze it for up to two months, but I think two weeks is plenty of time. Make sure the cake is on a flat surface, I put a cake board that I cut to the exact size of the cake, then stacked them. Because my cake is a truck that is raised I kept it on the perfectly sized cake board when it came time to frost to make sure it wouldn't break or fall off the raised stand.

  • Mousse Filling 6 of 16

    The day before the party make the chocolate mousse filling from Food For The Hungry Soul. *Important step to add* make sure the melted chocolate has cooled a bit to where it is pourable, but not hot, just barley warm or room temp. Gently fold into the whipped cream so the stiff peaks remain. Now place in the fridge for at least an hour or as long as over night.

    Make a simple buttercream frosting like the one from the back of the C & H Powdered Sugar box.

    Once the mousse is set, line the cake board or plate that will display your cake with parchment and place your first cake on the parchment. This will protect your display surface from getting messy. After the cake is frosted, remove the parchment. Take a spatula and scoop a layer of mousse onto the cake and spread out to about 1cm thickness.

    (This image is the mini version of the cake I made a week later to prove I'm not supermom)

  • Now For The Chocolate Pearls 7 of 16

    Make sure you order some crunchy chocolate pearls from Valrhona, they make all the difference and will have your guests begging for the recipe. Plus I searched and searched and called and finally found these little gems, so just get them because they will take your cake to the $150 level of amazingness. 

    Note: These are not cheap, but you will only use half a bag. It's why the cake is $20 and not $12.

  • Adding the Chocolate Pearls 8 of 16

    Sprinkle on a single layer of the pearls and add a thin layer of mousse on top. Please use the crunchy chocolate pearls. No, they are not sponsoring this post, they have no idea I'm so obsessed and demanding you all buy them right now.

  • Another Layer 9 of 16

    Take another layer of cake and place it cut side down on top of the first layer. Add another centimeter of mousse, cover with chocolate pearls and another thin layer of mousse.

    Isn't my mini version adorable?

  • Final Layer 10 of 16

    When placing on the final layer, make sure to place it cut side down and do not cover with mousse. The frosting is going on this layer of cake, but first you need place it back into the fridge and make a crumb coat.

  • Crumb Coat 11 of 16

    Now make the crumb coat. Pretty Prudent has an amazing tutorial, so check it out. Just IGNORE the boxed cake she uses. Boxed cake mix will not produce a $150 cake, it will produce a $5 cake. Also, if you want bakery perfection follow her method for a smooth look. I, personally, like imperfect frosting.

    What's with the image? There's nothing round on my cake. Ok, this image is from the robot cake I made last year, which was a pain.

  • Final Crumb Coat 12 of 16

    Remove the cake from the fridge and apply the crumb coat. Don't get lazy and skip this step. The cake should still be somewhat frozen making the crumb coat pretty easy. By crumb coating you will be able to frost the cake in minutes without getting crumbs mixed into your frosting. Seriously, it's amazing. Now place back in the fridge for about an hour.

  • Basic Frosting 13 of 16

    I love the  C & H Powdered Sugar buttercream frosting recipe. It's so easy and I can double it without changing the consistency. I like to use Americolor food coloring gels. It's in an easy to use squeeze bottle and the colors are amazing, consistent and just a must. I added flames to the sides, but couldn't find the right frosting tip, so I just improvised by placing the bright green frosting into a zip lock back and snipping just a tiny bit of the corner off. I had no idea what I was doing and was running out of time, but it looks great. Then I just made a tiny bit of red and dabbed on two headlights. I'm not a frosting cake perfecter. I like a rough looking cake and I've got three kids so spending an insane amount of time frosting a cake is senseless for me. If smooth and perfect cakes is your thing then you can spend hours making your cake look perfect, but as long as it looks decent, it's got some height, and most importantly tastes amazing, everyone will love it and remember it.

  • Cinnamon Roll Tires 14 of 16

    Because I made a giant four layer monster truck cake I had to have some tires. I had no desire to make cake tires so I went with donuts/cinnamon rolls. I really wanted french crullers, but they were too small. I sent the hubs down the day of the party to a donut shop and he came back with these giant cinnamon roll donuts and had the baker cover them with chocolate. These bad boys were only $1.39 each. Can you believe how cool they are?! Shout out to the hubs! He's mine ladies, all mine.

    The kids went insane over the wheels. I was like, forget the wheels, taste the cake! We sliced up the wheels and gave each kid a section to go with their cake. This is my kid, he got his own wheel.

  • Final Cake 15 of 16

    Check out the final cake! Isn't it impressive? Well, it's nothing compared to how amazing it tastes. Sure I could have created dirt using brown sugar or crushed graham crackers, but I chose to spend that time with my little dude. What I did do was get a piece of 3 x 12 rectangular foam from the floral department at Michael's and covered it with foil, then I put a dab of frosting on it before putting on the cake (which was already on a cut to size cake board). To attach the wheels I put some frosting on the back of each donut and stuck it to the cake. So easy.

  • Inside Slice 16 of 16

    That's a slice of heaven right there, even with the crazy purple frosting. To slice a cake with little catching and dragging on the knife, I recommend using a cheese knife like this one from amazon for $21.80. You probably think I'm crazy for suggesting a cheese knife to cut a cake, but it's true. See the image? I didn't do any retouching to the cake after I sliced it. This is how it looked. The knife is also perfect for slicing brownies. Just buy one, you'll thank me.

First: Make the Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cakes a couple of weeks ahead of time, but add 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of espresso powder and increase flour to 2 cups and baking powder to 2 teaspoons.

Second: Double wrap each cake in plastic wrap and freeze.

Third: Order the chocolate crunchy pearls from Valrhona.

Forth: Make the chocolate mousse filling from Food For The Hungry Soul. *Important step to add* make sure the melted chocolate has cooled a bit to where it is pourable, but not hot, just barley warm or room temp. Gently fold into the whipped cream so the stiff peaks remain.

Fifth: Make the buttercream frosting on the back of a C & H Powdered Sugar box.

Sixth: Place Cake on Cake board and add mousse filling and chocolate balls and continue with each layer, leaving the top plain.

Seventh: Crumb coat  from Pretty Prudent

Eighth: Frost your cake

Ninth: Devour cake

Tenth: Distribute recipe.

Article Posted 5 years Ago

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