Because a cake is a cake, its general cake-ness is usually quite enough to make everyone happy. But every now and again, there’s a moment — a rare, special moment — when you need a cake that has panache. Such cakes can be tough to come by and even tougher to make. Usually.
This pretty chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting and chocolate splatters is a stunning creation that requires very little effort. If you can bake a cake, work a mixer, and flick a paintbrush, you’re most of the way there already. And the results aren’t just beautiful, they’re tasty, too – with a classic, moist chocolate cake and a perfect, creamy buttercream.
Though relatively simple, this cake recipe is best made in steps. You’ll want to allow time for the cake layers to cool completely, and then set them in the freezer. Well-chilled cake layers are much easier to handle, trim, and frost, and it helps the buttercream to set up beautifully. If you’re planning to freeze the layers for longer than a few hours, wrap cooled cake layers in two layers of plastic wrap.
Black and White Chocolate Splatter Cake
adapted from the Barefoot Contessa
Makes: One 2-layer cake (8-inch diameter)
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for dusting cake pans
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 eggs, room temperature and lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing cake pans
- 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee (decaf is fine)
- 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted (add more powdered sugar as needed)
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- Water, as needed
- Large brush
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Trace and cut out parchment liners to fit 2 8-inch cake pans. Grease liberally, and dust with cocoa powder. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk to combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and sea salt. In a smaller bowl, combine the buttermilk, eggs, and vegetable oil. Turn mixer to low and fold wet ingredients into the dry. When mixture is smooth, slowly add the hot coffee. Mix just until coffee is well incorporated.
- Divide batter between prepared cake pans, tap once on the counter to remove bubbles, and slide into the oven. Bake cakes for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached.
- Cool for 15 minutes, then turn cakes out onto wire racks, and let cool completely.
- Several hours before frosting, set cakes in freezer. Once cakes are well-chilled, use a sharp bread knife to carefully cut off any bumps to level the cake.
- In a large bowl, beat the butter on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Switch mixer to low, and add powdered sugar. Set mixer back to high and beat for 2 minutes, until frosting is fluffy and smooth. Add the lemon juice and vanilla, and beat for 1 minute more.
- To frost cakes, line a cake plate with parchment or wax paper (use sections, so it can be removed easily once cake is frosted), and put the frozen bottom cake layer in place. Spoon a third of the frosting into a small bowl. Add a thick layer of frosting to the top of the first layer, and then secure the top layer. Next, apply an even crumb coat, spreading frosting on the sides and then the top. Scrape excess crumb-y frosting onto the side of the bowl and discard. Set cake in freezer for an hour or more to set the crumb coat. Store unused frosting in the refrigerator.
- Before finishing the cake, set frosting out to come to room temperature. If needed, add a squeeze of lemon juice and beat on medium-high speed for a minute to smooth it out. In smooth, even strokes, frost the sides and top of the cake — use a flat knife or offset pastry spatula to smooth everything out.
- Next, use a fork to whisk a drizzle of water into the cocoa powder; continue adding water until the mixture is smooth and drips off the tip of the fork. Dipping an unused, large brush with a pointed tip into the chocolate mixture, test a few flings of chocolate “paint” on a paper towel. Adjust texture of chocolate mixture by adding more cocoa or water, as needed. Use a forceful flinging motion to create lines, or tap the brush on your finger to make drops. Once you have your technique down pat, drizzle and drip on the top of the cake. Then, slice and serve!