Classic Chocolate Cake with Chilli Chocolate Frosting

Baking, Dessert | January 26, 2017 | By

This is the cake that you had as a kid, washed down with a cold glass of milk.  It is that cake that every good diner has in a chilled turn table display, tempting you with all its chocolatey goodness.  It’s the cake that showed up at special occasions, or the cake that your aunt made when you came to visit.  It is THE chocolate cake.

It is so so simple.  It really should be a crime at how easy this recipe is.  Because it just feels like I’ve broken a law somehow, making this, and I’ve gotten away with it.  I’m not so much a cake baker as I am a pie baker.  My sister is the cake expert.  I have never pretended to be anything else.  I know where my weaknesses are.  Cakes and roasts are among the highest.  Because you never really know what is going on inside that cake pan, or in that cut of meat, while it is in the oven.  You may pull it out when the timer goes off, and the temperature probe or skewer may tell you it’s done.  But then after letting it cool or rest, you cut into it.  The batter is still all gooey, runny.  The roast is way under or over done.  All that work wasted.  I don’t do well with not being in total control.  But I’m getting over it.  Slowly.

And this cake recipe has definitely made me feel uber confident!  It turned out exactly as Julia Turshen said it would.  I am beginning to think this book should be in everyone’s collection, STAT.

And what a joy it is to bake up.  It all takes place in one bowl, and a spoon!  No electric mixer.  It’s a lovely melange of flour, sugar, cocoa powder, leavening agents, melted butter, coffee, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla.  I will say, I substituted kefir for the buttermilk.  And I did add a few dashes of chocolate bitters.  But other than that, the recipe is the same.  I was so happy to see coffee in the recipe- coffee really brings out the chocolatey-ness in recipes.

What I love about this recipe is that it really shows how the cooking world really is a community.  We all inspire each other.  And really, most recipes are just variations or inspirations based on ones that preceded them.  In this case it was Deb Perleman (Smitten Kitchen) who gave Julia the jumping off point for her genius recipe’s frosting.  The frosting for this cake couldn’t be more brilliant:  melted semi sweet chocolate chips, sour cream and maple syrup.  All stirred together.  Yep, that’s it.  Really.  I did have to put my own spin on it.  I added about 1 tbsp of Entube Harissa paste and mixed it with the maple syrup before I added it to the chocolate and sour cream.  The harissa adds a depth of flavour and heat.  It doesn’t take over, it just turns it into the most love chocolate chilli flavour.  Such a great way to add just a little sumthin sumthin!!  

Julia’s recipe calls for a wonderful layer of raspberry jam to be inserted between the two layers.  I love this idea.  But I didn’t do it this time.  I will do it the next time.  Because I will be making this cake often!!

Here is my tip for baking up any cake, and I have learned these first hand, so I can say that they are tried and tested: bake up your rounds the day before you want to serve the cake.  Let them cool entirely (in the fridge) Then, when it comes time to frost them, there will be no worries of crumbs breaking free and getting into your frosting.  The frosting recipe came together quickly, and thickened up (in the correct way- spreadable, and not slippery so as to fall away from the cake) for me, but it could be because it is winter and the kitchen was a tad cooler.  If you don’t find that it is thickening right away, put it into the fridge to thicken up.  Make sure it is still silky and smooth for spreading though.

When I baked it up, I opted to make it in 7″ cake rounds with removable sides (like for cheesecakes) instead of the 8″ rounds she states.  I did this for two reasons: there are only two of us at home- we don’t need this much cake tempting us!  And I also wanted to make some cupcakes for dear friends.  So I was able to get 4 cupcakes out of the remaining batter.  If you stick to the original 8″ rounds you will easily have a cake that can feed 8-10 people comfortably.  Of course, according to Jim (and therefore I’m assuming most men) it isn’t finished unless the slice is garnished with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream. 

Love Jen.

Classic Chocolate Cake with Chilli Chocolate Frosting
Serves 8
The classic of all classics. And it is wonderfully easy to pull together. The frosting will blow your mind! This is perfect for everyday, or for company and special occasions.
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
30 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
30 min
  1. 1¼ cups [150 g] all-purpose flour
  2. 1 cup [200 g] sugar
  3. ¾ cup [75 g] Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
  4. 1 tsp baking soda
  5. 1 tsp baking powder
  6. ½ tsp kosher salt
  7. 8 Tbsp [110 g] unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  8. 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  9. 1 cup [240 ml] strong black coffee, at room temperature
  10. 1 cup [240 ml] buttermilk or plain yogurt
  11. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. ¾ cup [130 g] semisweet chocolate chips or roughly chopped semisweet chocolate
  2. ¾ cup [180 ml] sour cream, at room temperature
  3. 1 tbsp maple syrup
  4. 2 tsp- 2 1/2 tsp Entube Harissa paste
  5. ½ cup [160 g] raspberry jam (seeded or seedless, whatever your preference) (or you can just have extra frosting in the middle, as I opted for)
  6. Raspberries for serving (optional)
  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F [180°C]. Use your hands to butter the bottom and sides of two 8-in [20-cm] cake pans, then line the bottom of each with a circle of parchment paper. For good measure, butter the parchment paper. Set the pans aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Add the melted butter, eggs, coffee, buttermilk, and vanilla and whisk until the batter is smooth.
  4. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cake pans (Use a cup measure to be accurate). Place these two onto a baking sheet for easy removal.
  5. Bake until the cakes are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer the cakes, still in their pans, to a wire rack and let them cool completely.
  6. Once cool, use a dinner knife to loosen the edges of the cakes from the pans and invert them onto your work surface (you might need to give the pan a little whack). Peel off and discard the parchment.
To make the frosting
  1. Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Put the chocolate chips in a large stainless-steel or heatproof glass bowl and set it over the pot (the water should not touch the bowl—if it does, simply pour some out). Stir until the chocolate is melted. (Alternatively, you can melt the chocolate in a microwave in 15-second increments, stirring between increments.)
  2. Combine the maple syrup and harissa paste till smooth.
  3. Remove the chocolate from the heat and let cool down slightly.
  4. Whisk in the sour cream, and then the maple syrup mixture.
  5. The frosting should be smooth and quite silky. Refrigerate the frosting until the cakes have cooled. It will thicken as it cools (a good thing).
  6. Once the cakes are cool, put one on a serving platter upside-down so that the flat side is facing up. Spread the jam over the top. Put the second cake on top of the jam-slathered cake, again flat-side up—this way you get a nice flat top. (If the jam makes the layers slip and slide a bit, use a couple of skewers to hold the layers together while you frost the sides and then remove the skewers to frost the top).
  7. Using a small offset spatula or a dinner knife, spread the frosting all over the sides and top of the cake. There’s no need to be perfect with this; I like it kind of rustic looking. But if you’re more of a type-A person, go ahead and smooth the top and sides (and you could even stick strips of parchment paper under the bottom of the cake before frosting it to keep your serving platter clean). Whatever makes you happy.
  8. Let the cake sit for about 1 hour before serving. There’s something about letting each element get to know the others that serves this cake very well. In fact, I prefer to make it the day before and refrigerate it overnight, and serve it cold. Either way, slice and serve with some fresh raspberries alongside if you’d like.
  9. Note: If you only own a single cake pan, fear not! Simply pour the batter into the pan and bake it until a toothpick tests clean (it will take 10 to 15 minutes longer in the oven than the two separate layers). Once the cake cools completely, use a serrated knife to cut it into two layers. Voilà.
  10. Alternatively, you can make a bit more frosting and use it to fill the middle. Or use both- the raspberry jam and the frosting for a really decadent middle!
  1. It will easily serve 8-10 people, especially if you are serving it with a side of vanilla ice cream. If you don't then Jim will say it isn't finished.
Adapted from Small Victories by Julia Turshen
Adapted from Small Victories by Julia Turshen
The Lemon Apron


  1. Leave a Reply

    January 30, 2017

    When I first saw this post on instagram & read your description it brought me back to my childhood. I remember those wonderful chocolate cakes mum would make & yes we wash them down with glasses of fresh milk, but when you posted it a second time I thought I really would love a piece of that delicious cake. So we were having family & friends over & I decided to try it out. Perfection… from your description, to the ease of making it & finally the divine taste. It was a huge hit in our house! So dear Jennifer this will be a recipe that will be made many times, not only in my home but my daughter’s & quite a few friends! I will think of you every time it graces our table! Thank you for a perfect recipe! Best Wishes! Mary??

    • Leave a Reply

      January 30, 2017

      Hi Mary, What beautiful sentiments! It’s so lovely to get feedback. But in this case, you just made me feel 12 again (momentarily!) So lovely to connect over food, and have the miles between us melt away. Have a fabulous week. Love Jen

  2. Leave a Reply

    January 29, 2017

    Thanks for sharing this recipe! Mine is now in the oven. Let’s see how it turns. Fingers crossed. I usually bake a chocolate cake that is more messy b cause you have to beat yolks and whites separated and the melt the chocolate and so… i fell in love with the recipe and with your pictures! I’ll try the frosting without the chili because I’m baking it for my 2 year old son that’s a bit with a cold. The smell is amazing! Thanks again. Greetings from Argentina!

    • Leave a Reply

      January 30, 2017

      Hi Ariadna. I hope it turned out for you as well as it has for me a few times now. I totally understand about the chilli. All the best for a lovely week. One day we would love to visit Argentina! Love Jen

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