Behind The Recipe: Twelve-Layer Mocha Cake

When our test kitchen director adapted her son’s exquisite wedding cake for the home kitchen, she created this towering beauty—and it’s easier than it looks.
twelve-layer mocha cake

This is the best cake I’ve ever made in my life—and I’ve made a lot of cakes. Of course, it’s special for another reason too. I created this fabulous dessert for my son’s wedding, which took place in a beautiful farmhouse in northeastern Spain.

To welcome his bride to our family, I began my creation with a collapsed chocolate soufflé. This intense, moist yet light cake is the one we serve at every family birthday dinner. To build upon that, I looked to European-style cakes, adding layer upon layer of flavors and textures—vanilla cake, dark chocolate ganache, hazelnut meringue, coffee buttercream, and, of course, chocolate soufflé cake—that made it a real tour de force. But I was nervous about the execution. Knowing that European ovens tend to be smaller than American ones, I repeatedly called and asked my son for the dimensions of the farmhouse’s oven. Because he was busy at the time, he never got back to me on that one. I packed my 15-by-10-inch pans anyway.

I also schlepped flour, Valrhona chocolate, and the hazelnut meringue on the plane. (You never know what you’re going to be able find abroad.) As soon as we arrived at the farmhouse, I darted into the kitchen to check the oven. Thank goodness, it was big enough for my pans! At the end, the cake came together beautifully. To match the stunning outdoor setting, I decorated it simply with huge organic pansies and a pair of bride and groom figurines. When the cake was served, my son and daughter-in-law were in awe. (And by the looks of the plates wiped clean and the sounds of contented sighs around me, I was pretty sure everyone else enjoyed it too.) I couldn’t have been happier. I had hoped to make their special day a little more special, and my cake did just that.

For years, I wanted to do a variation of this special occasion cake for Gourmet and found the perfect place for it in this December’s celebratory Christmas dinner menu. I substituted mocha buttercream for the chocolate ganache; it tastes just as silky and rich, but adds more of the faintly bitter coffee flavor that balances the rich, dark chocolate of the collapsed soufflé. To make this cake more accessible to home cooks, I decided to frost only the top. The result is a sleek, modern dessert that shows off all twelve layers.

This isn’t an everyday cake, but it’s easier than it looks. Each component isn’t too complicated; it’s a matter of putting all of the parts together to create a real showstopper. That’s the best part of this cake. It’s a way to wow your family and friends, to show them how much you care. My son and daughter-in-law have been married for six years, and the memory of making their wedding cake still makes me smile.

Subscribe to Gourmet