1990s Recipes + Menus

Chocolate Cake with Orange Buttercream

Serves20 to 25
  • Active time:2 1/4 hr
  • Start to finish:11 hr (includes making buttercream and chilling cake)
September 1996
This is the perfect party cake—just right for a small family wedding or other fancy occasion. Layers of devil’s food cake enriched with bittersweet chocolate are interspersed with a trufflelike ganache frosting, and the whole is enveloped by orange buttercream.

For cake layers

  • 1 3/4 cups boiling water
  • 1 3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
  • 4 oz good bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped
  • 1 (8-ounce) container sour cream
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 5 large eggs

For ganache

  • 8 oz good bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon Cointreau or other orange-flavored liqueur
  • 1 cup heavy cream

For frosting

  • Special equipment:

    three 9- by 2-inch round cake pans; a 4 1/2- to 5-quart stand mixer; a cake stand; a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain tip

Make the cake layers:

  • Put racks in middle and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350F. Butter cake pans and line bottoms with rounds of parchment or wax paper. Butter paper well and dust pans with flour, knocking out excess.
  • Add boiling water to cocoa a medium bowl and whisk until smooth. Stir in chopped chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes, then stir until smooth. Cool for 20 minutes.
  • Whisk sour cream and vanilla into chocolate mixture. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt into a bowl.
  • Beat together butter and sugars in bowl of mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl with a spatula as needed. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture and chocolate mixture alternately in 3 batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until just combined. Finish mixing batter by hand with spatula, scraping bottom of bowl.
  • Divide batter among pans (about 3 3/4 cups in each) and smooth tops. Place two pans in middle of oven and one pan in bottom third (do not put top pans directly above bottom pan) and bake, switching position of pans halfway through baking, until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of cakes comes out with a few moist crumbs adhering, 30 to 40 minutes.
  • Run a thin knife around edges of pans. Invert racks over pans, then invert cakes onto racks. Carefully remove paper and cool layers completely.

Make the ganache:

  • Put chocolate, butter, zest, and liqueur in a metal bowl. Bring cream just to a boil in a small saucepan, then immediately pour into bowl and let stand 5 minutes. Whisk until chocolate is melted and smooth. Refrigerate just until cool, 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Right before using, beat ganache with mixer just until light and fluffy. (Do not overbeat.)

Assemble and frost the cake:

  • Beat ganache with cleaned beaters just until light and fluffy; do not overbeat.
  • Reserve 2 cups buttercream for decorating. Put 1 cake layer on cake stand and spread top evenly with half of ganache. Cover with another cake layer and spread top with remaining ganache. Cover with remaining cake layer, then frost top and sides of cake smoothly with a thin layer of buttercream (a crumb coating). Refrigerate cake, uncovered, until buttercream is firm, about 30 minutes.
  • Generously frost top and sides of cake with remaining buttercream (reserving 2 cups for decorating) and refrigerate, uncovered, until buttercream is firm, about 30 minutes.
  • Fill pastry bag with reserved buttercream and pipe a decorative border around top and bottom of cake. Refrigerate cake, covered with a large cake dome (or loosely covered with plastic wrap, use toothpicks to hold wrap away from frosting), at least 6 hours.
  • Bring to room temperature (2 to 4 hours) before serving.
Cooks’ notes:
  • Cake layers can be kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at cool room temperature for up to 2 days. They can also be frozen, wrapped well in plastic wrap and foil, for up to 2 weeks; defrost layers (without unwrapping) at room temperature.
  • The decorated cake can be refrigerated for up to 1 day.
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