a layer cake recipe by Tessa Huff

For the Chocolate Cake:

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 12 tablespoons (6 ounces) unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 1 ½ cups coffee or water
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup brown sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 8-inch round cake pans and set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon (if using). Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk together the sour cream, eggs, yolk, and vanilla. Set aside.
  4. In a medium-large saucepan, place the butter, oil, and coffee. Heat over medium-high until the butter has melted. Lower the heat and whisk in the cocoa and sugars until dissolved.
  5. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Whisk in the sour cream mixture until combined. Finally, stir in the dry ingredients, in two bathes, until the batter is smooth.
  6. Evenly distribute the batter between the prepared pans and bake for 23 to 26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 to 20 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans. Wrap well in until ready to assemble. The cake is best served at room temperature.
  7. For the Bourbon Simple Syrup:
  8. ½ cup granulated sugar
  9. ½ cup water
  10. 3 to 4 tablespoons bourbon
  11. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the sugar and water together over high heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the temperature and simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the bourbon and vanilla.

For the Bourbon Buttercream

  • 6 large eggs whites
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, add the egg whites and sugar. Whisk briefly by hand until combined.
  2. Fill a saucepan with a few inches of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Place the mixer bowl on top of the saucepan to create a double-boiler. Stirring intermittently, heat the egg mixture until it reaches 160 on a candy thermometer.
  3. Once hot, carefully return the mixer bowl to the stand mixer. Fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg white mixture on high until stiff peaks, about 8 minutes. When done, the outside of the mixer bowl should return to room temperature.
  4. Stop the mixer and swap the paddle for the whisk. With the mixer on low, add in the vanilla bean seeds and butter, a couple tablespoons at a time. Once all of the butter has been added, turn the mixer up to medium-high and mix until smooth. If the mixture looks curdled, just keep mixing until it is smooth (this could take up to about 5 minutes). If it appears soupy, place the mixer bowl in the fridge for 10 to 15 minutes, then mix until smooth.
  5. Turn the mixer back down to low and very slowly add the bourbon a tablespoon at a time until completely incorporated. A lot of liquid will be trying to force its way into a buttery mixture, so only add a little bit at a time to allow the mixture to emulsify and combine.

NOTE: Omit the bourbon completely for a non-alcoholic version. The brown sugar meringue buttercream is tasty on its own, too!

For the Assembly:

  • ¾ to 1 cup toasted pecans, finely chopped
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons cocoa powder

  1. Once the cakes have cooled, trim the top so that they are level. Generously brush the cakes with the simple syrup.
  2. Removed two cups of the buttercream and place in a separate bowl, Mix in the pecans until combined.
  3. Place the bottom layer of cake on a cake board or serving dish. Spread on half of the pecan buttercream. Top with the next layer of cake and repeat.
  4. Frost the cake with the bourbon buttercream until nearly smooth.
  5. Mix in a couple of teaspoons of cocoa powder with about ½ cup buttercream. To create the marbled effect, randomly swipe on spots of the cocoa buttercream on top of the bourbon buttercream. Continue to smooth until the colors swirl. Learn more about this frosting technique here. Note – if you smooth and fuss too much, the colors will blend together and you may lose the marbled effect. Add in more bourbon buttercream as needed. Pipe dollops of buttercream around the top, as desired.