Feed-a-Crowd Perfect Chocolate Cake

We’ve just come through our birthday season, celebrating both Clara and Mateo with two different events and enough cake from both parties to feed a small army. Honestly, with the size of our extended family, there’s no such thing as too much cake.

I wasn’t planning to share this recipe here, because, well, it’s full of sugar and you, dear reader, tend to enjoy naturally sweetened recipes like the beloved Dark Chocolate Beet Bundt Cake, a Apple Spice Cake or this Banana Layer Cake.

But the practical side of me won out because this slab cake feeds a crowd with ease, and keeps them very, very happy. This is a recipe you only come across once in a lifetime, after far too many ho-hum chocolate cakes. This one makes you stop talking and pay attention to the slice on the plate in front of you. It makes your guests exclaim aloud – and when the party has dwindled, make a request for a piece to take home.

In short, it’s perfect for your Easter long weekend entertaining

Feed-a-Crowd Perfect Chocolate Layer Cake || Simple Bites

I certainly didn’t develop this Feed-a-Crowd Perfect Chocolate Cake recipe myself, although I did tweak it from the original.  I first came across it in one of my favourite food memoirs, Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me with Apples. In the story she makes ten times the recipe for a birthday cake for a man she was in love with, Michael…

“The cake took rivers of chocolate and dozens of eggs, and by the time it was finished I needed four men to help me lift it into the car. Michael blanched when he saw my creation coming toward him. It was more than a cake; it was a declaration of love in front of three hundred people, and we both knew it.”

Now I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but in a 2010 blog post, Ruth remakes the same cake, again for a certain Michael’s birthday. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions….but you should really read the book.

In her post, Ruth gives a little more history on the cake, stating that she developed it when she lived in Berkley and had a a little side business making wedding cakes. Could you imagine having Ruth Reichl bake your wedding cake?

Feed-a-Crowd Perfect Chocolate Layer Cake || Simple Bites

The recipe popped up again in Ruth’s most recent book, the New York Times bestselling cookbook My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life. She simply and unapologetically proclaims it  “The Cake That Cures Everything”. Well then. And if that wasn’t convincing enough (which somehow it wasn’t), the Times ran the recipe and Melina Hammer’s stunning photograph sold me in an instant.

Before getting down to business in the kitchen, I studied the comments on the cake over at NYT Food and paid close attention to what the savvy Serious Eats readers had to say about it, too. I learned that I should make the cake with all-purpose flour, use the best cocoa and chocolate I can find, make one-and-a-half times the frosting, and stick to whipped cream cheese.

This double layer, deep dark chocolate slab cake did the job so well, I’m calling it Feed-a-Crowd Perfect Chocolate Cake. I carved it up for our 20 or so birthday party attendees and there was enough to send a modest slice home with anyone who desired a piece – and that was every guest save one. Sufficient to say, it’s a real crowd-pleaser.

Feed-a-Crowd Perfect Chocolate Layer Cake || Simple Bites

Now thanks to its sheer size, this cake is impressive on its own, but why not have a little fun with decorations? The cake in my photos was decorated for a four-year-old’s birthday, but I don’t have to tell you it would be perfect dressed up with pastel mini eggs or your favourite Easter candy (like this beauty!).

I’m not sure what has changed around here, but gone are the days of my elaborate cake decorating (like this cute robot). Pressed for time last week, I stopped off at a local bakery and picked up a half a dozen macarons and a small bag of meringue kisses. I stashed them in the freezer until the day of the party, when I arranged them on a corner of the cake.

My friend Rosie of Sweetapolia has a charming online sprinkles shop, which she ships worldwide from Canada. I used her ‘Pinata’ medley to add a finishing touch of whimsy to Clara’s cake. All in all, the decorating took about five minutes – and she loved it!

If you follow food trends at all, you’ll know we’ve been seeing macarons piled on cakes for a few years. Now cake toppings are getting even crazier, with marshmallows, meringues, popcorn and even mini doughnuts piled high. I say, have fun with it! If it makes you happy, go for it.

Feed-a-Crowd Perfect Chocolate Layer Cake || Simple Bites

Lastly, it is the make-ahead-and-freeze-ability of this divine cake that brings me to share it with you. I made this beauty almost a week in advance, froze it – frosting and all – and then later thawed and served it up to my guests. It was just as fabulous as the day it was baked and it certainly made things easy for me on Party Day.

To freeze, place the tray with the frosted cake in the freezer until solid. Then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store the cake for up to three months. Thaw it overnight in the refrigerator and then bring to room temperature before serving. My cake took at least five hours at room temperature to come the right serving temperature.

Feed-a-Crowd Perfect Chocolate Cake
4.8 from 6 reviews
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Recipe type: Dessert
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves/Yield: 24 pieces
A decadent dark chocolate cake, guaranteed to please young and old alike.
Ingredients
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Butter two 9x13 pans, and line them with waxed or parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pans lightly with cocoa powder or flour. Tap out excess.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together cocoa powder with the boiling water until quite smooth and glossy. Pour in the milk, followed by the vanilla and whisk gently to combine the liquids.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter with the sugars until light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. Stop the mixer a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.
  4. Stop the mixer and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure everything is well combined.
  5. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add about a third of the flour, followed by half the cocoa mixture. Add another third of the flour and the remaining cocoa. Finally, finish with the last of the flour, mixing the batter only until just combined.
  6. Stop the mixer and scrape down the paddle. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans.
  7. Place the pans side-by-side on the middle rack in the oven. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35-45 minutes. Cool cakes for 5 minutes in the pan, then loosen around the edges with a knife and invert the cakes onto wire cooling racks. Remove parchment paper and discard. Cool completely before frosting.
  8. Place one cake on a serving plate or tray. Spread a 1/2 inch layer of frosting evenly over the top. Place the second cake on top. Frost the entire cake and sides, smoothing or swirling the frosting as desired.
  9. Serve at once or refrigerate, loosely wrapped in plastic, for up to four days. To freeze, place the tray in the freezer until solid. Then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store for up to three months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature before serving.
Notes
I highly recommend weighing the two 9x13 pans with batter in them so as to get the same amount in each. This gives you even thicknesses of cake layers when you slice into the cake.
I bake the cakes at a slightly lower temperature than the original recipe so that they don't dome in the middle.

Whipped Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

‘Tis true, the recipe below is a double batch from what Ruth suggests in her original recipe, but I found the amount in no way excessive. The frosting is what really makes the cake special: oodles of best quality melted chocolate whipped with butter, just enough powdered sugar to lighten it and tangy cream cheese to balance out the sweetness.

I wanted to use less powdered sugar, so I used a 64% dark chocolate instead of unsweetened. I was able to cut back on the sugar and found the frosting still plenty sweet enough.

Note that the frosting does start to harden after about 30 minutes and is slightly more difficult to ‘sculpt’ on the cake. So be sure to have your cakes cooled completely and ready to cover before you begin making the frosting.

Feed-a-Crowd Perfect Chocolate Layer Cake || Simple Bites

Whipped Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
4.8 from 6 reviews
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Recipe type: Dessert
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves/Yield: Enough for 1 Feed-a-Crowd Perfect Chocolate Cake
Ingredients
  • 10 oz Valrhona 'Manjari' feves (64% dark chocolate)
  • 1 1/2 cups (3/4 lb) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 - 227 g containers whipped cream cheese
  • 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
Instructions
  1. Roughly chop the chocolate into chunks. Place in a double boiler or in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Melt slowly, stirring occasionally.
  2. Remove the bowl from the pot and cool the chocolate to room temperature.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice.
  4. Add the cooled chocolate, vanilla and salt; beat until thoroughly combined.
  5. Turn off the mixer and add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Beat on low speed until combined. Increase the speed to High and beat for one minute.
Notes
Frosting is best used within 30 minutes or so of making, when it is still easily spreadable. As the chocolate hardens, the frosting will stiffen somewhat.

Have a wonderful Easter weekend, everyone!

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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Comments

  1. This cake definitely looks perfect! I love your frosting recipe too!

  2. Awesome! Thank you. And, yes, I would agree that cake decorating for my beloved children has gone from very elaborate to “heartfelt and accessorized” e.g. a little backhoe on top of a pile of chocolate cookie crumbs on a homemade cake. The love is still there of course… along with a measure of realism and sanity : ) Best wishes for a lovely Easter!

  3. I just read about this cake in My Kitchen Year, it sounds amazing and perfect for feeding such a crowd. I’m fond of the new trend in cake decorating, I have zero skills in that area but I can pile flowers or macaroons on top.

    • Breanne, I’d put fresh flowers on a cake year round, if I could pick them. Sadly I have two winter birthdays…and yeah, sprinkles it is.

  4. Well now, I wasn’t planning on making a cake for our Easter cookout and egg hunt on Saturday, but this cake (and your stories about it) make it hard to resist. So, tomorrow will include both the pastel colored tea cakes I had planned on baking with my kids and also a chocolate cake for a crowd.

    Thank you for sharing this recipe. It really is just what I need. I’m not very good at decorating cakes and much prefer to simply make a delicious cake that speaks for itself!

    • You’re so awesome Lisa! I love how you can jump on board just like that. Your cookout sounds like fun. Let me know how the cake is received.
      Happy Easter!

      • The cake was SO well received! Seriously, the same people were repeatedly telling me how great it was. Thanks for another great recipe. I’m currently making your mocha pie for friends tonight. It’s another favorite and always a hit. I’m trying it with a little kahlua added in the whipped cream this time too.

  5. This cake is SO perfect and i just love the decorations too, seriously impressive.

  6. I love this new cake trend! I literally emailed my mom about it 2 days ago telling her that it’s my dream come true because I’m terrible at piping, but THIS I could do ( with the help of a local bakery for the macarons & meringues, of course, haha!). Your cake is so beautiful! And that frosting! I’ve been making chocolate frostings (either milk or dark) with sour cream. I need to try chocolate cream cheese next! Also, must purchase some sprinkles from Rosie (Sweetapolita). These will also help me out since I’m not very good at cake decorating 😉

    • Too funny, Janice! My new goals are to make the pretty toppings, but for these busy days, the baker works!
      And thank you for your kind words. I still feel like such a hack with baking.

      Happy Easter!

  7. Sam Weiner says:

    This sounds like a delicious and crowd-pleasing cake! Do you use natural or Dutch-processed cocoa powder? Thanks so much!

  8. It looks amazing!

    Do you feel that there would be enough batter to make this recipe as a sheet cake (double layered as the 9×13 ) as I need enough cake for 40 people or would the layers be too thin?

    Where can I find Valrhona chocolate or equivalent in the Montreal area?

    • For the chocolate, Chocolat Privilege at Marche Atwater has pre-packaged amounts and also inside at the scoop shop, you can weigh out what you want. You may find it also at the Marche in the West Island. I get mine at the chocolate shop in the Marche 440 in Laval.
      I think this cake could stretch to feed 40 if the pieces were small.

  9. Can you really freeze the cake with icing? It won’t get too hard? I’ve never done that before. The cake looks perfect for pot lucks and office parties 🙂

  10. Tempting. Loved the pictures they are like inviting every one!

  11. I am super excited to try this cake for my daughter’s birthday party that is coming up. Thank you so much for this incredible recipe. The fact that you can make ahead and then freeze, frosting and all had me sold with that promise!

    One question, do you know of a similar recipe that you could make but in vanilla?

    Thanks again for all the yumminess you create!

  12. Aimee, thank you for this fabulous recipe! Your cake looked so gorgeous I had to try it. I made half the recipe in two 9″ round pans and froze the frosted cake ahead of time. it turned out beautifully and was absolutely delicious! The frosting really is amazing–and I used Kirkland chocolate chips since that’s all I had on hand…I’ll have to try it with a premium chocolate next time.

    As the previous comment, I too would love to see a recipe for a large vanilla cake…

    Love your blog; thanks for the inspiration!

  13. Sarah Ellen says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. I made this for our church potluck last Sun. Several folks have gluten issues, so I made it with Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 baking flour. Also, I used unsweetened baking chocolate for the frosting (we don’t like anything too sweet). Perfection!
    I cut the baked layers in half to make a 4 layer, 9×6.5 “square”. I got so many compliments, one friend told me if this cake were the only item sold @ a high end bakery, they wouldn’t lose a customer!

  14. I think regardless of the size of your family, you can’t have too much chocolate cake :). Looks fantastic!

  15. Really perfect enough for an awesome tea time!! It could’ve also use as a party cake for children too! Bet they will like it!

  16. pls can i replace brown sugar for regular sugar

  17. I would like to make this cake for a special celebration as tit loos fantastic! but can anyone help me with the conversion in grams and millilitres?

  18. Amy, I’m making this very cake for my husband’s grandmother’s 90th birthday/family reunion in two weeks and wondered if you had a ball-park estimate for how high/tall this double layer cake with filling + frosting is? Thanks so much for the inspiration! Love Sweetapolita’s sprinkles. If only shipping were cheaper and fast from Canada to the US!!

    • Hi Jen,
      It’s about 5 inches with filling and frosting. I hope that works for you!

      • THANK YOU!! Very helpful! May have to go a little lighter on the frosting/filling to help it fit in the cake carrier. Either way, I know she’ll love it (and all my husband’s relatives too!). Thanks again.

  19. Alan reay mackay says:

    Hi I just made this cake for 150 unwell children it’s being delivered in the morning I had to times all the ingredients by 6.5 and it still worked. Wish I could show you a picture. Thanks for posting, I live and work in the south of France and they do not often see cakes like this and they love them.

  20. Love it, a friend of mine asked me to make a cake for her husbands music group, traditional French music.. kind of put me up to a challenge as it had to feed about 50 people. But am soooooooooooooo grateful this recipe worked PERFECT first time… now it will be my go to 🙂 I live in France too like the last person who commnted and its true icing on cakes is an “English” thing !!! THANK YOU …I will b buying one of your recipes books as a way to say thank you .

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