Chocolate Layer Cake with Espresso Buttercream

It happened.  I think I found a chocolate cake recipe I like as much as my go-to Guinness chocolate cupcake recipe.  They are both wonderful but this cake recipe that I am about to share with you from Add A Pinch is SO moist and rich but not dense – perfect for cakes.  It’s sweeter than the version with Guinness in it, but still not overly sweet.  I don’t think this cake recipe would hold up well in a cupcake since it is so fluffy and moist, but perhaps I’ll try one day!

Chocolate Layer Cake with Espresso Buttercream
Chocolate Layer Cake with Espresso Buttercream

I had a family potluck with my mom’s side of the family and volunteered to make the dessert my contribution.  We had 17 people to feed and most of them had sweet tooths.  For big parties, I always try to make two small/medium desserts if time allows – usually one with chocolate and one with fruit – to satiate everyone’s preferences.  In addition to a batch of “Pink Lemonade” (Raspberry Lemon Bars), I made this chocolate layer cake with espresso buttercream.

Family Potluck Game is STRONG
Family Potluck Game is STRONG

The cake was a hit – there were no leftovers to bring home!

Here’s the recipe as adapted from Add A Pinch, along with some tips on assembling your layer cake.


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t espresso powder
  • 1 C milk
  • 1/2 C  vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 1 C boiling water
  • Double the ingredients for this Espresso Buttercream recipe (I used about 1.5x the recipe and it was just enough)

Prep Tip: If you decide to dry-prep (combining all of the dry ingredients the night before to make production easier day-of) the cake, do so without the espresso powder. The first time I made this cake, the espresso powder clumped to itself and then didn’t disintegrate well in the cake batter.

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by spraying with baking spray or buttering and lightly flouring. NOTE: I highly recommend using parchment circles, or making cake circles out of parchment paper.  Put a cake circle at the bottom of the pan after you put baking spray. It’ll help the cake release from the pan after baking.
  2. Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk through to combine or, using your paddle attachment, stir through flour mixture until combined well.
  3. Add milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix together on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed and carefully add boiling water to the cake batter. Beat on high speed for about 1 minute to add air to the batter. NOTE: If you don’t have a splash guard for your stand mixer, put a wet towel (or damp paper towel cut almost completely in half) over the top of the bowl before you turn the mixer back to prevent batter being splashed all over your counter. The batter will seem a bit watery, and that’s totally okay.  I am not used that, but trust me – you’re not doing anything wrong!

    It'll Look More Watery Than You're Used To
    It’ll Look More Watery Than You’re Used To
  4. Distribute cake batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, remove from the pan and cool completely.  Peel your parchment cake circle off both layers.  I usually replace the parchment with a cardboard cake circle just for the bottom layer.
  6. Frost cake with double recipe of Espresso Buttercream.

Layer cake tips:

  • Level your cake layers: If you don’t have a cake leveler, use a bread/cake knife to carefully level out the dome out of your cake layer. It’ll make frosting so much easier and ensure your cake has a flat top.

    Leveling the Cake Layers
    Leveling the Cake Layers
  • Layering:  The tops of your cake layers should face each other inward. In other words, the bottom of one layer should have the cut side facing up, and your top layer should have its bottom facing up.  The flattest sides of both areas should be facing outward.  See below:

    Cake Tops Facing Each Other
    Cake Tops Facing Each Other
  • Crumb coat: This is the first thin layer of frosting you’ll spread around the cake.  This process will catch a lot of the loose crumbs from your cake and it’ll show. Once you get the first layer on, freeze the cake for 20-30 minutes.  The buttercream will harden and hold the crumbs tight. Then you can add a final and smoother layer of frosting without worrying about any unsightly crumbs showing.

    Crumb Coat - Freezer-Ready!
    Crumb Coat – Freezer-Ready!

Kevin is a choco-holic and really liked this cake, so I also made this cake for his family’s birthday celebration potluck with Vanilla Buttercream (to be shared in a later post) this past weekend!

Molten Mocha Cakes for Two

I finally just watched Chef, written and directed by Jon Favreau, which I was super excited to watch when I found out it would premiere and screen at South by Southwest last year.  I didn’t get a chance to watch it there, and then I somehow just forgot about it during it’s actual release a few months later.  For anyone that hasn’t seen it that loves Jon Favreau’s overall writing/directing/humor, chef Roy Choi, great editing, or just good ol’ fashioned food porn, do yourself a favor and see this movie as soon as you can.  For those that have seen it, yes, this post is about the “dreaded” molten lava cake.  You can find the trailer here, aaaand then I’m done shamelessly promoting. Sort of.  With this movie top of mind and Valentine’s Day being less than a month away, it’s the perfect time to share this recipe.

And yes, this post is from last year’s Valentine’s Day.  It’s always dangerous baking for two because most recipes will make at least 12-15 servings, and when you have the snacking discipline that we do, that doesn’t last very long for two people.  When thinking about a Valentine’s Day dessert, what is more stereotypical than a rich and chocolate-y lava cake?  Fortunately, Kevin loves chocolate too, and since I was charged with making V-Day dinner last year, trying out Martha Stewart’s Molten Mocha Cakes for Two recipe was a no brainer.  There is something so delicious about chocolate and coffee paired together, and these mini cakes were no exception.

This recipe is perfect for two people, or for a small dinner party.  If you double or triple the recipe, just add a couple minutes to the baking time.  Be sure to keep an eye on the cakes in the oven, and make sure not to overbake or you won’t get that amazing gooey center.


  • 2 TBSP unsalted butter, plus more for ramekins (I don’t have ramekins so I used two 6-oz glass Pyrex containers)
  • 1/3 C confectioners’ sugar, plus more for ramekins and serving
  • 2 oz semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tsp espresso powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 3 TBSP all-purpose flour



  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter two 6-ounce ramekins, then dust with sugar. Place butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high in 20-second increments, stirring after each, until melted. Let cool slightly.

    Whisk the Espresso Powder
    Whisk the Espresso Powder
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together egg, egg yolk, sugar, espresso powder, and salt. Add chocolate mixture; whisk to combine. Add flour, and whisk just until combined (do not overmix). Pour batter into prepared ramekins. (Recipe can be made ahead up to this point.)

    Don't Over-Baked the Batter
    Don’t Over-Baked the Batter
  3. Bake until a toothpick inserted 1/2 inch from edge of ramekins comes out clean, and a toothpick inserted in center comes out wet, 10 to 12 minutes (Do not overbake – I can’t emphasize that enough!). Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Run a knife around inside of ramekins to loosen the cakes. Invert cakes onto serving plates. Dust with powdered sugar; serve immediately….preferably with ice cream!

    Molten Mocha Cakes a la Mode
    Molten Mocha Cakes a la Mode

I made a graduation dinner for one of my cousins a few months later and doubled the recipe to make 4 total (for three of us).  I didn’t have vanilla ice cream at the time, so I paired the cakes with some delicious matcha green tea ice cream that we had just bought.

Asian Version
Asian Version

Are molten lava cakes adventurous?  No.  But they were damned good.

Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake

It’s pear season!  Ok – yes, it’s pretty much always pear season.  Thought I’d share this slightly outdated post from our housewarming party that happened…last February.

I’m not a big candy person, despite my sweet tooth.  But there is a dark chocolate pear & almond bar made by Whole Foods Market that I have been crazy about for years.  The mild acidity of the pear really balances the rich and bitter dark chocolate, while the crunch of the slivered almonds adds some great texture.  I’m craving it as we speak!  I always see so many great recipes out there that are perfect for serving hot out of the oven, but I usually bringing desserts  over to other people’s places.  With us hosting, I really wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to serve a freshly-made dessert.  I came across this recipe on good ol’ Smitten Kitchen and it really reminded me of the Whole Foods chocolate bar I love so much.  Here’s the recipe as adapted from Smitten Kitchen!


  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 TBSP baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs, at room-temperature (room temp is important!)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 3 pears, peeled, in a small dice (I used ripe anjou pears)
  • 3/4 C bittersweet chocolate chunks (60% – on the brink of dark!)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with breadcrumbs (leftovers from the kale salad ingredients?) and set aside.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, and set aside.
  3. Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. (In a professional Kitchen Aid, it takes at least five minutes; on a home machine, it will take nine minutes to get sufficient volume)
  4. While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan (to prevent splatters outside the pan) and cook it until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). Be sure to keep an eye on it.  It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.
  5. With the mixer still on, add the sugar in a slow steady stream to the eggs and whip a few minutes more.
  6. Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to loose volume, turn the mixture down to stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume.

    Fold the Batter
    Fold the Batter
  7. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes, or til a tester comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes and serve warm!

    Place Chopped Goodies On Top of Batter
    Place Chopped Goodies On Top of Batter

This cake was STUPIDLY delicious.  It is not, however, a cake I would recommend making while you’re entertaining a lot of people after all.  It requires a lot of attention, and there’s nothing really other than dry prep (pre-measuring all of your dry ingredients) that you can do ahead.  It’s also not a cake that is great for taking somewhere as you want to serve it warm while the chocolate is still gooey.

Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake
Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake

I’d definitely make this again.  However, I’d time it so that I’m throwing it in the oven when guests arrive since the bake time is long.  That way, we still benefit from a freshly baked cake!

Apple Sharlotka

Last year, I took a number of vacation days  to take some baking classes at The Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories and expand my repertoire of ideas and general knowledge.  My boss (based in Toronto) always asked what I did on my days off so I’d send her photos of the finished products.  Unfortunately due to the distance, she never got to benefit from my learning.  I did try to send some cookies for her birthday back in October, but they got stuck in Canadian customs just long enough to be delayed over the weekend.  They arrived 4 days after I baked them, so I’m sure they weren’t a prime example of my skill level.

Lucky for me, she made it out to LA in November so I had to whip something good up.  I had been eyeing a recipe on Smitten Kitchen for an apple sharlotka, a Russian dessert that is somewhat of an apple pie cake.  It’s relatively healthy – being comprised of mostly apples and not very much sugar or flour.  When I saw the egg-to-sugar-to-flour ratio, I assumed it would have a really light custard-y texture to the cake batter and I was right.

It’s very easy to make and really beautiful with some powdered sugar sprinkled on top.  Here’s the recipe!


  • Butter or nonstick spray, for greasing pan
  • 6 large, tart apples, such as Granny Smiths
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Ground cinnamon, to finish
  • Powdered sugar, also to finish


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan. Peel, halve and core your apples, then chop them into medium-sized chunks. (I cut each half into four “strips” then sliced them fairly thinly — about 1/4-inch — in the other direction.) Pile the cut apples directly in the prepared pan.
  2. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer or whisk, beat eggs with sugar until thick and ribbons form on the surface of the beaten eggs. Beat in vanilla, then stir in flour with a spoon until just combined. The batter will be very thick.
  3. Pour over apples in pan, using a spoon or spatula to spread the batter and press it down into the apple pile. The top of the batter should end up level with the top of the apples.

    Push the Batter Down
    Push the Batter Down
  4. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a tester comes out free of batter. Cool in pan for 10 minutes on rack, then flip out onto another rack, peel off the parchment paper, and flip it back onto a serving platter. Dust lightly with ground cinnamon.

    Dessert Has Been Served!
    Dessert Has Been Served!
  5. Serve warm or cooled, dusted with powdered sugar. We ate it plain, but Smitten Kitchen mentioned pairing it with a dollop of barely sweetened whipped or sour cream.

    Apple Sharlotka
    Apple Sharlotka

Note:  I don’t think this cake holds up very long after you make it.  It’s best when fresh, but definitely try to eat it within a day of making it!

Banana Split Ice Cream Cake

I recalled having Baskin-Robbins ice cream cakes on quite a few birthday celebrations for Crystal throughout the 10+ years I’ve known her.  And any time she had a chance to bring dessert to a potluck, she brought ice cream cake.  I thought it might be somewhat of a no-brainer to see if she’d want one for her birthday potluck a few weekends ago, but I wanted to make sure she’d be into it.  This is literally the conversation we had verbatim:

Allison:  hi friend, do you have room in your freezer if i made an ice cream cake for saturday?
Crystal:  hey
Allison:   or is it pretty packed?
Crystal:  OMG YES
Allison:  otherwise i can do cupcakes or something haha
Crystal:  NO we have room hahaha
Allison:  did i hit the mark? i feel like ice cream cake is your fav
Crystal:  umm it’s alright…UHHHH YA LOVE IT hahahaha
Off I went looking for some ideas – I didn’t want to make something you could easily buy.  I found an AMAZING-looking recipe for a Banana Split Ice Cream Cake on Brown Eyed Baker (which is the same blog I found my favorite cupcake recipe on).
The full recipe is a little long, so bear with me.  I didn’t include the ice cream recipes, since I used store-bought ice cream on this cake.  I don’t have an ice cream maker, but Dreyer’s Grand (not the slow-churned stuff!) has great consistency for spreading the ice cream.  I will leave the links for the sauces that I made to shorten this post a bit.  I used Brown Eyed Baker’s strawberry and pineapple sauce recipe, but I used Food Network’s Tyler Florence’s version for the chocolate sauce (I generally just don’t like using corn syrup).
Since we were expecting 25 people at the potluck, I made two cakes in a 9×3 springform pan and a small loaf tin for the second cake, using 1.5 the amount of the suggested ingredients.  This ended up being a 5-day process, given my day job.  I got nervous the ice cream would freezer burn being out that long, as I’ve had frequent freezer burn problems with my freezer.  After lots of Googling, I found that using parchment paper helps prevent it.  Each time I finished a layer that would be in the freezer overnight or while I was at work, I cut out a 9″ round piece of parchment paper to keep in contact with the top layer of ice cream or sauce.  This recipe is just for one 8×3 inch springform pan’s worth of awesomeness.
For the Crust:
  • 20 Oreo cookies, crushed into crumbs
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 to 3 bananas, sliced ½-inch thick

For the Strawberry Layer:

For the Chocolate Layer:

  • 1 pint chocolate ice cream
  • 1 cup hot fudge sauce, at room temperature (make sure it’s a pourable consistency, warm briefly if necessary)

For the Vanilla Layer:

For the Whipped Cream:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To Garnish:

  • Maraschino cherries
  • Chopped walnuts


1. Spray an 8×3-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom and sides with parchment paper; set aside.

2. Assemble the Crust: Combine the Oreo cookie crumbs with the melted butter, tossing until all of the crumbs are evenly moistened. Press into an even layer in the bottom of the prepared pan. Top with the banana slices. Place the pan in the freezer for at least 15 minutes.

Crust and Banana Layer
Crust and Banana Layer

3. Assemble the Strawberry Layer: Top the banana layer with the strawberry ice cream. Use an offset spatula (or the back of a giant spoon) to spread the ice cream into a smooth, even layer. Place the pan back in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

Laying Down the Strawberry Ice Cream
Laying Down the Strawberry Ice Cream

4. Pour the strawberry topping over the strawberry ice cream and gently spread so that it covers the entire ice cream layer beneath. Return to the freezer for at least 1 hour, or until completely frozen. This is where I took a break and froze the cake overnight, so I put a layer of parchment paper down to prevent freezer burn.

Parchment Paper - My BFF
Parchment Paper – My BFF

5. Assemble the Chocolate Layer: Top the strawberry layer with the chocolate ice cream. Use an offset spatula to spread the ice cream into a smooth, even layer. Place the pan back in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, or until firm and set.

Laying Down the Chocolate Ice Cream Layer
Laying Down the Chocolate Ice Cream Layer

6. Pour the hot fudge sauce over the chocolate ice cream and gently spread so that it covers the entire ice cream layer beneath. Return to the freezer for at least 1 hour, or until completely frozen.

7. Assemble the Vanilla Layer: Top the hot fudge layer with the vanilla ice cream. Use an offset spatula to spread the ice cream into a smooth, even layer. Cover with plastic wrap, return the assembled cake to the freezer and freeze overnight. Don’t forget the layer of parchment paper!

Main Part of the Cake - All Done!
Main Part of the Cake – All Done!

8. Final Assembly and Garnishment: At least 1 hour (and no more than 12 hours) before serving, unmold the cake. To release the cake from the pan, invert the cake onto a plate or cardboard round the same size and wrap a hot kitchen towel around the cake pan, keeping it there for 30 seconds, or until the cake loosens and slide the pan off.

Place Plate on the Top Side of Cake
Place Plate on the Top Side of Cake

Remove the parchment (and bottom of pan if using a springform). Top with a serving plate and turn the cake right side up. Return to the freezer for at least 10 minutes.

Flip and Place Cake Board on the Bottom Side of Cake
Flip and Place Cake Board on the Bottom Side of Cake

9. While the cake is in the freezer, make the whipped cream. Combine the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the cream is light and fluffy and holds a medium to firm peak, 2 to 3 minutes.

Whip it Good!
Whip it Good!

10. Just prior to serving, pipe the whipped cream into mounds around the outer edge of the cake, making sure the mounds touch so that no pineapple sauce leaks down the top. Place a maraschino cherry on top of each whipped cream mound.

Pipe Whipped Cream Around Perimeter of Cake
Pipe Whipped Cream Around Perimeter of Cake

11. Fill in the space in the middle with the pineapple topping and top with chopped walnuts. A hot, dry knife will yield the cleanest cuts. Dip your knife in a glass of hot water, wipe it clean with a towel, and cut a slice. Repeat between every slice. Store leftover slices in airtight containers (or covered with parchment paper and foil) in the freezer.

Pretty Please with a Cherry on Top!
Pretty Please with a Cherry on Top!

Note: If you are making homemade ice cream, your best bet is to time the assembly so that you can add the freshly-churned ice cream right onto the cake. It will be the perfect consistency. If you will be using already-made ice cream, put it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before you plan to need it and then mix it really well with a spatula so that it is smooth and spreadable.

Layers of a Banana Split!
Layers of a Banana Split!

After work the day before the BBQ, I pulled the cake out of the freezer to check on it and saw this:


My dad had accidentally left two heavy WARM ice packs on top of the parchment paper layer of cake the night before, and the packs had melted the already soft ice cream and pushed it down, causing the top layer to get a little foamy and spill out the sides of the pan.  My 4 days of work leading up to that had been ruined.  I could only think of one thing to say, but it was already too late.  After a good hour of wanting to take a wrecking ball to my kitchen, I calmed down tried to figure out how to salvage the cake.  I re-froze the cake, and then scraped off as much as I could of the vanilla layer without breaking the chocolate sauce layer.  I put another layer of parchment paper down and froze it for a few hours.   I reapplied the vanilla ice cream layer, put another layer of parchment down and froze it overnight.  The next morning, I made the whipped cream and piped it on to the cake, and filled the top with the pineapple sauce.

Banana Split Ice Cream Cake
Banana Split Ice Cream Cake

The cake layers definitely weren’t as perfect as I had hoped, but there was no time to start the cake over.  Thankfully, Sho-Yu is definitely not a crowd to judge based on appearances as we tend to just inhale sweets however imperfect they may look.

Happy Birthday, Crystal!
Happy Birthday, Crystal!

I do think Crystal was a happy camper with the cake, and there were no leftovers which is always a good sign.