A Cake on a Whim


I had been baking non-stop since Thursday afternoon and must have used up 6 lbs. of butter just for buttercream. The last thing that should be on my mind was baking something that needed more buttercream. 

However I was searching for a new chocolate cake recipe. I could not use my beloved chocolate cupcake recipe for layered cakes because it has very little flour in it and lacks the structure to carry 800 grams of frosting.

So I found myself pulling out flour, butter, eggs, more butter and sugar. Most cake recipes use cake flour and I simply do not like the crumb of cakes made with this – too crumbly. Anyway, I had been drawn to Warren Brown’s Cake Love book because he does not use cake flour in any of his baked sweets. He substitutes potato starch when he could to losen the gluten but retain moisture in the cakes.

His recipe for chocolate cake is different than most in that he does not dissolve the cocoa in hot water first, instead he combines this with the rest of the dry ingredients; the simpler the recipe…the better.

I also have been planning to create a Passion Fruit Buttercream for a while now, and I thought what better cake to frost it with.


Chocolate Butter Cake

from Warren Brown’s Cake Love


Dry Ingredients

Unbleached all-purpose flour                7 ounces (1 ¼ cups + 2 tbs)

Unsweetened cocoa powder                 2 ounces

Baking powder                                     1 ½ tsp

Salt                                                     1 tsp


Half-and-half,                                      1 cup

Vanilla extract                                     1 tbs

Brandy                                                2 tablespoons (I omitted)


Unsalted butter, at room temp.   6 ounces

Extra-fine granulated sugar                14 ounces (1 ¾ cup)

Eggs (large)                                         4

Preheat oven to 350F, or 335F convection. Set the rack in the middle of the oven, for cupcakes set racks in the upper-middle and lower middle positions.

Set out the ingredients and equipments.

Sift the flour directly into a bowl on a scale for accurate measuring.

Measure the other dry ingredients into a separate mixing bow, add the flour, whisk for 10 seconds to blend. Set aside.

Measure the liquid ingredients into separate bowls and set aside.

Measure the butter and sugar into separate bowls and set aside.

Crack the eggs into a separate bowl and set aside.

In a bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on lowest speed for 3 to 5 minutes.

With the mixer still on the lowest speed, add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl.

Add the dry ingredient mixture alternately with the liquid mixture in 3 to 5 additions each, beginning and ending with the dry mixture. Move swiftly through this step to avoid overworking the batter. Don’t wait for the dry of liquid ingredients to be fully incorporated before adding the next. This step should take a total of about 60 seconds.

Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl all the way down. Don’t miss the clumps of ingredients hiding on the bottom of the bowl. Mix on medium speed for 15 to 20 seconds to develop the batter’s structure.

Prepare the pans. For 9-inch round cakes, line the bottom of each pan with parchment. Do not spray the sides. For cupcakes, lightly spray with nonstick spray to help release any overflowing crowns. Line the pan with paper liners.

For 9-inch round cakes, deposit the batter in three separate areas of each pan and smooth out with the rubber spatula, making sure the pans are two-thirds full.

For cupcakes, use 2-ounce trigger-release, ice cream scoop to deposit batter into the lined pans so they’re two-thirds full.

The 9-inch cake takes about 28 minutes to bake, cupcakes around 22 minutes.

Once the top of the cake does not jiggle in the center, test for doneness by inserting a bamboo skewer. The cake is done when the skewer shows just a touch of crumbs or comes out clean.

For 9-inch round cakes cool in pan for 20-30 minutes. Use a small offset spatula to loosen each cake from the rim of the pan. Carefully invert each pan onto a flat surface and remove the layers. Remove parchment from the bottom of each cake and wrap the cake tightly in plastic. Refrigerate the layers for up to 5 days before frosting.

For cupcakes, cool t room temperature, 25 to 30 minutes, before carefully lifting each cupcake from the pan. Proceed with frosting or store for later use.

Passion Fruit ButterCream

1 recipe Italian Buttercream from here

Add 4 ounces Passion Fruit puree reduced to 2 ounces

2 tsp. rum

Soaking syrup

½ cup water

5.5 ounces of sugar

1 tbs. rum

Combine the sugar and water and heat over medium heat until the sugar crystals are dissolved. Add the rum. (I made the syrup in the same pot where I heated the Passion fruit puree so it gave a very nice passion fruit essence to the syrup)

Cooking Notes

            What is it with rum and me? This seems to be my preferred liqueur to use in buttercream and other baked products. It has a way of rounding out the flavor.

The batter of the chocolate cake appeared broken a bit but rather than overmix it I gave it a few turns with the spatula and proceeded immediately to fill 2 8-inch cake pans (not the 9-inch ones specified in the recipe). My cake rose almost the whole 2-inch height of my cake pan and took about 33 minutes to bake on 325F convection. When I released the cake from the pan I could see that it was moist and had a very promising crumb.

            While the cake cooled I made my buttercream and the soaking syrup. The Passion Fruit buttercream, as expected, was to die for. The tartness cut into the butter and the rum – well… the rum balanced everything out as it always does.

            I decided to go the rustic route when I assembled this cake. It was easy to level horizontally and the wayward crumbs were due to the fact that I did not crumb coat. I used the bottom of a tart pan to slip the layers around after cutting, and the size of my cake made it easy to center. I used about a cup of buttercream for each tier of the cake. Hubby said he actually found it more appealing decorated this way with some cake exposed rather than having the whole cake covered in buttercream. Because of its exposed layers, it is important to brush some soaking syrup on each level as you frost because it will tend to dry up, once refrigerated.

            Honestly, I am not a big fan of this type of cake cakes because I don’t taste big chocolate flavor – I much prefer chocolate tortes made with some melted chocolate, ground nuts and very little flour that does not need buttercream. But I might as well find a chocolate layered-cake recipe that I would like to eat, and I have a feeling this is it.

*update 05/05/09

This recipe did not use potato starch because it had cocoa powder. To make a yellow butter cake version, simply substitute the exact amount of cocoa powder with potato starch.

27 thoughts on “A Cake on a Whim

  1. The cake looks so good with the outside bare. I like that his recipes don't use cake flour too, but I've never given them a try mostly because I need to get some potato starch and I dont' know how I feel about using half and half. I love big chocolate flavour too! So far, it seems like CI's sour cream bundt is the only one that delivers in that category without being too rich. It is a dense cake though and I like my cakes super fluffy!

  2. Great post! I love the cooking notes section, and the options that you give for cupcakes etc. Chocolate cakes can be tricky taste wise…but when it comes to cake it is really all about the frosting for me as well. I agree 100% that the rum enhances the flavor. I recently made a chocolate rum cake, and it is hard for me to imagine what baked good would not be enhanced by rum…

  3. What a unique cake recipe! I love the idea of not having to dissolve the cocoa first. How great!! And that passion fruit buttercream sounds totally delicious. I can't wait to try out this recipe. I may need to get my hands on Cake Love, too!

  4. Oh my heavens, I just knew I was going to want this cake as soon as I saw that picture. It's a post like this that makes me want to learn how to bake. How do you do Veronica? Such patience, such creativity…How, how, how??? I'm saving this recipe. One of the reasons I don't bake is because I'm allergic to touching flour. The potato starch may just be the solution.

    Thank you so much for sharing…

  5. Thanks Steph, I did find assembling the cake this way more delectable. I would like to try sour cream in a chocolate cake sometime.
    Thanks Lily – it's hard to find big chocolate flavor in cakes…I think it is the flour that is why I like tortes a lot.
    Thanks Snookydoodle!
    thanks Hannah, the color did turn out well didn't it 🙂
    thanks Elyse- yes, I hate the extra step of dissolving cocoa first, that's why I liked this recipe.
    thanks Philippines cake!
    Thanks roof coatings!
    Thanks T.w.!Thanks Dani!
    Thanks Louise- Believe me I really do not have patience in cake assembly, that's why I like working with cupcakes. I do not think though that you can use pure potato starch in this recipe :(.

  6. how I wish to be your next door neighbour having to indukge all your lovely creation! I love being in sugar high! and you can have my creations too!:)

  7. The cake looks amazing and the crumb perfect! I don't think they sell half and half here…what could I substitute? 🙂

  8. Now that is something i just wish i could lick off the screen ! Passion fruit butter cream sounds absolutely wonderful to be sandwiched between those gorgeous chocolate cake layers !

  9. I have to make a chocolate wedding cake in August so I've been looking for a sturdy chocolate cake recipe, I'll have to give this one a try! Thanks!

  10. Yummy! I'm like you, usually prefer chocolate (nut) tortes without flour, but sometimes one wants something a little lighter and more of a birthday style cake…
    this looks great! Will try this real soon… (I've been baking sour cream coffee cakes lately, so it's time to do something chocolate!) And I've had a bottle of passionfruit puree sitting, waiting for me to do something with it…

  11. That cake looks amazing. I haven't tried any of Warren Brown's recipes yet, but if that creation is anything to go by..!

  12. this looks like its from dorie greenspan’s baking from my home to yours!
    her devil food white out cake is to die for.
    yours look awesome too!

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