Chocolate Cake Layers: (1.5x)
I've borrowed, modified, and scaled this recipe from @thescranline, and it's *amazing.* Also a tad less labor-intensive than my prior favorite. Score! Check out Nick's site and his Instagram feed if you haven't already; he does some incredible work!
Of note...you'll need either a kitchen scale to measure ingredients in grams OR - you can use this fancy ‘grams to cups converter’. Or just use the conversions I ballparked for you. You’re welcome!
4 ½ cups all purpose flour (525g)
3 1/3 cups caster sugar (675g)
1 ¼ cups cocoa powder (150g)
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teasoon salt
1 ½ cups c /375g /24 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
6 large eggs, at room temperature
500ml buttermilk (about 2 ¼ cups; buttermilk powder with water is an option if you can’t find liquid buttermilk at your grocery store!)
3 t vanilla extract
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, add the cocoa powder, flour, salt, baking soda, and sugar. Turn mixer on low speed and allow it to mix for a couple minutes to help everything combine well (or sift the ingredients together). Add in the softened butter until it’s well incorporated into the dry ingredients and no lumps of butter are visible.
Next, add buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla together and whisk until well combined. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients in a slow and steady stream until no dry ingredients are visible. Scrape down the bowl and mix for another 20 seconds.
Fill your pans evenly - I find a kitchen scale helpful for this part. I had about 550 grams in my 8-inch pans, and about 375 in my 6-inch pans. Bake for 30-35 min or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Allow cake layers to cool for 10-15 minutes on a wire cooling rack before removing from pans, and cool completely before frosting. Set in the fridge or freezer to accelerate the cooling process if desired.
Vanilla Cake layers: (1.5x)
This is a scaled (x1.5) and slightly-simplified layer cake recipe from ChelSweets.com - I highly recommend checking out her site if you haven't before; it's amazing!
4 7/8 cups all-purpose flour
4 ½ cups granulated sugar
3 3/4 t. baking powder
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup unsalted butter (or 3 sticks), room temperature
1 ½ c egg whites (about 10 eggs, or use egg whites from a carton to avoid wasting the yolks)
2 ¼ cups buttermilk, room temperature (or buttermilk powder with water is an option if you can’t find liquid buttermilk at your grocery store!)
3 teaspoons clear vanilla extract
1/8 cup vegetable oil
Mix together all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt) in a stand mixer with a paddle until fully combined. Mix chunks of room-temperature butter slowly into the dry mix, on a low speed. Continue to mix until no large chunks of butter remain, and the mixture becomes crumbly.
Pour in egg whites and mix on low until just incorporated. Mix in the buttermilk and vanilla extract in two installments, on a low speed. Add in and oil, and mix at a low speed until fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then beat on medium speed for about 30 seconds.
Divide batter evenly between the prepared cake pans (I find a kitchen scale helpful for this part). This guarantees your layers will bake to be the same height. I had about 670 grams in my 8-inch pans and about 425 grams in my 6-inch pans.
Bake for 35-37 minutes if using 8-inch pans, or 37-38 minutes for 7-inch cake pans (or until a toothpick comes out clean). Allow cake layers to cool for 10-15 minutes on a wire cooling rack before removing from pans – it helps to run an offset spatula or knife around the perimeter of the pan first. Cool completely before frosting. Set in the fridge or freezer to accelerate the cooling process if desired.
Once the layers have fully cooled, the caramelized bits can be trimmed from the sides / top of the cake using a serrated knife if desired. Be sure the layers are completely cooled or chilled before trimming. If you try to trim the layers while they’re still warm, they will crumble apart.
While you’re waiting…make your frosting!
Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting – 2x recipe for decorating
8 oz (one package) cream cheese, softened / 24 oz (3 packages)
16 Tablespoons (two sticks) butter, softened / 48 T (6 sticks)
6-7 c powdered sugar / (18-21cups)
2-4 Tablespoons milk / (1/2-3/4 cups)
1 T clear vanilla extract / (3 Tablespoons)
1/4 t. salt / (3/4 teasspoon)
Save and add later -
2-4 drops pink, yellow, teal (or blue & green) and purple (or pinkand blue) Americolor gel food coloring (and a bit of black if you want to pipe on the unicorn eyes).
Note: When I put this cake together, I actually used three recipes of frosting – one and a half for filling and covering the cake and the rest for coloring and decorating. My mixer bowl’s not quite big enough to hold two recipes of this frosting recipe, so I made the 1x recipe three times! If you happen to have a gigantic mixing bowl, I’ve included the triple amounts in the right column.
Beat together softened cream cheese and butter; slowly add in powdered sugar alternating with milk until frosting reaches desired consistency. Add vanilla and salt and beat until well combined.
- - 1 8- or 10 -inch cardboard cake circle + one 6-inch cardboard cake circle (I prefer Wilton’s center-punched circles)
- cake dowels or large straws for supporting the base tier
- 2 small piping bags & tips (this set has been one of my favorites!) + 2 large piping bags & tips (I use this set of reusable large bags & tips more than almost any of my others!)
- Gold sugar pearl sprinkles – these added a fun fancy look to the cake, but could be left off if desired
- Unicorn horn, ears, and eyes – you can buy a packaged set (this is what I used since I had one gifted to me), but you can also make your own with fondant, lustre dust, and a bit of black icing! A several great tutorials (like this one) are available on YouTube!
- Cake leveler, cake turntable, large offset spatula, and pastry cutter/bench scraper - not all 100% necessary but incredibly helpful! (Here’s a link to the cake turntable I use)
- Cake texturing comb (if desired) – I used one of these Wilton cake combs to texture my base tier!
Once your cakes are cool, level them (if needed/desired; these cakes usually bake fairly flat so I didn’t trim much from the tops). This can be done with a cake leveler or a large serrated knife and a ruler. Place a smear of frosting on your cake circle (to keep the cake from sliding while you decorate it) and center your first cake layer in the center of the circle. Spread the layer with frosting (or if using any fillings – like the raspberry filling I used in the video – pipe a small dam of white frosting before filling!)
Next, repeat the same process with your smaller cardboard circle and cake layers. Of note – if your circles aren’t pre-center-punched, be sure to grab a dowel or straw and make your own hole in the exact center of the circle! This will allow you to center the top tier on the base tier later on.
Now you're ready to crumb-coat . If you're unfamiliar with crumb-coating, it's just what it sounds like – spreading a thin layer of frosting over the entire outside of the cake tiers to keep crumbs out of your final layer.
Once your crumb coats have set (this takes about 5-10 minutes in the fridge), add your final layers of frosting and smooth. I like to use a large offset spatula and bench scraper for this part, and I used an icing comb to texture my base tier.
For my larger tier, I was able to smooth the frosting fairly well free-handed, but I struggled getting the sides smoothed on my smaller one. Trimming the layers just smaller than the cake circle and using the cardboard as a guide for my bench scraper worked well for smoothing the frosting on the top tier! Once your cakes are covered, place them into the fridge or freezer to set the frosting.
Stacking the tiers:
Okaaaay. The stacking process!
Basically, doweling a tiered cake is done to ensure that the top tier doesn’t crush the lower tier, as well as keeping it centered. I used four shorter cut-to-height plastic straws for my base tier dowels, and one taller one cut at an angle in the center to hold my top tier in place.
Grab your ruler for this next part! Since I was centering a 6-inch cake on top of an 8-inch cake, I pushed the straws down into the base tier just over one inch from the cake edge, placing them evenly at quarter intervals around the cake. Place your last, tallest straw or dowel into the exact center of the cake, making sure to keep it straight up as you press down. Now you’re ready – center the hole in the bottom of your top tier cake circle over the tallest dowel and let the top tier gently down onto the base tier. The dowel will poke into the center of the top tier to hold it in place.
I found that my cardboard cake circle showed more than I was happy with, so I piped some extra frosting onto the base of the top tier and added some sprinkles to hide it!
If you’re using a pre-made decorating set, you can place the horn and ears into the cake now so you can pipe around them. I added the eyes later, after I’d done a lot of the piping, so that I could center them on the space left on the side of the cake after I’d added the unicorn ‘mane’ on the top and sides of the cake.
To pipe on the unicorn ‘mane,’ split a recipe of frosting into four parts, and color them purple, pink, yellow, and teal (or use different colors if you’d rather). I used Americolor food gel to get the bright colors that I wanted, but liquid food coloring would work as well, especially if you’d like a more pastel shade to your colors.
Transfer your colored frosting to each of four piping bags fitted with piping nozzles – I used a variety of mostly star-shaped tips, but you can use whatever shape you would like! I started with the larger piping bags and piped a large rosette onto the unicorn’s ‘forehead’, and worked my way backward from there. I love being able to see the mane when looking at the cake from the front, so my unicorn had a very wide mane of frosting decorations, but you can make it as wide or narrow as you choose.
Once you’ve piped on the colored frosting to make the unicorn mane, you can add some pearlized sprinkles to the frosting for a bit of extra shine. Add the unicorn eyes to the front of the cake.
Step back, admire your cake, and find someone to give you a high-five! (Shoot me a DM on Instagram if you can’t find anyone right away!)
Make this recipe? Let me know how it went - or find me on Pinterest or on Instagram and tag @IntensiveCakeUnit in your photo!