Indulgent 3-Layer Cake Recipe

Don’t be put-off by this involved recipe; the resulting cake is light, velvety and incredibly rewarding.

From "Whole Grain Baking Made Easy"
January / February 2018

  • This beautiful 3-layer cake is worth every ounce of effort.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Africa Studio

Cook Time: 25 min

Yield: 25 servings

I agree with Julia Child that we ought to enjoy everything in moderation — including moderation. This cake embodies both principles. There is some sugar, but also whole-wheat and nut flours and other nutrient-rich ingredients. There is also some work involved to achieve this cake’s incredible texture. Do it all by hand to really enjoy your sugary reward.

For the most deeply flavored cake, I recommend splurging for antioxidant-rich, raw cacao powder; your favorite locally roasted and freshly brewed extra-strong coffee; and fresh eggs and cream from pastured animals.

The cake’s texture is velvety and light with the addition of whipped egg whites and cream. Don’t skip the whipping steps, which help incorporate lots of air into a heavy batter. And feel free to steal these secrets for other whole-grain recipes!


For cake layers:
• 1 cup strong, brewed coffee
• 1-1/2 cups raw cacao powder (or cocoa powder — the darker, the better)
• 1 cup neutral-flavored olive oil (or melted coconut oil)
• 2 cups superfine sugar (or coconut sugar zapped in food processor)
• 4 large eggs, separated, room temperature
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 1-3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
• 1/2 cup almond flour (or other finely ground nut flour)
• 1 teaspoon sea salt
• 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 cup heavy whipping cream, very cold
• 1⁄4 teaspoon cream of tartar

For frosting and layers:
• 3 cups powdered sugar
• 1 cup raw cacao powder or cocoa powder
• 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
• 3/4 cup whole milk (or nut milk)
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 6 to 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pats, room temperature
• 6 ounces chunky berry jam or preserves


1. Mix wet ingredients. In saucepan, bring coffee just to a boil. Turn off heat and whisk in cacao powder. Clear sides of pan with spatula and set aside to cool. In stand mixer with paddle attachment (or by hand), beat olive oil and 1-1/2 cups sugar for several minutes, until thoroughly mixed and creamy. In small bowl, using a fork, beat egg yolks with vanilla until well-combined. Slowly incorporate yolk mixture into oil mixture. Mix for several minutes, until thoroughly combined. Slowly add cocoa liquid, just until combined.

2. Mix dry ingredients. In food processor or mixing bowl, sift together flours, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Gently fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Stop as soon as mixture comes together to prevent overdeveloping gluten.

3. Prepare for baking. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare three 8- or 9-inch cake pans (or springform pans) by greasing thoroughly and then lining bottoms with parchment paper circles and greasing those. Sprinkle a light dusting of cocoa powder all over.

4. Whip cream. In mixing bowl, whip cream with balloon whisk or hand mixer until soft peaks form. Refrigerate until use.

5. Make egg white foam. Using a bowl and balloon whisk that are completely clean and dry, beat egg whites until foamy, about 30 seconds. Whisk in cream of tartar. Continue beating until soft peaks form, then slowly incorporate remaining 1/2 cup sugar, one tablespoon at a time. The foam is ready when stiff peaks stand straight up after whisk is lifted.

6. Lighten batter. With large spatula, fold egg white foam and whipped cream into cake batter by alternating each addition in big piles. Be gentle and stop when batter is uniformly combined. It’s better to maintain volume than to mix too thoroughly. Fill cake pans equally with batter. Tap gently to distribute.

7. Bake. Place pans on oven’s middle rack. If they won’t fit on one rack or if your oven has hot spots, carefully alternate pans halfway through baking. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean save for a few moist crumbs. The cakes should smell strongly of chocolate before they are finished. Allow cakes to cool at least 15 minutes in pans set on a cooling rack before carefully inverting cakes onto separate plates to chill or freeze before applying frosting.

8. Make frosting. Whisk together powdered sugar, cacao powder and salt. Whisk in milk and vanilla, then butter, one pat at a time, waiting to add another until previous butter is incorporated. There should be no lumps in finished frosting.

9. Assemble layer cake. Place one cold cake layer onto a serving plate or cake stand. Coat top with 1/4-inch of frosting. Spread half the jam over frosting. Repeat with second layer. Place third layer on top. Frost cake all over top and sides. Sprinkle top with optional garnishes, such as healthful nuts or fresh berries.

Super Swaps

Make It Even More Superfoodie: Replace 1/4 cup of flour with ground flaxseeds and/or chia seeds. Garnish the top with hemp seeds or slivered almonds, plus a pile of fresh berries or pomegranate kernels.

Make It Dairy-Free: Replace the whipped cream in the cake batter and the butter in the frosting with whipped, chilled coconut cream — the thick stuff that solidifies if you refrigerate a can of coconut milk. Replace the milk in the frosting with any nut milk. Keep everything cold.

Make It Gluten-Free: Instead of wheat pastry flour, use sorghum flour, oat flour or brown rice flour (or a blend).

Make Cupcakes Instead: Use batter to make about 28 cupcakes. Fill each cup 2/3 full and bake 18 to 20 minutes. Cool in pan on rack for 15 minutes, then gently lift out cupcakes and let them cool completely before frosting.

For more chocolate recipes, see: Cheers to Healthful Chocolate!

Adapted from Whole Grain Baking Made Easy by Tabitha Alterman. Buy this book from our store Whole Grain Baking Made Easy.

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