making changes & a recipe: chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting

I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately. I’m torturing myself with homemade cakes.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been revamping my eating habits. I’m eating healthier, and I’m eating smaller portions. Along with the changes in my diet, I’ve started running again. Well, a bit more walking than running, but I’m following a training program, and I know that soon there will be more running than walking.

chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting | the merry gourmet

After I had my daughter, I was heavier than I’d ever been. I joined Weight Watchers, even attended meetings, and managed to lose 45 pounds. I finally liked how I look in the mirror, but more importantly, I felt in control of my health and my life for the first time ever.

While I was losing that weight, I kept a bowl of candy – chocolates, my favorite sweet – on my desk. I might have one piece, but more often than not, I completely resisted. Looking back, I believe I put those chocolates there as a challenge to my willpower. A small daily test. As each day passed that I ignored that candy bowl, I felt more strong and empowered.

chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting | the merry gourmet

I’ve slid backwards these last five years, since having my second child, my son. Sure, initially my clothes weren’t fitting well because of baby weight, but after a year had passed, my only excuse was that I overindulged too often and regularly. Exercise was not a priority, and I sacrificed that part of my life for other things — work, spending time with the kids, cooking or blogging even. I’m an expert at finding excuses not to exercise.

I’m revamping my lifestyle now, and I feel great about it. I’m ready for change.Β More importantly, I’m ready to wear smaller pants.

So, I baked another cake (remember the lemon one last week?) this weekend. Maybe I’m testing myself again, just like I did with those chocolates that sat on my desk, begging to be eaten. I’m proving to myself that I can do this, that I am stronger than the call of desserts. Even chocolate desserts.

After eating one small piece of this beauty, I won’t have any more. The rest will be shared with family and friends.

And tomorrow, I run.

chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting | the merry gourmet

Yield: 10 servings

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Rich chocolate cake slathered in creamy vanilla buttercream. What could be better? Serve this cake for your sweetie's birthday and you'll earn yourself lots of hugs and kisses.


For Cake:
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao), chopped
3/4 cup cocoa powder (Dutch process is preferred)
1 cup boiling water
1-3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, room temperature
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For Frosting:
4-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
4-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
4 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract


To Prepare Cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper, then butter the parchment. Lightly dust the pans with flour, shaking out the excess. Set aside.

Combine the chopped chocolate and cocoa powder in a small bowl. Add the cup of boiling water and whisk until chocolate is melted and smooth. Set aside.

On low speed in the bowl of an electric stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until combined. In another bowl, stir together the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients. With the mixer still on low, add the melted chocolate mixture, stirring until just combined, using a rubber spatula to scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

Pour the batter into the cake pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cakes in their pans on a rack for 30 minutes, then invert them onto the cooling rack to cool to room temperature. Note: Cakes may be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap at this point and refrigerated until ready to use.

To Prepare Frosting:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter on medium-high speed until smooth, about 60 seconds. Reduce speed to medium low and slowly add confectioners' sugar. Beat until smooth, about 3 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together salt, cream, and vanilla; stir until salt is dissolved. Add cream mixture to butter mixture, increase mixer speed to medium-high, and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Note: Frosting can be made ahead, up to 2 days, and refrigerated in a tightly covered container. Bring to room temperature when ready to use, and beat on medium-low in the stand mixer for 3 to 5 minutes until light and fluffy.

Frost the Cake:

To frost cakes, place 1 layer on a cake plate. With an offset spatula, spread top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, and spread frosting evenly over top and sides of cake.

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44 Responses to “making changes & a recipe: chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting”

  1. 1
    Jenny — March 11, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

    This cake looks magnificent! I don’t have such will power…but I do make lots of things with chocolate because my body doesn’t tolerate – hence I won’t eat it. Now the lemon cake …. that’s another story.

  2. 2
    Cheryl Arkison — March 11, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

    Good for you! I’m impressed. I would not have that will power at all. At the moment I’m trying to cut back on the sweets in anticipation of the post-baby world. Never too soon to start eating better. Or at least, eat less cookies.

  3. 3
    Maris (In Good Taste) — March 11, 2012 @ 8:19 pm

    I could never maintain a diet that didn’t include some treats! Are you following Weight Watchers again? I love how exercising makes you feel even w/o weight loss.

    • 3.1
      Merry-Jennifer — March 11, 2012 @ 8:42 pm

      Yes, I’m doing the online Weight Watchers. I’m a believer in their program.

  4. 4
    Winnie — March 11, 2012 @ 8:35 pm

    Beautiful cake, MJ. And bravo for making changes πŸ™‚

  5. 5
    Jean (Lemons and Anchovies) — March 11, 2012 @ 8:37 pm

    My regular fitness routine has sadly been replaced by more time in the kitchen. It’s something I’ve vowed to do something about this year. My saving grace is that after one slice, the rest of the cake goes to the office to be enjoyed by everyone else. This cake is beautiful–I would have a hard time resisting.

  6. 6
    Liren — March 12, 2012 @ 12:03 am

    Change is hard, but change is good, and I’m rooting for you! This cake is not only lovely, but great motivation to keep going πŸ™‚

  7. 7
    Purabi Naha — March 12, 2012 @ 5:00 am

    Wow, I loved this cake recipe. Lovely photographs as well!

  8. 8
    Rachel @ Not Rachael Ray — March 12, 2012 @ 8:28 am

    I need to get on the ball with working out, BEFORE I get pregnant again. You are a strong woman, if I had a bowl of candy on my desk (or a cake like this!!!) I would NOT be able to resist.

  9. 9
    Jane M — March 12, 2012 @ 8:52 am

    WOW I sound like you, only now my kids are ages (nearly) 21 and 23 – so I have no excuses for packing on the pounds. I so enjoy baking and being in the kitchen, but I’ve seem to have lost my will power. My husband unfortunately has morphed into a TYPE 1 diabetic and he eats sooooo carefully! I say to myself OVER and OVER why don’t I eat just like he does! And then I don’t!

  10. 10
    Little B — March 12, 2012 @ 9:23 am

    Looks yummy!

  11. 11
    Beth (OMG! Yummy) — March 12, 2012 @ 9:57 am

    Isn’t willpower wonderful? The cake looks exactly like the kind of chocolate cake that I adore. Thank goodness for my athletic, high metabolism 14 yr old daughter who can finish off most of the sweets in the house before I get a chance to break down :-). I am on a “have to wear my bathing suit in 3 weeks” diet myself. Let’s do this together!

  12. 12
    XL @ 6 Bittersweets — March 12, 2012 @ 1:36 pm

    This looks delicious and is very similar to my own favorite chocolate cake recipe. I’ll have to try adding some bittersweet chocolate to it :). I do believe you’ve forgotten the sugar in the ingredients list for the cake though.

  13. 13
    hannah — March 12, 2012 @ 2:19 pm

    Wow! This looks delicious! And good for you, I too have troubles resisting everything I bake! You need to constantly consider your priorities- someone else will enjoy the slice of cake more than you will!


  14. 14
    Heather | Farmgirl Gourmet — March 12, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

    Beautiful!! I love chocolate cake with white icing.

  15. 15
    Cassie — March 12, 2012 @ 3:50 pm

    Gorgeous cake, once again. And what a great story, thanks so much for sharing!

  16. 16
    Paula — March 12, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

    Had to elaborate on my comment on Google+. I think it is wonderful that you are putting temptation in front of you and then choosing to ignore it. You are right, it is very empowering to walk away and not look back.

    Best wishes to you on this journey to feel and look the way you are most comfortable.

  17. 17
    Jesica@ Pencil Kitchen — March 12, 2012 @ 9:38 pm

    I think its always the toughest for us women to lose weight. Especially one that is inevitable such as pregnancy. I know I will not resist the temptation of a cake. Or a chocolate bar. This cake look so dark and moist, it’d probably ruin my diet

  18. 18
    Sara{OneTribeGourmet} — March 13, 2012 @ 9:26 pm

    Bravo on making positive changes in your life and the cake is swoon worthy! I wish I could bake..someday!

  19. 19
    Kelsey — March 14, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

    This cake looks wonderful! I’m trying to find a go-to chocolate cake recipe, so I’ll give this one a try. I have to say bravo in your efforts to start living healthier. I can personally say that Weight Watchers and running both work for me. I’m abroad in Europe right now so I’m indulging which frequently in unhealthy treats, but I’ve started running again and I can already feel the difference. Running shaped my legs in a way I didn’t even know possible! I can still remember the moment when I knew running was my saving exercise: I put on a pair of shorts for the first time in a few months and they simply fell off me!

  20. 20
    Kiran @ — March 15, 2012 @ 11:43 am

    Bravo for everything positive coming your way. Hugs.

    Can I face-plant into this gorgeous cake? For reals πŸ˜€

  21. 21
    Brian @ A Thought For Food — March 18, 2012 @ 9:07 pm

    As you know, I made this cake last week for my MILs birthday and it was a huge hit! Still working on a hunk of it, but it’s just oh so good! Thanks for saving me… I didn’t know what I was going to bake and your recipe came out of nowhere. Mwah!

  22. 22
    Katie — March 21, 2012 @ 4:32 pm

    I’m salivating as I type this comment to you… this chocolate cake looks moist and beautiful in all its glory. Good luck with the revamping your life style… I too am the worlds largest procrastinator at exercising and at times over indulging!

  23. 23
    Melissa — March 24, 2012 @ 9:31 pm

    I love how dark your cake is, almost black. I tried making chocolate cake before and it’s only light brown and not as dark. Any suggestions?

    • 23.1
      Merry-Jennifer — March 24, 2012 @ 11:58 pm

      Melissa, I think the dark color comes from the combination of cocoa powder PLUS the melted chocolate. The combo seems to be the trick for me.

  24. 24
    Kat — April 4, 2012 @ 6:10 am

    It’s really hard to resist when you have everything you need at home to make a cake! I love baking and i will try this recipe soon, thanks for the post!

  25. 25
    Lucy — April 10, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

    Your cake is so lovely. I never bother with trying to make it look pretty, just slap the frosting on and call it good. But I love your extra touch of garnish around the bottom. I’m inspired! I’ve been practicing the Blood Sugar Solution for the last month and have lost 12 lbs. I highly recommend it.

  26. 26
    Saskia — May 5, 2012 @ 8:02 pm

    This turned out great! Thank you so much for the wonderful recipe! xx

  27. 27
    N. Hornberger — May 24, 2012 @ 12:06 am

    4 1/2 sticks of butter??? Are you nuts???

  28. 28
    sweets lover — January 24, 2013 @ 8:09 pm

    what is 4 1/2 sticks of butter? can I get the measurements? love this cake made it tonight but couldn’t do the frosting because i’m not too sure how much 41/2 sticks of butter was cause my butter her in Canada are huge and i’m pretty sure i’d prob die if I put that much in lol

    • 28.1
      Merry-Jennifer — January 24, 2013 @ 9:15 pm

      One stick of butter is 4 ounces, so 4-1/2 sticks is 18 ounces. Good luck!

  29. 29
    Felicia Nomiko — February 27, 2013 @ 11:59 am

    Hot water chocolate is the best all around chocolate cake recipe I’ve ever made. This is a rich, moist, forgiving cake where most chocolate cakes are tricky to get cooked properly without overcooking them and making them dry. And nothing is better than good old fashioned butter cream frosting, though mine is sans salt. ^_^

  30. 30
    ayadigi — April 15, 2013 @ 4:00 am

    I am planning to make a cake in the next couple days that will be shaped like a snake. I looked up the method for this and figured out how to use bundt pans to create the shape. I’d like to use this recipe bc I just had this cake when my sister made it for her son’s birthday party and it was delicious! Would you be able to advise me if one recipe would work for one bundt pan or otherwise?? Thank you!

    • 30.1
      Merry-Jennifer — April 17, 2013 @ 5:11 pm

      I’ve not tried it in a bundt pan, but you could certainly give it a go! If you do, please report back with how it worked.

  31. 31
    Susana — April 18, 2013 @ 1:25 pm

    Hi, I used your recipe and baked my first ever chocholate cake for me family and friends…it was so good and looked so beautiful, moist, rich and dark…everyone LOVED it! It was gone on no time πŸ™‚ I did make it with chocholate buttercream but plan on trying the vanilla buttercream soon!
    I’m going to treasure your recipe and pass it on! I’m all the way in Grantham, Lincolnshire, UK but I was born in Aveiro, Portugal so your recipe will be passed on to my family and friends there too!
    Thanks very much!
    And well done on having will power, it was the thing that worked for me too!
    Compliments, Susana Moita.

  32. 32
    Susana — April 18, 2013 @ 1:26 pm

    Apologies for the typos
    my family*
    in no time*

  33. 33
    ayadigi — January 30, 2014 @ 3:56 pm

    Okay, the bundt pan worked great though I have since forgotten how long I cooked it for! Now I’m planning to attempt cupcakes with this recipe! Whaddaya say?!!?

  34. 34
    Maria — July 19, 2015 @ 8:28 pm

    Hi, I absolutely love this cake and so do all the friends and family members that I’ve made it for, especially my 4 year old grandson. Over the past couple years I have made it no less than 50 times…..YES…50 times, yet without fail my layers always sink leaving a big dip in the middle . Consequently, it looks strange once it’s cut and there is also excess frosting in the center. Β I don’t overmix and I use the slowest speed on my KitchenAid. I bake for 35 minutes, never longer. What can I do to stop this from happening? Thanks.Β 

    • 34.1
      Merry-Jennifer — July 20, 2015 @ 3:09 pm

      I’m so glad you love the cake, Maria! It’s a great celebration cake.

      There are several potential reasons for the cake layers sinking in the middle. Your oven may be running hot or cold, or maybe you have a hot or cold spot in the oven (rather than a uniform temperature throughout). Or it could be something else. Here’s a helpful blog post I found: 5 Ways to Keep Your Cakes From Sinking.

      Ultimately, you can slice off the top of the uneven layer to make it even, if you like. This is what I sometimes do, if the sinking is minimal.

  35. 35
    Matthew — December 29, 2015 @ 9:23 am

    My 4 year old nephew asked me to bring him a chocolate cake with ‘nilla icing when I went back home for Christmas. This recipe was perfect for it.Β 

    Like others, both layers sank slightly, but I suspect if I’d been stronger willed at not opening the oven to check them when cooking it would have helped.

    The buttercream was such a light consistency that when icing it on a turntable I was able to do a nice spiral with a palette knife.

    Thank you for the recipe. I’ll be doing this again in the new year, probably with a chocolate or orange buttercream.

    The pictures of the cake in production are here:

  36. 36
    Rebecca — April 14, 2017 @ 1:32 pm

    This is the best chocolate cake recipe I have ever used! I used to use Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake but have not since trying this. Absolutely wonderful!

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