Chocolate Birthday or Valentine’s Day Cake

Valentine’s Day is coming and I have just the cake for the occasion.

For years this rich and intensely chocolate cake was known in our house as my niece Elizabeth’s birthday cake.

That’s back when I made it tall and skinny using three stacked 8-inch cake pans.

But this week, in the early hours of the morning, I had an idea to make a heart-shaped cake that looked and tasted like the best piece of candy you ever pulled out of a box of chocolates. I used a cake construction technique I learned when I was ten years old and happily occupied with making cookies and cakes for my brothers and their friends.

Back then, I used an 8-inch square and an 8-inch round pan to make the cake. This time, I needed a cake that would feed twenty for a dinner party, so I added a second layer on top. I used two round and two square pans.

As I look at this picture now, I think this cake would make a sweet Groom’s Cake.

The recipe comes from Barrington Brewery and Restaurant in Rhode Island and has appeared on numerous websites and in many cookbooks. The recipe makes a large, dense cake, but if you reduce the ingredients by a third, you could bring it down to a regular-sized, single-layered, heart-shaped cake.

The frosting is very special, too. It is a ganache frosting. Ganache is a rich chocolatey filling made of melted chocolate and heavy cream. Depending on the ratio of chocolate to cream used, the consistency of the end product will be either a dipping sauce, like for strawberries (1 part chocolate : 1½ parts cream), a creamy frosting (1 chocolate : 1 cream), or a solid confection, like for truffles (2 chocolate : 1 cream). You can read about ganache here.

To make my heart-shaped cake, I needed to increase the basic ganache recipe by half bringing the total weight of the cake to a whopping 8.5 pounds (after subtracting two pounds for the pizza paddle I used to transfer the cake).

Since the ganache is heated and needs to chill for an hour before spreading, we’ll make the frosting first.

Let’s Get Started!


Frosting (reduce by a third if making a standard three-layer cake)
3 cups heavy cream
1½ pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

2 cups stout (such as Guinness)
2 cups (4 sticks) butter
1½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups all-purpose flour (spoon into the measuring cup and level the top with a knife)
4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
1⅓ cups sour cream

Frosting Instructions 

Bring cream to a simmer (not a full boil) in a large heavy saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and let melt, uncovered, for three minutes without stirring.

Using a whisk, stir the ingredients together. Do not let any water (for example, thru covering the pot which could create drips of condensate) get in the ganache. It is an emulsion, as such, it could “seize” and turn the chocolate into a grainy liquid. Allow frosting to cool and firm up for an hour inside the refrigerator.

Cake Instructions

Preheat oven to 350º.

Prepare the four lined cake pans: You will need two 8-inch squares, two 8-inch rounds, and two large wire cooling racks.

Grease all four pans with butter. Line the bottoms with parchment paper. To do this, stack two sheets of parchment paper. Using a marker, trace the cake pan outlines onto paper. Cut out the images and place in the bottom of the corresponding cake pans. Butter the tops of the liners. Set aside.

Bring stout and butter to a simmer in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Add cocoa powder through a fine-mesh sieve and whisk until smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, add eggs and sour cream and beat until well-blended, about a minute.

You should now have three bowls of ingredients. It’s time to mix them together.

Add the chocolate mixture to the sour cream mixture in the mixing bowl. Beat briefly on slow speed for one minute. Scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.  Slowly add the flour mixture and beat briefly until just mixed. Remove beater and stir batter up from the bottom with a spatula and fold until completely combined. Divide equally between the four prepared pans.

Notice how thick and deluxe the batter is. The cake will be equally deluxe!

Bake for 35 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. You’ll notice the edges of the cake start to pull away from the sides of the pans when they are done. Be sure to do the knife check on each cake as the cakes in the back (where the oven is the hottest) tend to cook a little faster. Let cool for 10 minutes on wire racks and then invert the pans, remove paper liners, and allow cakes to finish cooling. They must be completely cooled before frosting.

Frosting the Cake

Place the square cake on a large sheet of parchment paper. Cut the round cake in half and place the halves on two sides of the square, as shown.

To make the heart-shaped cake have a fluffier frosting, pour the cooled frosting into a mixing bowl and beat for a few minutes. This is optional but does give the cake height.

Frosting such a large cake is easier if you have a cake turntable to place it on, but a rimless sheet pan will work. You can use the sides of the parchment paper to move the cake around.

I moved the cake to a turntable, trimmed the visible parchment paper off, and made the finishing touches to the frosting.

I used a pizza paddle to transfer the cake to my friend, Kate’s silver tray. Her husband picked rosemary for me and we added chocolate covered ginger pieces for final adornments.

My friend, Renée, made the same recipe and adorned hers in an equally beautiful way. She used a fine-mesh sieve to dust cocoa powder over the cake and added flowers to the top.

How about an Easter bunny cake? Old-Timey Vanilla Bunny Cake

Or a red velvet cake? Lily’s Red Velvet Cake


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© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Old-Timey Vanilla Bunny Cake

My mother made this bunny-shaped cake for us in the Sixties. I made it for my kids in the Nineties. Now, twenty-five years later, I am happily making it for my grandson. I love the architecture involved in creating the bunny shape out of two round cake pans as much as I love the simplicity in the flavor of a vanilla cake.

Cake Ingredients

2¼ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1½ cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into half-inch slices, at room temperature
4 large eggs
½ cup milk (whole or 2%)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350º.
Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans.

Place the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl and mix on slow speed until well blended.

Add the slices of butter and blend on medium speed until the mixture resembles pea-sized crumbles.

In another bowl, mix together the eggs, milk, and vanilla with a fork until well blended.

Pour the wet ingredients into the butter and flour mixture and beat on slow speed for one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Beat the batter on medium speed for one minute until smooth and fluffy.

Pour batter into prepared cake pans. Bake for about 25 minutes on the middle oven rack. When done, the cakes should be golden in color and a knife poked into the center should come out clean.

Remove cake pans from the oven. Let cool on a wire rack for ten minutes. To easily release the cakes from their pans, use a knife to loosen the edges and then flip the pans onto a rack. The cakes must be completely cooled before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients

1  8-ounce bar cream cheese, softened
½ cup  (1 stick) butter, softened
1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3¾ cups (1 pound box) confectioners’ sugar
2-3 tablespoons whole milk

Beat butter and cream cheese together in a large bowl on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy. Add powdered sugar and start beating on slow speed until the sugar is incorporated into the mixture to keep powdered sugar from spraying all over the room. Beat frosting until smooth and creamy.

frosting Red velvet cake

Add vanilla and beat for 15 seconds more. Add milk as needed to help fluff up the frosting.

frosting Red velvet cake
To Assemble Bunny Cake
Cut one of the cake layers as shown.
Arrange cakes as shown below. Place parchment paper strips under the cake’s edges. Ice the cake and then remove the strips. Decorate with M&M’s.
My husband got into decorating the cake. I had to pull him off the job when he talked about applying eyebrows.

Meanwhile, a few miles away at my Goddaughter Leigh’s house, my dear friend Becky was busy making an Easter Bunny Cake for her three-week-old granddaughter. She sent me a photo.

The Barton/Meadors family made this beautiful bunny.

My friend Janet Davies sent a photo of her coconut-covered bunny cake. Here is her method of icing the cake: Cut each cake layer in half horizontally. Poke holes in the layers with a toothpick. Pour a mixture of 12 ounces frozen coconut, 1 pound powdered sugar, and 1 cup sour cream over the layers and allow to soak in.  Add flakey coconut to the top. The sour cream gives it a tangy touch.  Sometimes she takes off the crusty of the cake to make sure the runny icing gets inside the cake.

Here’s another cute one sent to me by mom’s cousin, Jean Maroney. Her daughter-in-law, Alena, made it.

If you are celebrating Easter, Happy Easter!

Related Posts for Easter Day

Fun to do with Children:
To Dye For: Making Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs
How to Tell If an Egg Is Fresh or Hard-Boiled
Test Your Sense of Smell with Jellybeans

50 Ways to Make a Frittata
Quiche Lorraine with Bacon and Kale
Mom’s Monkey Bread, circa 1970
The Biscuit King

Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies
Italian Sesame Seed Cookies

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© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Mom’s Monkey Bread, circa 1970

I wasn’t planning on writing another blog post before Christmas, but I have a hard time saying No to a recipe request from one of my brothers especially when they bring up food memories that involve our mother. My brother Sam wrote, “Judy, Mom always made sticky buns in a cake pan that had the centerpiece cut out. They were very popular. Do you remember how to make them?”

He was talking about Monkey Bread. I really had to think hard to remember how Mom made it back in the Seventies. Remembering brought me to a happy place in our childhood kitchen with the big bay window over the sink that overlooked the entrance to Bay View. I was happy for the challenge.

Sam, here is my first attempt in forty years at making Monkey Bread. The big white blob is cream cheese frosting. Although I knew what kind of pan you were referring to when you wrote “a cake pan that had the centerpiece cut out,” I didn’t have an angel food cake pan, so I used a Les Creuset Dutch oven. It did the job. Do not use a tube pan with a removable bottom or the butter will leak out and make a mess.

When I went to the grocery store to find loaves of frozen bread dough, it was nice to see they still stocked the five-pound packages I used as a kid. You will need two loaves for this recipe. Be sure to defrost them about thirty minutes before you plan to bake. There is no need to let them rise first.


2 loaves (2 pounds) frozen bread dough, thawed
1 stick (½ cup) butter
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ cup chopped walnuts or raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 350º
Grease a deep 9 or 10-inch cooking container.

Mix together sugars and cinnamon.
Melt butter in a pan until just melted. Stir in vanilla. Remove from heat.
Cut loaves into pieces as shown in the photo below.

Drop individual pieces of dough into the butter and stir until each piece is evenly coated

Take each piece out and roll it in the cinnamon sugar. Place in a greased baking pan. Let rest for about 15 minutes. It does need to rise in the pan before cooking.

Bake for about 45 minutes. The dough will rise as it cooks. The top layer will turn golden brown and be firm to touch when it is ready. If you don’t cook the bread the full amount of time, the lower dough balls will be doughy even though the bread looks done on top.

Let cool for five minutes and then flip onto a serving plate.


½ package cream cheese, softened (½ pound)
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon milk
1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
¼ teaspoon vanilla
dash of salt

Mix ingredients together until well-blended. Thin with more milk if desired.


Serve bread with cream cheese frosting on the side or drizzled on top as shown in this gorgeous photo sent to me Christmas morning by my Aunt Rachelle.

Merry Christmas to Rachelle and my brothers!

Cranberry and Hot Pepper Jelly Brie Bites
“Croatian Cheese” a Flavorful and Exotic Appetizer Made with Feta and Goat Cheese
Roasted Tamari Almonds

Auntie Martha’s Spicy Spinach (aka Spinach Madeleine)
Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberries
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower

50 Ways to Make a Frittata
The Biscuit King
Sorghum, Oats, and Cranberry Granola
The Navel Mary Way: How to Peel an Orange
Fruit and Nut Bread

Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies
Lily’s Red Velvet Cake


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Remember to always check this website for updated versions of a recipe.  

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Lily’s Red Velvet Cake

I enjoy making special cakes for loved ones on their birthdays and was only too happy to make a Red Velvet Cake for my son’s girlfriend when she turned 21. I browsed through several cookbooks looking for good recipes. My first three attempts were unappealing, but after working on creating a good recipe, I came up with this version that is both delicious and gorgeous. Now, I look for occasions to make this cake as it has become my new favorite.

While doing research on the red velvet cake, I learned The Adams Extract Company, makers of food coloring and flavor extracts, is credited with making this cake popular during the Great Depression. As a marketing strategy, the company placed point-of-sale tear-off recipe cards of their food coloring products in stores. The idea to make a red cake took off from there. Red Velvet Cake is basically Devil’s Food Cake with food coloring.

Cake Ingredients:
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup canola oil
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature (not low-fat)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) red food coloring
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
½ cup freshly brewed, plain, warm coffee
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Mise en Place:

Preheat oven to 350º. Center a cooking rack in the oven.

Prepare Cake Pans with Liners:
Grease two 8-inch or 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray or butter. Dust insides of pans with flour. Tap pans upside down over a trash can to remove excess flour.
DSC_0043 Red Velvet cake

The pans need to be lined with parchment paper (waxed paper will work) as extra insurance the cake will not stick to the bottom of the pan. Even when I grease the living daylights out of cake pans, some cakes still want to stick to the bottom. This is one of them. Liners guarantee they will drop out easily.

How to Make Liners for Cake Pans:
Draw an outline of the cake pan on two sheets of parchment paper. Use scissors to cut out the paper disks. If you trim to just inside the line, your disks should fit nicely inside the pans. Place a liner in each pan. No need to grease the liners.
 Red Velvet cake

Make the Cake Batter:
Beat together the oil, sugar, and eggs for three minutes on medium speed.

Add the rest of the wet ingredients to the mixing bowl: buttermilk, vanilla, food coloring, vinegar, and coffee. Mix on medium-low speed for one minute. The batter should appear smooth. Beware, any speed higher than medium-low will splatter red batter all over you and your kitchen!

Red Velvet cake

In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients: the flour, chocolate, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Spoon in 1/3 of this at a time into the mixing bowl and mix just until flour disappears on low-speed. You do not want to awaken the gluten in the flour by over mixing the batter. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as you mix. Repeat two more times, using 1/3 of the dry ingredients each time. Mix until dry ingredients are fully incorporated into the batter.

If you would like to make cupcakes instead of a cake, I would add ½ cup of chocolate chips to the batter at this point. Yum!

red velvet cake  Red Velvet cake

Pour batter evenly into the two prepared pans.
Red Velvet cake

Place cake pans on the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Use a knife to check the center of cakes for doneness. If the knife comes out clean, the cake is done. If not, set the timer for five more minutes and recheck. Be sure to test each cake pan. When done, remove pans from oven and cool for 5 minutes.
Red Velvet cake

Run a knife around the edges of the pans to release the cakes from the sides. Turn pans upside down on a wire cooling rack and peel off parchment paper. Invert cakes and cool to room temperature. At this time, you could store them in plastic bags until ready to use, or go ahead and frost them.
Red Velvet cake Red Velvet cake

Butter and Cream Cheese Frosting


1  8-ounce bar cream cheese, softened
½ cup  (1 stick) butter, softened
1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3¾ cups (1 pound box) confectioners’ sugar
2-3 tablespoons whole milk

Beat butter and cream cheese together in a mixing bowl on medium-high speed until smooth.
frosting Red velvet cake

Add sugar and beat until fluffy.
frosting Red velvet cake

Add vanilla and beat 30 seconds more. Add milk, one tablespoonful at a time, to thin frosting to desired spreading consistency.

frosting Red velvet cake
How to Frost a Cake
Line the edges of a cake plate with parchment paper, or plastic wrap, to protect the plate from drops of frosting.
Red velvet cake
Place first cake layer down. Scoop up about 25% of the frosting and spackle it across the top with a long metal icing spatula.
Red velvet cake Red velvet cake
Place the top cake layer, smooth side up, over the frosted layer. Place half of the remaining frosting on top and use it to frost the sides of the cake.
Red velvet cake Red velvet cake
Next, spoon the rest of the frosting on the cake and frost the top layer of the cake.
Red velvet cake Red velvet cake
Remove parchment paper liner from cake plate while frosting is still soft. Let frosted cake sit for an hour or two so the flavors can blend. I like to chill all cakes with cream cheese frosting before serving, but that is a personal preference.

Recently, I needed an elegant cake that would serve 20 people. I decided to make a taller version of my red velvet cake by preparing one and a half cake recipes. This gave me three 9-inch layers. I increased the frosting recipe by half. The cake looked beautiful and regal on the dessert buffet.

Triple Decker Cake Ingredients List
(I’ve done the math for you, and for me)

3¾ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoon baking powder
1½ teaspoon baking soda
4½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups sugar
1½ cup canola oil
3 large eggs, room temperature
1½ cup buttermilk, room temperature (not low-fat)
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ ounce red food coloring
1½ teaspoon white distilled vinegar
¾ cup freshly brewed, plain, warm coffee


I LOVE this cake!


Related Posts:
Marion’s Crazy Good Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips
Ellen’s Most Moist Zucchini Bread
Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie

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© 2014 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.