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Triple Chocolate Star CakeWhen I saw that this month’s challenge for We Should Cocoa was a chocolate showstopper cake, I knew that this had to be the month when I finally joined in the fun.

Slicing the cake layersBuilding the cake

The truth is, I don’t think there’s anything quite as exciting as dreaming up a new cake. There are so many elements to play around with: frostings, fillings, décor, textures, color—cake baking is pastry creation in its most exalted form.

Glazing the cake

Ready for decorationAnd I knew exactly the kind of cake that I wanted to create. Since this was a celebration of all things chocolate (my favorite ingredient in the world, as you might easily guess by peeking at my archives), I wanted a sophisticated cake that included chocolate in all its forms: milk, white, dark, and cocoa powder.

The first sliceThe result was everything I had hoped for: a real tribute to the glories of chocolate. The cake itself is made with cocoa powder and smattered with milk chocolate chips, which provide lovely unexpected bits of crunch in the soft cake. The filling is made with white chocolate, its heady sweetness tamed slightly with the bite of cream cheese and apricot preserves. And the ganache glaze, the final glory, is one luscious sweep of smooth dark chocolate, intensified with a bit of espresso powder.

A celebration of chocolateBlissI decorated my cake with piped white chocolate decorations; I figured that they would stand out nicely against the dark ganache. However, if the production of the cake itself has sapped your creative energy, I don’t think anyone would object to the cake being served more austerely: sleekly gorgeous in its shining coat of ganache. After all, it’s really all the layers inside that make this cake so exciting . . .

A Slice of Triple Chocolate Star CakeTriple-Chocolate Star Cake

A real stunner, and delicious to boot. This cake combines the graceful elements of a Viennese Sachertorte (apricot preserves, ganache glaze) with a good old American layer cake and a particularly indulgent white chocolate filling. This is a dessert that will star at any celebration! You’ll also notice that this cake is made without eggs, a useful thing if you or one of your guests has an allergy.

For the cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups hot water
1 ½ teaspoons espresso powder
¾ cup clarified butter, melted
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups milk chocolate chips
For the cream cheese filling:
8 oz. white chocolate, chopped
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
For the ganache glaze:
12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (it is imperative to use the very best chocolate you can here, and make sure that it is at least a 54% variety)
11 oz. heavy cream
¼ teaspoon espresso powder
2 tablespoons golden syrup (if you cannot find this British sweetener, substitute honey or light corn syrup)
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
For assembly and decoration:
½ cup apricot preserves (make sure you choose a brand that is not too sweet: tart is better here)
Piped white chocolate decorations


For the cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and position a rack in the center of the oven. Line the bottoms of two 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper. Grease and flour the parchment linings and the sides of the pans. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a smaller bowl, dissolve the espresso powder in the hot water. Add the clarified butter, vinegar, and vanilla extract. Pour into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir just to form a smooth batter. Fold in the milk chocolate chips.
  4. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans and spread out smoothly with an offset spatula. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes.
  5. Let the cakes cool in the pan for fifteen minutes; then invert them onto a wire rack and remove the pans. Peel away the parchment paper discs and discard.
  6. Let the cakes cool completely.

For the filling:

  1. Bring a pot of water to a simmer over medium heat. Place the chopped white chocolate in a stainless steel bowl and balance it over the steaming water, without letting the bottom of the bowl touch the water.
  2. Let the chocolate melt, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula.
  3. Remove the bowl from the steam and pour out the pan of water. Let the chocolate cool until tepid.
  4. Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed for a few seconds and then gradually pour in the melted and cooled white chocolate. Add the vanilla.
  5. Once everything is incorporated, turn up the speed to high and beat until the mixture is light and aerated. Scrape into a small bowl and set aside until you are ready to begin assembling the cake. Do not refrigerate the filling, as the chocolate in it will harden and make it impossible to spread.

To assemble the cake:

  1. Place one of the cake layers on a turntable and use a serrated knife to trim the top flat. Then use the knife to mark a line halfway up the cake, scoring all the way around the perimeter. This is your guide for cutting the layers.
  2. Place the knife against the mark you have made and begin sawing gently, slowly rotating the turntable. Once you have gone all the way around the cake, move the knife in towards the center of the cake and repeat. Continue until you have cut all the way through the cake, splitting it into two even layers. Set them aside and repeat process with the second cake.
  3. Take the bottom layer of one of the cakes and place it on the turntable. Spread half of the white chocolate filling over it. Place the top half that matches with the first layer over the layer of filling. Spread the apricot preserves over this layer.
  4. Now take the top layer of the second cake and place it on top of the preserves. Spread the remaining white chocolate filling over it.
  5. Finally, take the last cake layer, turn it upside down so that the smooth bottom is facing up, and place it on top of the second layer of white chocolate filling. Press down gently on the cake to level it.
  6. Use a small offset spatula to smooth any filling that is oozing out the sides and then wrap the cake securely in plastic wrap. Transfer the cake to the refrigerator to set up for a few hours, or overnight.
  7. Once the cake is chilled, remove it from the refrigerator and place it on a wire rack set over a sheet pan lined with parchment.
  8. Now you are ready to make the ganache and glaze the cake.

To make the ganache and finish the cake:

  1. Place the chopped bittersweet chocolate in a large bowl.
  2. Pour the cream into a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Dissolve the espresso powder and golden syrup in the warmed cream and then add the vanilla extract.
  3. Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate and let stand for about 20 seconds.
  4. Now, starting in the center of the bowl, gently begin to whisk the chocolate into the cream. Once you can see the chocolate and cream coming together to form a glossy, dark ganache, switch from the whisk to a rubber spatula, which will incorporate less air into the ganache and help keep it shiny.
  5. Once the ganache is perfectly smooth and dark, let it settle for a few minutes before glazing the cake.
  6. To glaze the cake, take a generous ladleful of the ganache and pour it into the center of the cake. It will spread out on its own, but if you need to, use the ladle to help gravity nudge the ganache towards the edges of the cake.
  7. To coat the sides of the cake, take another ladleful of ganache and pour it slowly along the top edge of the cake, turning it as you go and letting the ganache flow slowly down the sides of the cake, leaving a gleaming coat of lusciousness behind. You should be able to get around the cake in four ladlefuls. If there are any bare spots left, just use a teaspoon to touch them up with a small amount of ganache. This is only the first coating, so you have a second go-around to hide any mistakes.
  8. Once the excess ganache has dripped off the cake, move the wire rack to the side and pour the ganache that has collected on the parchment paper back into the bowl.
  9. Place the rack and glazed cake back on the parchment-lined sheet pan. Repeat the process to form a second coat of ganache. Chill the glazed cake for 30 minutes to set the ganache.
  10. Once the glaze has set, use any leftover ganache to pipe rosettes around the perimeter of the cake and garnish it with piped white chocolate decorations.
  11. This cake freezes very well.

Yield: 10 servings