Learn how to make a chocolate layer cake that is sure to impress all your party guests. This decadent dessert has it all: chocolate, ganache, buttercream and crunchy almonds to top it all off.
Special-Occasion Chocolate Cake Recipe photo by Taste of Home

When it comes to special-occasion desserts, one bake is king: a gorgeous chocolate layer cake. Out of all of our impressive layer cake recipes, one of our Test Kitchen’s favorites is the appropriately named Special-Occasion Chocolate Layer Cake. This cake combines moist chocolate cake layers with fluffy chocolate buttercream and a rich chocolate ganache—all topped with sliced almonds. It’s the sort of bake that turns heads, especially at major celebrations for birthdays, anniversaries and engagements.

The best part about this cake is that, while it looks over-the-top, it’s completely achievable for home bakers. Chances are you’re familiar with many of the techniques in this recipe. Put all these methods together to create this showstopper.

Special occasion chocolate cakeTaste of Home

Chocolate Layer Cake Ingredients

  • Cocoa powder
  • Boiling water
  • Butter
  • Granulated sugar
  • Eggs
  • Vanilla extract
  • All-purpose flour
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Salt


  • Semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • Heavy whipping cream
  • Sugar


  • Butter, softened
  • Confectioners’ sugar
  • Cocoa powder
  • Milk
  • Vanilla
  • Sliced almonds, toasted, to garnish


Step 1: Combine the wet ingredients

Blooming cocoa powderTaste of Home

The first step to making this lush cake batter is to bloom the cocoa. This simply means mixing together the cocoa powder with hot water before adding the mixture to the batter. This step develops the rich chocolate flavor. If you’re going to bake an over-the-top chocolate cake, you really want as much cocoa flavor as possible.

Once the cocoa is bloomed, add the cream and sugar to a big mixing bowl and beat until light and fluffy—about five minutes. Then add the eggs one at a time, allowing each to incorporate fully before adding the next. Beating these ingredients extremely well will make for the fluffiest cake.

Next, add the vanilla. Be sure to use a high-quality extract (not vanilla flavoring) here for the best possible flavor.

Step 2: Combine the dry ingredients

Sifting flour for cakeTaste of Home

In another bowl, sift together the dry ingredients—flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Sifting aerates the flour and removes any lumps before it gets into the batter. It’s one of those fussy steps that you shouldn’t skip in baking.

Next, it’s time to pull the batter together. Alternately add the dry ingredients and bloomed cocoa to the creamed mixture—starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat until just combined.

Editor’s Tip: Over beating the mix here can lead to a chewy or tough cake. The cake batter should look smooth, rich and oh-so-tempting.

Step 3: Bake the layers

Dividing cake batter between pansTaste of Home

To bake, first prep three 9-inch cake pans. You can either grease the pans or line them with parchment. Then divide the batter evenly between the three pans. The easiest way to do this is by weight; however, you can also divide your batter fairly evenly by distributing the batter cup by cup (or quarter cup once you’ve neared the bottom of your bowl) between the three pans.

Then pop the pans onto your oven’s middle rack and bake at 350ºF for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the cakes in their pans for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack.

Editor’s Tip: Only have two cake pans? No worries. Simply use a bowl in place of the third cake pan and set it aside while the first two layers bake. Once a cake pan is free, grease and line it again, fill it with the extra batter, and bake according to the instructions.

Step 4: Make the American buttercream frosting

Chocolate American buttercream is easy enough for beginners, and it’s a go-to for advanced bakers, as well. For this recipe, buttercream serves as a filling for one layer and the frosting for the whole cake.

To make the buttercream, beat butter in a mixer until fluffy, then add confectioners’ sugar, milk, cocoa and vanilla extract until fluffy and smooth. If you feel the frosting is too thick, add a splash of milk, a tablespoon at a time. If it’s too thin, add more confectioners’ sugar.

Step 5: Make the chocolate ganache

Making ganacheTaste of Home

This special-occasion bake doesn’t stop at cake and frosting. It calls for ganache, too. Ganache may sound intimidating since it’s a bit of a fancier finish, but making it is pretty simple.

First, place the chopped chocolate in a medium-size bowl—the smaller you chop the chocolate, the easier the melting process will be. In a saucepan, heat the cream and sugar to a boil. Then carefully pour the cream over the chocolate and whisk until nice and smooth. For a minute it might look like the ganache will never come together, but just keep whisking!

Editor’s Tip: Be sure to let the ganache cool a bit before using it to fill and top your cake.

Step 6: Build the cake

Frosting with buttercream and ganacheTaste of Home

Once the cake is cooled and your buttercream and ganache are ready, it’s time to start building. First, check out your cake layers. If they look flat and even, you can start frosting right away. If they are fairly domed, level them off with a serrated knife for neat, sharp layers.

To frost, smear a dab of frosting on your turntable or cake plate and center the first layer. The frosting will help keep the cake in place. Then place either a sheet of parchment paper or a cake board smack on top and begin assembling layers.

Next, using an offset spatula, spread a layer of buttercream onto the cake. With the first layer finished, stack on the second layer of cake. Grab the ganache—it should be cool and spreadable—and smear about half onto this layer of cake. Then top the ganache with half of the sliced almonds and stack with the final layer.

Editor’s Tip: While you can certainly use parchment, a cake board makes it easier to transport your bake between surfaces. It also adds a professional touch when serving.

Step 7: Frost the cake

Frosting a chocolate cakeTaste of Home

With all three layers assembled, start to frost the exterior of the cake. Begin with the top and move on to the sides. A long offset spatula and a cake turntable really come in handy here.

Step 8: Pour on the ganache

Frosting with ganacheTaste of Home

With a chocolate layer cake as decadent as this one, you can’t stop with a basic buttercream finish. That’s where the remainder of the ganache comes in.

At this stage, you want the ganache to be the consistency of a thick hot fudge—thin enough to drip slowly off a spoon. If you want to give it a test run, pour a bit of ganache over an overturned mug or bowl and see how it flows down the side. If the ganache is too thin and pools at the bottom of your dish, let it cool more. If it’s too thick, pop it in the microwave for 10 seconds at a time until it reaches the right consistency.

Slowly pour the ganache in the center of the cake top. Then, using an offset spatula, spread it outward to the very edge. It should drip down the sides beautifully. This drip makes the cake look even more tempting.

Step 9: Add a shower of almonds

Topping chocolate ganache cake with almondsTaste of Home

To finish the cake, sprinkle the remainder of the toasted almonds on top. Combined with the glossy ganache and rich buttercream, they make for a show stopping presentation.

When finished, this cake is absolutely ready to be the centerpiece of any celebration. When you slice into it, you reveal bits of almond, silky ganache and creamy frosting. This cake is exceptionally decadent—just the thing you want at your next big party.

How do you store leftover chocolate layer cake?

You can store extra cake on the counter for a day or two (a cake pedestal and dome come in handy here) or pop leftovers inside an airtight container and place in the fridge.

Can you freeze chocolate layer cake?

Sure can! Cover the un-frosted cake tightly in plastic wrap or pack in an airtight container and freeze. Just be sure to frost and eat it within two months. We don’t think that’ll be a problem here!

Watch how to Make Special-Occasion Chocolate Cake

Special-Occasion Chocolate Layer Cake

This recipe won Grand Champion at the Alaska State Fair, and with just one bite, you'll see why! The decadent chocolate cake boasts a luscious ganache filling and fudge buttercream frosting. —Cindi DeClue, Anchorage, Alaska
Special-Occasion Chocolate Cake Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time

Prep: 40 min. Bake: 25 min. + cooling


16 servings


  • 1 cup baking cocoa
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2-1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 10 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 cup baking cocoa
  • 1/4 cup 2% milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a small bowl, combine cocoa and water; set aside to cool completely. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 5-7 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with cocoa mixture, beating well after each addition.
  2. Pour into 3 greased and floured 9-in. round baking pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.
  3. For ganache, place chocolate in a bowl. In a small heavy saucepan over low heat, bring cream and sugar to a boil. Pour over chocolate; whisk gently until smooth. Allow to cool until it reaches a spreadable consistency, stirring occasionally.
  4. For frosting, in a large bowl, beat butter until fluffy. Add the confectioners' sugar, cocoa, milk and vanilla; beat until smooth.
  5. Place the first cake layer on a serving plate; spread with 1 cup frosting. Top with the second layer and 1 cup ganache; sprinkle with 1/2 cup almonds. Top with the third layer; frost top and sides of cake. Warm ganache until pourable; pour over cake, allowing some to flow down the side. Sprinkle with remaining almonds. Refrigerate until serving.

Nutrition Facts

1 piece: 736 calories, 39g fat (22g saturated fat), 125mg cholesterol, 454mg sodium, 86g carbohydrate (63g sugars, 3g fiber), 8g protein.