Chocolate Layer Cake (refined sugar free) with Chocolate Buttercream

I’m back in Pittsburgh for the week for a medley of doctor and dentist appointments, to visit with family, and to celebrate my best friend’s 21st birthday.  I kicked off the weekend by heading straight down to my grandma’s after arriving at my parents’ house so that we could celebrate Father’s Day with family on Sunday, picnic-style.  My dad loves, loves, loves chocolate cake, so I knew what I was making for him.

I went pretty simple with this cake, using half whole wheat flour, half unbleached all purpose flour (so that Dad wouldn’t notice), and a hefty dose of dutch process cocoa.  I sweetened it entirely with dates, which made it less processed and healthier.  The moisture the dates added to the cake was delightful.  I used a refined coconut oil in this cake so that there would be no coconut flavor, but you can easily use extra virgin if you want the coconut!  I made swiss meringue buttercream for a satiny frosting that doesn’t overdose you with sugar (and I did use regular unrefined cane sugar for that).

I flavored the filling with a couple tablespoons of blackberry brandy, since my dad generally likes chocolate-berry desserts.  I wanted to make it close to our favorite ice cream flavor, chocolate raspberry truffle, but decided on the blackberry at the last minute to keep the texture nice and smooth throughout.

One of the best indicators that a dessert is a success is having absolutely no leftovers to take home.  That was the case with both of the desserts I took for the Father’s Day picnic.  Everyone was raving about the frosting on this cake, which I was hoping for – swiss meringue buttercream is my absolute favorite!  Not too sweet, a texture like silk.  This cake is perfect for any celebration where there will be chocolate lovers!

The only thing I was disappointed about with this cake really had nothing to do with the cake – it was the weather.  It was a rainy and humid day, which caused the cake to really glisten.  The chocolate chips that I spelled out DAD with ended up looking a little bit funky when it came to take photos.  I did get my dad to model the cake a bit for me, and my sister made sure that my dad kept his cell phone clipped to his belt, to make sure everyone understood how awesome our dad is.  Haha!

What did you do for Father’s Day?  Did you make any sweet treats?

Chocolate Layer Cake (refined sugar free) with Chocolate Buttercream

yields one 9-inch, 3 layer cake

Chocolate Layer Cake (refined sugar free) with Chocolate Buttercream

    For the cake layers:
  • 2 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour*
  • 1 1/4 cups cocoa powder (dutch process preferred)
  • 1 Tbsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups Medjool dates, pitted and processed into a paste (or 1 1/2 cups date paste, honey, or sugar)
  • 3/4 cup refined coconut oil, melted
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  • For the chocolate buttercream frosting:
  • 4 egg whites (120 g)
  • 3/4 cup sugar (preferably unrefined cane sugar)
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, cut into tablespoons
  • 8 oz. dark chocolate, melted
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp blackberry brandy, optional, for filling
For the cake layers:

Line the bottom of three 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper, and grease with coconut oil. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the date paste, coconut oil, eggs, and vanilla, mixing until smooth. Add the buttermilk and hot water, mixing until combined. Add the flour mixture, and mix until fully incorporated.

Divide the batter between the three prepared cake pans, and bake at 350ºF for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs. Cool in the pans for about 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool (I find it’s easiest to invert the cake pan onto a plate covered in plastic wrap, then inverting the plate onto the wire rack so that you don’t end up breaking the cake into pieces since it’ll still be warm at this point). Once completely cool, wrap tightly and place in the freezer for up to 2 days.

For the chocolate buttercream frosting:

Melt the chocolate in a heat proof bowl in the microwave at 30 second intervals, stirring in between. Set aside to cool.

Bring a saucepan filled with 2 inches of water to a simmer. Place the egg whites and sugar into a heat proof mixer bowl, and place above the water. Whisk the sugar and egg whites until warm to the touch and the sugar is dissolved.

Place the bowl back on the mixer stand, and whisk on medium-high speed until you have stiff, glossy peaks, and the mixture is cool, about 10 minutes.

Reduce speed to medium-low, and add the butter, one piece at a time, mixing until fully incorporated between each piece. If it appears curdled at this point, keep mixing until it becomes smooth again. Add the vanilla, melted chocolate, and salt, and mix until well combined.

Switch to the paddle attachment and beat for about 2 minutes to remove air bubbles.

If you want to flavor the filling with the blackberry brandy, remove a heaping cup of the buttercream, and stir in the brandy.

If you’re a visual person, there’s a great step-by-step swiss meringue buttercream post at Sweetapolita.

To assemble:

Take the chilled cake layers and place one layer on a 9-inch cake board, glued into place by a pea sized amount of frosting. Place a heaping 1/2 cup of the flavored (again, optional) buttercream filling in the center of the layer (half of the filling), and spread with a small offset spatula to about 1/2 inch away from the edge of the cake. Place the second cake layer on top, repeat with the other half of the filling, and top it with the final cake layer.

Place a generous dollop of the chocolate buttercream frosting on top of the cake, spread evenly with an offset spatula, working down the sides until you have a thin layer of frosting around the entire cake. Chill until set, about 30 minutes.

Once set, remove from fridge and add another large dollop of the chocolate buttercream on top of the cake and spread the same way, adding another coat of frosting. Scrape off the excess frosting with a straight blade spatula and smooth out. To get the design as mine was frosted, take a straight spatula and hold vertically with light pressure, starting at the bottom of the cake and working your way up. Repeat around the entire cake. I then did a swirl on top by starting on the outside at a 45 degree angle with the straight spatula, turning the cake until I reached the middle.

Chill in the fridge until about a half hour before ready to serve. Allow to come to room temperature before serving. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge, covered, for up to 5 days (or at room temperature, covered, for up to 2 days).

*You can use half unbleached all purpose flour and half whole wheat flour.