Chocolate Cake with Real Buttercream Frosting

This is an awesome chocolate cake! I had been eyeing this recipe in my copy of The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook for a while, waiting for the right occasion to make it. Sean’s 6th birthday party seemed like the perfect time!

We were having between 30-40 people so I decided to make a double batch to fill a large 11 x 15″ cake pan. I carefully calculated the double amount of each ingredient and wrote them out ahead of time. That helps me avoid mistakes when making the recipe and make sure I buy enough ingredients to make the recipe!

chocolate cake batter

This batter is so thick and rich!

The cake batter includes buttermilk and sour cream so I knew it would be fantastic. And it was. The batter was the most delicious chocolate cake batter I have ever tasted!

chocolate buttercream spread on chocolate cake

It was so smooth and creamy and tasted delicious too!

I was a little intimidated by the buttercream frosting. I’d never made it before, and this was a real buttercream from a meringue base, not vegetable shortening. It took a while to make–melting the chopped chocolate, separating and whipping the egg whites, mixing in the butter one tablespoon at a time, but it was definitely worth the trouble! This buttercream is smooth and rich and spreads like a dream.

With the cake being so much work I kept the decorations at a minimum. We had a Lego Pirates of the Caribbean theme so I decided to make a pirate treasure map. The palm trees are plastic by the way, I wasn’t feeling that crafty at 11 pm! (They came from Michael’s craft store in the California Missions supply area.) I used some Milk Duds for rocks, blue sprinkles for the water and Wilton Turtle Brownie Crunch sprinkles for the sand.

treasure map cake

My little pirate had a great birthday!

Here is the recipe for Ina Garten’s Chocolate Buttercream Cake. It is found in the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (and I found it listed online as well). I can’t say enough good things about this cookbook. I’ve made almost all of the dessert recipes and several of the others. Ina uses simple quality ingredients and most recipes are very easy. This chocolate cake and buttercream frosting is a lot more involved than other recipes in the book.


For the cake

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 teaspoon espresso powder
2 tablespoons milk

For the frosting

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup egg white, at room temperature (from 3 extra-large eggs)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 pinch cream of tartar
1/2 tsp salt
1 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 teaspoon water
2 Tablespoons dark rum (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350°F Butter two 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper, butter the paper, and dust the pans with flour, knocking out any excess. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars on high speed until light, approximately 5 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. Combine the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee. On low speed, add the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture alternately in thirds, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix the batter only until blended.

Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a spatula. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes on a rack, remove from the pans, and allow to finish cooling.

To make the frosting, chop the chocolates and melt in a bowl over simmering water until smooth. Allow to cool.

Mix the egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk. Heat the egg whites in the bowl over simmering water until they are warm to the touch, about 5 minutes. Whisk on high speed for 5 minutes or until the meringue is cool and holds a stiff peak.

Add the butter, 1 tablespoons at a time, while beating on medium speed. Scrape down the bowl, add the chocolate, vanilla, and espresso and mix for 1 minute or until the chocolate is completely blended inches If the buttercream seems very soft, allow it to cool and beat it again.

To frost the cake, place one cake layer on a serving plate, flat side up. Frost the top of that layer with buttercream. Place the second layer on top, also flat side up and frost the top and sides.


  • I used the brewed coffee in the cake, but left out the espresso and rum in the frosting. I was afraid the coffee flavor would be too strong for the kids.
  • I made a double batch of the buttercream but it wasn’t necessary. A single batch would have been plenty since I didn’t have multiple layers to frost.
  • If you make this cake ahead be sure to refrigerate it, just to be safe. Unlike buttercream make with margarine, this will not have moisture bead up on it from refrigeration. And I just didn’t like the idea of having an uncooked meringue based frosting sitting out for 12 hours.
  • Pull the cake out of the fridge a few hours before serving so the frosting can soften. Think butter in the fridge vs butter on the counter. That stuff was hard as a rock when it first came out!

Quick Tip: Doubling (or Tripling or Halving) Recipes

Hi there, I just wanted to share a suggestion that might come in handy when you need to alter a recipe to make it larger (or smaller). If the recipe is only a few ingredients this probably isn’t necessary, but if you are making something complex take the time to do it: calculate and rewrite the recipe amounts ahead of time, in the order listed in the original recipe.

doubling recipes

I wrote out the ingredients for the cake batter and the frosting on post-its and stuck them to the cookbook.

Yes, this is a very simple tip, but it can save you so much time and keep errors from occurring during the actual cooking. If you are constantly referring back to the ingredient list and mentally doubling the ingredients as you go there is a good chance you could forget to double one or more items. It’s even more likely to happen if it is a recipe that uses a cooking technique you are not familiar with. While you are carefully reading the instructions for what to do next you may fail to do the mental math correctly on the ingredients. This also helps make sure you have enough of the ingredients on hand for the recipe!

I put this advice into practice this weekend as I made my son’s birthday cake. I decided to make a chocolate cake with buttercream frosting from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I needed enough cake to fill an 11″x 15″ cake pan (half-sheet) so I had to double the recipe. The cake itself had a lot of steps but the buttercream frosting was more difficult because I had never made real buttercream before. I wanted to minimized the chance of error by writing out the doubled ingredients so I could concentrate on the steps. I couldn’t have a flop cake for my son’s party with 30 people coming over!

coconut cupcakes scratch recipe

Coconut Cupcakes

To go along with the tropical tiki themed birthday party I chose coconut cupcakes for the dessert. I received the Barefoot Contessa cookbook for Christmas and have been wanting to try the coconut cupcake recipe for a while.

They did not disappoint!

The cupcakes were dense and moist. The cream cheese frosting was divine!  I will certainly make this recipe again – maybe with a little crushed pineapple in the batter next time. This recipe is easy to make, but it does take a little time. Be sure your butter, eggs and cream cheese are at room temperature for best results.

The recipe indicates that you should fill the baking cups full – yes really – the cake is dense and does not rise very much, so filling full is necessary. And if you make a full batch of frosting there will be a lot leftover. Use it as a dip for some strawberries!

Recipe from Barefoot Contessa Cookbook:


  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 extra-large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 14 ounces sweetened, shredded coconut

For the frosting:

  • 1 pound cream cheese at room temperature
  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1 1/2 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In 3 parts, alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry. Mix until just combined. Fold in 7 ounces of coconut.

Line a muffin pan with paper liners. Fill each liner to the top with batter. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a baking rack and cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the frosting. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, cream together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla and almond extracts. Add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until smooth.

Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with the remaining coconut.

Recipe Review: The Barefoot Contessa, Linzer Cookies

I received The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten for Christmas and spent the next day reading it almost cover to cover.  The photos are beautiful and the instructions are simple and clear.

I couldn’t wait to try some recipes, so I started with something simple that I could do while watching the kids.  Linzer cookies, as Ina calls them, are a type of shortbread cookie which is made of butter, sugar, flour and vanilla extract.  She actually has a few variations of the basic recipe in the book. We made the jam-filled sandwich cookies and they turned out wonderful.

I did have a little trouble getting the dough to come together in the beginning. After refrigerating for 30 minutes I tried rolling it out.  The dough was still too crumbly.  I added some additional vanilla extract for some moisture. After rolling out the remnants of the fist cutting again the dough finally reached a good consistency and didn’t give me any trouble as I rolled and cut several times.

The photo in the book shows beautiful round cookies with a fluted edge, with a center cut out, also fluted.  I SO need to get some biscuit cutters!  But luckily, I had a cute one-inch apple-shaped cutter.  It’s meant to be used to cut vents in an apple pie crust, but it worked perfectly for my cookies.  It worked out to a dozen large sandwich cookies. The recipe says 14-16 cookies and I could have made at least two more easily: I rolled the dough a little thick, and the kids wanted some “apple cookies” using the 1″ cutter.

They were a big hit with my husband and family so I will make them again!

Get the full recipe and instructions here: Barefoot Contessa Linzer Cookies.