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Chocolate Little Layer Cake

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4.58 from 92 votes
Heritage recipe for Chocolate Little Layer Cake, a regional specialty from southwest Georgia. Tiny yellow cake layers filled with boiled chocolate frosting.
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 50 minutes
Completed Chocolate Little Layer Cake on a cake stand.

A heritage recipe for Chocolate Little Layer Cake, a regional specialty from southwest Georgia. Tiny yellow cake layers filled with boiled chocolate frosting.

Completed Chocolate Little Layer Cake on a cake stand.

I really love the way technology makes it possible for us to share our recipes these days. What we used to do through cards and letters, newspaper and magazine clippings, or simply by word of mouth, we can now accomplish within seconds.

Just a quick Google search and virtually any recipe ever thought of appears on your screen. I’m even more grateful that technology is helping us to preserve our old heritage recipes like the one I’m sharing with you today – Chocolate Little Layer Cake.

A Heritage Recipe

These beautiful multi-layer cakes have, for as long as I can remember, always been a part of family reunions, church dinners, and most holidays in the southwest corner of Georgia where I grew up. You might think at first glance that they’re standard cake layers that have been split and filled, but they’re not. Not at all. Each little thin layer is baked separately.

To make it even more different from traditional layer cakes, it’s iced with warm icing while the layers themselves are still warm. Totally goes against the conventional method, doesn’t it?

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In the small town where I grew up, lots of ladies make these cakes for a little extra income on the side. They come in two versions – chocolate or caramel. Some of them make a fairly brisk business of it, especially around Christmas.

Now way back when, these cakes were made by cooking each layer in a hoecake pan or iron skillet on top of the stove, but now most everyone cooks the layers in the oven. It just goes faster when you can bake three or four layers at one time, you see.

If you’re really experienced with little layer cakes, you can get as many as fourteen layers from your batter. I got ten this time. I need to practice more.

A Modernized Recipe For You

The original recipe that I have for little layer cakes is so typical of old-time recipes. It assumes that the cook pretty much knows what to do and only the bare essentials are given.

For instance, the instructions for the batter read “Mix well. Grease 8″ pans with Crisco. Put 2 large cooking spoonfuls in each pan. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes.” That’s it.

And the instructions for the icing are “Place over low heat until all is dissolved. Do not boil. Be sure all sugar is melted.” Well, alrighty then!

I’ve tried to re-write and modernize the instructions a bit for you.

A few years ago, Kim Severson of the New York Times did a story on these little layer cakes. I had the pleasure of hearing Kim speak once at food blogging conference. She’s a very accomplished food writer and has received numerous accolades, including several James Beard Awards.

In her NYT story, she talked about how the cakes were made only in one area in Alabama and on Smith Island near Maryland. Well, I can assure you that they are part of the fabric of at least one small southwest Georgia town as well :-)

How to Make Chocolate Little Layer Cake

Let’s Go Step-by-Step

I always like to show you the photos and step-by-step instructions for my recipes to help you picture how to make them in your own kitchen. If you just want to print out a copy, you can skip to the bottom of the post where you’ll find the recipe card.

Prep the Pans and Ingredients

Before starting your baking, make sure to have all the ingredients at room temperature. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and go ahead and prep your 8″ cake pans with shortening and set them aside.

How many layers you bake at once depends on how many pans you have and can fit into your oven without them touching. Some people use the disposable cake pans for this, but I don’t see the need. I just wipe them out and re-grease between each set of layers.

Make the Icing

Now, unlike other cakes, you actually start your little layer cake by making the icing first.

All icing ingredients in a heavy pan.

Place a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat. The heat should be barely medium-low. If in doubt, go lower.

Add the sugar, baking chocolate, evaporated milk, butter, and vanilla all at once. Cook until the sugar is completely dissolved, stirring occasionally.

It is important that the icing does not boil and that you make sure that the sugar is completely dissolved and no grainy texture remains.

Make the Batter

Batter for the cake layers in a mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, make the batter. Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs all at once and beat until well incorporated. Add the flour and water alternately, beginning and ending with flour. (Note: the batter will appear to be curdled after each addition of water – this is normal.) Mix in the vanilla.

Bake the Layers

A large cooking spoon full of cake batter being poured into a baking pan.

Pour approximately 3/4 cup batter into each prepared pan. Smooth the batter to the edges. Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until the layers are barely golden on top. Remove from the oven and turn out onto cooling racks.

Clean the pans, grease them, and repeat baking. When the second set of layers goes into the oven, begin icing the first set.

Frost the Layers While Warm

Photo collage showing assembly of the cake layers and icing.

Place a still-warm layer on a cardboard round set on a cooling rack inside a baking sheet. Spread 1/4 cup of icing on the layer smoothing it gently to the edges. Top with the next layer and repeat.

COOK’S TIP 
Note that the icing will be thin and fairly runny. It will drip down the sides of the layers. This is to be expected. Any excess icing should be scraped up and returned to the pan and all of it used in icing the cake. This is why I strongly recommend doing the icing of the cake on a cooling rack set inside a baking pan.

When all the layers have been stacked and iced, spread the remaining icing over the top and sides of the cake. If the icing becomes thick, return the pan to very low heat until it returns to spreading consistency.

Smooth the icing around the sides of the cake, but realize that the contours are supposed to be visible on the outside of the cake.

Chocolate little layer cake on a glass cake stand.

I’m quite interested in knowing whether you’ve ever seen this type of cake or whether it really is localized to the southeast Alabama-southwest Georgia area. If you have a minute, please leave a quick comment. Thanks!

Have you tried this recipe? I’d love for you to give it a star ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating in the recipe card and/or in the comments section further down. You can always stay in touch on social media by following me on FacebookInstagram, or Pinterest and Sign Up to Get my Newsletter, too!

Recipe

Completed Chocolate Little Layer Cake on a cake stand.

Chocolate Little Layer Cake

Heritage recipe for Chocolate Little Layer Cake, a regional specialty from southwest Georgia. Tiny yellow cake layers filled with boiled chocolate frosting.
4.58 from 92 votes
Print It Rate It
Course: Desserts
Cuisine: Southern, Vintage
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Servings: 24 servings
Calories: 366kcal
Author: Lana Stuart

Ingredients

  • Solid shortening for greasing pans

For the icing:

  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 ½ ounces unsweetened baking chocolate see notes
  • 10 ounces evaporated milk
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the layers:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 ½ cups self-rising flour sifted
  • 1 ¾ cups water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions

  • Have all ingredients at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease 8” cake pans with shortening and set aside.
  • Make the icing first. Place a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat. Add the sugar, baking chocolate, evaporated milk, butter, and vanilla all at once. Cook until the sugar is completely dissolved, stirring frequently. Do not boil. It is important to make sure that the sugar is completely dissolved and no grainy texture remains.
  • Meanwhile, make the batter. Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs all at once and beat until well incorporated. Add the flour and water alternately, beginning and ending with flour. (Note: the batter will appear to be curdled after each addition of water – this is normal.) Mix in the vanilla.
  • Pour approximately 3/4 cup batter into each prepared pan. Smooth the batter to the edges. Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until layers are barely golden on top. Remove from oven and turn out onto cooling racks.
  • Clean the pans, grease them and repeat baking. When second set of layers goes into the oven, begin icing the cake. Place a still-warm layer on a cardboard round set atop a cooling rack inside a baking sheet. Spread 1/4 cup icing on the layer spreading it gently to the edges. Top with the next layer and repeat.
  • When all layers have been stacked and iced, spread remaining icing over top and sides of the cake. If the icing becomes thick, return the pan to very low heat until it returns to spreading consistency.

Notes

The specific type of chocolate traditionally used for this recipe is Baker’s Premium Unsweetened Baking Chocolate. This chocolate produces the distinctive look, texture, and taste of this recipe.

Nutrition Information

Serving: 1 | Calories: 366kcal | Carbohydrates: 53g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 75mg | Sodium: 132mg | Potassium: 106mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 39g | Vitamin A: 442IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 48mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your health care provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.

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— This post was originally published on April 24, 2012.

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413 Comments

  1. I lived in Iron City Ga and this cake was made very well by one of the town’s senior lady and my Mom had one made for us every time we came over. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I grew up in Middle Georgia and this cake was always at church dinners,family reunions and Sundays when the preacher came to eat dinner with us. This cake is delicious-one you can savor while you eat and forget about calories and carbs.

    Thank you for making the recipe easier and I can’t wait to make it for my family.

  3. I’m from South Carolina and my grandma and mama made this cake all the time. We use cocoa powder instead of baking chocolate

  4. 5 stars
    My mom was from Jacksonville, Fla but and made this cake often. We lived in the the Atlanta area and in Dublin.

  5. My icing is more liquid than I think it should be. It pours on rather than spreads. What am i doing wrong . It’s the 14 layer cake

  6. 5 stars
    Hi, I’m from Southeastern NC, and this type of cake has been made my by grandmother’s family for generations. She made it slightly different, but the idea is still the same. A few years ago I tried to make this cake. I didn’t have her exact recipe, but it turned out very close to the way hers always did. The number of layers always depended on how she was feeling, and the reason for the cake. She could get up to 19 layers!

    1. I also am from the southeastern part of North Carolina.
      My mother use to bake this thin layer cake every Christmas.
      It is one of my most fond memories of the holidays.
      Great recipe.

  7. Hey Miss Lana! Laura used to be my good friend, and I spent the night with you several times growing up! How neat that I found you by this cake recipe! My daughter (age 13) has made a little business selling old fashioned 14 layer chocolate cakes like this, and I was online trying to find tips for keeping the layers from sliding around during the icing process. Do you have any tips?

    1. Hi Shanna! Good to hear from you!! I think it’s great that your daughter is making a business out of these little layer cakes. They’ve always been a big part of the foodways in south Georgia.

      About keeping the layers from shifting — the best way I’ve found is to insert two or three very thin bamboo skewers when you get about half way up the stack. Keep layering and frosting and cut your skewers off before you put the last layer on so they don’t show on the outside.

      Hope that helps!

  8. This cake is a staple of church gatherings & town meetings in our little hometown of Pelion, SC. There are few and far between who can really master this delicious cake. Thank you for sharing your version & tips to go along with it.

  9. My great aunt made this cake but her recipe is A little different. For one thing she used buttermilk instead of water. Her daughter upgraded her recipe. I have used both. We live in NC.

  10. We live in the Central Savannah River Area of Georgia, and these cakes are very popular. There is also a lemon version we call lemon cheese, even though there is no cheese in it!

    1. I’m going to try this recipe. I grew up in Albany, GA and my grandmother would make this frequently. I live in Iowa now, but last summer I visited family in Alabama, and we had this! It’s one of my favorite cakes!!

      1. I’ve made 18 thin layer chocolate cakes for years. I’m right beside you guys in Sylvester GA born, raised and growing old.😀

  11. I’m from Southeast Louisiana and have been making this cake for 20+ years. In my family, the 14 LAYER cake originates from my granny in North Alabama :)

  12. I was just googling an alternate icing recipe for my little layer cake because mine calls for cocoa powder and I’m out. To answer your question about the origins of the cake, this cake was a staple of my childhood! Little old ladies would make it and bring it to cover-dish meals. I lived all over the eastern half of North Carolina, and this cake turned up wherever I lived. Definitely not just a small part of GA!

  13. We lived in Statesboro, GA for several years and these cakes were a staple! I wish I could find a caramel recipe as well!

  14. 4 stars
    I made my first 14 layer cake today. It turned out so pretty. The recipe was close to mine but I used whole milk instead of water. I found that Bakers Joy is a handy spray for this cake. I cool the cake for a minute then flip the cake on my hand and then I place on stack and ice. This is not a difficult cake to do. Just need patience.

  15. Just after i married my husband 26 years ago, his Nana decided to turn this recipe over to me. She taught me this cake wigh a few differences. I have made it for every christmas since. They are from the Columbus, GA area.