Recipes » Dessert Recipes » Chocolate Little Layer Cake

Chocolate Little Layer Cake

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4.6 from 100 votes
This heritage recipe for Chocolate Little Layer Cake consists of tiny layers baked individually and topped with a boiled chocolate icing.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Completed Chocolate Little Layer Cake on a cake stand.

Part cake and part confection, this heritage recipe for Chocolate Little Layer Cake is a regional specialty from southwest Georgia. The cake consists of tiny yellow cake layers baked individually then filled and topped with a boiled chocolate icing.

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.

Completed Chocolate Little Layer Cake on a cake stand.

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 this beautiful 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.

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 :-)

Wooden Cake Stand
Wooden Cake Stand

from: Etsy

Ingredients You’ll Need

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  • Granulated Sugar This is just plain old white sugar. We tend to use Dixie Crystals in the south.
  • Baking Chocolate – It’s really important to use the right kind of chocolate for this recipe. You’ll need to purchase Baker’s Premium Unsweetened Baking Chocolate which produces the distinctive look, texture, and taste required for this recipe.
  • Evaporated MilkBe sure you’ll buying evaporated milk NOT sweetened condensed milk.
  • Butter Like most old-fashioned southern cooks, I use salted butter in everything including this recipe. I can’t remember the last time I purchased unsalted butter.
  • Vanilla Extract – Use a quality extract such as McCormick’s.
  • Eggs – The fresher the better.
  • Self Rising Flour – Southerners love our White Lily flour for any type of baking. It’s made from soft winter wheat and produces very tender baked goods.

You’ll find detailed measurements for all ingredients in the printable version of the recipe at the bottom of this post.

How to Make Chocolate Little Layer Cake

Prep the Pans and Ingredients

  1. 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.

TIP: 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 disposable cake pans for this, but I don’t see the need. I just wipe the pans out and re-grease between each set of layers.

Make the Icing

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

All icing ingredients in a heavy pan.
  1. Place a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat. The heat should be barely medium-low. If in doubt, go lower.
  2. 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.
Bake Me a Cake Farmhouse Kitchen Sign
Bake Me a Cake Farmhouse Kitchen Sign

from: Etsy

Make the Batter

Batter for the cake layers in a mixing bowl.
  1. 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. Mix in the vanilla.

TIP: the batter will appear to be curdled after each addition of water – this is normal.

Bake the Layers

A large cooking spoon full of cake batter being poured into a baking pan.
  1. Pour approximately 3/4 cup batter into each prepared pan. Smooth the batter to the edges.
  2. Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until the layers are barely golden on top. Remove from the oven and turn out onto cooling racks.
  3. Clean the pans, grease them, and repeat baking.
  4. 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.
  1. 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.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Variations

  • Many cooks around my hometown also make this cake with a caramel icing. I don’t have the original caramel icing recipe, but the version I use for my Southern Caramel Layer Cake should work well.
  • I’ve also seen commercial versions of the little layer cake done in coconut, red velvet, and even lemon. We purchased a lemon one last year from a well-known baking company and I have to say it wasn’t so great (which is why I’m not including a link).

My icing is runny and I can’t spread it on the cake! Help!

As mentioned in the post, this icing is really thin and runny. It’s not the consistency that you usually think of for icing. The way I handle it is by placing a wire cooling rack inside a baking sheet and setting my layers on that to start. As I add icing, it drips off into the baking sheet. Keep scraping it up and adding it back to the pan. You’ll eventually use all the icing.

My icing is grainy! What did I do wrong?

There are lots of reasons that an icing can turn out grainy. A few tips are to make sure you have all your ingredients at room temperature before you start and to make sure all the sugar is completely dissolved.

I’m having trouble keeping my cake layers from sliding. What can I do?

The best way I’ve found to keep the layers from shifting is to insert two or three very thin bamboo skewers when you get about halfway 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.

Storing a Little Layer Cake

Store your cake in a covered container at room temperature for three or four days.

This cake freezes very well. To freeze, wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap followed by a layer of aluminum foil. Place the wrapped cake in a freezer container and freezer for up to three months. Allow the frozen cake to thaw in the refrigerator overnight before serving.

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Personalized Cake Stand With Dome
Personalized Cake Stand With Dome

from: Etsy

Recipe

Completed Chocolate Little Layer Cake on a cake stand.

Chocolate Little Layer Cake

This heritage recipe for Chocolate Little Layer Cake consists of tiny layers baked individually and topped with a boiled chocolate icing.
4.59 from 100 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.
  • 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.

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.
  • Store your cake in a covered container at room temperature for three or four days.
  • To freeze, wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap followed by a layer of aluminum foil. Place the wrapped cake in a freezer container and freezer for up to three months. Allow the frozen cake to thaw in the refrigerator overnight before serving.

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. It has been updated with additional information.

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Recipe Rating




424 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Made this recipe exactly how you said. It turned out perfect! It wasn’t as intimidating as I thought it would be.

  2. 5 stars
    This recipe is very similar to one that my Venezuelan mother-in-law always made for my husband’s birthdays. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for the recipe. I will be trying it this weekend for my son’s 16th birthday. These cakes are made in North Carolina as well and my grandmother made them regularly before she died. He has requested the “the cake that grandma made.”

  4. My icing… the sugar never fully dissolved 🥺 I sat there playing with the temp and never would get to where I needed it. It is 3c sugar in the icing and 1.5 for the cake… or is it the opposite?
    Thank you!

  5. This cake is also popular in Southeast Georgia. Thank you for sharing the recipe. My grandma used yellow cake mix, but she made the boiled frosting from scratch. I can’t wait to try it!

    Instead of greasing the pans, my grandma always used parchment paper. She would use the cake pans to trace a pattern. She cut out a stack of parchment paper circles before starting on the icing. Then she put a circle of parchment in the bottom of each pan before baking the layers. It made it easy to flip the cake layers out and just peel off the paper.

  6. This cake is also very popular in the Florida panhandle – which is practically lower Alabama! I have a few aunts that make these and bring them to the family reunion. They are like a family tradition.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

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

  10. 5 stars
    My mom was from Jacksonville, Fla but and made this cake often. We lived in the the Atlanta area and in Dublin.

  11. 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