Lisa Donovan's Chocolate Church Cake

Lisa Donovan's Chocolate Church Cake

My friend Lisa Donovan is a woman of many talents. Chef, teacher, and - most recently - MFK-Fisher-Prize- Winning author of Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger, a memoir of her life in some of the most famous restaurant kitchens across the South.

Lisa can cook anything, and it's all delicious, but this Chocolate Church Cake (featured perennially on the NYT cooking pages) seems the perfect recipe for a Labor Day picnic or cookout. Serve it on one of our mocha or marbleware platters or on a copper tray. 


One three layer 9” round cake

Time: 55 minutes, plus cooling







For the Cake:

  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cups Cocoa Powder, dark if available
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 ½ cups cultured whole buttermilk
  • ¾ cups canola oil
  • 1 ½ cups boiling water

For the Chocolate Ganache Icing

  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream
  • 8 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 6 ounces unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste

    Make the frosting: In a large saucepan, bring sugar and cream to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for six minutes. Chop chocolate and cube butter while cream and sugar simmer. After six minutes, turn the heat off and add chocolate and butter to the pan. Stir with a stainless-steel spoon or rubber spatula until everything is melted. Add the vanilla. Transfer to a metal or glass bowl. Let come up to room temperature while you make the cake. Do not stir until it has cooled almost entirely, likely for as long as it will take you to mix and bake the cake. When you are ready to stir, use a whisk, making sure not to overbeat or add any air or fluff to your ganache.

    STEP 2

      Make the cake: Heat oven to 325 degrees. Spray three 9” round cake pans. Trim three round pieces of parchment to fit the bottom of each pan and line each pan with one. Spray your parchment. Sprinkle your pans with either cocoa powder or flour to coat, tapping each pan over the sink or trash can well to shake loose any excess.

      STEP 3

      Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, and baking soda and make a well in the center.

      STEP 4

      Bring a kettle of water to a boil while you prepare your wet ingredients.

      STEP 5

      Whisk the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla in a medium bowl. Pour into the dry mixture and whisk gently until incorporated. It will be a bit clumpy, but gently work it in, nonetheless.

      STEP 6

      Pour in your hot water, loosening the batter and gently combine well, careful not to splash as you incorporate.

      STEP 7

      Pour into the prepared pans. Each pan should hold 700 grams of batter each (weighing your batter ensures even cooking and beautiful cake building). Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs, 32-35 minutes. Set the pans on a wire rack to cool.

      STEP 8

      Revisit your frosting, whisking to thicken.

      STEP 9

      When cakes are cooled, trim any mound top off of each as evenly as possible. Scoop ¾ to a cup of frosting on your first layer and then repeat with your second layer. You can chill your cake in the fridge in between frosting each layer to ensure that your ganache is set firm and that your next layer will be propped up properly – if the ganache is too soft, your next layer will just flatten your filling. Continue building and frosting your cake, letting it chill in the fridge as you go and using an offset spatula dipped in hot water and wiped clean to smooth and shine your finished cake.

      This cake keeps at room temperature for up to two days and holds remarkably well in the fridge for up to a week. Best served room temperature on its first two days and then served cold, straight from the fridge, for a week after.

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