Cheryl Day’s Little Layer Chocolate Cake

Featured in our Fall 2021 issue’s Some of This Season’s Most Delicious Reads by Now Serving’s Ken Concepcion

This cake is a childhood memory for many Southerners; it’s also as showy as it can get, with twelve delicate layers of yellow butter cake so thin they almost melt in your mouth. The layers are sandwiched with a warm boiled chocolate icing, and then the entire cake is covered in more chocolate icing. The recipe calls for baking the layers individually, rather than slicing bigger cakes into layers, to ensure that all the layers are the same thickness. Do yourself a favor and buy twelve disposable aluminum foil pans to save time and stress, then bake three to four layers at a time.

Cheryl Day's Little Layer Chocolate Cake

Serves 12 to 16


  • 2½ cups (313 g) cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 2 cups (250 g) unbleached all-purpose flour

  • 2 tablespoons (26 g) baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt 
  • 2 cups (473 ml) whole milk
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ¾ pound (3 sticks/340 g) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch (1.5 cm) cubes, at room temperature
  • 3 cups (600 g) granulated sugar
  • 6 large (300 g) eggs, at room temperature
  • 3 cups (710 ml) evaporated milk
  • 3 cups (600 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (80 g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ pound (2 sticks/227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into ½-inch (1.5 cm) cubes
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Twelve 8-inch (20 cm) aluminum foil cake pans (optional)
  • Candy thermometer


  1. Step 1

    To make the cake: Position the racks in the middle and lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). You need to bake 12 cake layers. Butter the bottoms and sides of twelve 8-inch (20 cm) aluminum foil cake pans or as many 8-inch (20 cm) round cake pans as you have, then line the bottoms with parchment and butter it as well. (Do not even think about cutting layers in half to make this cake.) Lightly dust the pans with flour, tapping the pans on the counter to shake out the excess.

    Step 2

    Sift together both flours, the baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Set aside.

    Step 3

    In a large measuring cup or small bowl, combine the milk and vanilla. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), cream the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs one (50 g) at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in thirds, alternating with the milk mixture and beginning and ending with the flour, mixing until just combined; scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary.

    Step 4

    Spread ¾ cup (177 ml) of the batter in each prepared pan and smooth the tops with a spatula. Cover the batter in the bowl and refrigerate until you are ready to bake the next layers. Bake the cakes for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through and switching their positions, until the tops are lightly browned and a cake tester inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean.

    Step 5

    Let the cakes cool in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes, then invert them onto other racks, peel off the parchment, turn right side up, and let cool completely.

    Step 6

    While the cakes are cooling, make the icing: In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk together the evaporated milk, sugar, cocoa powder, corn syrup, and salt and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pot and cook until the mixture reaches 248°F (120°C), the “soft ball stage,” about 15 minutes.

    Step 7

    Once the icing reaches the soft ball stage, reduce the heat to a simmer, add the butter, and stir until the butter is melted and thoroughly incorporated. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Let cool, stirring occasionally, until the icing has thickened but is still glossy and pourable.

    Step 8

    To assemble the cake: Place a small dollop of icing on a serving plate and place one cake layer on top (you can keep the edges of the plate clean by sliding strips of parchment under the cake while you frost it). Spread ¼ cup (59 ml) of the icing evenly over the top. Place a second layer on top of the icing, and press down lightly to secure it. Spread another ¼ cup (59 ml) of icing over that layer. Some of the icing will drip down the sides, and that is exactly what you want. Repeat the process with 9 more layers of cake. At this point, the icing will start to cool down and become thicker, making it easier for you to finish decorating the cake. (If the icing cools too much, just warm it up over low heat until pourable again.)

    Step 9

    Set the final layer on top and press down lightly. Pour the remaining icing over the top, letting it drip down the sides, then use an offset spatula to spread the icing evenly over the sides of the cake.

    Step 10

    Let the cake stand until the icing sets, at least 1 hour, before serving at your celebration.

    Step 11

    The cake can be stored, loosely covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Excerpted from Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking by Cheryl Day (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021. 


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