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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

SoNo Chocolate Ganache Cake…It Just Might Kill You

I have an incredibly high tolerance for rich chocolate. I may have eaten two lava cakes in one sitting before, but who’s keeping track?

SoNo Chocolate Ganache Cake, the best chocolate cake in the world on @janemaynard

When we first moved back to San Diego, my friend Nikki brought us a homemade chocolate ganache cake and it was PERFECTION. I immediately called and begged for the recipe, ’cause that’s what I do.

SoNo Chocolate Ganache Cake, the best chocolate cake in the world on @janemaynard

I finally got around to making the cake myself a few weeks ago, for Nate’s birthday. I love this recipe. It worked really well and the ganache was really easy to work with (as long as you follow Nikki’s detailed directions below).

But here’s the thing with this cake – it seriously might kill you. Remember me? The one who can eat any amount of rich chocolate she wants? Even this cake stops me in my tracks. It is SO RICH. But it is SO GOOD. The cake itself has great texture and the ganache is smooth and wonderful.

SoNo Chocolate Ganache Cake, the best chocolate cake in the world on @janemaynard

Quick update as of April 2016: I’ve made this cake a few times and each time I read the recipe I think, “It’s not that hard!” And then each time I make it I go, “Oh yeah, this is a labor of love.” But it is absolutely 100% worth it. It’s not that any one step is all that difficult, and Nikki and I have spelled out each step in great detail to set you up for success. But it does take a little time and patience to get it right. But I know you can do it, and you’ll be happy you did.

SoNo Chocolate Ganache Cake...It Just Might Kill You
Recipe type: Dessert
  • 1 pound semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped (for ganache)
  • 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, very finely chopped (for ganache)
  • 4 cups heavy cream (for ganache)
  • ¼ cup good-quality honey (for ganache)
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt (for ganache)
  • 1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, or 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (for ganache)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1⅓ cups good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
  • 2⅔ cups granulated sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 2½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1⅓ cups buttermilk
  • 1⅓ cups brewed American coffee (If you don't drink coffee, get a Tall 12-ounce black coffee at Starbucks)
  1. To make the ganache: Place all the chopped chocolate in a large heatproof bowl (1 pound semisweet, 1 pound bittersweet); set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, honey, and salt. Scrape the tiny black seeds from the vanilla bean pod, if using, into the cream, and add the pod. Bring the cream to a boil, pour over the chocolate, and let stand for 5 minutes to melt the chocolate. Whisk until smooth. Strain through a fine strainer into a bowl. Discard the vanilla bean. Stir in the vanilla extract, if using instead of the vanilla bean. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until the ganache stiffens, at least 6 hours or overnight. Alternatively, place in the refrigerator and chill, stirring every 20 to 30 minutes, until the ganache stiffens. (IMPORTANT NOTE FROM JANE AND NIKKI: Nikki said that the ganache never gets hard enough if you just leave it at room temperature. She recommended making the ganache the day before and refrigerating overnight. This is what I did and it worked perfectly. I refrigerated overnight and then took the ganache out a couple hours before I was going to assemble the cake. It was the PERFECT consistency for spreading at that point and super easy to work with.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two 9 by 2-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with a round of parchment paper and dust with a little bit of cocoa powder, tapping out any excess. (JANE NOTE: I buttered the pan, placed the parchment round and then buttered again. Then I dusted with flour instead of cocoa because it's easier to work with.) (JANE AND NIKKI NOTE: Nikki uses three 8-inch pans and does a 3-layer cake and this works really well. I didn't have 3 8-inch pans, so I did 2 9-inch pans and split them as directed for a 4-layer cake. BE WARNED: The batter will overflow when the cake bakes, it's just a bit too much batter for 2 9-inch pans, so make sure you cook it on a baking sheet as directed in the recipe.)
  3. To make the cake: In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sift in the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix on low speed to combine.
  4. Add the eggs, vanilla, melted butter, buttermilk, and coffee. Mix on low speed until fully combined. (JANE AND NIKKI NOTE: I mixed the eggs, vanilla, melted butter, buttermilk and coffee together BEFORE adding to the flour mixture. Also, Nikki said that if you mix just until combined, the cake sometimes falls when baking. She has found the cake doesn't fall when she mixes the batter a bit longer than is called for. I followed her advice and the cake rose beautifully when baking. So, mix until fully combined and then a little bit longer than that.)
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans. Bake on a baking sheet until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Then carefully remove the cakes onto the rack and let cool completely.
  6. Jane note: Freeze your cakes at this point. This will make the cutting and frosting much easier.
  7. Using a long serrated knife, slice the top ⅛ to ¼ inch off each cake to level it, if necessary. Discard the top pieces. (JANE NOTE: If you use cake strips, you won't need to do this!)
  8. Splice each cake horizontally into two layers for a total of four layers. (Jane note: If you use 3 8-inch pans, you will skip the splicing step.) Place the bottom layer on a 9-inch cake round, a turntable, or a platter, and using an offset spatula, spread thickly with about 1½ cups of the ganache. Repeat with the second and third layers, spreading another 1½ cups ganache over each layer. (Jane: Use a bit more for each level if only doing three layers.)
  9. Add the final cake layer and spread it with a very thin layer of ganache (this is your crumb layer). Place the cake in the refrigerator until the crumb layer is set, about 30 minutes.
  10. Original recipe: Remove the cake from the refrigerator and place it on a wire rack set over a sheet pan. In the top of a double boiler set over simmering water, heat the reserved ganache just until liquid. Pour the ganache over the top of the cake, allowing it to run down the sides. Using a large offset spatula, help spread the ganache from the center to the edges so the cake is completely covered. Smooth the top and sides. Refrigerate to set, about 30 minutes.
  11. What I did: Instead of melting the ganache and pouring it over the cake, I spread the ganache with an offset spatula on the tops and sides. As I mentioned earlier, the ganache was a fabulous consistency and really easy to work with. It was no problem spreading it on the cake and making it look beautiful!
  12. Serve at room temperature.
  13. Technique tip: When cutting a cake into horizontal layers, be sure to use a twelve-inch serrated bread knife. To achieve even layers, keep the knife perpendicular to your body, cutting back and forth while rotating the cake plate.
Click here for an excerpt from the cookbook that tells you a bit about the history of the cake


  1. what a glorious cake! if i make a chocolate cake, it had better be rich and amazingly decadent. this sounds like a winner!

  2. 2

    Ha ha, I had to look up offset spatula, had no idea what one was. Here is the link if anyone else out there doesn’t bake as much as I do.

    That looks amazing, I may need to make it.

    • Jane Maynard

      I LOVE MY OFFSET SPATULA! you should definitely get one, it makes doing layer cakes a cinch!

      and you DO need to make this 😉

  3. 3

    The cake looks totally delicious and I couldn’t help but notice your lovely flowers too!

  4. 4

    Do you scoop-and-sweep or spoon-and-sweep your flour? Looks delicious!!!!

    • Jane Maynard

      I am super naughty and scoop and shake! AWFUL! when I’m feeling like a good girl I spoon and sweep. 🙂

  5. 5

    Wow! Looks amazing! Definitely going to try this!

  6. 6
    Liz Brown

    Yum! I live in CT, and John was my neighbor for a short time. Everything in his bakery is delicious!
    I’ve got his cookbook too, and love it. The scones are the best!

  7. 7

    I’m going to try this cake. Is the coffee hot or cooled when you add it to the batter?

    • Jane Maynard

      good question! the recipe doesn’t specify, so it probably doesn’t really matter. mine was cooled, if that helps!

  8. 8

    Came came out great! I used hot and it worked fine. Thank you for responding!

  9. 9

    Hi Jane! This cake looks amazing. I am definitely going to try it. I have a quick question, my husband hates coffee – both the flavor & smell of it. Do I really have to add the coffee, is there a substitute that I could use instead. Also, if I use coffee, do you think he would be able to spot the taste/ smell of it. Thanks!

    • Jane Maynard

      hi akshaya!

      so, in some chocolate recipes coffee is added to make the chocolate flavor richer, which is the case here. the cake does NOT have a mocha flavor at all, it is really just super rich and chocolatey. my kids said they could not taste the coffee flavor at all and I know my friend nikki served the cake to a group of women that she was doing a cooking class for and they were surprised there was coffee in the cake, too.

      I would be surprised if he could spot the taste of it – it really does just make the chocolate chocolate-ier. HOPEFULLY I am right, but I think you’ll be safe! 🙂

      if you were to leave it out, I would maybe replace water so you get the same consistency with the batter, but I think the cake just wouldn’t quite be as rich and I’ve never done it, so it would be an experiment! 🙂

      good luck!

  10. 10

    Thanks for your prompt response, Jane. I think I will go with your kids & the women in the cooking class and add the coffee. Will let him taste it and let you know. As he LOVES rich chocolate, I am hoping he does not get distracted enough, to spot the taste.

    Oh also one last thing, I am new to the US and just relocated to San Francisco I am not sure where I can find ‘Heavy cream’ is it the same as whipped cream? what other names are they sold by, just want to make sure I pick the right cream.

    • Jane Maynard

      welcome to the US – and you landed in a GREAT spot!

      it is usually called heavy cream or heavy whipping cream. if it’s just called whipping cream, then that is probably the same thing, too. they also sell light whipping cream, but that’s always labeled as light. hopefully this is helpful!

  11. 11

    Hi Jane, This message was long overdue. I made the cake last week and everyone loved it. My husband did not spot the coffee in it. So you were right, it just enhances to rich chocolate flavors. Thanks for the recipe!

  12. 12

    Hi – this is probably a silly question, but if I leave the cakes to freeze overnight will they be rock solid and need to thaw when I take them out, or just right for cutting? I have timing issues on the day(s) I want to make this cake! Thanks!

    • not a silly question at all! yes, they will be rock solid, but that’s a good thing – it will be so much easier to level them and frost them when they are hard. plus, cake thaws pretty quickly. I mean, you wouldn’t be able to cut a slice straight out of the freezer, but it will be defrosted probably completely within an hour. if you’re planning to freeze them overnight, just make sure you wrap the cakes in plastic wrap so they don’t dry out in the freezer.

      please let me know if I’m not answer your question – happy to help! 🙂

  13. 13

    Me again – so sorry for taking an eternity to follow-up! I did put my cakes in the freezer overnight and they were actually perfect for cutting still – not super hard like I was afraid they would be. Definitely didn’t have to wait an hour. I did take your advice and wrapped them in plastic. I didn’t have as easy a time working with the ganache, but, no matter, it turned out great and was delicious. Thanks so much for the recipe and all the tips you included.

    I served this to a group of girlfriends and everyone loved it. I served it BEFORE dinner (dessert first!) because I know from experience that a yummy rich dessert like this doesn’t taste as good when you’re full and I thought this deserved to be the highlight of the meal.

  14. 14
    Maricar Rillera

    Hi! I would love to try this recipe! How long should i bake it if i will use 3 8 inch pans? And if i freeze the ganache overnight, just like what you did, do i need to stir it every 15 mins? Thank you 🙂

    • hi maricar!

      if you do 3 8-inch pans, I would start testing the cake around 25 minutes. first look to see if the center is set and jiggle the pan a little – once it looks set, do the cake tester. if I recall it still cooked about the same amount of time as 2 9-inch pans, but was shorter by a few minutes. just keep an eye on it, especially since some ovens heat differently.

      for the ganache, definitely don’t freeze it, just put it in the fridge. you do NOT need to stir every 15 minutes – get some sleep! 😉 I would stir it after the first 20 minutes, then maybe once again 20 minutes later, but after that it can just sit in the fridge overnight undisturbed. Just make sure to take it out of the fridge a few hours before you’re ready to go so it can soften again. it seems complicated, but it really does give you great texture to work with!

      good luck! it’s a labor of love but DELICIOUS!

  15. 15

    Hi can I know if I am baking this cake after done with frosting can I store in fridge for two days before the party or will the cake become dry and hard. How to store it

    • I’m sure it will be fine, In fact, my friend who gave me this recipe said the cake is better if you can make it at least 1 day ahead. The frosting is so rich and thick, it doesn’t dry out like how buttercream does. I would just wrap the cake well in plastic wrap before putting in the fridge – I would apply the plastic wrap after you have refrigerated the cake for a bit so that the frosting has firmed up and you don’t crease the ganache with the plastic – just wrap carefully! 🙂

  16. 16

    Oh- I just served this cake for a birthday party- we stopped at two layers for fear of not being able to cut it- the third was done up on its own for a un-birthday cake- and let me just say this: O-M-G this is the BEST cake ever made. The cake itself is rich and dense and still spring-y- the only chocolate cake I will ever make again. Then there is the Ganache- which I just put back in my mixer after 5 hrs in the freezer- it became this light fluffy amazing chocolate joy. OH- a huge success! Freezing the cake and ganache was the total way to go- but please use Honeywraps not plastic- eco-friendly and very effective! WELL DONE and thanks for making me look brilliant!

  17. 17

    I don’t usually leave comments on recipes, but I have to let you know””this is the best cake I’ve ever made. I made for my BFF’s birthday, and it’s the only chocolate cake both my husband and I agree is amazing. I added a layer of chocolate buttercream between each layer because I didn’t buy enough cream for the whole ganache recipe, and I have to say, it was an excellent mistake. Buttercream never hurt anything. Thank you for this recipe!!

  18. 18

    The honey ? Can it be optional? No allergies just not a lot of honey fans in this home !! Thank you !!

    • hi michelle! you do not have the flavor of honey at all when you use it in this recipe, however if you really want to substitute you could probably try light or dark corn syrup. however, I have never tried it myself so I’m not 100% sure how different it would be! 😉 like I said, I think if it’s just a honey preference thing you aren’t going to notice it in this recipe. hope this helps! 🙂

  19. 19

    I just read through the recipe and I would like to make this for my son’s birthday. I have to ask if it’s supposed to be one Tablespoon if vanilla as the recipe reads or is that a typo and it should be one teaspoon? Also, I’ll be using pure Mexican vanilla.
    Thank you!

  20. 20

    *For the ganache

  21. 21

    Thank you, Jane! I can wait to serve this up to my chocoholic son!

  22. 22
    Jaci Pietrzak

    Where do I find the semi sweet and bittersweet chocolate for the ganache? Is it a special type of chocolate I have to order or can I get it from the grocery store? Is it baking chocolate or can you use chocolate chips? Never made a ganache so not sure what type of chocolate to use. Thanks for the recipe.

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