triple layer chocolate birthday cake

by jenna on July 27, 2011

Happy Birthday!!!!!!!!!

I don’t know who you are, but I guarantee it’s at least one person’s birthday out there today.

I appreciate you! I really, really do. Thanks for making this blog a better place.

Oh wait, it’s not your birthday? I’m sorry. Want to see photos of the birthday cake I made yesterday anyway? It involves a lot of butter…and sugar…and other pencil skirt tightening things. But it’s really, really good! And sometime, I just know, you’ll need to make a triple layer cake and now you’ll know how! Genius.


I made these cake layers at night. I never bake at night. Mainly because it’s dark out…duh. However, some things just demand to be baked at night because when they are, the final product just turns out much better the next day. Such is the case with this cake! I mean, I’m sure you could bake and decorate the whole thing the day of, but if you have the time (heck, I had time!) you probably should make this cake in steps. Cake layers that have been refrigerated overnight are much easier to handle than cake layers right out of the oven.

The last thing you want is one of your lovely layers to break in half while icing. It’s such a mood kill. And I won’t even get into the time it caused me to smash an entire cake into the trash can at culinary school. It hurts too bad.

I smeared ganache in between my cake layers. Normally, I might do vanilla buttercream or even raspberry jam, but the friend that I was making this cake for loves chocolate so triple chocolate it was!

And let’s pause right now. If you’re reading this with disbelief in your eyes and a hanging jaw thinking “I could NEVER do ANYTHING like that!” think again my dear friend. You can! I know it sounds cliche, but if I can do it so can you. Things like this really take more practice than they do skill.

If it makes you feel better, I totally botched the middle layer of this cake by not pouring my batter evenly into my pans. Oops.

After you ganache the heck out of it, you need to apply a crumb coat! Think of a crumb coat like a base coat for your nails—it’s what gets them ready for the polish. Same thing goes with cake! You need to crumb coat a cake with a thin application of frosting so when you decorate, you will be crumb-free.

The best thing about crumb coats is that they don’t have to be perfect at all! Just smear it on there. Then stick it on the fridge and paint your nails. No, really!

Then, that turns into this!

I’m definitely not the world’s best decorator, and to be honest, I really don’t even like doing it that much. I’m scarred from one too many horrific frosting experiences in school. All you need though is a single star tip ($1.75 from Sur la Table) and either a plastic bag or a cloth pastry bag. Then, follow this easy tutorial!

You’ll be set in no time.

Triple Layer Chocolate Birthday Cake

serves 12

Print this recipe!

Ingredients:

for cake—

3 sticks butter, softened

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 3/4 cup boiling water

1 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped

3 cups flour

1 vanilla bean (or 2 tsp vanilla extract), scraped

8 ounces reduced fat sour cream

5 eggs

2 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

for ganache—

8 ounces chocolate chips

2/3 cup milk (I used almond milk)

1 T maple syrup

for chocolate frosting—

2 sticks butter, softened

3 cups powdered sugar

1 vanilla bean (or 2 tsp vanilla extract)

1/2 cup reserved ganache

3 T cocoa powder

1/4 tsp salt

Directions:

To make the cakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour three nine-inch cake pans. Don’t just spray with cooking spray…it will not work.

Pour boiling water over cocoa powder and chopped chocolate. Mix well so there are no lumps and chocolate has melted. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and beat again.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Fold in the sour cream to the chocolate. Add this to the butter mixture alternately with the dry ingredients, mixing well after each addition. Batter might look like it’s “broken” but will come together in the end if you keep beating.

Divide batter amongst three pans evenly and bake cakes for 40 minutes, or until sides are beginning to pull away. Let cool then turn out cakes on wax paper and let cool completely. I recommend baking the cakes the night before you plan to serve it. The cakes are much easier to work with after they’ve been sitting in the fridge overnight (wrap each layer individually with foil or plastic wrap).

To make the ganache: Bring milk to a simmer on the stove. Pour over chocolate chips, add maple syrup and stir until incorporated and smooth. Let sit for 1 hour until thick. Place 1/2 cup ganache in a separate bowl or cup to use for frosting.

To make frosting: Cream together butter, powdered sugar and vanilla for 5 minutes on high speed. Add reserved ganache and cocoa powder and keep beating for another 8-10 minutes until very light, thick and fluffy. Set aside.

To assemble cake: Place one cake layer on a large plate (I like to do this on the plate I plan to serve on so I don’t have to attempt to move the cake later after it’s decorated). Spread an even layer of ganache all over the first layer then place the second layer on top. Repeat and top with the remaining layer. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Place about one cup of frosting on top of cake. Work down the sides of the cake with a small offset spatula (available at Sur la Table) to crumb-coat the cake. When the entire cake is covered with a very thin (!) layer of frosting, place back in the fridge for 10 minutes or so to firm up.

Now, place all remaining frosting on top of cake. You can always take extra off! Smooth frosting all over top of cake and down sides, scraping an extra back in the bowl. Place extra frosting in a plastic bag (or pastry bag) fitted with a large star tip. Pipe borders around the bottom and top of cake with extra frosting.

Serve at room temperature

**cake will keep fully decorated in the fridge overnight. If making cake layers the day before, be sure to cool each layer completely before wrapping tightly in tin foil or plastic wrap and placing in fridge.

Time:

~4 hours

 

 

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{ 100 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy July 27, 2011 at 4:40 am

It IS my birthday today! And this just made my day :)

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Eileen July 28, 2011 at 9:34 pm

It was my birthday yesterday too! Happy belated birthday to you! :)

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Molly @ RDexposed July 27, 2011 at 4:42 am

After only reading the first line, my first thought was, “Who do I know that has a birthday coming up??”

I may just have to practice in the mean time!

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Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat July 27, 2011 at 4:49 am

Oh wow Jenna, this is beautiful! I haven’t made a birthday cake myself in wayyy too long, but my birthday is August 15th.. maybe I’ll just make this one for myself! :)

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Julia July 27, 2011 at 4:50 am

Comparing the crumb coat, to a base coat in nail polish, BRILLIANT! I’m diggin the hot blue frosting!

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Brittany @ Itty Bits of Balance July 27, 2011 at 4:54 am

3 layers of chocolate? oh lordy.

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Lori @ RecipeGirl July 27, 2011 at 4:54 am

Oh wow, you did a nice job on this one!! I just learned how to do the crumb coat. Love that!

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Lauren @ What Lauren Likes July 27, 2011 at 4:55 am

Wow. chocolate cakes like these are staples at all my bdays and my relatives! love the pic with the batter and instyle mag :) perfect reading material haha!

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Julie H. of Spinach and Sprinkles July 27, 2011 at 4:57 am

It like how you describe the ingredients as skirt tightening… HA!
They must have been tough on a girl in school, but you turned out AWESOME!!! Such a great cook, have you informed them of your awesomness? I would!

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amy walters, aDESIGNdock July 27, 2011 at 4:58 am

I love chocolate cake…I love chocolate…okay, I’m ready for a slice for breakie. Can that be arranged?!

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Lauren at Keep It Sweet July 27, 2011 at 4:59 am

That cake looks outrageous…. and my birthday is just a few weeks away;-)

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Hilliary@HappilyEverHealthy July 27, 2011 at 5:03 am

Omg that cake looks amazing! I wish I could have a slice of that cake for breakfast right now!

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Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga July 27, 2011 at 5:05 am

Jenna it looks amazing! And yes, I was one of those people thinking…there’s just no way…but you’re right, practice makes perfect.

And practicing making chocolate cakes with frosting and piping them is the best kind of “have to practice” thing I think there ever was :)

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Heather (Heather's Dish) July 27, 2011 at 5:05 am

man, i can’t wait til MY birthday! i’m totally making this bad boy for myself :)

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kaila @ healthy helper! July 27, 2011 at 5:07 am

Such a pretty cake!!! I love the blue!

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Jessica @ How Sweet July 27, 2011 at 5:08 am

I wish it was my birthday!

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Evan Thomas July 27, 2011 at 5:14 am

Wow, your layer cake is gorgeous.

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Notyet100 July 27, 2011 at 5:21 am

I gonna try this soon :) cake looks so good

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emily July 27, 2011 at 5:23 am

you have a lucky friend – the cake looks delicious! love the unconventional blue too.

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Amanda July 27, 2011 at 5:24 am

What a beautiful creation Jenna! Love the frosting colors! :)

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Kelly July 27, 2011 at 5:28 am

My birthday is tomorrow and I have been trying to figure out what cake to make. Maybe this is it?

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Baking N Books July 27, 2011 at 5:29 am

Layered cakes with frosting in the middle are well worth the time (and money if you end up buying it like I do). Oops ;)

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jenna July 27, 2011 at 5:34 am

youre so awesome baking birthday cakes and it’s no ones bday! :) i like you a lot!

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Julie July 27, 2011 at 5:52 am

Looks delicious. I love chocolate cake with ganache filling, perfect amount of indulgence. Then with a simple not so sweet buttercream, yum. Maybe this will be the boyfriend’s birthday cake this weekend!

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Gina @ Running to the Kitchen July 27, 2011 at 5:52 am

I need a new friend with an upcoming birthday because all my family ones aren’t for months!

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Rebecca July 27, 2011 at 5:52 am

It’s MY birthday today! No, for real, it is! I just started following your blog the other day and I LOVE it! I made the roasted beet and goat cheese quinoa last week – delish! I can’t wait to try some of your other recipes!
PS – Can I get the cake delivered? No fun making your own birthday cake! Haha! :-)

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Holly @ The Runny Egg July 27, 2011 at 5:54 am

It is my sister’s birthday today — she turns 30! I’ll pretend you made this just for her ;)

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Cait's Plate July 27, 2011 at 5:58 am

Oh my that looks amazing. I’m loving the InStyle in the background of that one picture (I work there – love to see it represented! haha) :)

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carmen July 27, 2011 at 5:59 am

OMG!!! its my birthday today! this has to be a sign!
thanks for creating a wonderful blog that is the first thing i read when i get to work (oops!)

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Monica July 27, 2011 at 6:03 am

Thanks Jenna!!!! It’s my birthday today!!! And that cake is just what I want :)

I appreciate you for bringing smiles to my face whenever I read your posts. Your blog is one-of-a-kind!

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Maggie July 27, 2011 at 6:14 am

Me, Me, It’s my birthday! Might have to make this for myself when I get home! Love all your dishes! Keep ‘em coming!

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Kate July 27, 2011 at 6:18 am

Wow, it really is my birthday today! What a happy way to start the day. Although I usually have cheesecake on my birthday, this cake looks as if I might need to break tradition and try it instead. Thanks Jenna!

Also Happt Birthday Monica! Yay July 27th!

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Kate July 27, 2011 at 6:18 am

Whoops, Happy* Birthday

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Brittany July 27, 2011 at 6:19 am

Hi Jenna!

Ahh it’s my birthday today!! I’m usually too shy to comment, but yours was the first blog I ever read and I absolutely adore it!

Xoxo,
Britt

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Jaime July 27, 2011 at 6:22 am

my birthday is in 15 days (August 11). Close enough so I’m pretending this post is dedicated to me ;-) Looks delish!!!

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Kelli H (Made in Sonoma) July 27, 2011 at 6:25 am

That brightened my morning!

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Molly July 27, 2011 at 6:29 am

what a gorgeous cake!

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Sarah @ Sarah's Modern Bites July 27, 2011 at 6:31 am

You are hilarious Jenna! Your posts always make me smile :) I obsess over what birthday cake recipe to use when I need to bake one. I mean literally I go insane over choosing (I haven’t quite found one I am totally in love with) My boyfriends birthday is coming up in a couple months, and because your recipes always turn out ridiculously awesome I am going to bookmark this and make it for him! Thanks for taking the pressure off ;) BTW, I love how you mention that certain things just demand to be baked at night because they are just so much better the next day. So true! Words of wisdom haha Have a great Wednesday!

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Ruthy @ The Inspired Latin Cook July 27, 2011 at 6:35 am

Jenna – It so happens to be my birthday today, so thank you for the nice little surprise this morning! :) Love your blog – keep bloggin!

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Kristen @ Popcorn on the Stove July 27, 2011 at 6:35 am

How funny! Today is my fiancee’s birthday! I was planning on making a cake for him so maybe I’ll try this one. Thanks!

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Sarah July 27, 2011 at 6:38 am

Fab-u-lous! I’m working abroad for July and part of August. I love everything I’m seeing in London, but, boy do I miss baking. I can’t wait to make a cake – this one! – when I get home.

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Sarah@The Flying ONION July 27, 2011 at 6:39 am

I want it to be my birthday NOW so that I can make this cake.

Or maybe I can use the excuse of practicing before then?? ;)

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Caroline @ chocolate and carrots July 27, 2011 at 6:40 am

Yum! I love the pop of the blue. :-) You’ve definitely won my heart. I will always choose chocolate ganache on chocolate cake for my birthday cakes. I LOVE chocolate. :-) And a big happy birthday to all those who are celebrating today! :-)

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Jenn Brigole July 27, 2011 at 6:44 am

This would be among the best reward I would make for myself. I’ll have to set a higher standard before I can serve myself a slice of this (I’m trying to lose weight), but I am sure it’s more than worth it.

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leslie July 27, 2011 at 6:45 am

My birthday is friday!!! I love it. it’s not as cute as the cake my 6 year old son made for me. a white cake with Oreo’s on the side and sprinkles on the top. all his own ideas!! budding chef??

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rachel @ the faded apron shared table July 27, 2011 at 7:00 am

jenna–or anyone who wants to chime in– i’m going to have people over for a fresh Mex/southewestern style dinner tomorrow. i was thinking enchiladas? corn chowder? garden salsa? any suggestions on a menu (including dessert) & tested recipes would be most welcome. i’m lacking creativity.

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jenna July 27, 2011 at 9:25 am

Love enchiladas! Homemade guacamole too, for sure. And maybe a tres leche cake for dessert..or flan?

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Tyler July 27, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Taco bar would be fun – tortillas, taco shells, taco meat, cheese, pico, salsa, etc. Everyone can build their own tacos. Could also do fajitas this way. Could have some lettuce in there too in case some want to do taco/fajita salad. Of course chips and guac would be great. Black beans on the side. Sounds like a lot – but most of these things could be made ahead of time. For dessert – cinnamon ice cream?

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Ally at AGIHK July 27, 2011 at 7:12 am

I have a bake sale coming up, would this transfer to cupcakes well? Looks amazing! :)

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Nicole July 27, 2011 at 7:16 am

Yeah! Thank you because today is my birthday! That cake looks Ah-Mazing!

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Casey @ Pocket Full of Sunshine July 27, 2011 at 7:18 am

Ooh gorgeous! And your pictures are still lovely, even if they were taken at night. :) That definitely looks like my kind of cake!

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Kristen @ Chocolate Covered Kristen July 27, 2011 at 7:32 am

If I pretend it’s my birthday can I drive up north and have a slice? That looks amazing!!!

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Urban Wife July 27, 2011 at 7:38 am

Oh my! This cake is totally calling my name right now. Too bad I’m sitting at my desk for the next 6 hours. Maybe over the weekend. ;)

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Joelle (On A Pink Typewriter) July 27, 2011 at 7:40 am

This looks scrumptious!! One of my proudest baking moments was baking a layer cake for my dad.. It was from scratch, and he was CONVINCED it had to be a boxed mix because it was so good. ;-)

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Heather @ Get Healthy with Heather July 27, 2011 at 7:46 am

I want to be your friend and share this cake with you!

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Catherine July 27, 2011 at 7:59 am

Wow !! This cake is amazing ! and I really LOVE colors !

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Nicole July 27, 2011 at 8:14 am

That looks great! I LOVE baking, but cake decorating? Not so much. I have zero patience! You did an amazing job!

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Karen @ She Flies With Her Own Wings July 27, 2011 at 8:18 am

Mmmm I want to take a bath in that cake batter.
Or at the very least, lick it off a huge spoon.

Your fashion posts are cute & interesting but I’m pretty sure these recipe posts will always be my favorite! Thanks for the delicious recipe!

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Erin @ Naturally Addicted July 27, 2011 at 8:24 am

OMG this cake is outrageous and I love it! I really do wish I had an occasion to make this!

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Maria July 27, 2011 at 8:44 am

I am craving cake now! Thanks Jenna:)

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Mellie July 27, 2011 at 9:06 am

My birthday is only a few days away! And this cake looks really tasty and sooo pretty!

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Jamie @ snacktress July 27, 2011 at 9:26 am

It’s my brother’s birthday today :) Gorgeous gorgeous cake!

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Aja July 27, 2011 at 9:56 am

Wow, that sounds like a job. Maybe I’ll make a one layer cake… I have like 4 birthdays coming up in August so I better be prepared to eat cake, cake, and more cake.
That cake looks delish by the way.

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Katrina July 27, 2011 at 9:59 am

It could be my birthday…I’m willing to switch.

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Jackie @ That Deep Breath July 27, 2011 at 10:12 am

i want this for my birthday!

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alex July 27, 2011 at 10:15 am

I love how you used blue icing! looks great (and tasty)

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Emily July 27, 2011 at 10:27 am

It’s my birthday! And I shall eat cake. Thank you!!

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Girl in the pink July 27, 2011 at 10:53 am

This looks fab!! I just made a 6 layer cake or my dads bday and making the layers the night before makes all the difference I think!

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Tammy @ Palm Trees and Manatees July 27, 2011 at 11:03 am

There’s no chocolate cake like a homemade chocolate cake. I really want to try and make this, but I must admit, I’m a little frightened. I can sometimes be an Amelia Bedelia in the kitchen. :)

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Becky July 27, 2011 at 11:16 am

I am a huge fan of your site and when I popped by this morning I was surprised to see a Birthday Cake…because today is my birthday. (7/27/77) I don’t usually comment, but just wanted to say Thank YOU! and keep up the great work on this blog. I love your creativity and every recipe I’ve tried on here has not disappointed. I especially LOVE the blackberry margaritas.

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jenna July 27, 2011 at 11:29 am

Happy Birthday! :)

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Jess @ Fit Chick in the City July 27, 2011 at 11:28 am

I now need to bake a cake immediately! Thanks for the great recipe and instructions.

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Kristina July 27, 2011 at 11:56 am

Haha I have had cake layers fall apart on me more than once… and always because I’m too eager and want to get them out of the pan right away. Someday I’ll learn patience :)

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Karla July 27, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Beautiful cake! For some reason I think layer cakes are pretty much the most amazing thing on the planet. They rank up there with pie. That’s saying a lot.
It’s my birthday on Saturday! Perfect timing. I fully intend to make myself a ridiculously large layer cake. Totally normal.

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Ashley July 27, 2011 at 12:16 pm

it is my birthday, too! thanks!!!

xoxo

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Puttin' On The GRITS July 27, 2011 at 12:18 pm

MY birthday is today! I have been thinking about lemon icebox pie for WEEKS after having some at Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ in Alabama. So I think I’m going to make one tonight. That’s what happens when you get older…you make your own birthday cake (or pie!).

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Jill July 27, 2011 at 12:38 pm

My birthday is Saturday. I wish I could have a cake as pretty as this one. I absolutely love the pictures. Especially the one with the magazine and the very last one. You have become so professional with your pictures. I could go on your blog just to look at the pictures.

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Kristen @ notsodomesticated July 27, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Yummm!! I just made my first layer cake this past weekend. I posted pics on my blog about my crazy experience. Note to self: if putting parchment paper under a cake to avoid getting frosting on the cake stand, don’t put the parchment too far under… or else you’ll never get it back out!! :P

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Janna July 27, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Wellp now I need a birthday excuse to make it….or do I hehe

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Sarah@Fitango.com July 27, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Hear that? That’s the sound of me drooling. This looks amazing! And thanks for the tip of making the layers a day ahead of time. I have broken layers many a time.
-Sarah

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Cathy from Orlando July 27, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Hey, it’s my birthday today too, Jenna! Looks like there are lots of Leo babies that read your blog. :) That cake looks amazing and can’t wait to try it!

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nichole July 27, 2011 at 1:25 pm

It’s my 32nd birthday today but instead of cake I’m going to eat a huge grilled cheese sandwich here http://meltbarandgrilled.com/ If your ever in Cleveland it’s a must

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Kelsey July 27, 2011 at 2:03 pm

My jeans got tighter as soon as I read, ’3 sticks butter…’

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Jennifer July 27, 2011 at 2:58 pm

This cake is seriously to die for. I am hiding away this recipe until my fiance’s birthday in November. He will love it :) Love from runningwithmascara.com and great post!

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Kate July 27, 2011 at 3:15 pm

I have never met anyone with my birthday; I can’t believe there are so many of us out there! Happy Birthday everybody!

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The Healthy Engineer July 27, 2011 at 5:38 pm

What I would do to have that cake on my birthday….

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Caroline @ The G-Spot July 27, 2011 at 5:56 pm

I actually need to make a cake this weekend and this is the first time I am hearing about a crumb coat. So, now I am looking very forward to giving it a shot! :)

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Kristen July 27, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Love a classic recipe like this — thanks!!

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Jaime July 27, 2011 at 7:22 pm

I need this cake in my face ASAP! :)

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Abby July 27, 2011 at 7:34 pm

That icing looks simply divine. I love it when you can see the knife strokes.

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Angela July 28, 2011 at 3:22 am

Ugh, seriously? My husbands’ birthday is Saturday; he loves chocolate
Cake. I just got a donut pan and was going to make him donuts for his birthday…. But, how can I not try and make this??? I just wish it didn’t take 4 hours!!! I s’pose he’s worth it…. I guess I’m trying to really say thank you?! I’ll let you know how it turns out

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Kim Bee July 28, 2011 at 6:10 pm

I love the idea of just making a birthday cake for the sake of making a birthday cake. The post just made me giggle.

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Pam July 28, 2011 at 7:19 pm

I’m reading this right before bed, and now I’m going to have dreams about cake! Thanks a lot, no really, this way I’ll wake up in a really good mood :) and it’ll be Friday, *bonus*
Your friend is very lucky, happy birthday Jenna’s friend! I’m sure it will be one they won’t ever forget!

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Amanda July 29, 2011 at 2:44 pm

It was my son’s 2nd birthday on Weds. I was so busy making a cake and everything else I didn’t see this until now, but it still makes me smile! Maybe I’ll use it next year…

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janine July 30, 2011 at 12:20 pm

i’m making this cake right now for my sisters party tommorrow. after putting it in the pans i realized it doesn’t tell us when to add the sour cream?? help

janine

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jenna July 30, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I’m so sorry! I updated the recipe with the instructions

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tammy August 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I had the same issue when I made it this weekend, got it baked without the sour cream … and I couldn’t get my ganache to set. I was sad. But it was fun to try and my family was nice and ate some of it anyway. lol

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Hannah April 6, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Oh my gosh, Jenna. This cake is delicious.
I had trouble getting my ganache to thicken too, but since I used a vanilla butter cream with crushed oreo inside, we just added some oreo dust to compensate. Our frosting was over the top, and everyone agreed that it would be delicious with just ganache and dusted in powdered sugar.
Thank you!

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Jen Papaya June 8, 2012 at 9:05 am

the sour cream step is still missing from the “print this recipe” version of this!!

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Jessie August 21, 2012 at 2:40 pm

I love this but can I do the same to make three tiers pls get bck to me but this is fabulous absolutely fab

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