This beautiful chocolate espresso ombre layer cake was inspired by one of my food blogger friends Kim from Kale Suckz! She is so creative and constantly inspires me! I definitely recommend checking out her page! She also has a tutorial on her Instagram for how to achieve this cool ombre look!
This cake has a rich chocolate cake base and then three flavors of buttercream but you can make them all in the same bowl! The first is a yummy espresso buttercream, then there's a mocha buttercream, and lastly this silky dark chocolate buttercream.
So Let's Talk About Layer Cakes
Layer cakes can seem intimidating but they're really not that hard! They just take a little extra time and patience.
How Do You Get Perfect Cake Layers??
There are a few tricks that will help you get perfect, even layers!
First, you need good nonstick cake pans and pan spray. This recipe fills three 6×2 inch Fat Daddio’s* layer cake pans (I love Fat Daddio's btw). It’s super important to get actual layer cake pans because the sides are perfectly straight! It’s a little annoying because this means you can’t stack them, but your layers will have perfect sides! With just a tiny bit of pan spray, the cakes just slide right out and never stick! For pan spray, I love both Everbake Pan Spray and Baker’s Joy*!
***For these photos I actually used three 4 inch pans instead of three 6 inch pans and used the leftover batter to make cupcakes! You can also use the batter to fill two 8 inch pans. The possibilities are endless!***
Next, is trimming your cake. This can be a little tricky, but it’s super easy once you do it a couple times. Let the cakes cool completely to room temperature, then take a large bread knife and very carefully slice off the very top of the cake so that you have a perfectly even layer. I like using a big bread knife because it’s sharp, serrated, and long enough to go through the entire layer at one time.
And of course freezing the layers! So after you’ve let the cake layers cool completely and trimmed them. Wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap in place in the freezer overnight or for at least an hour or two. Don’t take them out until right before you start assembling the cake! This allows the frosting to slide on smoothly and prevents any crumbs from getting in the frosting.
Making Ombre Buttercream
This buttercream is great because you can make it in one bowl and it just builds on itself! So we start off making a huge batch of the light colored espresso buttercream. Then remove about ⅓ and set aside. Next we add some cocoa powder to the rest until it's a nice light brown. Then we'll remove half and set aside (this is our mocha layer). Finally we'll add in a lot of cocoa powder to get our nice dark chocolate layer! Seriously so easy!!
- To decorate all of my cakes and cupcakes, I use this Wilton Decorating Kit* and I love it! It’s super easy to use and has a ton of tips in different sizes.
- I absolutely love my rotating cake stand*! I hesitated buying one for a long time, but it really does make getting nice, even frosting so much easier!
- My must have tools for frosting cakes are an offset spatula* and an icing smoother*. Both are super helpful in achieving that perfect, smooth outside frosting.
- I use a 6 inch cake board* to transfer my cakes from the turning caking stand, to the stand I like to photograph with.
- People always ask where I get my fresh flowers from but there isn't an exciting answer. I just get them at the grocery store! Trader Joe's always has great flowers!
For this chocolate espresso layer cake, I actually just used an upside down dessert plate as my "stand" and set that on top of the rotating stand while decorating.
More Cake & Cupcake Recipes
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Chocolate Espresso Ombre Layer Cake
- 1 ¾ cups cake flour, substitute all purpose flour
- ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¼ cup espresso, or brewed coffee
- ¾ cup buttermilk, substitute whole milk
- Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly spray three 6 inch layer cake pans with pan spray.
- Whisk the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the melted butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and brewed espresso together until combined.
- Stir in about half of the flour mixture. Then stir in the buttermilk and the rest of the flour mixture and mix until fully combined. The batter will be thin.
- Pour ⅓ of the batter into each cake pan (they will only be about half full).
- Bake at 350°F for 20-30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
- Place a cooling rack on top of each cake pan and invert. The pan should slide cleanly away.
- Let the cakes cool completely to room temperature before trimming.
- Using a sharp bread knife, trim the cakes until the layers are even. Wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap and place in the freezer overnight or for a minimum of 1-2 hours.
- In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth. Then add in the powdered sugar ¼ cup at a time until fully combined and smooth.
- Add in the vanilla extract and salt and mix until creamy.
- Add in the espresso powder ½ tablespoon at a time until the desired color and flavor is reached. Then remove a little more than ⅓ of the buttercream and set aside. This is your light colored espresso layer.
- Next add in about 2-4 teaspoons of cocoa powder to the remaining buttercream until a light brown color is reached. Remove half of the buttercream and set aside. This is your middle mocha layer.
- Add in the rest of the cocoa powder to the remaining buttercream until a rich chocolate brown color is achieved (you may want to add a few extra teaspoons). The extra cocoa powder will thicken the buttercream, so you may need to add heavy cream 1 teaspoon at a time until desired consistency is reached. This is your final dark chocolate layer.
Assemble the Cake
- Remove cake layers from the freezer. Place the bottom layer of cake on your cake stand and spread a little less than half of the dark chocolate buttercream evenly on top.
- Place the next layer on top, then spread about half of the mocha buttercream evenly on top.
- Place the final cake layer upside down so that the top of your cake is as even as possible. Spread a thin layer of the light colored espresso buttercream (your crumb coat) over the top and sides of the cake. Then place the cake back in the freezer for 30-60 minutes.
- Evenly spread the rest of the light colored espresso buttercream on the top and sides of your cake and smooth into a nice thick layer. Then place the cake back in the freezer for about 20-30 minutes.
- Remove from the freezer and spread a thick layer of the light brown mocha buttercream on the bottom ⅔ of the cake, then smooth out. Place the cake back in the freezer for 20-30 minutes.
- Remove from the cake from the freezer, then spread a thick layer of the dark chocolate buttercream on the bottom ⅓ of the cake and smooth out.
- Top as desired! I chose pretty flowers but the options are endless!
- Slice and enjoy!
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