Remaking The Cake That Started It All

Picture it: 2021.

I had been blogging for about six months. I was enjoying it, but I was feeling constrained by my self-imposed limitations. At the time, I was working my way (slowly–ever so slowly) through Ina Garten’s recipes. Then, I had an idea that rekindled by interest in blogging and baking. This idea led to the main focus of the blog for the following 18 months.

The Magnolia Bakery Chocolate Cake

I ended up finding new interest in blogging in an unexpected way. My father’s birthday was coming up and I offered to make a cake. Recently I had purchased a new cookbook and thought the chocolate cake recipe looked really good. So, I made it, with the peanut butter frosting as my dad requested. Instantly, we all fell in love with the cake.

I personally enjoyed it so much that I decided to bake every recipe from the Magnolia Bakery Handbook. Something I am still working on doing almost two years later. (I hadn’t been able to get through it as quickly as I would have hoped.)

The cake became so popular among my immediate family that I continued to make the chocolate cake (in different iterations) for many a family gathering over the next couple of years. You see, the chocolate cake serves as a base for many of the other cakes do in the cookbook. You can see all the different cakes on the Magnolia Bakery Handbook Recipe Index page.

To this day, it remains my most-requested cake and recipe. If I ever go pro and open up my own bakery, this may just be the chocolate cake recipe I will sell.

The First Attempt

Back in 2021, I was still a “green” baker. And the finished cake reflected that. Not so much in taste, but in appearance. While I am still not the greatest cake decorator or builder, I do think that my skills have improved since this cake first graced the pages of my blog.

I’m going to include one of the first pictures below and you’ll see what I mean.

Look at that MOUND of frosting in the middle!! Looking back, I can now see what went wrong with this first attempt and I now know how to fix them.

Easy Mistake Fixes

Looking at the picture above, you may think that the amount of peanut butter frosting is what caused that bottom cake layer to collapse a bit. While it is true, peanut butter American buttercream frosting is heavy, and it may be causing a bit of the collapse. But the real issue is actually the cake was slightly under-baked and the cake wasn’t baked in the proper pans.

All these things combined to make a sunken cake center, producing a thinner amount of cake in the middle of the pan. You can see that I tried compensating for the depression with more frosting. In hindsight, that wasn’t the best plan.

So how did I fix this problem this time around?

I now use the proper cake pans. Still nine inches round, but the sides are taller, which gives the cake more “grip” as it rises. I also learned to bake the cake for an extra minute or so after the toothpick comes out clean. This dries the cake out a bit more and ensures that the cake is completely baked. Cooling the pans properly is also key, and the taller sides of the pan help with this, too.

Still, this cake did taste delicious and is the reason why the chocolate cake from the Magnolia Bakery is still popular amongst my family.

The Second Attempt

About two years later, I found myself baking this exact cake once more. But I had new tools in my arsenal:

  • New, taller, and better quality cake pans
  • More experience baking and frosting a cake
  • A new frosting recipe

All of these things helped to make this second cake much better.

As far as actually making the cake itself, it’s quite easy. I really like the fact that this recipe doesn’t use a stand mixer, though, to be honest, I did use mine. But, it is totally possible to make this cake with just a whisk and a spatula.

The real difference for this cake was the frosting. I found a recipe in one of the cookbooks I have called Ermine Frosting. And since it behaves similar to American buttercream frosting (meaning you can add flavors to it), I decided to experiment.

Ermine Frosting

Also known as boiled milk frosting, ermine frosting starts off by cooking milk, flour, and sugar for a few minutes on the stove. This produces a really thick, condensed milk-looking concoction. Once that mixtures is cool (I mean really cool), you pour it into a stand mixer and add the butter. It then whips up similar to a buttercream frosting. It’s just a bit thinner.

My impatient self didn’t allow the milk mixture to cool enough, so the butter melted. Which resulted in a soup-like mixture. After refrigerating it for a little over an hour, it returned to the proper consistency. I did really enjoy this frosting. It isn’t too sweet since there is no confectioner’s sugar in it. I did have to increase the amount of peanut butter by 125% from what the recipe stated, but that’s probably because we are all peanut butter fiends in my household.

Building and Decorating

The ermine frosting is very smooth and was easier to work with than most buttercream frosting. This was surprising to me, but I was so glad for it. After learning some new cake decorating techniques from watching videos online, TV shows, and experience, I was proud with how the finished cake turned out.

The only thing I regret is not putting a bit more frosting between the two layers. This is something that continues to be a problem for me. I find that I either put in too much or not enough…never just right. But I am getting better!

This year, I decided to decorate the cake with a fun, circular ruffle look all the way around. I then paid miniature peanut butter cups on top of the cake at evenly spaced areas. This is a tip from Ina Garten. The frosting doesn’t necessarily scream “I’m peanut butter frosting!,” but by adding the peanut butter cups, it gives a little hint of what the flavor is.

A Definite Improvement

As you can see from the pictures throughout this post, I do think I’ve improved since the last time I made this cake. While I still have a long way to go in perfecting the art of cakes, I think I am getting better.

At least this time, it looked at good as it tasted.


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