Espresso Cake with Bitter Chocolate & Sour Cream Frosting


Two weeks ago my husband celebrated his 34th birthday and, as per tradition, I baked a cake to celebrate the occasion. My husband loves chocolate and this year he asked for a Sacher Torte…but after a “highly productive” evening spent browsing Pinterest boards I found a recipe by Smitten Kitchen that steered my baking plans to a new direction…


The Best Birthday Cake by Smitten Kitchen is a recipe for vanilla sponge (yellow cake in American English) with a sour cream and dark chocolate frosting.

I immediately liked the frosting recipe as it didn’t call for any butter or cream cheese. I also had just received a few samples of Lindt Excellence chocolate and I wanted to use the bitter and full-bodied 85% and 90% bars. Extra dark chocolate is my husband’s favourite!

Now I had decided which frosting to make, but I didn’t want to bake a simple vanilla sponge. I browsed Deb’s blog in search for a more interesting cake to pair with the dark chocolate cream and found the Espresso Chiffon Cake. My husband loves coffee, so I thought what better cake than this one?

I wasn’t sure if the two recipes would work together, but they really did and most importantly my husband loved it! :)


When I first ate this cake, a few hours after making it, the frosting was still incredibly bitter. I winced when I ate the first piece of cake and wished I had added more corn syrup to the frosting.

Thankfully the next day it wasn’t so bitter anymore. The flavours evolved overnight and the cake achieved a perfect balance of sweetness from the sponge layers and bitterness of the chocolate cream.



For the Espresso Chiffon Cake

  • 60ml vegetable oil
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 90 ml freshly brewed espresso, cooled to room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 170g plain flour
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 75g icing sugar

For the Dark Chocolate and Sour Cream Frosting

  • 400g bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 600ml sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup light corn syrup*
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract



Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line the bottoms of three 8- or 9-inch round cake pans with rounds of parchment paper (do not grease).

In a medium bowl, combine the oil, egg yolks, espresso and vanilla; whisk lightly to blend. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, caster sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set the dry ingredients aside.

In a large mixer bowl with an electric mixture, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar on medium-low speed until frothy. Raising the mixer speed to medium-high and gradually add the icing sugar. Continue to beat until soft peaks form (do not whip until stiff).

Add the espresso-egg yolk mixture to the dry ingredients and fold together just enough to combine. Add one-fourth of the beaten egg whites and fold them in to lighten the batter. Fold in the remainder of the whites just until no streaks remain. Divide the batter among the three prepared pans.

Bake the cakes for about 18 minutes each, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely in the pans. When cooled, invert onto wire racks and remove the paper liners.

To make the frosting, place the chocolate in the top of a double-boiler or in a heatproof bowl over simmering water.


Stir until the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and let chocolate cool until tepid. Whisk together the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the corn syrup and vanilla extract until combined. Add the tepid chocolate slowly and stir quickly until the mixture is uniform.


Let cool in the refrigerator until the frosting is a spreadable consistency.

Place one cake layer on a cake stand. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Repeat with the second and third cake layers, then spread the frosting evenly on the sides. Place the cake in the fridge to set for one hour.


At the last minute, I whipped up a simple buttercream to decorate the cake.


*If you cannot find light corn syrup in store, you can make it at home by mixing 1 part boiling water and 4 parts white sugar in a pan. Stir together until the sugar is dissolved and let it cool down before using in the frosting.

For more birthday and celebration cake recipes, see: Bløtkake (Norwegian Cream Layer Cake), Eggless Double Chocolate Baked Cheesecake, Hummingbird Cake, Chocolate Mascarpone Cake.

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[…] is a very sweet cake, as it’s basically made of butter, sugar and white chocolate. Perhaps sour cream frosting might have helped to balance the sweetness of the […]

The slow pace
The slow pace
25/08/2015 07:50

That frosting looks amazing! I’m not a fan of frosting but this one, this one I like! By the way, happy belated birthday to your husband!

Giulia Mulè
26/08/2015 10:47
Reply to  The slow pace

Thank you! My husband doesn’t like (sweet) frosting either, but he ate about 6 slices of this cake over 5 days…think of it as a dark chocolate cream rather than tradition frosting!

Claudia Brick
25/08/2015 05:13

Gorgeous birthday cake – I bet your husband was happy! I love it when you put the components of a couple of recipes together and it works so well, such a good feeling :)

Giulia Mulè
26/08/2015 10:45
Reply to  Claudia Brick

It’s easy to do with Smitten Kitchen recipes, she’s got such a huge catalogue of bakes and all recipes always work!

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