Birthday Cake: Chocolate. Built for high-altitude.

by Oct 9, 2015

I have a friend named Flo. We met seventeen years ago, when I assisted one of her cooking classes at Draeger’s in Menlo Park, California and she invited me to join The Bakers Dozen.  I couldn’t believe it, as I was “just” a home baker and she, a cookbook author. When I attended my first meeting, I was seated next to Marion Cunningham, who wore her gray hair in an elegant, short ponytail, which made me love her even more. That day about 70 of us gathered in a conference room at the Omni in San Francisco and talked about brown sugar for more than an hour, and then had lunch. I had found my people!


For a proper birthday cake, you need frosting, so try French Chocolate Buttercream.


I’ve adapted my recipe from the Rich Chocolate Cake recipe Flo shared in The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook  and her Dark Chocolate Cake in Baking for All Occasions.


Birthday Cake: Chocolate. And built for high-altitude.


  • 3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 ¼ cups + 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sour cream (regular, "full fat"), at room temperature
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Improvise by placing the chocolate in a small metal bowl and float this bowl in a larger pan filled with an inch of water set over medium heat on the stovetop. You want the water to be hot enough to melt the chocolate, but not splashing up and over the edge into the chocolate. Stir occasionally until smooth then remove chocolate bowl from water bath and set aside.
  2. Spray inside bottom and edges of two 6-inch circle cake pans with cooking spray and line bottom with a circle of parchment. (You can use two 9-inch circle cake pans, they will cook about 10 minutes faster. You can make cupcakes, they will cook quite fast, start checking for doneness at 10 minutes.)
  3. Cream the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer for a couple minutes. Add the sugar and beat for 4 minutes, until lightened in color and fluffy in texture. Add the eggs and beat for 3 more minutes. Mix in the melted chocolate.
  4. In a 4-cup glass measuring cup or bowl, mix together the sour cream, water, and vanilla and set aside.
  5. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour to the chocolate mixture in three parts, alternating with the sour cream+water+vanilla. Mix just until blended and pour into prepared pans.
  6. Bake until center springs back when you gently touch it with your finger and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 45 - 50 minutes for 6-inch pans. Transfer pans to racks to cool for 10 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edges of the pans, then invert each onto a rack and remove the pans. Let cool completely before frosting.
  7. My high-altitude adjustments: add 1 T flour, decrease baking soda ¼ teaspoon, & oven temp 365. If you're at sea-level, don't add the extra 1 T flour, use 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda, and oven at 350.



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