Palo Alto Chocolate Layer Cake

Today’s cake is another good one from the Junior League of Palo Alto. In the intro to the recipe, they say that after much testing, this cake was deemed the richest and most appealing to their group of chocolate lovers. Now it’s up to you to decide. I thought it was really good.

palo alto chocolate cake

The Junior League frosts this cake with a coffee flavored icing. I love coffee flavor, but my family is not so into it, so I frosted the cake with my trusty Silky Chocolate Butter Frosting from Good Housekeeping. If you’d like to use the coffee frosting, the recipe is at the bottom.

As you read the recipe, you’ll notice some of the ingredients repeat themselves. So while it appears that there are a lot of ingredients, there aren’t. It’s not a one-bowl cake, but it’s fairly easy.

Palo Alto Chocolate Layer Cake
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Palo Alto Chocolate Cake can be iced with the Silky Butter Frosting or with the coffee flavored frosting recipe included in the note.
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Serves: 12
Custard Mixture
  • 5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, separated - white reserved
Creamed Mixture
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs, separated -- whites reserved
Flour Mixture and final buttermilk and vanilla additions
  • 2 cups sifted cake flour (spoon lightly into your cup, don't pack or weigh out 7 ounces/200 grams)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Silky Chocolate Butter Frosting:
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks, salted), softened
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 9-inch round cake pans.
  2. In a saucepan, melt chocolate over low heat and add 1/2 cup of buttermilk. Whisk until mixture is smooth. Slowly add 1 cup of sugar and 1 egg yolk. Whisk constantly for 3 minutes or until the custard is thick and smooth. Let it cool.
  3. Cream butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer. Add the 2 egg yolks, one at a time. Resift cake flour with baking soda and salt. In 3 parts, add flour mixture and 3/4 cup buttermilk, alternating between the two. Finally, stir the cooled custard and vanilla into the batter.
  4. Beat 3 egg whites until they are stiff but not dry. Fold into batter. Make sure they are well incorporated, or you will get white streaks in the baked cake. Pour into prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes or until cake just begins to leave the sides of pans. When cool, spread with frosting.
  5. Frosting:
  6. In a 2 quart saucepan, whisk together sugar, flour and cocoa until evenly combined. Add milk and whisk until smooth - don't worry if there are a few lumps because they will smooth out as you cook. Turn heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly until mixture thickens and boils. Reduce heat to low, cook 2 minutes, stirring all the while. Remove saucepan from heat; cool completely. This should take 40 minutes to an hour.
  7. In a large mixing bowl, beat softened butter until creamy. Gradually beat in cooled milk mixture, vanilla and melted chocolate. Frost the cake.
Junior League's Coffee Frosting

1 cup butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons instant coffee dissolved in ¼ cup hot water
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons rum or brandy.

Combine all ingredients and beat until smooth.


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  1. carole says

    I think I will do this in a 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan with the coffee frosting. I love anything coffee and your more than welcome to join me. Maybe it will be a bit cooler next week. For now my kitchen is closed.

  2. Emilie says

    I might have to try this cake out. I’ve made a couple different chocolate cakes lately. (For baby shower testing) I’m interested in the Cooks Illustrated one, Old- Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake.

  3. says

    I prefer the Dr. Pepper cake, honestly. This one was delicious, but not the best ever. Which is not to say you shouldn’t try it….

  4. Heidi says

    Hi Anna,

    I’ve recently become a fan of your blog. It’s nice to see someone bakes as much as I do. I do sell some things to family & friends but mostly I bake simply because I like to. Do you bake everyday? How many times a day? Yesterday I made the Palo Alto Chocolate cake and my family said it’s probably the best chocolate cake I’ve ever made. I used your frosting recipe (the one you had listed it with). Thanks for the recipe. I will continue to check back and see what new recipes you’ve baked & reviewed. I depend on reviews before I try a recipe.

    Heidi Namba

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