Milk Chocolate Layer Cake: Find your first true love again

When you really think about it, milk chocolate was probably the first exposure most of us had to chocolate as children.

Not sure? Consider the candies and treats you would have eaten as a kid…

Hershey bars, M&M’s, Easter bunnies, Hanukkah gelt, Kit Kat, Snickers bars – these are all based on milk chocolate. It wasn’t until the last decades that these classic treats started branching out to the dark side, but for the most part milk chocolate has all but dropped off the face of the chocolate planet. And that, my friends, is a cryin’ shame.

Milk chocolate is the ultimate in comfort chocolate. It’s the footie pajamas, the fuzzy blankie. It’s a hug from Mom and a cuddle with Grammy. Dark chocolate can shake up and wake up your taste buds, but milk chocolate can soothe the soul like nothing else.

Baking Sheet editor and cake maven Susan Reid and I developed this recipe originally as milk chocolate cupcakes about 2 years ago. It never quite made it into the blog rotation, but it sat on my desk the whole time on a sheet of paper scribbled with notes. Milk chocolate is nothing if not patient, waiting its turn for stardom. Now the timing is just right for sharing this satisfying and gratifying cake with the world.

The cake features milk chocolate in the cake itself, and a sinfully rich milk chocolate ganache filling and icing. My whimsical side added a center layer of marshmallow to remind me of candy bar and s’more goodness, but you can definitely tailor that layer to your tastes. Dried whole milk lends more creamy flavor to the cake, and our new King Arthur All-Purpose Cocoa brings the chocolate to the party.

Speaking of milk chocolate, how much will you need? Hmmmm…

In the test kitchen pantry, everything is just a little bigger than a regular home pantry. At home, I keep about 2 pounds of Merckens’ milk chocolate on hand. In the test kitchen pantry, it’s closer to 12 pounds. As the kids say OM, NOM, NOM. (For those of you without teenagers, it roughly translates munch, munch, munch.) You won’t need 12 pounds, but you’ll need about a pound and a half of top quality milk chocolate. Sorry, leave the milk chocolate chips on the shelf for this one, and treat yourself to some really good bar chocolate.

There are many reasons I love the Merckens’ bars. First of all, they taste amazing. Smooth, rich, creamy. They also break apart and chop very easily, and melt beautifully. One little triangle is the perfect size for dipping in a bit of peanut butter for a simple snack, too.

Grab a piece to nibble on, and let’s make Milk Chocolate Layer Cake. Up first, the ganache.

Place 12 ounces of milk chocolate in a medium-sized heatproof bowl. Heat 1 cup heavy cream to just boiling, and pour over the chocolate.

To help with the melting, it’s best to chop the chocolate, something I apparently forgot this time around. Do as I say, not as I did here. Too busy nomming, I guess.

Slowly whisk the mixture together until it’s smooth and lump-free. You now have milk chocolate ganache, the makings of fine truffles and fantastic frosting. Place the ganache in the fridge to chill while you make the cake.

Begin by preheating the oven to 350°F.

In the bowl of your mixer, place:

¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

Add:
6 ounces milk chocolate, melted
¼ teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend
2 tablespoons Cake Enhancer (optional, but very helpful in this cake)
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup dried whole milk*
¼ cup King Arthur All-Purpose Cocoa*
½ cup buttermilk

Beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Stop and scrape down the bowl again. Add the remaining 1/2 cup buttermilk and blend for 30 seconds.

*You can replace the dried whole milk and cocoa powder with 1/2 cup milk chocolate flavor instant hot chocolate mix.

Pour the batter into pans that have been spritzed with cooking spray, or greased and floured. This recipe will make two 8″ or 9″ rounds, or 24 cupcakes. I prefer the 8″ rounds for layer cakes; you end up with a nice, tall tower of cake.

To bake, use these time guidelines: For 8″ rounds, 18 to 24 minutes. For 9″ rounds, 20 to 28 minutes. For cupcakes, 15 to 18 minutes. The cake is done when a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, or with just a few moist crumbs.

Cool the cakes in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

To layer the cakes, use a long, sharp, serrated knife to divide each round in half.

Adding simple syrup to cake layers is the professional baker’s key to moist cakes. It’s an optional step for home bakers, but one that can really make a big difference in the outcome of your cake. You can purchase lovely flavored syrups, or you can make your own by bringing 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, then cool completely before using.

Simple syrup will keep for weeks in a jar in your fridge, so make a big batch at once. To use, just brush a couple of tablespoons on each cake layer, and let it soak in for about 5 minutes.

While the cakes are soaking, prepare the ganache. Your chilled ganache should be the consistency of chocolate pudding by this time. Scrape it into your mixer bowl and beat with the whisk attachment until it becomes light, fluffy, and smooth.

To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on the serving plate, then frost with a 1/2″ layer of ganache and top with a second layer of cake.

I thought a surprise filling would be fun for this cake, so I made a ring of icing around the edge of the second cake layer, then filled the center with Marshmallow Fluff. You could use all ganache if you wish, though.

Top the Fluff with a third layer of cake, then more ganache and the final layer of cake. Finish icing the cake as usual with the remaining ganache. To make the decorative waves in the icing, use the back of a very round spoon. I used a measuring spoon with a deep round bowl, and made little swishes through the soft icing, overlapping them like feathers.

The cake will cut a little easier if you chill it for about an hour. You can, of course, chill it longer; but the ganache tastes best at room temperature, when it’s soft and creamy.

As the cake sits, the Fluff will start to drift and ooze out, creating enticing waves down the side of the cake.

Seriously enticing waves. Don’t you just want to put a finger through the computer screen and catch that cascade of sweet goodness? Better yet, put your whole hand through and take the piece of cake. Grab a fork and glide though the ganache, scooping up cake and Fluff, too. You’ll travel back to your youth, your first love of chocolate, my forever love: milk chocolate.

Crazy about M&M’s? Mad about Valomilks? Tell us about your favorite milk chocolate cake, candy, bar, or treat.

Please bake, rate, and review our recipe for Milk Chocolate Layer Cake.

Print just the recipe.

Check out other cakes: Our Favorite Fudge Birthday Cake; Tender White Cake; Coconut Marble Cake.

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. jms2

    Yesterday I made this cake for my husband’s birthday. It was my second try with this recipe and was better than the first. I used Merkens choc., KAF 8″ pans with cake strips, and doubled the ganache recipe. The cake looked and tasted great. BIG learning for me: My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw the ganache whip up this time VS last time. It was beautiful, but I got distracted and let the mixer run too long. The ganache went from thick, smooth, and glossy to grainy looking and lower in volume. I think it “broke” similar to a overcooked hollandaise sauce. Is that even possible? I used it anyway, no one knew the difference, and it tasted great. I still have a few tweakes to make to my techniques but progress made. I’m obsessed by this cake!!!
    Yes, whipping too long will result in a flatter ganache. Just like egg whites, you can definitely take it too far. I’m so glad you are enjoying the recipe though. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  2. mikest

    Okay, my mom and I made the recipe today (yes, as cupcakes as well), but she still uses Swan’s Down, so we had a Cake Flour showdown.

    The contenders:
    KAF Unbleached Flour Blend
    KAF Queen Guinevere Cake Flour
    Swan’s Down Cake Flour

    The setup: The ingredients were all divided into thirds and mixed individually keep everything as equal as possible.

    The results: 18 cupcakes were produced, 6 of each type. Out of the oven and cooled for 10 minutes was the first test. Up first was Queen G. She made, as expected, a finer but drier crumb cupcake. Nicely dense and gave your teeth something to sink into (this was my favorite of the 3).

    The SD and KAF UB came out about even in the crumb test and were about the same as far as density. However, the KAF UB produced a moister cake.

    The second check was approximately 4 hours later. It was a unanimous decision that the Queen rules. The texture and moistness had not suffered or changed much at all. The SD and KAF UB both appeared to be a bit drier than they were earlier (well duh), but the SD to the point that no one even bothered to finish that cupcake.

    Well, all I can say is, it was a good day to win. 🙂
    Wow! That’s a lot of cake! Thank so much for sharing this with us. Our test kitchen runs tests like this often, but it’s not often we get to see the results from one of our customers. I feel bad about the poor unfinished cupcake, but I’m so glad the rest of the results were good. Thanks Mike! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  3. jms2

    I made this cake over the weekend. Mine isn’t as pretty as yours but it got raves at the dinner party where it was served. It is sooooo delicious. I am not an experienced cake baker so I learned alot. My layers did not bake evenly meaning the middles were higher than the sides making slicing/stacking them a bit of a challenge. I’ll use cake strips around my pans next time. I’ll also use 8″ pans. I also needed more ganache. I think this is due to my 9″ layers as well as the ganache being too cold and hard when I started to whip it. I followed the recipe to the letter except for the brand of chocolate. It’s just not available in my small town. I wouldn’t change one thing about the recipe. Thanks for posting it. The milk chocolate is a revelation. joan
    HI Joan, I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe and that you got the raves and kudos you deserve as a baker. Don’t forget, all the tips we’ve learned over the years are because we’ve “been there, done that” too. 🙂 ~ MaryJane

    Reply

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