Chocolate Cake For A Crowd

Big chocolate cake.

How big? It will feed over 20 people.

Now you may wonder, what do I do with a cake that big? And what does a small family do with all of these baked goods? Well, in our case the answer is little league baseball. The season just ended, but we just spent a full spring feeding 12 hungry boys. They eat a lot.

Happily, this is a real labor of love. After each game a few of the families cooked for the team, coaches and parents. As the weather got warmer and everyone got to know each other the meals morphed from take-out pizza to full 3-course spreads. By the end of the season we brought pre-made margaritas and corpse reviver #2’s to weekend games (the parents often had more fun than the kids ;-). We made pulled pork and brisket, which was a hit. But the big winner was Carolyn’s chocolate cake. This cake is “chocolatey”, moist, rich and delicious. The kids (and parents) loved it and kept asking for the cake and the bigger she made it, the more they ate. Sometimes it’s good to be 12 and eat all the cake you want. Sometimes it would be nice to be “X” and eat all the cake you want…

Grease and dust your pans with cocoa.

Mix your batter.

Bake the cakes.

Let cakes cool completely.

The recipe for the cake and frosting comes from many sources, Carolyn makes this often enough to adapt the recipe on her own. The recipe isn’t complex, but like most baking it does require that you follow some specific steps. The bonus with this recipe is that you get an extra dessert as well (more on that later). This recipe is for 20+ big servings, but you can halve the recipe, if you like.

As for the recipe itself, it is mostly standard cake making. The chocolate all comes from cocoa powder (a lot) and the moist texture from a combination of buttermilk and sour cream. And, of course, a touch of coffee that amplifies the chocolate flavor. The frosting is simply a lot of high quality chocolate, butter, sugar, milk and a pinch of salt. And as with all baking, the better the ingredients, the better the flavor.

Chocolate for frosting.

Roughly chop the chocolate.

Melt chocolate and butter in double-boiler (or microwave, see notes).

Melted chocolate and butter. Good stuff.

Combine milk and sugar.

Combine the chocolate mixture with milk and sugar to make the frosting.

The work with this cake is in the assembly. This is a big cake. We use sheet pans for this size cake, which are slightly easier to handle. Carolyn also shaves off the domed tops of the cakes. This is extra work, but the cake is much more stable and easier to frost if totally flat. But this is where we get the bonus dessert. You simply combine the extra cake shavings with left-over frosting on a plate, then add any garnish you like. Carolyn put an Oreo cookie on top, but fruit, coconut, ice cream or whipped cream will all be very welcome additions. And if you like frosting, this is for you. We call it “Chocolate Mess” and it lives up to its name.

Frosting the cake.

Bonus dessert, the “Chocolate Mess”

And as for the final presentation of the cake, our nasturtiums are going wild- so we use them for decoration. Roses look good as well. But this cake provides a large canvas for decoration, so have fun. And if you find yourself baking for a large group this summer (or any time, really), give this recipe a try, it is “little league approved”.

Big Chocolate Cake:

Notes Before You Start:

  • This recipe can be halved without any problems, and moving it to two 9-inch circular cake pans is a good option.
  • Good quality cocoa and chocolate make for a good cake and frosting.  We like Valrhona cocoa and Scharffenberger chocolate, though Valrhona chocolate is wonderful as well.
  • That room temperature thing for the butter, eggs, sour cream, and buttermilk is really important.  Just set them on the counter the night before and you’ll be ready to go.  But if you wake up and realized you forgot, just put your eggs in a bowl, cover them with hot water and let them sit for 10 minutes.  The other ingredients you can get to room temperature with artful usage of your microwave.
  • This is the super trick – YOU DON’T NEED TO USE A DOUBLE BOILER – just put the chopped chocolate and butter (both roughly chopped) into a microwave safe bowl.  Microwave in 30 second intervals until the most of the chocolate is melted, now start stirring.  If not all the big pieces of chocolate have melted try another 30 seconds.  This trick tempers the chocolate without using a double boiler.  Not that we’re opposed to the double boiler, we have a lovely one, but…….

What You Get: A great, big, tasty chocolate cake.

What You Need: A stand mixer is a big help, as are 9×12″ baking pans and cooling racks.  The squarer the edges of the baking dish, the more uniform your overall cake will be, requiring less trimming (less for chocolate mess, but plenty still).

How Long? This will take a few hours, with an hour or more of active time. This is a “special occasion” dish. The “Chocolate Mess” dessert takes 5 minutes, so you do get a time-saver after all your effort, and its great if the cake is going to the event without the whole family.


(Serves 20+)


  • 3 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups good cocoa powder
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 and 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 and 1/3 cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons of brewed coffee


  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 16 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 4 sticks sweet butter
  • 6 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt



  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with rack in middle of oven. Butter 2- 9×13″ baking pans and dust with a little cocoa powder, shake out any excess.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together the cocoa, flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. In the large bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars at high speed until light in color, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and vanilla.  Mix well. Combine the buttermilk, sour cream and coffee in a medium bowl.  We like a large measuring cup (it aids in the pour).
  4. Using low speed, add the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture in thirds, alternating each time. Start with the buttermilk and end with the flour. Mix only until just combined. Don’t mix too long, you want this baby to be light and fluffy.
  5. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the top of the batter with a spatula, pushing the batter towards the corners and outside edges of the pan. Bake cakes for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes then remove from the pans and continue cooling until the cakes are room temperature.
  6. Place one layer of the cake on the serving plate (or sheet) and line edges with wax paper cut into strips. Frost the sides and top of the cake. Add the second later of the cake and frost. Garnish with flowers if you like. Remove the wax paper. Slice and serve.


  1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a large double-boiler over low heat, or use the microwave trick (see notes). Whisk to combine and then remove from heat. Let cool to room temperature.
  2. Sift confectioners sugar into a large bowl (don’t short-cut here, you do not want lumpy frosting). Whisk in salt and milk until combined. Add chocolate mixture, whisk until smooth.

45 thoughts on “Chocolate Cake For A Crowd

  1. I tell you that cake wouldn’t last for 20 if I where around the house. *smile Stunning photos – especially the ones with the orange flowers – don ‘t know the English name for them – the ones with the whisks … want to lick the bowl. Beautiful post and cake.

  2. My mouth is just watering – and I’m always looking for my next “favorite” chocolate cake recipe. I think this one, is all by itself, is a reason for a party!

    I never use the double boiler, either- it’s such a hassle and the microwave works so perfectly, and as you said, keeps the chocolate in temper.

  3. This looks so divine! Cakes are not my thing to tackle but with this one, I think I will bake one from scratch. Thanks for the recipe!

  4. Well, perhaps that helps explain my lack of baking… No little league teams! My husband’s soccer league seems to be more of a Guinness crowd. But for a cake that looks this good, maybe even I can find an excuse to make it.

  5. It sounds like you all have a lot of fun with the baseball games – with greta eats and drinks! I’m going to bookmark this recipe for th enext cake and plant sale we have as the cakes were sold out too quickly, and this would be a great treat for hungry gardeners!! Super 🙂

  6. Hi, Mandy introduced me to your blog. What a great idea. And this cake looks so moist and delicious and yes, the buttermilk and sour cream would give it that wonderful texture. Love how it’s been decorated.

  7. Pingback: Spotlighted: Steward & Carolyn from Putney Farm «

  8. In the recipe it calls for Baking Powder, but, down below in the directions on how to put it all together it says Baking Soda. Which is it?

  9. I made this cake and it is terrible without the frosting. If you want good cake, don’t make this one. Choose a different cake recipe but use the frosting recipe. It is the frosting that tastes good, not the cake.

  10. Pingback: ‘Cue, Cocktails And Cake For Memorial Day « Putney Farm

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