Having a cake on your birthday is something that many of us are accustomed to. Well, for a birthday party we had at our house this past weekend, I decided to make a Little Layer Cake. After all, as Julia Child put it, “a party without a cake is just a meeting,” right? Now, about half way through last week, my husband told several of our friends and family that would be coming over that I would be making a 12-layered cake. I’m not going to lie, there was a lot of confusion at first accompanied by genuine concerns for my mental stability. So I set a clear line of distinction between “tiers” and “layers,” while comforting my loved ones in knowing that I had not completely lost my mind.
This cake first showed up on my radar a few years ago on the Southern Living blog. I’ve had these cakes a few times in my life, but the concept of actually MAKING one? Now, that was not something I can say I had previously thought about. But, why not? These cakes are a true testament to Southern tradition, but you have to be in the right part of the South to find them. You have to be below the Gnat Line- an imaginary line in the South East that distinguishes geographic regions.
(Photo credit: South of the Gnat Line)
And just like the pesky insects that line is named for, the further down in Georgia and Alabama you go, the more of these cakes you see. Back in “the day” these cakes were made by cooking the layers one at a time in a cast-iron hoe cake pan on the stove top. But the disposable cake pans really make this easier.
Reference: Hoecake Pan
Little Layer Cake
Active 1 hour 30 min. Total 2 hours
24 oz. evaporated milk
6 cups granulated sugar, divided
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1 tsp. Kosher salt, divided
2 ½ cups (5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, divided
6 large eggs
3 tsp. vanilla extract, divided
4 ½ cups soft winter wheat all purpose flour, such as White Lily
2 Tbsp. baking powder
2 cups whole milk
3 8-inch round disposable aluminum pans
12 8-inch rounds parchment paper
1. Preheat oven to 425°. Prepare 3 8-inch disposable aluminum pans with cooking spray and rounds of parchment paper.
2. To prepare icing, in a large saucepan, whisk together evaporated milk, 3 cups sugar, cocoa powder, corn syrup and ¼ teaspoon salt over medium heat. Attach a candy thermometer to pot and cook, whisking occasionally, to just at soft ball stage (234-236°F). This should take about 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, cream 1 ½ cups (3 sticks) butter and remaining 3 cups sugar using a large heavy duty stand mixer. Add in eggs, 2 at a time, until well incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add in 2 teaspoons vanilla. Sift together flour and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add remaining ¾ teaspoon salt to sifted flour mixture. Add flour mixture and milk alternately in 3 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Scrape down sides of mixer bowl with a rubber spatula and mix to incorporate fully, about 1 minute.
3. Once chocolate icing reaches soft ball stage, reduce heat to simmer and add remaining cup (2 sticks) butter and remaining teaspoon vanilla. Stir to melt butter, about 2 minutes. Maintain a very low simmer until first round of cake layers are out of oven.
4. Using a kitchen scale, add 4 oz batter to each prepared pan (somewhere between 1/2 of a cup and 1/3 of a cup). Using an offset spatula, spread batter as evenly as possible on bottom of pans. Bake 3 layers at a time for 5-6 minutes in preheated oven. Remove from pan by placing a wire rack on top of pan and inverting pan to release cake layer. Remove parchment from cake layer and place first layer on cake stand. Remove icing from heat.
Alliey’s Tip: If you pull the cake layers out of the oven too early they will crumble as you move them to the stand and spread them with the warm icing. The instructions for this cake said 5 minutes in the oven, but many of my layers went longer. The tops should be starting to turn golden brown, but not completely browned.
5. To assemble cake, pour about ¼ cup hot icing onto first cake layer, just enough to make a very thin layer of icing, but not enough to seep over sides of layer. Repeat with remaining layers.
6. Prepare same cake pans with more cooking spray and rounds of parchment; weigh out 4 oz batter for each pan and spread layers as before. Bake 3 layers at a time for 5 minutes in preheated oven; continue layering cake with icing and baked cake layers. For top layer of icing, pour enough icing over top to seep over sides of cake. Use an offset spatula or small rubber spatula to spread a generous layer of icing to fully cover sides and top of cake. (Icing will be thicker at this point, and you will have some leftover). Let cake set at least 30 minutes or up to 1 day before slicing.