Brownstone Front Cake

Because the icing requires time, patience, and a candy thermometer, some bakers prefer the quicker fluffy chocolate filling. There are instructions for both the cooked icing and the fluffy filling in this recipe, but choose only one, and perhaps try the other next time to see which you like best. Not even sturdy Brownstone Front can stand up under both.

Brown Stone Front Cake
Photo: Alison Miksch; Food Styling: Erin Merhar; Prop Styling: Prissy Lee
Active Time:
25 mins
Bake Time:
30 mins
Cool Time:
1 hrs 30 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs 25 mins


Cake Layers

  • ¾ cup hot water

  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

  • 2 cups granulated sugar

  • 1 cup (8 oz.) unsalted butter, plus more for pans, softened

  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature

  • 1 cup whole buttermilk

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 3 cups (about 12 ¾ oz.) all-purpose flour, plus more for pans

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Fluffy Chocolate Filling

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream

  • ½ cup powdered sugar

  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa


  1. Prepare the Cake Layers: Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease (with butter) and flour 2 (9-inch) round cake pans. Whisk together hot water and cocoa in a small bowl until smooth; let cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, beat sugar and butter in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. With mixer running on low speed, add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Whisk together buttermilk, baking soda, vanilla, and cocoa mixture in a glass measuring cup. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl, and add to butter mixture in 3 additions, alternatively with buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat on low speed until just blended after each addition. Pour batter into prepared pans, and spread into even layer. Bake in preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks, and let cool completely, about 1 hour.

  3. Meanwhile, prepare the Fluffy Chocolate Filling: Place whipping cream in large bowl. Sift powdered sugar and cocoa into cream. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until smooth, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to high, and beat until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes.

  4. Using a serrated knife, slice cooled cake layers in half horizontally to make a total of 4 cake layers. Place 1 cake layer on serving plate or cake stand; spread top with about 1 cup chocolate filling, spreading to edges using a small offset spatula. Repeat with remaining 3 layers and remaining 3 cups filling. (Do not frost sides of cake. The stacked cake is supposed to resemble stacked brown stones with mortar between the layers.)

Creamy Frosting Substitute

Stir together 2 cups granulated sugar, 1 ½ cups evaporated milk (from 1 [12-oz.] can), and 1 cup (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature, in a large saucepan over medium until sugar is dissolved (butter will not fully incorporate). Bring to a boil, without stirring, and cook, stirring often, until a candy thermometer reaches 238°F (soft ball stage), about 30 minutes. Pour into a large heatproof bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until frosting is smooth, but pourable, about 2 minutes. Place 1 cake layer on serving plate; pour about ⅔ cup frosting over top, allowing some to drip down sides. Repeat with remaining 3 cake layers and frosting. Let stand until frosting is cool and set, about 15 minutes before slicing.

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