A stately layer cake can be found at all Southern gatherings – whether you're celebrating a birthday, an anniversary, a baby shower, a bridal shower, or even a church potluck. This incredible and height-defying chocolate cake is anything but little – but the 18 layers used in the recipe are thin and perfectly baked. Known best below the Gnat Line, this moist, layered chocolate cake's height is based on which birthday you're celebrating. Test Kitchen Pro Ivy Odom recalled her tradition of asking for this cake every birthday in South Georgia, with an additional layer being added for each year of life. Although some folks may prefer to eat a forkful of the cake all at once, Ivy recommends separating the layers to get the best cake-to-icing ratio. And, that sweet, soft icing makes all the difference in this Little Layer Chocolate Cake. Ivy's been working on this recipe since she was 13 years old, and to her, it's been "a really cool way to honor my mama and my grandmother." Serve up slices of this impressive chocolate layer cake, and your guests won't regret taking a second helping of dessert.
24 ounces evaporated milk
6 cups granulated sugar, divided
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, divided
2 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened, divided
6 large eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
4 1/2 cups soft winter wheat all purpose flour, such as White Lily
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 cups whole milk
9 8-inch round disposable aluminum pans
18 8-inch rounds parchment paper
How to Make It
Preheat oven to 425°. Prepare 9 8-inch disposable aluminum pans with cooking spray and rounds of parchment paper.
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), about 15 minutes.
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.
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.
Using a kitchen scale, add 4 oz. batter to each prepared pan. Using an offset spatula, spread batter as evenly as possible on bottom of pans. Bake 4 layers at a time for 5 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.
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 7 layers.
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 4 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.