It had been too long since I last baked a layer cake.  Clearly, it was time.  My brother’s wonderful girlfriend celebrated a birthday last week  and I couldn’t resist baking a treat for the occasion.  I asked her what sort of cake she would like and her reply included pumpkin, lemon, chocolate, strawberry, “Or anything really.  I like everything!”  It seems I am in good company and I am not the only one who suffers from birthday cake indecision.  (On a related note, I delayed baking my birthday cake this year because we were so busy and I still haven’t gotten around to it.  If I ever make my own decision, maybe it will happen!)

Anyway, I pondered her list of suggestions, brainstormed a bit and eventually settled on this chocolate covered strawberry layer cake.  Though it looks fancy, and I suppose it sort of is, I did my best to keep it fairly straightforward.  Layers of chocolate cake are sandwiched with strawberry Swiss meringue buttercream and ganache, which is also used to dip the berry garnish for the top.  No painstakingly smooth frosting of the sides required.  This cake was definitely a big hit with everyone who tried it, and it didn’t last long!  If you have a chocolate, strawberry, or chocolate and strawberry lover in your life, they are bound to love this cake.

  • Yield about 16 servings


For the cake:

  • 1¾ cups plus 2 tbsp. (9 3/8 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups (4½ oz.) unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for dusting the pans
  • 1 tbsp. instant espresso or coffee powder
  • 1½ cups boiling water
  • ¾ cup sour cream
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2½ cups plus 2 tbsp. (18 3/8 oz.) sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1¼ tsp. baking soda
  • ¾ tsp. salt

For the strawberry filling:

  • 3 cups fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled and coarsely chopped, divided
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1¼ cups sugar
  • 3 sticks (1½ cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the ganache and the garnish:

  • 12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1½ cups heavy cream
  • 12 whole strawberries, rinsed and dried


  • 01

    To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Butter the edges of 3 8-inch round cake pans and dust with cocoa powder, shaking out the excess.  Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, combine the cocoa powder, espresso powder, and boiling water.  Whisk until smooth; set aside to cool slightly.  When cooled down a bit, whisk in the sour cream and vanilla.  Set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute.  Gradually blend in the sugar and whip on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes more.  Blend in the eggs one at a time.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; whisk to blend.

  • 02

    With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the sour cream mixture, beating each addition just until incorporated.  Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  Bake the cake layers for about 30-32 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, rotating the pans during halfway through to ensure even baking.  Transfer the baked cake layers to a wire rack and let cool in the pans at least 30 minutes before inverting onto the rack to cool completely.

  • 03

    To make the frosting, place half of the strawberries in a food processor or blender.  Puree until completely smooth.  Combine the egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160° F and the sugar has dissolved.  Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes.  (The bowl should be cool to the touch.)  Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated.  If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more (or longer – don’t worry, it will come together!)  Blend in the strawberry puree until smooth and completely incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Once the frosting is fully blended and smooth, fold in the remaining half of the coarsely chopped strawberry.

  • 04

    To make the ganache, place the chopped chocolate in a medium bowl.  Bring the cream to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let stand about 2 minutes.  Whisk together until the chocolate fully melts and a smooth ganache is formed.  Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

  • 05

    Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper.  Dip the whole strawberries in the ganache to coat evenly and transfer to the baking sheet.  Let stand at room temperature until the ganache has set (or transfer the to refrigerator to speed up the process.)  If desired, drizzle with a contrasting chocolate such as milk chocolate or white chocolate.

  • 06

    To assemble the cake, place one of the cake layers on a cake board or serving platter.  Spread about one third of the strawberry frosting in a smooth layer on top of the cake.  Spread a thin layer of the ganache over the strawberry frosting.  Top with a second cake layer, followed by another layer of the frosting and ganache.  Repeat once more with the remaining cake layer.  Once the ganache has been spread on top, place the chocolate covered strawberries around the perimeter of the cake.  Chill and allow the ganache to set fully.