Okay, confession: I’m actually starting this post on Thursday, February 8. At this moment, I haven’t taken any photos of this cake yet, because I haven’t even baked this cake yet. I’ve only just drafted the recipe. It could be a total cake flop (or another trifle?) But hopefully, by the time I’m finished with this post in a few days’ time, there’ll be a great big gorgeous cake staring at you from the photographs.


I also haven’t driven up to Raleigh for my Valentine’s weekend yet, so I may be totally off-base with the following mushiness (I’m a city girl, so I’m unfazed by your aphoristic “counting-unhatched-chickens” nonsense.)

I’m gonna take a stab at predicting the future and tell you (and hopefully confirm for you later): Mike is the best boyfriend ever.

See, Mike is planning (or, by the time you see this, planned — is this getting confusing?) our Valentine’s celebration this year.

I got him a few presents (this novel, and some astronaut ice cream, because who doesn’t want to eat weird space food?)

I also attempted to paint my toenails for the weekend, but if you follow Willow Bird Baking on Facebook, you know that I actually only managed to make my toes look like they’d been gnawed off by a possum. Romantic?

But other than those little details (and, okay, this gigantic cake), it’s all Mike.

Update, Friday, February 9: Mike just emailed me to tell me to bring something nice to wear to dinner, but that’s my only clue so far. I bought him Reese’s hearts to tuck into his present. And Scooby Doo valentines to hide around his apartment, because I am apparently 5 years old.

I finally baked the cake and filled it with red velvet goodness (spiking the cream cheese frosting with amaretto on the fly was a fantastic choice). Hopefully tomorrow morning will find me frosting, photographing, and hitting the road with Byrd (my smaller, fuzzier valentine).

Update, Saturday, February 10: My suspicions were correct — Mike wins at romantic Valentine’s dinners! He took me to fancy schmancy Coquette in Raleigh, where I had gnocci that tasted just like Thanksgiving (how’d they do that?) and he had a mind-blowing cassoulet. The wind chill might’ve been hovering around negative eleventy billion, but the cockles of my heart were as warm as a . . . well, as a cassoulet. Because I ate a bunch of it.

Update, Sunday, February 11: My suspicions were even more correct — Mike wins at awesome Valentine’s surprises! I’ve been wanting to see Hugo since it came out but haven’t gotten a chance. After Mike and I tried but failed to go see it last time he was in Charlotte, I figured I was going to miss it in theaters entirely. But after church today (and some fantastic pizza), Mike drove me to the movies! Hugo was amazing.

Actually, though, the best thing Mike gave me was a card. He knew it was good when I cried for five solid minutes after reading it (and I’ve read it 3 or 4 times since and cried every time.) The best part: “I love you with all my heart. I’m so glad we’re together this Valentine’s.”

If he thinks he’s glad . . . !

I can now happily report that the cake, also, was a smashing success. It turns out if you combine the best chocolate cake you’ve ever tasted, the best red velvet cake you’ve ever tasted, the best (amaretto!) cream cheese frosting you’ve ever tasted, and the best chocolate frosting you’ve ever tasted, the result will be pretty flippin’ awesome.

What are your Valentine’s plans?

Thick Chocolate Cake with a Big Red (Velvet!) Heart

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, using chocolate cake and chocolate frosting recipes adapted from Martha Stewart
Yield: 10-12 slices

This is a capital-D Delicious show-stopper of a fancy schmancy special occasion cake. It’s a labor of love; however, even though it’s a lot of steps, they’re all pretty easy to accomplish! To make this cake (and so many others — it’s been a great investment for me), I used a Wilton Heart Tasti-Fill Pan. You can find this pan online or at Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, and probably AC Moore, if you’re looking for one. Or you can also use this tutorial by Amanda at i am baker to create a heart inside your cake without the pan!

Chocolate Cake Ingredients:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/8 cups unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/8 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/8 teaspoons coarse salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/8 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup plus 3 1/2 tablespoons safflower oil
1 1/8 cups warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Red Velvet Cake Filling Ingredients:
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg
1 tablespoon cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) red food coloring

Amaretto Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon amaretto or almond liqueur (optional)

Chocolate Frosting Ingredients:
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
Coarse salt
1 pound semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled

NOTE: This cake has a lot of steps, but it’s easy to split up over several days. The cake layers can all be made days in advance (freeze the chocolate ones to make them easier to work with — no need to thaw before you assemble your cake — and stick the red velvet one in an airtight container in the fridge until you’re ready to use it). You can also assemble the cake and refrigerate it the night before you want to frost it (just cover it in the fridge).

Bake red velvet cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 9-inch square baking pan. Cream together shortening, sugar, and eggs. Mix the cocoa and food coloring to form a paste and add this to the shortening mixture. Add the salt and vanilla extract. Add the buttermilk alternately with the flour, beginning and ending with flour. Mix the vinegar and soda together in a small bowl and immediately fold it into the cake batter. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Cool completely. Keep the oven preheated for your chocolate cake.

Make the chocolate cake: Grease the Wilton Heart Tasti-Fill Pan well (You can find this pan at Hobby Lobby or Michael’s, if you’re looking for one, or you can also use this tutorial by Amanda at i am baker to create a heart inside your cake without the pan!). I use Wilton’s Cake Release to grease my pans, but you could also use butter and flour.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and coarse salt together in a mixing bowl. Beat the dry ingredients on low until combined before increasing the speed to medium and adding eggs, buttermilk, warm water, oil, and vanilla. Beat about 3 minutes until the mixture is smooth. Divide it among your prepared pans.

Place the pans in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with just a few moist crumbs, about 30-35 minutes. Rotate the pans about halfway through so they’ll bake evenly. Let them cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before turning them out onto sheets of wax paper and leaving them to cool completely. Stick them in the freezer so they’ll be easier to work with.

Make the cream cheese frosting: Whip cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Mix in all other frosting ingredients and mix on medium-high speed until combined. When cake is cooled and crumbled, mix the cream cheese frosting in until the mixture has a dough-like consistency.

Make your chocolate frosting: In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa and warm water. In a separate bowl, beat together butter, confectioners’ sugar, and a generous pinch of coarse salt until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the melted chocolate and the cocoa mixture. Let this sit for about 30 minutes before you use it to frost the outside of your cake. (You can assemble the cake while you wait.)

Assemble the cake: Take out your firm-from-the-freezer cake layers and stack them to see if you need to trim the sides with a serrated knife at all. Level them if they need it. Then place them cavity-side up on the counter. Knead your red velvet mixture a bit to make it soft and pliable and pack the cavities of both layers with it, making sure it gets down into the shape of the heart. I smoothed the red velvet mixture level with the back of a spoon.

Spread a touch of chocolate frosting on the middle and outside of the cake layer (not on the red velvet heart) as “glue” and then place the cake layers together (filled sides together, of course). Carefully align your heart. Smooth a very skimpy layer of chocolate frosting (the crumb coat) all over the outside of the cake, brushing away any crumbs, and place the cake in the fridge to harden the frosting and secure the crumbs. After chilling for about 20 minutes, remove the cake and frost completely. Decorate with fantastic sprinkles and lots of love. Serve immediately with ice cream or store, covered, in the fridge. If you store it, zap each slice for 20-30 seconds or let it sit out for 20 minutes or so to let the chocolate frosting soften.

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38 Comments on Thick Chocolate Cake with a Big Red (Velvet!) Heart

  1. Jenny @ BAKE
    February 13, 2012 at 11:31 am (12 years ago)

    That cake looks gorgeous! I love the sprinkle decoration, I’ve tried to do that a couple of times but mine always end up really messy! Your photos are stunning too!

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      February 13, 2012 at 12:13 pm (12 years ago)

      Thank you, Jenny! I definitely get in there with a toothpick and move some sprinkles around. LOL! This time one fell right SMACK in the middle of the cake. I was like, “Really?!” 😉

  2. Lauren at Keep It Sweet
    February 13, 2012 at 12:00 pm (12 years ago)

    I love this post and love how beautiful this cake is! So glad you and Mike had a wonderful Valentine’s Day weekend:-)

  3. Vivian Ruble (Mom)
    February 13, 2012 at 1:11 pm (12 years ago)

    Sounds like you had a great time! When you have been married as long as Dad and I have you go to Longhorn for their filet and lobster tail special. 🙂 Delicious!!

  4. Erin
    February 13, 2012 at 2:28 pm (12 years ago)

    That is pretty incredible with the heart in the middle

  5. Megan
    February 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm (12 years ago)

    So sweet! Sounds like you both had a really nice weekend.

    I had to stop drafting my posts before cooking or baking because I would usually mess up whatever I had pre-written about. I decided it was bad luck for me.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      February 13, 2012 at 3:03 pm (12 years ago)

      Thanks, Megan! LOL, this is the first time I’ve pre-drafted and I was so nervous! I kept thinking, “Well, at least it’ll be a funny story?!” So glad it worked out. Phew.

  6. Dina
    February 13, 2012 at 6:57 pm (12 years ago)

    wow that sounds and looks great!

  7. sara
    February 13, 2012 at 7:10 pm (12 years ago)

    Love this! So cute…what a great idea! 😀

  8. Amanda @ Once Upon a Recipe
    February 13, 2012 at 7:12 pm (12 years ago)

    Wow Julie, this cake is amazing! To be honest, I still can’t wrap my head around how you got that heart into the middle…but what a lovely little labour of love to show someone special how much they mean to you. It’s wonderful to hear that you and Mike had a great weekend together! Happy love day!

  9. keke
    February 13, 2012 at 8:57 pm (12 years ago)

    woooowwww….. you’re so great!!!

    it’s the best cake i ever seen, i wanna try the recipe…

    thank you so much for sharing… ^^,

  10. Joanne
    February 14, 2012 at 1:46 am (12 years ago)

    Aww your Valentine’s was SO perfect! I’m SO happy for you!!

    I have a first date tomorrow, actually. Oy.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      February 14, 2012 at 1:49 am (12 years ago)

      SO, I heard someone talking about how much pressure that would be on the radio, but I TOTALLY think it would be fun/silly/happy to have a first date on Valentine’s! I think it’d be LESS pressure, actually, because acting all ironically Valentiney could replace some of the first date awkwardness. RIGHT?! Right. It’s gonna be awe-some. 🙂

      Thanks, Joanne! Have fun tomorrow!

  11. Jenni
    February 14, 2012 at 3:08 am (12 years ago)

    Um, wow.This cake is crazy awesome! Great, creative, wonderful, fantastic job!! I bet it tasted like a million bucks! And your photography makes it look utterly stunning! Great job!

    Also, You crack me up! 🙂

  12. Winnie
    February 14, 2012 at 8:35 am (12 years ago)

    Amazing and delicious looking cake!
    I’ve never tried this chocolate cake recipe and now I’m sure gonna try 🙂

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      February 16, 2012 at 11:59 pm (12 years ago)

      Thanks, Winnie! It’s totally my new favorite. It has a Texas Sheet Cake flavor in a layer cake format. I’m going to use it from now on!

  13. K&B N.
    February 14, 2012 at 9:02 am (12 years ago)

    This is so adorable !

  14. Jessica @Sunny Side Up
    February 16, 2012 at 5:28 am (12 years ago)

    I’m so glad your Valentine’s day turned out as good as you hoped it would. This cake is just gorgeous and sounds over the top delicious (just my style!)

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      February 17, 2012 at 12:00 am (12 years ago)

      Aw, thanks Jessica! So glad you’re in China safe and sound and I hope you’re having a fun of fun already!

  15. Erin
    February 16, 2012 at 11:43 pm (12 years ago)

    Love this cake! So impressive! And I love the cute little heart sprinkles! 🙂
    Glad you had a nice Valentine’s Day!

  16. Dena
    February 20, 2012 at 9:18 pm (12 years ago)

    Oh goodness. I would pay anything to have a cake like this at my wedding! Absolutely breathtaking, Julie. You get better & better.

  17. Julie@SweetgumBakery
    March 1, 2012 at 8:29 am (12 years ago)

    Love this cake, what a lovely way to celebrate valentines day!


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