Oct 18, 2019 Last Updated 6:31 AM, Nov 9, 2017

Grandma's Chocolate Cake

Donald Wressell's Grandma’s Chocolate Cake. Photo by Antonis Achilleos.

Cake, ganache and white chocolate buttercream by Donald Wressell, Executive Pastry Chef of Guittard.


This cake is rich, moist, and delicious—the kind of chocolate cake you dream about when you’re pouring yourself a glass of milk. Donald developed this cake recipe two decades ago when he was the pastry chef for the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills.  As he tells it, “Every hotel pastry chef gets beat up over three things: muffins for the morning breakfast, American-style cookies, and a classic chocolate cake. Sean Loeffel, the food and beverage director at the hotel, had a clear idea of the chocolate cake he wanted me to make. For two months, I made chocolate cakes—every kind of chocolate cake you can imagine—but none of them worked for Sean. Finally, he brought in a cake that his mother had made, and I under¬stood immediately what he wanted (and wished he’d brought in her cake two months earlier).

Sean’s mom had 8 or 10 children and a bazillion grandchildren, so she’s the grandma that this cake is named for. I tweaked her recipe, using really high-quality chocolate. As soon as I began making it, this cake took off. It became the cake of choice for the many, many weddings held at the Four Seasons. It was the most-requested item for room service. This cake crowns when baked so we would slice off the domed top, save it, and make another dessert—a chocolate pudding cake—by mixing the crumbs of the cutoff tops with a chocolate custard. That dessert also developed a devoted following.

Pastry chef friends from other hotels would call me, complaining about their own chocolate cake trauma, and I would e-mail them this recipe (telling them not to say where they’d gotten it). Without fail, I’d get an e-mail back a few days later singing the praises of this cake.”

It’s not overstating it to say Donald has made this cake thousands and thousands of times. If you love chocolate cake, this recipe is the one you’ll be passing down to your own grandchildren—if they’re lucky.


Chef Wressel’s Tips:

  • Let the cake batter rest for 30 minutes before baking. This allows the leavening to settle down and prevents the fast rise and then fall of the center of the cake in the oven.
  • Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Place the cooled cake layers on these baking sheets and place them in the refrigerator. The sugar prevents the cake from sticking.
  • A “crumb coat,” which uses only half of the buttercream, assures that your final frosting will be smooth with no chocolate crumbs showing through.


Yield: one 8” two-layer cake


  • 7.1 liq oz/210 ml water
  • 1.9 oz/55 g Guittard Cocoa Rouge (Dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa powder)
  • 7.7 oz/220 g all-purpose flour
  • 12.3 oz/350 g granulated sugar
  • 1¼ tsp salt
  • 1 Tbs baking soda
  • 7.1 liq oz/210 ml full-fat buttermilk
  • 5 liq oz/150 ml vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two 8” round cake pans.

2. In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil, turn off the heat, and add the cocoa powder. Whisk until smooth, then set aside to cool.

3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. With a hand mixer, beat in the buttermilk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the cocoa mixture and blend until combined, about 30 seconds. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans and let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.

4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes.

5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle lightly with sugar.

6. Using a knife, loosen the sides of the cake. Invert a wire rack over the top of the cake pan, and using both hands, carefully flip the rack and pan together so the pan is upside down on top of the wire rack. Gently shake the pan until the cake falls out, and set the pan aside. Invert a second wire rack on the bottom of the cake and flip back over so it is right-side up. Repeat with the remaining cake layer, and let the cakes cool for about 1 hour. Place the cakes on the prepared baking sheet and refrigerate until the cakes are completely cold, about 1 hour.


  • 14 oz/400 g Guittard Semisweet Chocolate Baking Wafers
  • 10.14 liq oz/300 ml heavy whipping cream
  • 2 Tbs light corn syrup
  • 3 oz/85 g unsalted butter, at room temperature

1. Put the semisweet chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. Set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, bring the cream and corn syrup just to a boil. Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate. Let the chocolate mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk until all of the chocolate has melted. Add the butter and stir until combined. Pour the ganache into a shal-low, flat glass baking dish and let cool at room temperature for 1 hour, or until it is spreadable. (At this point, you can wrap the ganache tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 1 day.)

White Chocolate Buttercream:

  • 4 oz/115 g Guittard Choc-Au-Lait Baking Chips (white chocolate)
  • 4.5 oz/130 g granulated sugar
  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1⁄4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 12 oz/340 g unsalted butter, cut into 1⁄2” cubes, at room temperature

1. Melt the white chocolate chips using a hot water bath or the microwave oven. Stir until completely melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the water if you used a hot water bath and set aside. Keep the water simmering.

2. Place the sugar, egg whites, and salt in a second heatproof bowl and set it over the simmering water (creating a second hot water bath). Whisk the sugar mixture continuously until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is very thin and warm, or until a candy thermometer reads 115°F. Remove the bowl from the heat and transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or to a large bowl if using a hand mixer with whisk beaters). Whisk the sugar mixture on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 5 minutes, then turn the speed to low and mix until cool, about 10 minutes. Add the vanilla and butter on low speed. Add the melted white chocolate in two additions, continuing to blend on low, until combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the buttercream is smooth and shiny.


1. Using a serrated knife, cut both cakes in half horizontally, for a total of 4 layers. Place one layer on a cardboard circle or a cake platter. Spread one-third of the ganache on the cake. Carefully place the second cake layer on the ganache and repeat until you have 4 layers of cake sandwiching 3 layers of ganache. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes.

2. Apply a “crumb coat” (or first layer) of butter-cream by spreading one-half of the buttercream on the top and sides of the cake. You should be able to see some chocolate crumbs in the white frosting. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to firm up the buttercream. Use the remaining half of the buttercream to apply the final coat. This time you won’t see any chocolate crumbs. It should be completely white. This cake is best eaten the same day it’s baked. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.


Click here to read more about this and related recipes in the article "The Guittard Cookbook."

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