Credit: Earl Carter

Chocolate cake with Swiss meringue buttercream

Annie Smithers is the owner and chef of du Fermier in Trentham, Victoria. Her latest book is Recipe for a Kinder Life. She is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

Credit: Earl Carter

There’s nothing like an impending “state occasion” such as Mother’s Day to bring out the wannabe cake-maker in me. I must admit that when I scroll through pictures on Instagram of other people’s cake triumphs, I often feel a little inadequate – my results are not always as photogenic.

While this recipe looks disturbingly long and convoluted, it’s actually very simple. The base recipe is a version of chocolate cake made with oil rather than butter. It produces a cake that is very moist but doesn’t have a tendency to “crumb”, which means it’s a delight to slice, fill and decorate.

And here we’ve also got a foundation technique of Swiss meringue buttercream, which can be coloured and flavoured at whim for all your cake-decorating needs. The process of putting egg whites and sugar over heat before making a meringue for the buttercream is relatively new to my repertoire and I am delighting in its results.

Excess buttercream of this nature can also be frozen and used at a later date with great results. If you’re feeling bold, you could use some of the buttercream between the layers for an even fancier – and more photogenic – result.


Serves 8


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup + 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1 cup castor sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk, 1 tsp lemon juice added
  • 1 cup hot water

Swiss meringue buttercream

  • 120ml egg whites
  • 200g castor sugar
  • 340g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • pink food colouring

Raspberry jelly

  • 2 gelatine leaves
  • 70g castor sugar
  • 250g raspberries
  • juice of 1 lemon


  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC. Grease and flour three 20-centimetre cake pans and set aside. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the oil and sugars on medium speed for two minutes. With the mixer still on, add the eggs and vanilla. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.
  2. Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk and lemon juice, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl. With the mixer on low, stream in the hot water. Mix on medium-low for no more than 30 seconds, or until combined. The batter will be very thin.
  3. Evenly divide the batter among the prepared pans. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean. Let them cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing them from their pans. Once completely cool, carefully slice each cake in half horizontally with a long, serrated knife.

Swiss meringue buttercream

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the egg whites and granulated sugar. Whisk them together briefly by hand, just until they are combined, so that the egg whites won’t begin cooking by themselves.
  2. Create a double-boiler by filling a saucepan with a few centimetres of water and bring to a simmer. Place the mixer bowl with the egg-white mixture on top. The water should be kept at a simmer and should not touch the bottom of the bowl. The double-boiler acts as indirect heat for the egg-white mixture.
  3. Occasionally stirring, allow the egg-white mixture to heat until it reaches 70ºC on a candy thermometer. The mixture should be very hot to the touch and the sugar should have dissolved. Carefully return the bowl of hot egg-white mixture to the stand mixer. Fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the mixture on high speed for about eight minutes. When done, the meringue should hold shiny, medium-stiff peaks and be cooled to room temperature. Stop the mixer and swap out the whisk for a paddle attachment. With the mixer on low, begin adding the butter a couple of tablespoons at a time and mix it in. The butter must be at room temperature in order to incorporate properly with the meringue. Once the butter has been mixed in, add the vanilla and a few drops of pink food colouring. Turn the mixer up to medium speed and mix until silky smooth.

Raspberry jelly

  1. Put the gelatine leaves in a small bowl of cold water, one at a time so they don’t stick together. Leave to soak while you cook the raspberries.
  2. Pour 150ml water into a large saucepan. Add the castor sugar and heat gently over a medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Then add the raspberries. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down so the mixture is barely simmering and cook for five minutes until the raspberries break down. Stir well, but don’t mash them too much – the raspberries will break down in the heat.
  3. Carefully pour the raspberry mixture through a sieve set over a large heatproof measuring jug. Stir in the lemon juice, then either top up with cold water or pour some away to ensure you have exactly 300 millilitres in total of liquid. Drain the water from the gelatine leaves and squeeze out any excess before adding to the raspberry mix. Stir well until the gelatine has completely dissolved, then set aside.

Cake assembly

  1. Place a layer of cake on a cake board or serving dish. Spread with about ¼ cup of raspberry jam. This layer does not need to be thick, but there should be jam across the whole layer. Use more if needed. Top with the next layer of cake and repeat until all layers are stacked. Ice the cake with the pink buttercream. When the raspberry jelly is nearly set, pour over the cake.
  2. Serve with fresh raspberries.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 5, 2018 as "Cake news".

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