This Red Wine Chocolate Cake adds a fancy twist to the typical chocolate cake. Moist and chocolatey cake with fruity wine-y undertones, you’ll want to make this even if there’s no special occasion at all! Pair with cream cheese frosting, of course!
I’m not quite sure why I don’t make layer cakes often, but when I do I always take time to pick something interesting. The downside is I don’t get to practice assembling and frosting layered cakes, so my cakes always come out looking wonky and uneven. Funnily enough it’s always my fault. No matter how many times I end up regretting not evening out my layers properly after the fact, I still don’t do it about 80% of the time looool. It’s like those times you are aware you should be doing something, but you’re too lazy to follow through.
That seems to be my going relationship with cake decorating/assembling. I don’t do it properly while I’m in the process of building the cake, but once I slice into it and see the less than perfect layers, I go, ‘I should’ve cut that dome off!’ But the next time I make a layer cake, I still do not cut the dome off. That is exactly what happened with this Red Wine Chocolate Cake. I can make excuses and call it rustic and whatever, but instead I’m going to ask you to bear with the less than perfect layers. Because regardless of my questionable cake assembling skills, this is a damn good cake. Another winner from Ms. Bravetart Stella Parks, ladies and gents!
I LOVE this cake base recipe. I’ve tried other recipes for making Red Wine Chocolate Cake before but they never come out as I expect. They’re either dry or not as tasty, and truth be told I almost gave up on testing Red Wine Chocolate Cake recipes. But then I saw this recipe by Stella Parks and just felt this surge of desire to attempt it one last time, scaled down to a half recipe so I won’t feel bad if it fails. But maybe I shouldn’t have doubted Stella, because this cake was just *chef’s kiss*. She calls this her Red Wine Velvet Cake, and it is hands down the softest, fluffiest, and tastiest Red Wine Chocolate Cake I have ever made.
On the first day the wine flavor of this Red Wine Chocolate Cake really comes through. It mellows with passing days and refrigeration, but it still tastes good, with just the right amount of sweetness and chocolate within the soft crumb of the cake. It’s not the very rich type of chocolate cake that kind of clumps up in your throat. It’s also not the type of chocolate cake that hits you straight up with chocolate, like a Devil’s Food Cake does.
It’s a more nuanced type of cake, with some of the notes of a wine’s fruitiness underneath the surface, and kind of a smoky flavor to it I can’t properly explain. It paired well with cacao nibs I sprinkled on top in any case. The roasted tones of the nibs brings out the chocolatey-ness of the cake even more somehow.
For the frosting, I skipped Stella’s recipe and made my go-to version using cream cheese and butter. It’s a recipe that is stable without the need for so much sugar. Any cream cheese frosting using good cream cheese will probably work great with the cake so feel free to use your favorite one. As for the amount of frosting, I personally like it better if I have a generous amount of frosting between the layers rather than all over outside. Funnily enough, I made the mistake of adding too little frosting between the layers when I assembled this cake. The layers bake up quite nice and thick so a little more frosting won’t hurt.
This Red Wine Chocolate Cake is a keeper regardless of my personal mess ups though. It’s a great cake for Valentine’s if you want a dessert with your red wine, but who needs a special occasion for cake huh?
- This cake is originally called Red Wine Velvet Cake by Stella Parks. She partners it with a very interesting cream cheese frosting which I have decided not to make because it’s rather involved. If you would like to attempt it, you can find it here. I personally think that because the cake base is so good to begin with, you can just use your favorite cream cheese frosting recipe. My favorite is a frosting that is composed of cream cheese and butter. Thanks to the butter, the frosting is stable and thick without requiring that much sugar. It’s more cream cheese forward than sweet, and that’s they way I like it.
- You want to use a dry red wine for this recipe, such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Anything you enjoy drinking will do.
- The use of raw cacao powder is recommended because it tends to give the cake a naturally redder hue, although you can easily substitute it with the easier-to-find unsweetened cocoa powder. My photos don’t really show the red coloring because of how I edited it, but it’s more obvious in the recipe video above.
- You want to make sure you incorporate the red wine properly into the batter so slowly add it in by portions, alternating with the dry ingredients as I’ve shown in the video. You want to mix until both dry and wet ingredients are fully incorporated into a homogenous batter, but do not go overboard with the mixing. Overbeating might affect the texture of the cake.
- It’s best to level the domed tops of the cake into flat surfaces when you assemble your cake layers. This makes it easier to frost the cake. Not leveling is also possible, but be warned that the cake may keep listing as you frost. (Happened to me!) If you’re having a difficult time getting an even layer of frosting outside, refrigerate the cake with a crumb coat before moving on.
- Feel free to make more frosting for a generous coat. I personally like more cake versus frosting so this much was enough for me. I would’ve preferred a thicker layer of cream cheese in between the cake layers though. I think a minimum of 3/4 cup to a maximum of 1 cup for the in-between should be good enough for a 6-inch cake like this.
- I highly recommend eating this at room temp, when both cake and frosting are soft. SO SO GOOD.
Red Wine Chocolate Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes one 6-inch 3-layer cake
For the Red Wine Chocolate Cake
- 1 1/3 cups 170 grams all-purpose flour
- 6 Tablespoons 32 grams raw cocoa powder*
- 1 3/4 sticks, 198.5 grams unsalted butter, softened but still cool
- 1 cup gently packed, 227 grams light brown sugar
- 1 1/8 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup 170 mL dry red wine, such as Merlot or Cabernet
For the Cream Cheese Frosting
- 2 bars, 454 grams cream cheese, softened at room temperature
- 3/4 stick, 85 grams unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups 150 grams confectioners' sugar
- Cacao nibs or shaved chocolate, to garnish if desired
Make the cake
- Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C) and place over rack to the lower-middle position. Line three 6-by-3-inch round cake pans with parchment and grease. (If you don’t have three pans, the remaining batter can be held at room temperature for up to 3 hours.)
- In a bowl, sift together flour and cacao powder; set aside a moment.
- In another larger bowl, beat together butter, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Cream until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. (You can also use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, then beat at medium speed for about 5 minutes. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl down!)
- Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Again, scrape the bowl down as needed.
- Alternate folding in the flour-cacao mixture and the wine, starting with 1/3 of the dry mixture followed by 1/3 of the wine. Allow each addition to be roughly incorporated before adding the next. Run your spatula from the bottom of the bowl in an upward folding motion to make sure everything is well mixed. Do this several times but do not overdo it. (If using a stand mixer, do this entire process with the mixer on low speed, then detach the bowl from the mixer and use a spatula to scrape the bottom of the bowl and fold the batter from the bottom up.)
- Divide the batter among the prepared cake pans. Bake for about 18 to 21 minutes, or until the cakes are domed and firm when gently pressed. A toothpick inserted into the center should emerge with a few crumbs still attached. Cool completely on a wire rack inside the pans.
Meanwhile, make the frosting
- In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in vanilla and confectioners' sugar until smooth. You can add more sugar as desired for a stiffer frosting, but I prefer a less sweet, more cream cheese-forward frosting.
- Once cakes are cool, loosen them from the pans with a knife or an offset spatula. Peel off parchment at the bottom and reinvert. (You can even the layers of the cake if you'd like but I did not. The cake should stand straight just fine as long as you add enough frosting in between the layers.) Place the first layer on a cake turner and spread at least 3/4 cup of frosting on top. Repeat with the second and third layers.
- Spread the remaining frosting on top layer and all over the sides of the cake as desired. (Crumb coat if necessary.) Scatter desired decoration on top, if desired. Chill for about 30 minutes just to set the frosting, then slice and serve. Enjoy!
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