Chocolate Candy Cane Cake

I hope everyone had a fabulous holiday!  As the year draws to a close, I’m getting ready to recap my favorite posts from 2009, but first I just had to share this fun and festive cake.  I know it may seem like a Christmas cake, but it’s still winter and I’m sure it would be a welcome addition to any winter gathering or New Year’s party.  This fabulous concoction consists of three thick layers of rich, moist chocolate cake filled with peppermint frosting.  The whole thing is decorated with a white chocolate buttercream and then garnished with finely crushed peppermints for a sparkly pink finish.  It is certainly a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds!

And are you ready for this?  Me – Annie, the mint-hater – I actually liked this cake.  A lot.  Truthfully, I made it because I knew it would be so pretty and a hit at Christmas brunch, but I did not anticipate enjoying it so much myself.  The peppermint flavor in this cake is perfectly balanced by the other components so that it is definitely a key player, but not so overpowering that it is too strong for non-mint lovers.  Truly, the chocolate peppermint combo was wonderful and everyone was raving about it.

My only frustration with this cake was with the fact that it sliced horribly.  I think every piece I served looked as though Andrew had gotten a hold of it before I could pass it to each guest.  The reason was clear though – the peppermint dust on the outside of the cake hardened to form a sort of shell that was impossible to cut without partially destroying the delicate cake underneath.  Thankfully, there is a simple solution to this problem.  Garnish with the peppermint dust just before serving (as opposed to the night before as I did) so that it doesn’t have time to harden before you slice it.  And by the way, getting the peppermint evenly distributed around the outside was FUN!  I tried several techniques to get this to work but I found the best one to be simply taking a handful of the crushed candy and flinging it at the cake.  I felt a bit like Jackson Pollock 🙂  My counter was a mess, but I had fun and the cake looked great.   It’s a lovely winter treat!

Chocolate Candy Cane Cake
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For the cake:*
½ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting pans
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1¼ cups boiling water
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp. espresso powder
10 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1½ cups packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
½ cup sour cream, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract


For the filling, frosting and garnish:
8 oz. white chocolate, finely chopped
1 lb. unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1¾ cups finely ground peppermint candies, plus extra whole candies for garnish

*I made three 9-inch cake layers, and increased the amount of cake batter by 50%.  I made the regular amount of filling and frosting called for in the recipe, and it was just enough.
To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350° F.  Grease the edges of three 8-inch round cake pans.  Dust with cocoa powder and tap out the excess.  Line the bottom of each pan with parchment or wax paper.  Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl.  In a medium bowl, whisk the boiling water, chocolate, cocoa powder and espresso powder together until smooth.


In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3-6 minutes.  Beat in eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between additions.  Beat in the sour cream and vanilla and mix until incorporated.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the dry ingredients in three additions alternately with the chocolate mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix each addition just until incorporated.

Divide the batter evenly into the prepared pans, and smooth the tops with a spatula.  Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 15-20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.  Cool the cakes in the pans for about 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges, turn the cakes out onto a wire rack and peel off the parchment paper.  Turn the cakes right side up and allow to cool completely.

To prepare the filling and frosting, melt the white chocolate in the top of a double boiler until smooth.  Set aside and let cool until no longer warm to the touch.  In the meantime, beat the butter on medium-high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer about 30 seconds.  Add confectioners’ sugar and salt, and beat at medium-low speed, scraping down the bowl once, about 1 minute.  Add the cream and vanilla and beat on medium speed just until incorporated, about 10 seconds.  Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed.  Transfer half of the mixture to a separate bowl and stir in the cooled white chocolate until smooth.  Add ¾ cup of the ground peppermint candies to the remaining frosting.

To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on a cardboard cake round or cake platter.  Spread half of the peppermint frosting over the cake.  Top with another cake layer and spread evenly with the remaining peppermint frosting.  Top with the final cake layer.  Reserve ½ to ¾ cup of the white chocolate frosting in a pastry bag.  Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining white chocolate frosting.  Coat the top and sides of the cake with the remaining crushed peppermints.  Use the reserved white chocolate frosting to pipe a decorative border around the bottom edge of the cake, as well as decorative swirls on top.  Garnish with reserved whole peppermints as desired.

Source: adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, Holiday 2009

46 Responses

  1. Looks beautiful! Maybe I’ll try this with the left over peppermints I have from my chocolate covered pretzels. Would you recommend putting these in the food processor or like I did for the pretzels place them in a freezer bag and use a meat tenderizer to pulvarize them? Which was a great stress reliever but also kept them from being too fine. Which method would be best for the frosting and also for the dusting?

    • HoosierMamma, I definitely recommend the food processor for this. You want the mints ground very finely for both the filling and the coating (essentially, like dust) and personally I doubt I could get that result with the meat tenderizer.

  2. gorgeous, luscious, and completely scrumptious cake, annie. and that’s coming from a mint-lover. 🙂

  3. What is the best tool for chopping the candies?

  4. Sounds perfect to me.

  5. This looks so good Annie. And I agree, it’s never too late for peppermint!

  6. Yay! You did it! It looks just like the recipe, Annie! Delicious!

  7. This is the best looking cake I have seen all season, I mean that! If I would have seen this before Christmas, then this is what my family would be eating! Still isn’t too late to try it out though 😉 I love peppermint and chocolate together.

  8. Hilarious.. I can just picture you chucking the peppermint dust at the cake! LOL That made me laugh.

    The cake is beautiful. 🙂

  9. This looks amazing…I’m slightly confused though. Did you use the recipe you listed to make 3 layers or you added another 50% to get the third? I would only want to make 2 layers…not quite ambitious enough to try 3.

    • Jenny,
      I listed the original recipe, which is enough batter to make 3 8-inch cake layers. It is a 3 layer cake either way. I’m not sure what scares you about a third layer, it’s no more difficult than a double layer cake.

  10. Would it have helped with cutting to have dipped the knife in water? That would be easier for presentation than flinging the peppermint dust at the last minute before serving.

    • Gloria, I actually did do that. I tried every strategy I know for getting clean slices that usually work but all failed. I think dusting at the last minute is the best option.

  11. Your blog is addicting! I have it saved on my feeds, so I visit and go through the archives all the time. Who needs sleep when you can drool over photos of beautifully scrumptious looking food?! Haha. I am a hoarder or recipes and your blog is so well done that most of the recipes saved in my favorites, I’ve noticed, are from here. 🙂

  12. This looks amazing! I’m definitely making this next year!!

  13. Too funny! I made the same cake from the same recipie for Christmas dinner! (It was a big crowd so I doubled the recipie and made a 4 layer cake in 9″ pans.) I honestly think it is one of the best devils food cakes I’ve ever had. I read your blog regularly and always love your recipies so I’m congratulating myself on the fact that we made the same cake!

  14. Great blog page and yummy looking recipes!!!

  15. Stunning, simply stunning

  16. Soo pretty!

  17. What a gorgeous cake – definitely perfect for the holidays! Merry Christmas!

  18. i made a cupcake version of this recipe for “santa”…he loved them 😉

  19. Just gloriously beautiful!!!

  20. Absolutely BEAUTIFUL! 🙂 🙂

  21. This is a gorgeous cake… great photo and recipe… a home run cake, thanks!

  22. Just discovered your blog. I am sorry for all the time I’ve missed but will spend many hours catching up. Thank goodness for archives.

    You are beautiful, Your site is beautiful. You are a TRUE inspiration.

    When I get down, discouraged, and lack courage…I will read your blog. Currently, I am experiencing the “holiday blues” but for all that is depressing in the world….poverty, greed, sickness…all the things that make life a challenge…
    if one pays attention, there is also goodness, love, courage, fortitude and incredible kindess.

    So, I will bake which as always been my refuge since about age 8 (inspired by the greatest cook in the world, my Grandma. Unfortunately, I EAT what I bake and I don’t have a beautiful waistline like you.

    You are seriously an inspiration !!! Good luck, good health, and a happy life to you !

  23. how many times do you think i’d have to multiply the batter to make one of those giant cupcakes? i just got the pan and i want to make this recipe? maybe double?

    • Hi Sandra,
      I really have no idea. I don’t own one of those pans so I don’t know what kind of capacity they hold. Sorry!

  24. OK Annie, I made this cake for New Year’s Eve, but I have to say I chickened out and used a different white chocolate buttercream. Does this one really work out with 4 sticks of butter in the icing?

    • Yes, it obviously worked wonderfully given my raving post about it. I had about 20ish people eating it, so I wasn’t that bothered by the butter. It’s not like I ate the whole thing myself, or eat it every day.

  25. OK, I will go all-in next time, thanks!

  26. This is so pretty! My mom would love it, she thinks that peppermint ice cream is basically the greatest thing ever invented. And I had to laugh when I read about throwing the peppermint at the sides- over the summer my brother and a couple friends came into town for his friend’s birthday, so of course there had to be cake, and I ended up doing the same thing with sprinkles on the side of the cake. I was finding sprinkles for about two weeks afterwards, all around my kitchen and dining room! Lovely job, anyway!

  27. Does this cake need to be in the fridge?

    • I’m no food scientist so you’ll have to decide that for yourself. Personally I refrigerate any cake or cupcake with frosting including dairy other than butter, such as heavy cream, milk, etc.

  28. I have the opposite problem – I’m not a huge fan of chocolate (gasp!), but I do love it when paired with peppermint. This cake is so pretty and festive – can’t wait to make it!!

  29. OH YES
    I will DEFINITELY be making this

    Ill let you know how it goes.

  30. I just made this cake today – but my cake went flat! I followed the instructions to a T (I cross off ingredients as I add them so I don’t skip any), any idea what happened?

    • No idea, sorry! I just baked it directly from the blog last weekend and it came out perfectly. Better luck next time!

  31. I made this today with mixed results. The chocolate cake was really good but the frosting didn’t turn out the way I expected. The portion without the white chocolate tasted like raw butter with candycanes instead of a buttercream. Blech. I think additional sugar could have improved it but didn’t realize how bad it tasted until the mixer was put away. Is it possible the butter/sugar ratio is a bit off? Maybe 1 cup of butter vs 1 lb? I noticed you used a closer ratio of butter to sugar in your Vanilla Buttercream recipe.

    • That’s probably an issue of personal preference. We love this cake, and so do clients who have ordered it. You can always add more sugar if you like.

  32. Looking forward to trying this!! I’m curious why you don’t mix the white chocolate with the portion reserved for the decorative border?? Would the consistency be off? Thanks! 🙂

    • I think you’re confused. It says, ” Reserve ½ to ¾ cup of the white chocolate frosting in a pastry bag.” The non-white chocolate frosting is mixed with crushed peppermint and used for the filling.

  33. Hi. I’m pretty new to your blog and already love it! I tried this cake for a Christmas get-together last weekend. It was great! I live in Africa, so it can be tricky finding the right ingredients. For example, no candy canes here, but I was able to use a glacial mint white hard candy that tasted great – and had the same problem with hardening… I didn’t worry about the sides, just dusted the top.

    Thank you for all the time and effort you obviously put into this blog. It is very appreciated!

  34. I made this for a party and made it into cupcakes. I combined the frosting and it was to die for! It made exactly 24 perfect cupcakes. They were a huge hit!
    Thank You Annie!

  35. Hi Annie – LOVE your blog! I was curious to know what brand of white chocolate do you use? It seems so hard to find a good source for it. Thanks

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