Warren Brown’s Chocolate Butter Cake with Coconut Buttercream

When we first moved to California five years ago, my job didn’t start for a few months so I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. My husband worked far away and we had no kids. So what to do… watch Food Network? One of my favorite shows was Sugar Rush with Warren Brown. So I was excited when his book Cake Love came out a couple years ago. He owns a bakery by the same name in Washington D.C. and the book is full of great recipes that are a must for cake lovers. I first made his Mr. Banana Legs recipe a couple years ago, to rave reviews.  I tried the Chocolate Butter Cake recipe a few weeks ago, and paired it with the coconut buttercream as suggested in the book.  If you don’t love coconut, you at least have to try the Chocolate Butter Cake-it’s so moist and chocolatety, one of my favorites!


Chocolate Butter Cake

 adapted from Cake Love by Warren Brown

Yield: two 9-inch round cakes or 24 cupcakes



  • unbleached all-purpose flour, 7 ounces (1¼ cups + 2 tablespoons)
  • unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 ounces (½ cup)
  • baking powder, 1½ teaspoons, or 1 teaspoon at high altitude
  • salt, 1 teaspoon


  • half and half, 1 cup
  • vanilla extract, 1 tablespoon


  • unsalted butter, at room temperature, 6 ounces (1½ sticks)
  • extra-fine granulated sugar, 14 ounces (1¾ cup)
  • eggs (large), 4
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (conventional) or 335°F (convection). Set the rack in the middle of the oven. For cupcakes, set racks in the upper-middle and lower-middle positions.
2. Set out the ingredients and equipment:
Sift the flour directly into a bowl on a scale for accurate measuring.
Measure the other dry ingredients into a separate mixing bowl, add the flour, and whisk for 10 seconds to blend. Set aside.
Measure the liquid ingredients into a separate bowl and set aside.
Measure the butter and sugar into separate bowls and set aside.
Crack the eggs into a separate bowl and set aside.
3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on the lowest speed for 3 to 5 minutes.
4. With the mixer still on the lowest speed, add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl.
5. Add the dry ingredient mixture alternately with the liquid mixture in 3 to 5 additions each, beginning and ending with the dry mixture. Move swiftly through this step to avoid overworking the batter. Don’t wait for the dry or liquid mixtures to be fully incorporated before adding the next. This step should take a total of about 60 seconds.
6. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl all the way down. Don’t miss the clumps of ingredients hiding on the bottom of the bowl. Mix on medium speed for 15 to 20 seconds to develop the batter’s structure.
7. Prepare the pans. For 9-inch-round cakes, line the bottom of each pan with parchment; do not spray the sides. For cupcakes, lightly spray the pan with a nonstick spray to help release any overflowing crowns. Line the pan with paper liners.
8. For 9-inch-round cakes, deposit the batter in three separate areas of each pan and smooth out with the rubber spatula or an offset metal spatula, making sure the pans are two-thirds full. For cupcakes, use a 2-ounce, trigger-release, ice-cream scoop to deposit batter into the lined pans so they’re two-thirds full.
9. 9-inch rounds – at Sea Level, bake 28 minutes; at High Altitude, bake 35 minutes. Cupcakes – at Sea Level, bake 22 minutes; at High Altitude, bake 20 minutes.
10. Once the top of the cake doesn’t jiggle in the center, test for doneness by inserting a bamboo skewer in the center of the cake. An even dark brown color should extend from the edge to the center, and the cake’s edges may pull away from the pan. When the skewer shows just a touch of crumbs or comes out clean, the cake is done. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a heat-resistant surface or wire rack.
11. For 9-inch-round cakes, cool to room temperature, 25 to 30 minutes, before removing from the pans. Use a small offset spatula to loosen each cake from the rim of the pan. Carefully invert each pan onto a flat surface and remove the layers. Remove the parchment from the bottom of each cake and wrap the cake tightly in plastic. Refrigerate the layers for up to 5 days before frosting. (See page 200 for more information on layering and assembling.)
12. For cupcakes, cool to room temperature, 25 to 30 minutes, before carefully lifting each cupcake from the pan. Proceed with frosting or store for later use.

Coconut Buttercream

adapted from Cake Love by Warren Brown
Yield: 4 to 5 cups (enough for two 9-inch-round, three-layer cakes or 24 cupcakes)


Milk Mixture

  • whole milk, 2 cups
  • unsweetened coconut flakes, 3 ounces (½ cup)
  • extra-fine granulated sugar, 7 ounces (¾ cup + 2 tablespoons)

Yolk Mixture

  • egg yolks (large), 6
  • extra-fine granulated sugar, 2 ounces (¼ cup)
  • potato starch, 3 tablespoons
  • unsalted butter, at room temperature, 2 ounces (½ stick)

Flavorings and Butter

  • brown sugar, 3 ounces (¼ cup), packed
  • vanilla extract, 2 teaspoons
  • unsalted butter, chilled, 1 pound (4 sticks)


1. Set out the ingredients and equipment:
Separate the yolks into a large bowl. Add the 2 ounces sugar and the potato starch and whisk to combine. Add the 2 ounces butter, but do not stir in. Place a damp kitchen towel under the bowl to prevent it from sliding.
Measure the milk mixture ingredients into a 2-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn off the heat and let the mixture steep for 10 minutes.
Measure the flavorings into three separate bowls and set aside.
2. Return the milk mixture to a simmer. Once it reaches a simmer, slowly pour it into the yolk mixture, whisking slowly in small circles at first and ending with broader strokes until fully combined. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan.
3. Return the saucepan to the stove and heat over medium heat, whisking constantly but not rapidly, for about 4 minutes (3 minutes at high altitude). The key is to keep the pastry cream moving so it won’t scorch on the bottom of the saucepan.
4. When you begin to see lava bubbles—large, slowly forming bubbles that burp steam—reduce the heat to the lowest setting and whisk briskly for 1 minute to pasteurize the pastry cream.
5. Pour the pastry cream into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the wire whip attachment. Add the brown sugar and vanilla extract. Whip the pastry cream on high speed until it’s cooled to room temperature, about 4 to 5 minutes.
6. Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low and add the pound of butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Whip on medium speed until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes.

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