Chocolate Fortissimo Cake

Chocolate Fortissimo Cake holds a symphony of bold flavors. It’s music to your taste buds! Coffee liqueur turns up the volume on its chocolate notes.

Chocolate Fortissimo Cake

Quite a long time ago, when I was a little kid taking music lessons, I first learned the meaning of the word fortissimo. In music, it means to play loudly. While browsing one of my European cake books I was surprised to see the word describe a chocolate cake. I just had to know – exactly how ‘loud’ is this chocolate cake?

Turns out, Chocolate Fortissimo Cake is loud, yet refined. It has balance just like any good piece of music. Coffee liqueur such as Tia Maria (or Kahlua) is the ingredient that intensifies all of its chocolate components without making it heavy or too sweet. The genoise is light, the mocha buttercream silky. The barely sweet chantilly filling gives harmony to the score.

Chocolate Fortissimo Cake

Genoise, the foundation.

Start by making a genoise sponge. The recipe in the cake book was so similar to my own chocolate genoise, I opted for my tried and true recipe. Never made genoise? You’re in luck! There’s a video at the end of this post that will show you how to properly whip the eggs to ribbon stage. Also, you can see the batter-folding technique in action, which is essential to making a well-risen sponge.

Truffles for cake toppers.

While the genoise cools, make the truffles. Yes, this cake is topped with rich, deeply chocolaty cocoa-dusted orbs of deliciousness. In my opinion, this is the ‘loudest’ part of the cake. The mixture stirs up quickly and requires 40 minutes to chill.

Crème Chantilly.

In the meantime, whip up the chantilly. This barely sweet whipped cream has just 2 teaspoons of powdered sugar added. Pour in a tablespoon of coffee liqueur and beat to stiff peaks. Cover and chill this 3 ingredient wonder while you prepare the remaining components.

Mocha buttercream.

This European style of buttercream was a bit of a revelation for me. Its base is heavy on the extra-creamy salted butter (82% milkfat) to just just 1 cup of powdered sugar. Beaten to its lightest, fluffiest texture, its silkiness rivals any meringue-based buttercream. Melted chocolate and espresso impart the mocha flavors.

The construction.

Torte the cooled genoise into three layers. They don’t necessarily have to be even, and the top layer can be on the thin side. Coat each layer with a little coffee simple syrup. Fill the first layer with 1/2 inch of the mocha buttercream, and the second with all of the chantilly. Next you’ll cover the cake with more of the mocha buttercream.

Chocolate Fortissimo Cake

Remember those truffles? Place them in a ring on top of the cake. These buttery, creamy gems could be a stand-alone dessert. They are rich and totally gift worthy in a pretty tin.

A special garnish.

Long-time readers will recognize this as one of my favorite decorating techniques. I figured it out on my own a long time ago when I made these Poured Fondant Honey Cupcakes. You can find a video tutorial for the technique in that blog post. I thought this cake deserved a garnish worthy of its name.

Chocolate Fortissimo Cake

Place the remaining mocha buttercream in a piping bag and pipe stars between the truffles. Then, stand the chocolate seals upright into each star.

Chocolate Fortissimo Cake
Chocolate Fortissimo Cake

This cake is pretty special. It reminds me a little of another music-inspired confection – Classic Opera Cake. But this version is lighter with a genoise sponge.

Chocolate Fortissimo Cake

This cake offers bold grown-up flavors, yet still retains lightness. It’s so special occasion-worthy. Don’t hesitate to give it a try! And check out my video of the entire process, if you have questions. It’s more than 3 minutes long (which, the internet tells me is too long to hold your attention). I’m sure some may find it a bit tedious to watch. But I made it for beginners that would appreciate some visual instruction.

Chocolate Fortissimo Cake

Heather Baird
In music terminology fortissimo means to play a passage of music loudly. True to its namesake, this cake has bold chocolate flavor, yet it retains lightness with its sponge base, silky buttercream and chantilly fillings. Overall, a symphony of really beautiful flavors and textures.
This cake has several components and steps, but each is pretty straight forward. It is of intermediate skill level, and bakers with knowledge of making genoise sponge will have no trouble. If you’re a beginner baker, use the genoise recipe along with the video provided in the blog post for success. This cake hinges on a well-risen sponge because it is torted in three layers and must be tall enough after baking to do so.
Tia Maria is the suggested coffee liqueur to use in this recipe, but Kahlua is a fine substitute. For the buttercream, use salted (yes, salted!) butter with 82% milkfat. This is sometimes labeled as ‘extra-creamy’ or ‘European-style’. Imported French butters are among those with higher milkfat.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
40 minutes chill time 40 minutes
Total Time 3 hours 15 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine European
Servings 12


  • 8×3 inch round cake pan, or springform pan
  • parchment paper
  • wax seal stamp with music motif, such as treble clef or music notes


Chocolate genoise

  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup cake flour
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup dark unsweet cocoa powder


  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 2 tablespoons coffee liqueur
  • 4 oz. semisweet chocolate chopped you can also use chips
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar sifted
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup unsweet cocoa powder not dark

Crème Chantilly

  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons confectioners' sugar
  • 1 tablespoon coffee liqueur

Mocha buttercream

  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 2 teaspoons unsweet cocoa powder
  • 4 oz. semisweet chocolate chopped fine (can use mini chips)
  • 3 tablespoons boiling water
  • 2 cups european style salted butter with 82% milkfat such as Land-O-Lakes extra creamy
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Coffee syrup

  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons coffee liqueur

Chocolate seals

  • 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • Crushed ice


Chocolate Genoise

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch round baking pan. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.
  • Set a medium saucepan filled 1/3 with water over medium heat.
  • In a heat-proof bowl, preferably stainless, beat together the whole eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and salt, using an electric hand mixer at high speed. Place the bowl over the pan of simmering water and continue beating with the hand mixer until the mixture reaches ribbon stage, about 5 minutes. Ribbon stage is when the batter increases in volume, lightens, and the batter leaves a thick trail or ribbon when the beaters are lifted from the bowl. To get this right, set a timer for 5 minutes once you start mixing over the simmering water.
  • Remove the bowl from the water. Sift the cake flour, cornstarch, and cocoa over the egg mixture. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Do this carefully as to not deflate the batter too much. This may take about 5-7 minutes of careful mixing. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, or until the cake springs back when touched with a finger. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert the cake onto the wire rack and peel away the parchment paper. Let cool while you make the truffles.


  • Dissolve the instant espresso in the coffee liqueur. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate with the dissolved coffee in the microwave, about 1 minute at 100% power. Stir well until smooth. Let cool slightly.
  • In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar (I did this with a whisk, but you could use a hand mixer). Beat in the chocolate mixture and the cream. Whisk vigorously to combine. Chill for 40 minutes. Shape the mixture into 8 even-sized balls (use a small cookie scoop 4 teaspoon capacity). Dust in the cocoa powder and chill while you prepare the remaining cake components.

Crème Chantilly

  • In a large bowl, whip together the cream and sugar with an electric hand mixer. Beat in the coffee liqueur. Beat on high speed to stiff peaks. Cover and chill.

Mocha buttercream

  • Stir together the instant espresso powder and cocoa powder in a small microwave-safe bowl. Pour in the chopped chocolate. Add 3 tablespoons boiling water and let stand 1 minute. Whisk together until smooth. If lumps of chocolate remain after whisking well, microwave for 30 seconds. Stir until smooth. Let cool until thickened but not set, about 5-7 minutes.
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and confectioners’ sugar together for 5 minutes until fluffy and lightened in color. Add the chocolate mixture and beat again until well combined. Scrape down the bowl and beat again until lightened, thick and fluffy. Cover bowl with a damp towel and set aside at room temperature.

Coffee syrup

  • In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine the water and sugar. Heat in the microwave at 100% power for 45 seconds to 1 minute. Stir until the sugar is melted. Stir in the coffee liqueur. Let cool.

Chocolate seals

  • Gently heat chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave at 30 second intervals; be careful to not over heat. Stir smooth.
  • Transfer chocolate to a clean bowl. Let it stand 3-5 minutes or until it’s barely warm to the touch. It’s important the chocolate is not too hot when you make an impression with the stamp. The heat from the chocolate will warm the metal stamp and it will cause the chocolate to smear.
  • Place metal wax seal stamps in the cup filled with crushed ice. The stamp bottoms need to be thoroughly chilled.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop dime-size amounts of chocolate onto the parchment paper. Remove a stamp from the ice and quickly wipe it free of water droplets with a towel. Place the stamp onto a mound of chocolate. Let the stamp stand pressed in the chocolate for 3-5 seconds, or until the edges of the chocolate turn matte. Press down very gently but firmly and lift the stamp (see instructional video for clear visual). You should be left with a clear impression in the chocolate. Replace metal wax stamp into the crushed ice until it is thoroughly chilled and repeat with remaining melted chocolate. You’ll need 8 seals for this cake’s décor. Make more than you need, and pick out the best 8. Refrigerate finished chocolate seals until firm.


  • Slice the genoise cake into 3 layers using a wire cake leveler or a serrated knife. Sprinkle or brush on the coffee syrup onto each cake layer. Place one cake layer on a plate or cake board. Fill with about 1/2 inch thickness of the mocha buttercream. Spread evenly. Top with another cake layer. Fill with all of the Chantilly cream. Spread evenly. Cover with the remaining cake layer.
  • Remove about 1/2 cup of the mocha buttercream frosting to a piping bag fitted with a large closed star tip. Set aside. Cover the entire cake with a thick layer of the remaining mocha buttercream. Place the chilled truffles on top of the cake, well-spaced. Pipe stars of buttercream between each truffle. Stand chocolate seals into the buttercream stars upright.
  • Serve cake slightly chilled or at room temperature. This cake improves over 24 hours, as the flavors marry and syrup brushed crumb settles. Leftovers keep for 1 week in the refrigerator.


Origins: This is an abbreviated version of Chocolate Fortissimo from the book Ultimate Cake by Barbara Maher. The original has the same components but is made with two genoise cakes. I developed this single layer genoise version to save a little time on an even lengthier recipe.
Longevity: Improves over 24 hours in the refrigerator. Keeps for 1 week refrigerated. Freezes for 1-2 months, undecorated.
Make ahead: The truffles and coffee syrup can be made ahead of time and refrigerated. The genoise can be made and frozen for future assembly.
Keyword chantilly cream, chocolate buttercream, chocolate genoise, chocolate truffles, european desserts
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
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1 year ago

WOW! Can’t wait to try this it looks amazing!
I’d just like to tell you how much I appreciate you doing metric measurements as well. I live in England and a cup of butter means nothing to me! So many sites don’t sdo this and it’s really frustrating!
Keep up the good work – love your site and your recipes.
Linda x

1 year ago

5 stars
Sieht großartig aus und ich sage auch ganz herzlichen Dank das man die Option für Gramm Angaben hat.
Viele Grüße,

1 year ago

Does the creme chantilly hold up overnight between the layers, or does it melt into the cakes as it sits? That is, if I make it today, will it still have that lovely band of pale white creme tomorrow?

1 year ago
Reply to  Heather Baird

Perfect! Thanks for the QUICK reply. I’m going to make this for a graduation BBQ tomorrow. I’ll refrigerate it overnight, and then it will be on the buffet to warm up. I hope she likes it 🙂

1 year ago

Hi, something is wrong with the video. It begins playing the Chocolate Fortissimo Cake video but after the first ad it switches to another random recipe from your website. I have tried on multiple browsers and computers and experienced the same issue every time.