Death by Chocolate Cake

This Death by Chocolate Cake is the epitome of dessert luxury! Dark chocolate cake layers are filled with chocolate pudding mousse and covered in double chocolate frosting. One bite and you’ll say goodbye forever to restraint!

It’s nice when one project inspires another. I mentioned earlier that I’ve been working on holiday content for another website. One assignment, (which you should totally check out here) led me to make classic “Death by Chocolate”. Ever heard of it? It’s a trifle assembled with layers of Kahlua-soaked dark chocolate brownies, chocolate pudding, and crushed toffee bars. After tasting it, I instantly knew those flavors were destined for an over-the-top layer cake.

Begin with dark chocolate cake layers.

Start with my all-time favorite chocolate cake recipe. I’ve used it in so many other recipes (like this one!). It delivers everything you’d want from a chocolate cake. Such as, deep chocolate richness, a tender texture, and moist crumb. Check out the video at the end of this post to see exactly how it’s made!

Brush on some Kahlua.

The cakes are all brushed with undiluted Kahlua. Which may sound bold but the amount is not overwhelming. This slight amount not only compliments the dark chocolate flavor – it also intensifies it!

2 Ingredient chocolate pudding mousse filling.

Remember the classic trifle version I mentioned? It’s made with chocolate pudding. So I was really excited to find a shortcut recipe for chocolate pudding mousse! It just requires two ingredients: boxed chocolate pudding mix and heavy cream. That’s it! I was skeptical at first. But I was truly amazed at how two simple ingredients transform into something akin to homemade chocolate mousse.

One thing to remember when mixing this filling together, is that it sets quickly! Have your cake layers cooled and ready to fill before you start mixing up the mousse.

Double chocolate frosting.

Yes, it’s twice as nice as regular chocolate frosting! Believe it or not, this recipe has a mere 6 tablespoons of powdered sugar in it. Instead of loads of sugar, it depends on melted semisweet chocolate to sweeten and thicken it. You’ll also use a little cocoa powder in the formula. Which helps give the frosting body and more chocolate flavor.

White chocolate cream cheese frosting.

Before I get the the white chocolate frosting, let’s talk ganache. It’s so easy to make so I couldn’t resist adding a thick drape to the top of the cake. (Another 2-ingredient fix!) Let it thicken slightly before you pour it on top of the cake. This way you’ll get the draping effect you see above.

Use the leftover double chocolate buttercream to pipe large swirls on the top edge of the cake. Then, alternate with my homemade white chocolate cream cheese frosting for contrast in flavor and color. It’s so creamy and delicious! The formula uses a surprise ingredient – a little lemon juice – to balance the sweetness of the overall frosting. The contrast it brings to this cake is so nice, and needed. It’s an extra step but I promise it’s worth the effort.

Death by Chocolate Cake

Chocolate cake toppings – overload!

It looks as if I went a little overboard on the toppings. But it’s just one box of assorted Belgian chocolate cookies. I used Delacre cookies, which can be found in the international section at most US grocery stores.

However, you could forgo all of the cookies. Just opt for the crushed toffee bars, which are original to the classic inspiration recipe. In addition to the cookies, I added them last, to the top of the finished cake.

Death by Chocolate Cake
Death by Chocolate Cake

Death by Chocolate Cake? More like LIFE by Chocolate Cake. Because all of that chocolate is giving me life right now. I wish I could virtually dole out slices to all of you!

Death by Chocolate Cake

I made a little banner for the cake simply by printing out ‘Death by Chocolate Cake‘ in script font and attaching it to a cocktail pick. My friends and family thought it was so cute, and I think it made everyone even more excited to try it! This cake is extremely rich, but not the sugar rush you might expect. It’s well worth the indulgence!

This confection would be perfect for a Murder Mystery Dinner Party, which was the project that inspired this cake! Definitely check out my article on HGTV.com How to Throw a Murder Mystery Game Dinner Party. (And be sure to look for the trifles served in martini glasses that inspired this cake!)

One more thing – this baking project requires several steps, which may seem like a total production. But it’s not that bad. I’ve made a video to help you along the way. Enjoy!

Death by Chocolate Cake

Heather Baird
Whether you're celebrating a special occasion or surprising the chocoholic in your life with a sweet birthday treat, this cake is the ultimate way to satisfy any chocolate craving. This luscious dessert consists of four moist and rich dark chocolate cake layers, sandwiched together with a simple 2-ingredient chocolate pudding mousse. The entire cake is generously smothered in a silky double chocolate frosting that is pure chocolate bliss! Alternating swirls of double chocolate and white chocolate buttercream are piped around the cake's top edge, and then topped with a scattering of chocolate-covered toffee bars.
Take note that the chocolate cake layers bake at a reduced temperature, 300F instead of the usual 350F. This keeps the cake moist and the layers won't crown, so there's no leveling to do after baking.
The toppings for this cake can be widely varied, but the chopped chocolate-covered toffee bars are non-negotiable, as they are original to the cake's inspiration trifle dessert – Death by Chocolate. I used a variety of Belgian chocolate cookies, but you could tailor the toppings to your taste or to the recipient's favorite chocolate treats.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 50 minutes
40 minutes cooling and setting time 40 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 12

Equipment

Ingredients
  

Dark chocolate cake layers

  • Flour-based baking spray for the pans
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water almost boiling
  • 3 tablespoons espresso powder
  • 3 oz. semisweet chocolate finely chopped about 1/2 cup
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweet dark cocoa powder sifted
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons fine grain salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup Kahlua liqueur

Chocolate Pudding Mousse

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 box instant chocolate pudding mix, 3.9 oz. dry mix

Double chocolate frosting

  • ¼ cup unsweet cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup boiling water
  • 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar sifted
  • Pinch of salt
  • 12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips 2 cups melted and cooled

Ganache Drip

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chopped
  • ½ cup heavy cream

White chocolate buttercream

  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 3 oz. white chocolate melted and cooled slightly
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • ½ tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

Toppings

  • 2 whole chocolate-covered toffee bars chopped (such as Heath bars)
  • Assorted Belgian chocolate cookies optional
  • 2 tablespoons chocolate sprinkles optional

Instructions
 

Dark chocolate cake layers

  • Preheat oven to 300°F.
  • Coat four 8-inch round cake pans with the flour-based baking spray. Alternatively, grease and flour the pans.
  • Place the hot water in a large glass measure with a pour spout. Stir in the espresso powder. Add the chopped chocolate and let stand for 2 minutes. Whisk until the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
  • Sift together the flour, sugars, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat the eggs on high speed until they are pale and thick, about 3 minutes. Add the oil, sour cream, vanilla extract, and the melted chocolate-espresso mixture. Add the flour mixture and mix on medium speed until combined.
  • Divide the batter between the four prepared pans, about 2 cups per pan (batter will be thin). Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the middles are slightly puffed and spring back when pressed in their centers. The layers won’t crown much so you shouldn’t have to level the cakes.
  • Let the cakes cool in the pans 5 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely. Poke holes in the cakes using a toothpick. Brush each cake with the Kahlua using a pastry brush. The cake layers can be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap.

Chocolate pudding mousse

  • Place the heavy cream and dry pudding mix in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until the mixture is smooth and consistent. It will thicken quickly, so have the cake layers close to hand and ready to fill. Place a cake layer on a serving platter or cake board. Cover with 1/3 of the pudding mousse. Repeat twice more, ending with the final cake layer on top. Refrigerate the cake while you prepare the other elements.

Double chocolate frosting

  • In a small heatproof bowl, whisk together the cocoa and hot water until the cocoa is dissolved. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, confectioners’ sugar, and salt on high speed until fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add the melted and cooled chocolate. Beat until well combined. Add cocoa mixture and beat until completely smooth.
  • Cover the cake with a layer of buttercream and smooth with a bench scraper or cake leveler. Transfer the remaining frosting to a piping bag fitted with a large closed star tip. Refrigerate the cake while you prepare the other elements. Keep the bag of frosting at room temperature.

Ganache drip

  • Combine the chocolate and heavy cream in a large microwavable bowl. Heat for 1 minute at 100% power. Let stand 1 minute. Whisk together until the ganache is thick and smooth. Let stand until cooled and slightly thickened.
  • Remove the cake from the refrigerator and pour ½ of the ganache on the top center of the cake. Push the ganache to the edges of the cake using the back of a spoon. Pour the remaining ganache around the top edge of the cake and again, push over the edges of the cake so that thick drapes of ganache form. Refrigerate while you prepare the white chocolate buttercream.

White chocolate buttercream

  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on high speed for 2 minutes. Add the white chocolate and beat until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  • Add the butter and lemon juice; beat well to incorporate. Reduce speed t low and add the confectioners’ sugar a little at a time until well blended
  • Transfer the frosting to a piping bag fitted with a large closed star tip.

Toppings

  • Pipe tall mounds of the buttercream on the top edge of the cake, alternating with the reserved piping bag of double chocolate frosting.
  • Sprinkle on the two chopped chocolate-covered toffee bars. Add Belgian chocolate cookies and chocolate sprinkles, if using.
  • Store the cake covered in plastic wrap in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature about 2 hours before serving for best flavor and texture.

Notes

What to expect:
This is a supremely moist chocolate cake. The layers are tender and the flavor is dark, and the Kahlua brushed on the cakes after baking intensifies the chocolaty flavor.
The 2 ingredient mouse filling is rich and creamy, and its firm texture makes for beautiful cake slices. Choose a brand name pudding, such as Jello brand instant pudding mix for best flavor. Dove and Godiva pudding mixes are also excellent choices for the mousse.
Keyword Belgian chocolate cookies, chocolate cake, chocolate sprinkles, chocolate-covered toffee bars, dark chocolate cake layers, Death by Chocolate Cake, double chocolate frosting, kahlua, ulitmate chocolate layer cake, white chocolate frosting
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
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Den M
Den M
17 days ago

Heather, thank you for this easy to follow and hard to resist cake. Would cutting cake recipe in half using 2, 8 ” layers work for this cake or will result suffer? (other than having less cake to enjoy!) The 4 layers are a bit ambitious for me as well as resulting in a large cake. Thank you for any advice you can offer.

Pam
Pam
9 days ago

Can I use 3 9 inch cake pans?

Pam
Pam
7 days ago
Reply to  Heather Baird

Thank-you! I will let you know how it turns out. Such a beautiful decadent chocolate cake!

Mary Raley
Mary Raley
9 minutes ago

5 stars
OMG! This cake is insane. I made it for a friend’s 79th Birthday and it was a show stopper. Everyone raved about it. The cake was super moist, the icing was super smooth, the ganache on top was the bomb and the white chocolate buttercream on top was the perfect addition. Thanks for making me a star.
It is time consuming, but well worth the effort.