Checkerboard Fantasy Cake

This delightful trompe I’oeil of downy yellow and chocolate checkerboard cake from The Cake Bible is the one I choose for my nephew Alexander’s annual visit. When he was about to be seven years old, be started the happy tradition of spending his birthday week with us at our house in Hope, New Jersey. He takes great pride in his being grown-up enough to take the flight from San Francisco on his own, thanks to the airline’s “young flyers club.”

It seems to me that the highlights of the week for him are diving at least fifty times a day at the local pool, playing with the kids and baby animals at a nearby dairy farm, getting reacquainted with his East Coast cousins at his birthday party and baking with his aunt. Last year he planted himself behind my work island and announced that he wanted to make a mixture entirely on his own. When asked why, he explained, “I want to see what it’s like to beRose Levy Beranbaum—a boy Rose Beranbaum.” When he finished making the “fudge” he allowed as to how he thought it was fun being me, to which I replied, “You’re right!” (Especially the week he’s there.)

The silky smooth chocolate buttercream I use on the cake is a favorite for children and adults. It’s easy and fun to spread into big swirls. Alexander especially loves helping with this part of the cake (not to mention cleaning the bowl).

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Preheat the oven to: 350°F.
Baking time: 25 minutes


KEEPS: 2 days at room temperature, 5 days refrigerated, 2 months frozen.
room temperature volume ounces/pounds grams
Checkerboard Cake
extra bittersweet or bittersweet chocolate, preferably Lindt Excellence or Valrhona 1 3-ounce bar 3 ounces 85 grams
4 large eggs 6 full fluid ounces 7 ounces         200 grams

(weighed without shells)

milk, divided 1⅓ liquid cups
pure vanilla extract 1 tablespoon
sifted cake flour 4 cups (sifted into the cup and leveled off) 14 ounces 400 grams
superfine sugar 2 cups 14 ounces 400 grams
baking powder 2 tablespoons 29.5 grams
salt 1 teaspoon 0.25 ounce 6.7 grams
unsalted butter (must be softened) 1 cup 8 ounces 227 grams
Chocolate Neoclassic Buttercream
6 large egg yolks fluid ounces 4 ounces 112 grams
sugar ¾ cup 5.25 ounces 150 grams
corn syrup ½ liquid cup 5.75 ounces 164 grams
unsalted butter 2 cups 1 pound 454 grams
bittersweet chocolate, preferably Lindt Excellence, melted and cooled 2 3-ounce bars 6 ounces 170 grams


Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In the upper container of a double boiler, melt the chocolate over hot, not simmering, water, stirring frequently. (Or melt in a microwave on high power, stirring every 10 seconds.) Remove the upper container from the heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, cup of the milk and the vanilla.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and with an electric mixer on low speed, mix for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and the remaining 1 cup of milk. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to medium (high speed if using a hand-held electric mixer) and beat for 1½ minutes to aerate and develop the cake’s structure. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the egg mixture in three batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Divide the batter between two bowls putting slightly more batter in one than in the other ( pounds/793 grams in one bowl, pounds/680 grams in the other). Stir the melted chocolate into the smaller batch of batter until uniform in color.

Fill two large pastry bags fitted with large number 9 tubes with the two batters.*

*You may use glass measuring cups to pour the batter into the pans, but pastry bags are faster and easier to use.

Place the divider rings in one of the prepared pans and pipe batter into each section, alternating batter colors. The batter should fill the pan about half full. Using a small metal spatula or the back of a spoon, smooth the top of the batter. Carefully lift out the divider and rinse it off. Pipe batter for the second layer, alternating the colors (i.e., if you started with yellow for the outside ring, for the first layer, start with chocolate). Pipe the batter for the third layer exactly like the first.

Bake for 25 minutes or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean and the cakes spring back when pressed lightly in the centers. The cakes should start to shrink from the sides of the pans only after removal from the oven.

Let the cakes cool in the pans on racks for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and invert the cakes onto greased wire racks. To prevent splitting, reinvert so that the tops are up and cool them completely.

Chocolate Neoclassic Buttercream

Have ready a greased 1-cup heatproof glass measure near the range.

In a medium bowl, beat the yolks with the whisk beater of an electric mixer until light in color.

Combine the sugar and corn syrup in a small saucepan (preferably with a nonstick lining) and heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup comes to a rolling boil. The entire surface will be covered with large bubbles. (If using a stand mixer, you can heat the sugar syrup while the yolks are beating.) Immediately transfer the syrup to the glass measure to stop the cooking.

If using a hand-held electric mixer, beat the syrup into the yolks in a steady stream. Don’t allow any syrup to fall on the beaters or they will spin it onto the sides of the bowl. If using a stand mixer, pour a small amount of syrup over the yolks with the mixer turned off. Then immediately beat at high speed for 5 seconds. Stop the mixer and add a larger amount of syrup. Beat at high speed for 5 seconds. Continue with the remaining syrup. For the last addition use a rubber scraper to remove the syrup clinging to the glass measure. Continue beating until cool. Be sure the mixture is completely cool before adding the butter because if the butter starts to melt, the buttercream will no longer firm correctly.

Gradually beat in the butter. (The buttercream will not thicken until almost all of the butter has been added.) Beat in the cooled melted chocolate. Makes 4 cups.

To assemble the cake, stack the layers so that the outside colors alternate, using a very thin coating of the buttercream to make the layers adhere without disturbing the checkerboard effect. With a small metal spatula, swirl the remaining buttercream onto the top and sides of the cake.