Boozy Top Tier Dinner Party Cake

Chocolate Wine Cake by bake this cake

Presenting our trending top-tier cake for your next dinner party! It’s not actually boozy or even boozy tasting. It’s just that its made with wine (and the boozy word looks good in the title). Okay, it does have a splash of liqueur to give it an extra kick. But that’s it. Full liquor disclosure. This is the kind of cake you can serve with confidence to your special party guests at the end of a fine meal. And it’s so dang simple as far as scratch cakes go that you can actually relax when it comes to dessert. In return, you just might hear clapping from the wings. And if you have friends who are members of the Skinny Club (like many of my buds), you might even notice them slipping on their sunglasses at night as they request a second slice. I won’t tell. (Yes, I’ll help you yoga it off in the morning.)

Birthday Party Chocolate Cake Call! And if we’re talking celebrations, this homemade cake dresses up real nice.  Here’s a frosting version of the cake that is fun for adult birthday parties. They say that alchohol bakes off but I don’t believe it so I’ll be checking IDs at the door, thank you.

Chocolate Wine Boozy Dinner Party Cake by bake this cake

Who doesn’t like chocolate and wine? Wine and chocolate pair so nicely, am I right? Admittedly, wine is unique in the cake recipe arena but the cocoa and wine work like some kinda science magic to produce a moist and super flavorful chocolate cake. In fact, serve it with a nice glass of wine for your very own home front wine festival.

Pairing Chocolate with Wine by Bake This Cake

Tina Turner and Anne Willan! I was thrilled just thinking about the upcoming lecture at the Mark Taper Auditorium for the Culinary Historians of Southern California (of which I am a flag flying member) with my food blogger buddies at Food Bloggers Los Angeles (FBLA). Main reason is that the guest lecturer, Anne Willan, is my super hero, right up there with Tina Turner (I know, but both are such smart and inspirational women in my book). Ms. Willan founded the fabulous École de Cuisine La Varenne (La Varenne Cooking School) in Paris in 1975 and operated that world-class cooking school until 2007. Her induction into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame for her incredible body of work (with over 30 cookbooks) lands her in a small and prestigious league of culinary greats along with  Julia Child and British cookery author, Elizabeth David.

Anne Willan lecture for Culinary historians by bake this cake

A Bright Not So Bright Idea! In honor of this lecture I got the bright idea (or so I thought) quite late the night before to make one of my favorite cakes from one of Ms. Willan’s awesome cookbooks. To sort of get in the mood and for a food gift. That sort of thing. And the recipe is simple with ingredients I don’t have to run out for. A little cocoa, a little flour, a couple of eggs, a little red wine and a jelly-and-wine filling or raspberry purée– and I just happen to (always) have some homemade raspberry jam in the fridge.

Homemade raspberry jam by bakethiscake

Midnight Baking Partay! Perhaps because of the wee hour, I made a mistake in the recipe. Instead of using Merlot wine or a “full-bodied red wine”, I accidentally pulled a bottle of sweet Marsala wine off my shelf. Oops! I didn’t realize my mistake until 2 very large cakes (using a quadrupled recipe) were well on their way baking in the oven. Heavens! But the batter taste was sublime (I always check the batter before it hits the oven) and the aroma filling the kitchen was awesome. I admit that I consulted with my food blogger friends in a bit of panic as the cakes baked. But they encouraged me to carry on with the change-up as my “adaptation”. I’m reminded somehow of the old saying my dad used to quote:

When they're running you out of town by bake this cake

So I plowed forward. Onward and upward, ho!

And when I pulled those beautiful cakes from the oven, I must say they looked and smelled heavenly!

Chocolate Wine Cake by bake this cake

Surprise in the Travel Kitchen! #Waitwhat is my favorte #hashtag so now I get an excuse to actually use it myself. You see, usually, after a Saturday morning culinary lecture, volunteers share food related to the lecture on the patio. It’s all quite casual. So little did I know that Ms. Willan would arrive early with her professional pastry chef, assistants and crew in tow. I found them all gathered up and working hard in the little kitchen off the lecture hall. When I opened the door here is what I saw…an amazing tasting menu to share with the audience. In fact, when I waltzed into that room with my uncut, unfilled and undecorated cakes and I saw what was happening there, with long rows of specialty plates being loaded up with amazing delicacies, I turned to quickly exit! Right back out the way I come! Like, sneak out the back, Jack, and forget running to the head of the parade!

Anne Willan's tasting plate photo by Bake This Cake

The Menu Does Not Include Cake! There was even a set menu formally printed and presented on a giant placard to greet the lecture hall guests reflecting treasures from Ms. Willan’s latest cookbook. Now I see! The prepared plates showcase the new cookbook, “Secrets of La Varenne Kitchen“, where she offers up the 50 basic recipes of her renowned cooking school. I feel certain now that  my little impromptu homemade offering was a no go. And, for glory sakes, the cake was even not made according to “specs”.

Menu card by Anne Willan at Culinary Historians of Southern California Lecture March 14, 2015 by bakethiscake

Cake Graciousness Abounds! If it weren’t for the total kindness of Ms. Willan’s staff, I would have made a fast turnaround with my cakes. But I was invited to add my cake to their lovely plates — though I must say I was quite nervous now to fill and slice and decorate those cakes in that setting. But I took a deep breath and rolled up my sleeves. I used my little pastry brush to smooth the raspberry filling between the layers of each cake with the cheffing crew working furiously in the background. When I was asked to cut 50 slices, I presumed that meant 50 slices all total. Wrong! After I completely sliced the first cake into 25 slices, I realized that the request was for 50 slices from each cake. Aye! So I went at it again to carve those 2 cakes into 100 slices! Luckily I brought a special sharp knife with me to make easy work of that nerve-wracking task. This cake slices wonderfully by the way, I might add! I sprinkled a little powdered sugar with my little sifter and, voila!

How to cut Cake for a crowd  by bakethiscake

Now Presenting! I must say, as nerve-wracking as that was for me, I was ever so honored to see my homemade cake presented right alongside those gorgeous Anne Willan delicacies.

Setting out the chocolate wine cake with Anne Willan's tasting presentation by bakethiscake

Here’s a little close-up of my little cake snuggling up right alongside the big boys. I felt like a proud mama!

Chocolate Wine Cake with Anne Willan cookbook menu tastings at Culinary Historians event by

Meeting My Culinary Historian Idol: After an amazing lecture of culinary history and Parisian cooking school adventures, I was able to meet and chat with my absolutely favorite culinary historian! Ms. Willan was so charming and easy to chat with. I would have liked to hang with her all day and all night. I just wanted to hug her! Can you  tell?  She knew my former boss, Roy Andries deGroot, and, since I used to be his research assistant in New York City many moons before I became a lawyer, it was fun to chat with her about Roy and his amazing cookbooks. Ms. Willan’s research assistant held up a graphic of the new cookbook behind us for this photo snapped by Patricia Rose. And that little moment took me back to the days when I was Mr. deGroot’s assistant in NYC, helping him with his television appearances, restaurant reviews and cookbook recipes. From my experience working for a celebrity cookbook author, I can assure you that Ms. Willan has a wonderful and devoted team by her side.

Leslie Macchiarella with Anne Willan at Culinary Historians of SoCal Lecture by bake this cake

Cooking With Wine:  After careful testing, I have changed up this heavenly recipe just a tad. After all, you can find the real deal in Ms. Willan’s fabulous cookbook, “Cooking With Wine“, published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. in Association with COPIA, the Center for Wine, Food & the Arts, 2001, where she presents Chinook Winery Co-Founder, Kay Simon’s “Chocolate Merlot Cake”. Here’s my hefty and oh-so-precious copy of this book…

My copy of Anne Willan's Cooking With Wine book bake this cake

Cake Change-ups: I changed to cake flour to lighten the texture a tad, reduced the cocoa slightly and added a little extra butter. With so many thumbs up from testers, I’ve stuck with the initial mistake (I mean, “adaptation”) of Marsala wine instead of Merlot, substituted a little water for a little less wine and added orange zest with kick of Curacao orange liqueur. Half of my tasters liked the classic presentation best with the wine jam filling the center and a dusting of powdered sugar up top. But the other half preferred a center filling of chocolate buttercream with a ganache topping. I hope you’ll let me know which version you choose if you get the chance to bake it.

Chocolate Wine Cake with orange liqueur and marsala wine by bake this cake

Okay, for my little twist on the Merlot Wine Cake, let’s bake this cake!

Tools Needed for Chocolate Wine Cake:
2 cake pans, 9″ or 8″ (I used 8″ pans in the frosted cake photos below, but for the big quadruple recipe cakes shown above, I used larger springform pans)
Zesting tool or small grater (for zesting or grating an orange)
2 large mixing bowls (1 for dry ingredients, 1 for the main batter)
Electric Mixer
Light whisk or sifting tool
Measuring cups and spoons
Toothpick for piercing bubbles and testing cake (Did I tell you I collect specialty toothpicks?)
Optional: Baking temperature tool (I used an insta-read thermometer)
Optional: Small sifting tool (for straining seeds from orange if not using orange liqueur, and for sifting powdered sugar if you serve the cake with a powdered sugar dusting)

Chocolate Wine Cake recipe by Bake ThisCake

Ingredients list for the Chocolate Wine Cake:

2 cups cake flour
2/3 cup cocoa (I used a 100% cacao cocoa)
1-1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1-3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, fine quality
2 Tablespoons Curacao* (a special clear, orange-flavored liqueur)
1 teaspoon fresh orange zest
1 cup Marsala wine
1/4 cup water
*Substitute 2 Tablespoons fresh orange juice

Step-by-Step Preparation of Chocolate Wine Cake:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees, setting oven rack to center position.

Prepare 2 cake pans (I used 8″ cake pans for a fuller cake but a 9″ size is great too) with smeared butter, a parchment round bottom lining and an additional smear of butter on top of the parchment. Set aside the prepared pan so they are ready to load when the batter is complete.

Tip: Since I’ve made this cake many times, I’ve noticed that just smearing the bottom and sides with butter works great too. The paper and flour dusting just add a little extra protection to ensure a perfect release.

Prepping pans for chocolate wine cake recipe by bake this cake

Use a zesting tool to zest 1 medium-sized fresh orange to achieve, then set aside:
2 teaspoons fresh orange zest, moderately packed

Tip: If you are substituting fresh orange juice for the Curacao liqueur, then you should prepare the 2 Tablespoons of fresh orange juice now, strain it of any seeds or pulp and set it aside.

Orange zest for cocoa wine cake by bake this cake
Use a large bowl and a whisk (or a sifting tool) to thoroughly incorporate, and set aside:
2 cups cake flour
2/3 cup cocoa (I used 100% cacao dutch processed cocoa powder)
1-1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Tip: If using a whisk, stir for an extra long time (even 30 turns) in order to smooth away any fine lumps that might be hanging on in the cocoa.

Whisking Dry Ingredients for Chocolate Dinner Party Cake by bake this cake

Tip: Sifting the flour is not necessary, but it will destroy any stubborn cocoa or flour lumps that are lingering in the mixture. I use a big strainer and a quick jostle over the bowl to make it perfect.

Sifting cocoa and flour for chcolate wine cake recipe by bake this cake

Use a separate large bowl and an electric mixer to beat on high-speed until light and creamy (about 3 to 5  minutes):
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1-3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

Tip: To ensure a light and fluffy mixture, I like to beat the butter on its own for a minute before adding the sugar, then beat the butter-sugar mixture for another minute before beating in the eggs (one at a time) for another 3 minutes.

Butter for chocolate wine cake by bake this cake

Beat into the creamed butter-sugar-egg mixture until just incorporated:
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, fine quality
2 Tablespoons Curacao liqueur (or the prepared orange juice)
the prepared orange zest

Adding booze to chocolate wine dinner party cake by bake this cake

Into the flavored buttery mixture, beat on low-speed in 3 batches until just incorporated:
the prepared dry flour mixture
1 cup Marsala wine
1/4 cup water

Tip: I beat in half the wine with about a third of the dry ingredients, then I beat in the rest of the wine with another third of dry ingredients, then poured in the water with the final bit of dry ingredients and then I beat it on slow-speed until just incorporated. After turning off the blender, I used a spatula to dig through the batter to ensure all portions of the batter were thoroughly blended.

Mixing cocoa flour and wine into chocolate wine cake batter by bake this cake

Divide this luscious batter evenly into the 2 prepared cake pans.

Dinner Party Cakes Ready for the Oven by  bake this cake
Tip: Take a minute to ensure a smooth cake texture without big bubble holes by banging each pan (hard) on the counter a couple of times to force big bubbles in the batter to the top and then pierce those stubborn bubbles that have reached the top with a toothpick or the tines of a fork.

Tip Bang  the cake pan on the counter releases bubbles by bake this cake

Bake at 350 degrees on the center rack for about 30 to 35 minutes (or, using a baking temperature tool, to an internal temperature of about 205 degrees).

Tip: If you make these cakes in 8″ pans, you may need about 5 minutes extra baking time because the smaller pans make a thicker cake.

Double Tip: To  ensure perfect cakes, look for a plumped up (not depressed center) that springs back lightly when touched, using the toothpick test that shows clean, with the edges of the cakes slightly separated from the sides of the pans.

 the oven by bake this cake

Out from the oven they come and your cakes fill your kitchen with aromatherapy!

Tip: For the Culinary Historian’s lecture, I had very large cakes and wanted a perfect horizontal slice, so I tried using a cake slicing tool for the first time that my brother gave me for my birthday. I must say, it produced a perfectly even horizontal slice. Bam! For extra-large cakes that need to be halved or for thin quadruple layers, this will be fun to use in the future but not necessary for this recipe (unless you’re going double or quadruple with your recipe).

Cake slicing tool by bake this cake

Filling and Frosting:

For the birthday cake version, we smeared the bottom cake with a simple chocolate buttercream frosting (butter, powdered sugar and a little melted chocolate) and then added a spill of chocolate ganache (melted chocolate and heavy cream). You might also want to check out our Heirloom Vanilla Custard Frosting.

Slice of Chocolate Wine Boozy Dinner Cake by bake this cake

A fun presentation can be easily created with a few strawberries sliced almost all the way through then splayed a bit on the center top of the cake.

Overview chocolate wine dinner party cake with ganache frosting by bake this cake

If you go classic style, you’ll want to spread the center of the cake with a jam-wine mixture by simmering 1/2 cup of raspberry jam for a couple of minutes with 2 Tablespoons of wine. When cooled, spread between the layers and sprinkle the top with a little powdered sugar.

Tip: Because the fruit filling has a tendency to soak into the cake, you’ll want to hold the filling step until close to serving time if you can.
Chocolate Wine Cake filled with wine jam dusted with powdered sugar by bake this cake

And there you have it, 2 versions of an unusual and very special chocolate cake! I do hope you’ll be able to give it a try soon. I hope you can say hi to me on Instagram where I share lots of photos and cakes in progress.



Leslie Macchiarella

Los Angeles City Hall from PerchLA and Palm Trees at Sunset by Leslie Macchiarella

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3 thoughts on “Boozy Top Tier Dinner Party Cake

    • Hi Maggie, I’ve always made this cake a day prior and it seems to be best that way, with flavors soaking through the cake. That subtle flavor of wine with the chocolate gives it a subtle enhancement. Happy vintage cake baking!

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