Moist and tender Southern Little Layer Cake with traditional boiled chocolate frosting!

Visual Learner? Watch me make this Southern Little Layer Cake from start to finish!


Ahhh the Southern Little Layer Cake…have you ever heard of such a thing? I feel like this cake could have stepped right out “The Help” movie. It should be right up there with Minnie’s Chocolate Pie and Caramel cake.

I’m from North Carolina and I didn’t grow up on this cake by this name. It was simply called a (insert however many layers you have) Layer Cake. Usually, it was a 5-Layer Cake or an 8-Layer Cake.

The Little Layer Cake originates from Alabama. Although some folks say it was being made in Georgia way before Alabama claimed it. And if you do a little googling you’ll discover that North Carolina has it’s own version as well. Hey as much as I love a good Southern food debate, (aka sugar in grits or nah?) I’m not going there! I’m just here for the cake!

southern little layer cake

Southern Little Layer Cake is a true old-fashioned creation and every family usually have their signature recipe (or so I’m told).

It’s been known to reach over 20 layers (lordt have mercy). This was enough to perk up my ears. Layers bring me to the yard every.single.time.

I couldn’t make my way down to Alabama to snag an authentic Little Layer Cake but I had the next best things: The INTERNET, LOTS OF SOUTHERN “GOLDEN” LADIES IN MY FAMILY and OLD COOKBOOKS!

Ok, so how the heck do you make an old-fashioned Southern Little Layer Cake? I wanted a real, authentic recipe that would make me feel like I was in a Southern  Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina grandmother’s floral wall-papered kitchen!

Before I attempted this cake I read every single blog post there was on this hunk of layered sin. Then I called my grandmother. Then I search through about 10 different recipes from my old cookbook and recipe clippings collection.

Needless to say, I was super excited to take this on! It’s not every day that I come across a traditional Southern recipe that I’ve never tried!

Most of the recipes were the same or very similar. That sure makes it easy!  I’ve made this cake several times since then and this is the recipe I prefer! I tried to keep the recipe as traditional as possible, only adding small tweaks like replacing half the butter with butter-flavored shortening (for a moister texture and more buttery flavor), and upping the vanilla extract.

southern little layer cake

Making the traditional moist and dense cake recipe used in a Southern Little Layer Cake was a piece of cake! Ha, get it? Cake!… Ok, I’ll stop smiling. It was a way obvious pun. No points for me.

Anywho, the cake is lightly sweetened and for good reason. The frosting is the true show stopper here! It’s the Beyonce. The main attraction. The butterfly amongst the moths. The cake is simply a modest little vehicle for the frosting.

The chocolate frosting is a boiled frosting that is poured on the cake while it’s still hot. It drips into place and before you know it, all of those little layers are blanketed in luscious chocolate.

Once I tasted the rich, chocolatey frosting I was immediately taken back to my grandmother’s old-fashioned stovetop hot chocolate. That’s EXACTLY what this frosting tastes like. A cozy mug of from-scratch hot chocolate! It’s rich, sweet, chocolatey and smooth. It sets up soft, yet still creamy.

What does a Southern Little Layer Cake taste like?

Like a traditional old-school vanilla butter cake with hot chocolate flavored frosting is the best way I can describe it. The texture is moist and slightly dense, which is needed to hold up to that hot poured frosting.

Tips on Making A Southern Little Layer Cake

  1.  DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT make this cake for the first time for a big event. My first attempt at this cake was for my husband’s birthday. I added way too much frosting and the poor layers slid all over the place! This cake is a labor of love. Make it on a lazy weekend when you can take your time with it. It’s not a hard cake at all but it does require a bit of patience.
  2.  DO NOT overbake. These layers are so thin that they take no time at all to bake. I baked for 10 minutes and it was perfect! The cake does not get browned (only golden along the edges) so keep an eye on it. Underbaking it slightly and letting it finish baking while sitting in the pans is the best way to get that super moist, yet dense texture.
  3.  Use disposable pans. I just found this so much easier. I got my pans from Walmart and they were 3 for $1. Since this cake bakes so fast, doing several batches in the oven is quick. However, since I have a double oven I just put them all in there at the same time. Just don’t forget to line the pans with parchment circles, as well as grease and flour them. Cakes that stick are the last thing you need. This recipe can make up to a 16 layer cake. Just divide the number of cups of batter (10 cups) evenly amongst the number of pans you’re using to get even layers and adjust the baking time. I’m making 10 layers so 1 cup per pan. I love easy math!
  4. Say a prayer. Seriously just do it. Invite the universe to guide you on this mission. Because if it fails you’ll cuss. Even if you don’t normally cuss, you will! So just go ahead and invite some good energy before you start, mkay. No seriously, this cake isn’t hard at all. And even though I’ve sworn that I wasn’t going to make it again after spending hours on it….I’ve made it again and again! Yeah, it’s one of those cakes!
  5. Get everything prepped before starting. This batter is a lot! The frosting is a lot! So it really helps to have all the pans prepped and all the ingredients ready to go before you start.


The Recipe

Southern Little Layer Cake (10 Layers)

By Divas Can Cook
Recipe type: Cake
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves
1 cake

Ingredients

  • CAKE
  • 2½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
  • ½ cup butter-flavored shortening
  • 6 eggs, room temperature
  • 2-3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups whole milk, warmed

  • HOT CHOCOLATE FROSTING
    (DOUBLE RECIPE *SEE NOTE*)
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • 12 oz evaporated milk
  • pinch of salt.
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Line 5 (8-inch) round cake pans with parchment paper. (I used 10 disposable pans). Grease the pans and flour lightly. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter.
  4. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each egg.
  5. Mix in vanilla extract. Set aside.
  6. In a large bowl sift together flour, salt, and baking powder.
  7. Add dry ingredients into the wet ingredient, alternating with the milk until batter is combined. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  8. Pour 1 cup of the batter into each prepared pan and spread into an even layer.
  9. Bake for 10-12 minute until edges are lightly golden and center of cake is set. Do not overcook. The cake will continue to cook as it cools.
  10. Once pans are warm to the touch, remove cake and place on a cooling rack to finish cooling.
  11. Repeat with the next five cakes.
  12. While layers are cooling make the frosting (see note about frosting before continuing)
  13. To make the frosting, in a large saucepan melt butter in deep skillet.
  14. Stir in granulated sugar, brown sugar, cocoa powder, and evaporated milk.
  15. Bring to boil until it reaches about 235 F. on a candy thermometer.
  16. Reduce heat to low and add vanilla extract and salt.
  17. Keep the icing hot while you frost the cakes. Frosting should be the texture of thick chocolate syrup.
  18. Place the first layer on a cake board on top of a cooling rack. Place a pan on a baking sheet under the cooling rack to catch the dripping frosting.
  19. Spoon about ¼ cup of frosting (may need a tad bit more) in between each layer and spread it over it out. Repeat until all layers have been stacked and frosted.
  20. Next, make up another batch of frosting.
  21. When frosting is done pour it over the top of the cake. This will fill in any gaps and give the cake a smooth frosted finish.
  22. Let the cake sit until the icing is firm.
  23. Slice and serve!

Notes

FROSTING: I like to cook the frosting in two batches but feel free to double the recipe and make it in one big batch. While the first batch of frosting is setting up on the cake, make the second batch. Keep the frosting warm over low heat.

Recipe adapted from: Here, Hershey’s 1934 Cookbook,  Here, and Here