14 Layer Birthday Cake

14 Layer Birthday Cake

When my twin daughters turned three, I baked them a very special three layer cake, one layer for each precious year. This year’s birthday cake has 14 layers, one layer for each wonderful, tumultuous, year.

I love traditions, no matter how precarious.

This is my take on the classic French Opera cake, traditionally made with three sponge layers moistened with syrup and  sandwiched between chocolate ganache and coffee flavoured buttercream.  In a Parisian pastry shop, an opera cake is a squat, rectangle brick shape, glazed with chocolate, often with the word, ”opera,” piped in meticulous chocolate script.

My cake looks nothing like a brick but the taste is undeniably French patisserie. The sides are decorated with toasted coconut and the top frosted with buttercream and dark chocolate flowers I discovered at my local Bernard Callebaut Chocolaterie.

The recipe below is for a four layer cake, 8″ diameter.  Double, triple or quadruple the recipe at your own peril.

You can prepare and freeze the individual sponge layers well in advance. Buttercream and ganache can be prepared days in advance, refrigerated, but you’ll need to allow them to warm to a spreadable consistency before using.

You’ll need a few kitchen tools:

  • A kitchen scale to weigh the ingredients.  If you’re going through this much trouble, you’ll want to get it right and measuring cups are not accurate enough for this sort of project;
  • Two baking sheets lined with parchment and lightly smeared with firm (cold) butter. Do not use a non-stick baking liner, such as Silpat.  The cake tends to stick to silicone;
  • A cake ring, or similar mold, to trace and cut the baked cake from the baking sheet;
  • An electric stand-up mixer  (or a balloon whisk, a muscular arm and steely determination);
  • An offset palette knife to spread the buttercream and ganache;
  • A candy thermometer for the buttercream.

If you’re still with me, take heart.  Although there are several steps to this recipe, each step is straightforward and can be prepared in stages.

Some assembly required.

Almond Sponge Cake

The ingredients should be weighed, eggs separated and butter melted before you start.

50 grams cold butter to grease the parchment lined baking trays

210 grams icing sugar
210 grams of almond powder (ground almonds)
6 large whole eggs, room temperature
6 egg whites, room temperature
pinch of cream of tartar
60 grams of white sugar
60 grams of all purpose flour
45 grams of melted butter

Preheat oven to 360 F

Line two baking trays with parchment and smear lightly with cold butter. (Dragging the butter along the parchment provides the most even coverage.)

In a large bowl, combine the icing sugar with the almond powder and mix well. Add the whole eggs and mix well to combine thoroughly. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand-up mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add the eggs whites and a pinch (about 1/8 teaspoon) of cream of tartar and whisk at medium speed until frothy.  Slowly add the sugar, gradually increasing the speed to high until the egg whites have billowed into stiff white peaks.

Using a large spatula, gently fold about a quarter of the egg whites into the batter. Then, fold in the flour.

Pour the melted butter into a small bowl and add about 1/2 cup of the batter and mix well.  (This tempers the butter.)  Return this to the rest of the batter.

Gently fold in the balance of egg whites, in three batches.

Divide in half and spread the batter onto the two prepared baking trays.

Bake approximately 10 to 12 minutes until golden, rotating the pans to ensure even cooking.  The cakes are done when the cake springs back when gently poked with a finger.

Using a cake ring (or other suitable mold) and a paring knife, trace and cut two cake rounds from each sheet pan. Lift the cake layers, along with the parchment base, onto a cake rack to cool.  Slowly peel off the parchment, being mindful not to tear the cake.

Save the cake trim in the fridge or freezer. See Creative Leftovers at the end of the recipe.


1 cup sugar
1 cup water
about 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon instant coffee crystals

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a simmer, just until the sugar dissolves.  Add just enough coffee crystals to give the syrup a light, not harsh, coffee flavour.

(The syrup will be brushed on each cake layer, just before the cake is assembled.)

Coffee Buttercream

360 grams butter at room temperature
6 egg yolks
180 grams sugar
85 grams water

coffee extract*

Whisk the butter until soft and creamy and set aside.

Whisk the yolks with an electric mixer until light and fluffy and their volume has increased.

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water and heat the syrup just until it reaches 121 degrees F (soft ball stage).  Immediately pour the hot sugar mixture into the beaten egg yolks, continuously whisking at medium-high speed while you do so.  Continue whisking until mixing bowl has cooled.

Add the softened butter and mix until well incorporated.

Add the coffee extract, a few drops at a time until you’re satisfied with the taste.

The buttercream can be used immediately or covered and placed in the fridge for up to three days until ready to use. The buttercream will firm in the fridge; you will need to let it warm it to a spreadable (room-temperature) consistency before using.

* To make your own coffee extract, pour about a quarter cup of instant coffee crystals into a small bowl and fill with just enough hot water to make a concentrated paste.  Strain the mixture and store in a clean jar.

Chocolate Ganache

125 grams good quality dark chocolate, cut in small pieces (I prefer 60% cocoa)
150 mls of 35% (whipping) cream

Place the chocolate into a medium-sized bowl.

Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just starts to simmer.  Remove the cream from the heat and pour it over the chocolate.  Stir the mixture with a spoon until the mixture is smooth and well combined.  The ganache can be covered and refrigerated for up to three days.  It will firm in the fridge; you will need to warm it to a spreadable (room-temperature) consistency before using.

Cake Assembly

When all the cake components have been prepared, assemble as follows:

Dip a pastry brush in the coffee syrup and moisten each sponge layer with the syrup.  Spread a layer of chocolate ganache, about 1/8″ thick, on the sponge cake, followed by a layer of buttercream, about 1/4″ thick.

(The more cake layers you use, the less buttercream, per layer.  My 14-layer cake has about equal amounts of buttercream and ganache.)

Repeat with remaining layers, finishing with either buttercream or chocolate ganache.

If desired, decorate the cake’s sides with buttercream, ganache or toasted coconut.

Expect a mess!

Creative Leftovers

When cakes are cut into shapes, like this one, there will be leftover cake scraps.  There’s usually leftover ganache and buttercream, too.

A pastry chef friend passed along her best tip for using up cake odds and ends:

Place the cake scraps in a food processor and process until fine crumbs. Turn the crumbs into a bowl and mix with leftover buttercream and/or ganache until a soft paste is formed.  Using the palms of your hands, roll the paste into small truffle-sized confections, then roll them in chopped nuts and/or toasted coconut. They freeze beautifully and they’re an ideal treat with coffee or tea.

4 Responses to “14 Layer Birthday Cake”
  1. Nancy F says:

    This looks so impressive! How do you keep the layers from toppling over when you cut the cake?


    • Denise says:

      It’s not as difficult as it looks, Nancy. The ganache and buttercream keep each layer in place. As you build the cake, you can see if it’s lopsided and adjust, if necessary, with a little more buttercream or ganache. It’s not difficult but it takes a bit of patience, for sure.

  2. Cheryl says:

    I just pinned this on Pinterest. The world needs to read about this sweet tradition… and see this phenomenal cake.

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