Chocolate Strawberry Layered Cake–Works for Lactose Intolerance!

The perfection and beauty of layered cakes evade my culinary skills, but I refuse to give up trying. Hence, I continue to attempt them, having made several cakes in the past few months but none worth blogging about. Today’s post, though, is a cake that I finally feel is semi-worthy of posting.

First of all, I’ve gotten to the point of getting the cakes out of the pan in one whole piece. They used to break into hunks with a good chunk of the cake still sticking to the pan. Argh, such frustration. But now, I’ve discovered Wilton Cake Release, a thick, squeezable oil that I rub all over the cake pan, and voila! the cake releases with no problem. Yay!! (I bought it at Michael’s, by the way.)

Second, I have yet to master getting the filling just the right thickness, for I’ve made them too thick or too thin or very lopsided. On today’s cake, I really enjoyed the roasted balsamic strawberry filling and it seemed fairly evenly spread; however, the cake layers fell apart after cutting rather than the slice retaining its wedge shape. Not quite sure what the problem was…maybe the chocolate ganache layer all around was too heavy? Maybe I made the filling too thick in the first place? Again, I’ll continue practicing.

Third, not only have I struggled to get the filling evenly spread, but I seem to have the same issue with the overall frosting. This particular cake was better…just luck, I think. And getting it spread to look pretty…well, that will take quite a few more attempts. See what I mean by looking at my photo below. Although I’m not too proud to show this, I thought I’d share my culinary journey and the bumps in the road. I do like the way the strawberry decorations on top worked out, by the way.

I have several reasons I want to share this cake, though. It contains no milk or butter, so those with any type of lactose intolerance can enjoy it. And it is super moist. And rich in chocolate taste. And very easy to mix up.

I knew I wanted to have a strawberry filling, and since lately I’m infatuated with roasted balsamic strawberries, I knew I wanted to concoct some kind of filling with this. I tried to modify a raspberry filling I saw on another blog site (recipe included below), but I think I may have made my concoction too thick. The rich, concentrated flavor of the roasted strawberries complemented the chocolate well, though, so I need to maybe cook the filling a bit less to thin it to help it make the layers stick together better.

Speaking of filling, I was going to just add cornstarch to the already roasted strawberries, but luckily I did a bit of internet research and learned that cornstarch thickens as it is heated; therefore, I needed to heat my mixture rather than just add cornstarch. For more info about cornstarch and how it works, check out this website.

Anyhow, I spread a bit of the ganache on the layers before adding the strawberry filling. My taste buds didn’t sense this too much when I sampled the cake, so either I may leave it out in the future or maybe I’d spread it on thicker. But with a ganache coating over the entire cake, which is quite rich, I think I can leave it off on the layers. Besides, the cake had plenty of chocolate flavor.

Finally, I needed some kind of frosting to cover the entire cake but needed it to work for those not able to eat milk products. Amazing how many substitutions are out there in the  internet world once you begin to do a bit of research. Since the site on which I originally found the cake used a ganache coating, I wanted to do the same; luckily I found a milk-free substitution in the form of coconut milk. Note: coconut milk comes in a can and the non-lite version is super thick. I found it in the cultural foods section of the market. The recipe below will include a dairy-version ganache as well as the nondairy version I used. Another note: if you are going for dairy free, watch the ingredients on the chocolate, for some of them include milk, too. Fortunately, I personally don’t have to consider all the ingredients, but when baking for someone who does, I learned a few things.

If you want to use some kind of regular buttercream frosting, see Annie’s Eats site for how she flavored hers to match her filling.

Overall, I loved the melding of flavors: the richness of the moist chocolate cake, the intense sweetness of the roasted balsamic strawberry filling, and the dark chocolate taste of the ganache coating. The flavor combos are a winner; however, my putting it all together and decorating it successfully are still working their way toward victory. I am determined to triumph, though!

Chocolate Strawberry Layered Cake

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  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp. distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. instant coffee granules
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with rack in center of oven.
  2. Grease three 9×2-inch round cake pans (or you can use two but bake a bit longer).
  3. Whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl (but don’t use a mixer).
  4. Combine water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla in a large measuring cup. Add to the dry ingredients, and whisk until just combined (a few lumps are okay). Divide batter between prepared cake pans–2 cups per pan–then bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 18 minutes (50-60 for one springform pan; 35-40 for two cake pans ).
  5. Cool cake on rack for 15 minutes, then invert them onto the rack. Leave cake upside down (to flatten any domes) to cool completely.


Roasted Balsamic Strawberry Filling



  1. Drain liquid from strawberries, then add enough water to liquid to total 3/4 cup.
  2. Add liquid to medium saucepan with cornstarch. Heat over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken.
  3. Once thickened, remove from heat and fold in drained and chopped berries with a spatula.
  4. Cover and chill until ready to use (filling will continue to thicken as it chills).

Other Filling Options

Raspberry Filling from Annie’s Eats Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cake recipe


  • 16 oz. frozen raspberries, thawed
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tsp lemon juice


  1. Drain thawed berries, reserving juice in a liquid measuring cup. Add enough water so that the juice total equals 1 1/4 cups.
  2. Add the liquid to a medium saucepan with the sugar and cornstarch. Heat over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken. Continue whisking so no lumps form.
  3. Once thickened, remove from heat and whisk in lemon juice. Fold in the drained berries with a spatula.
  4. Cover and chill until ready to use. (Filling will continue to thicken as it chills.)

Maraschino Cherry Filling from Barbara Bakes


  • 10 oz jar maraschino cherries, chopped
  • 1/2 cup maraschino cherry liquid
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter


  1. In small saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch.
  2. Gradually add in cherry liquid, stirring to dissolve sugar.
  3. Stir in cherries. Cook over medium-high heat until mixture comes to a boil and thickens.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in butter.
  5. Cool completely before using.


Dairy-Free Dark Chocolate Ganache


  • 16 oz. high-quality dairy-free chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used the Baker’s Squares and mixed both unsweetened and semisweet just because that is what I had on hand; however, bittersweet chocolate is more flavorful than unsweetened chocolate)
  • 1 (15-oz) can coconut milk (not the lite variety)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • NOTE: although I didn’t use Nucoa butter, which I’m told is a substitute for those with lactose intolerance, I might add some next time to more closely match the recipe below for the dairy version of the ganache…I’m curious to see what effect it would have


  1. Place coarsely chopped chocolate in medium-sized bowl; set aside.
  2. In small saucepan over medium-high heat, heat coconut milk until bubbles just begin to appear around the edges and steam rises from the surface. Pour the hot coconut milk over the chopped chocolate and let stand without stirring for 5 minutes; stir until glossy and smooth, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the vanilla extract and stir until incorporated.
  4. Cool until desired consistency for spreading and piping. (This may take awhile.)

Dairy Ganache


  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp. butter, at room temperature


  1. Place chocolate in a medium bowl.
  2. Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit 1-2 minutes. Whisk until mixture is smooth and homogenous.
  3. Whisk in butter 1 tbsp. at a time until completely incorporated.
  4. Let the ganache sit to thicken a bit so that is it suitable for spreading and piping. (To speed thickening, place bowl in fridge or freezer and whisk every 10 minutes to ensure even cooling until desired consistency is reached. Transfer about 1/2 cup of the thickened ganache to a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip about 1/2-inch in diameter (or place in ziplog bag and cut a bit of corner when ready to pipe). Reserve another 1/2 cup of ganache for later decorative piping.

Cake Assembly

  1. To assemble the cake, place one of the cooled cake layers on a cake board or serving platter. If you want to have a ganache layer under the fruit filling, spread 1/2 cup of the ganache in an even layer over the cake.
  2. Using the reserved, thickened ganache in the pastry bag (or ziploc bag with corner cut off), pipe a border around the perimeter of the cake layer. This will act as a well to hold in the filling.
  3. Spoon some of the filling inside the ganache border in an even layer.
  4. Top with another layer of cake and repeat process: layer with another 1/2 cup of ganache, create a ganache border, and add additional raspberry filling. Top with remaining cake layer.
  5. At this point, either frost entire cake in ganache, or frost with buttercream frosting, or simply pour ganache over top and let it drip down sides.
  6. Chill cake in fridge. If using ganache coating over entire cake, take it out of fridge about 1/2 hour before ready to serve, otherwise ganache will be hard and brittle.

SOURCES: adapted from Passionate About Baking (she has awesome pictures of her cake!), Barbara Bakes, and Annie’s Eats

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